Raising chicks without heat lamps...this has been a stumper for me for years, until I noticed something interesting, several things really!
First, if you have ever ordered chicks from a commercial hatchery...they have a "shipping minimum"...The mail order babies have something like a 72 hour window for travel. This is 72 hours with out electric heat
. Hmmm? Thinking about this made me realize that 10 or so baby chicks piled together can maintain body heat.
Second, We are always told that chicks need a light/heat source and if they are piled up , they are too cold or if they are scattered to the wind...too warm. Thinking about this, I realized that in nature baby birds, chicks included "pile together for warmth" and socialization.
Third, I imagine constant light 24 hours, to be hard on them.
So, I started experimenting on non-electric chicks!
When hens in my gen-pop get broody and start collecting eggs...getting other hens to lay in their nest. As these eggs hatch, I snag the babies. The first few I "sleep" with. I have a very fuzzy winter hat, that I turn wrong side out...fuzz inside. Add chicks. Just one baby can keep toasty warm during the day, coming out for food and water
. If I go some where I just drop the chick into a shirt pocket and wear a sweater over the top, they mostly sleep. I have attended several meetings with "pocket poultry". As I add more chicks the hat becomes a "nest". At night I sleep with the hat/chick(s)...but I am a light sleeper...may not work for "log" sleepers?? I keep a hand in the hat with the chicks to make sure they stay put. When I get enough
chicks to meet the hatchery shipping minimum, I have a big wooden box , made from an old wood
file cabinet drawer with air holes down low and a hinged lid with a little chick door on "ground level". Fill it with straw
and at night I lock them in. They pile up and stay plenty warm. When I lock them in at night, I listen to make certain they go quiet, This takes just a few seconds for them to settle into their pile...in the off chance they are not warm enough...cold chicks peep very loudly. I let them out into a little brooder indoor pen during the day with the hat nest set up like a nest that they get in to nap in a plucky poultry pile.
*Note...when babies poop
in the hat, it shakes out! I start my chicks really young on grass and alfalfa leaves...cut into chick bite sizes. Chicks conditioned to eat such greens can be fed alfalfa hay as adults to supplement grains. Makes good grazers!