Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, March 15, 2004As always, if you're tired of this newsletter, please scroll down to the bottom of the message for easy instructions to make your subscription go away.
News From the Farm
I lost about 20 of my 100 gold sex-link chicks during the first week. This surprised me, since they they all looked good when they arrived. The symptoms were familiar to me, but maybe they aren't to everyone, so I'll relate them here.
The first bad sign was that the chicks, which were shipped on Wednesday, arrived on Friday. I had hoped that they would arrive on Thursday. Chicks that spend two days in transit instead of one are more likely to have problems. I'm also half-convinced that chicks that go by airmail have more problems than those that go by surface mail, all else being equal.
These one-day delays happen, and there's nothing you or the hatchery can do about it. You have to hope that the chicks are stored sensibly during these delays.
Other than that, everything seemed fine until Saturday morning, when I discovered that half a dozen chicks had died during the night. I don't think they were chilled in the brooder, since it's close enough to my house that I would have heard them peeping.
I double-checked everything, since dead chicks arouse my suspicions, but I found no smoking guns. I tightened up my draft protection another notch. The next morning there were another six or so dead chicks.
The next symptom was a nasty case of paste-up in the chicks. Lumps of feces adhered to their rear ends. This is another sign of chilling. Paste-up in itself is not supposed to be dangerous, or, at least, it's less dangerous than trying to clean the chicks up, which is difficult. Other than preventing the chicks from getting chilled in the first place, the way to avoid paste-up is to feed chick scratch or cracked corn instead of chick starter for the first 48 hours. Some ingredients in chick starter, especially soybeans, cause manure to be very sticky.
Grain isn't a balanced diet, but during the first 48 hours the chicks are still working their way through the yolk from their egg anyway. The practice has been demonstrated to be harmless innumerable times. Poultry experts generally disapprove of it, because they (correctly) focus on the chilling rather than the pasting. But those of us who get mail-order chicks can't prevent chilling in transit.
If your chicks are chilled in transit, you will probably see losses for about seven days, and then they will stop, often quite suddenly. This is very different from the results with non-chilled chicks, where you only lose them in the first two days or so.
If the chicks spend three or more days in transit, they are likely to be very weak even if they have not been chilled. They run out of energy reserves. In the poultry industry, these are called "starve-outs." Extra TLC can often save some of these chicks. Steps that usually aren't necessary can help, like dipping all the chicks' beaks in the waterers to get them to drink, putting feed and water under the brooder rather than around the edges, and checking them constantly to make sure none have wandered away from the heat or gotten wet. Even so, you can lose a lot of chicks when they spend three or more days in transit.
Usually, this doesn't happen. The risk is greatest with winter-hatched chicks that are shipped by air. Winter weather tends to ground the jets, so delays and cold happen together. We're entering a more favorable time of year.
Before the chicks arrived, I set out rat poison both inside and outside the brooder houses. I put it inside the houses for peace of mind. I use one-ounce bait blocks, and these show obvious signs of gnawing if rodents are present. Two of my houses were rodent-free, and one had an obvious rat hole. I plugged the rat hole, and the gnawing inside the house stopped.
I didn't think about this until too late, but next time I'll put down newspaper or paper plates down under the bait so the gnawed crumbs don't make so much of a mess, and can be picked up more cleanly.
Outside, things were more interesting. Rats can move surprisingly heavy objects. They certainly don't have trouble moving a one-ounce bait block. The ones I bought have a hole through the middle, and I nail them to a heavy plank to keep the rats from making off with them, then leaned the planks against the wall of the brooder house to provide a roof. A critter bigger than a rat would not be able to get under the plank to get at the bait.
If you try this, use 2x8 lumber or something equally hefty, because the rats will overturn lightweight boards, and then the bait will be exposed to all and sundry. Or you can use commercial bait stations, but I've always felt they were too expensive for mere mortals to purchase.
After a week or so, the nibbling on the bait ceased.
Not surprisingly, the brooder house closest to my barn, which houses half a dozen cats, had no rodent activity at all, and the ones closer to the house, where we have no cats, had all the action.
The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association
Check out the Web site of the American Pastured Poultry Producer's Association at http://www.apppa.org. This is an organization of people who raise "pastured" poultry, which is like free-range poultry except that we insist that bare dirt yards don't count. Most of the members are farmers who make part of their living by raising small flocks of layers or broilers.
They put out a great publication "APPPA Grit," which has a lot of different viewpoints on poultrykeeping on a small or medium scale. It comes out six times a year. Membership costs $30 a year and is worth it for the newsletter alone.
March To-Do List
I forgot to put this in last time. Better late than never!
Cribbed from Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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