Little chicks are cute… and stupid. That is, they tend to kill each other trying to huddle for warmth, shade, or protection. They walk in their food, and usually can’t find their water unless you show it to them. They panic if you reach your loving hands from above, but run and peck mindlessly if fingers are offered sideways. In short, they need a mother.
Since chicks don’t need a mother’s milk, anyone can be their mother, provided care is taken in a few areas. I have just prepared my chick nursery, since I am expecting 30 chicks in late March. I have used old equipment and scraps in combination with a couple new ideas.
A oval rubber watering tub is better than a cardboard box, if you want to avoid chicks getting crushed in corners. Ours is about 1 foot tall, 36 inches long, and 27 inches wide. When I used it 4 years ago, it held 25 chicks nicely when they were little. (see top photo) It still worked fine when they were bigger because I took them out everyday and separated them into the 2 portable pens Greg made for me. By the time they were too big for the tub, they were feathered enough for the regular coop, but this will depend on what time of year and the weather.
I hired my son to build me a cover out of left-over wood and chicken wire. It was a real patchwork project, that I didn’t want to take a lot of time. He made the cover high enough so that there is room for the warming light to hang and be adjusted. The wire will keep the cats out, the dog at bay, and the chickens out of the fish pond (yes, there is a waterfall and fish pond in the greenhouse). Something may have to be done to keep the bottom edges from catching on the tub every time I lift it off, but it is workable the way it is now.
I like how he used nails in the top wood to hold the lamp in place. All I need to do is loosen it and pull it a bit when I want to raise the lamp. With the whole set-up in the greenhouse, the chicks will not be needing to crowd too closely to the light, but I did keep the food and water off to the sides, to leave plenty of space under it.
The main change I am trying this year is using sand in the bottom of the tub. I got the idea from The Chicken Chick. She also uses it for her coops, last I heard, but I like the natural composting system outside. For the new baby chick quarters, however, sand sounds perfect. About 1.5 gallons made a layer just over an inch deep. I should be able to scoop it clean more easily than a bedding of straw or pine shavings. I have a reserve of sand for when it needs more.
I set the food and water containers on upside down ceramic plant pot dishes. You know, the part that sits under the pot? It was easy to level these in the sand. They seem more stable than pieces of wood I have used in the past. They still keep the containers fairly low, but hopefully are a good balance between keeping the containers from being filled with bedding from scratching, but still be low enough for the chicks to reach readily. (they can barely been seen in the second photo, click on any photo to enlarge)
When I transferred the chicks to the outdoor pens, I used a box. The chicks got used to being handled. I got used to handling them. They got fresh air. And the grass got some fertilizer and debugging. I put them on a new spot almost every day, so as not to burn the lawn or have an area get too messy. Within a couple of days, it was hard to tell they had been there.
I made it a point to give them a combination of shade and sun to choose from inside the pen. If the shade moved, and I didn’t want to move the whole set up, I used towels and boards. They were alway placed in a location that I would be seeing regularly from windows I passed while doing housework, or near where I would be for yard work. Kind of reminds you of the saying, “Watching over them like a mother hen….”