How to Choose a Heat Source for your Brooder

20180309_092902A baby chick runs to the safety and warmth of its mother’s wings. Here it feels secure and loved. The mother hen’s body heat warms the little chick and when it is ready the chick will dart out into the world to find food and water.  When choosing a heat source for your brooder you will want something that can be as close as possible to a natural mother hen.

Chicks need supplemental heat.  Their little bodies will not keep themselves warm enough until they fully feather out.  Feathering out means that they completely lose their baby down and develop true feathers.  This can happen at different ages depending on your breed of chicken.  The larger the breed, the sooner they will no longer need a supplemental heat source.  Most breeds need it for about six weeks depending on the outside weather.  Brooding in the winter is different than brooding in the summer.  The temperature around your brooder will make a difference in how long you keep your chicks under the heat.

Chicks also need steady heat both day and night.  You will need a heat source that is dependable and allows for a typical  sleep cycle.   A steady white light on them 24/7 is not normal or natural.  A red infrared bulb is better for their sleeping patterns and is supposed to cut down on any pecking activity among the chicks.

The basic heat formula that most people use for baby chicks begins at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for newborns. This is what the temperature of the incubator was. You then subtract 5 degrees for each week of age after that. A one week old would be 95 degrees, a two week old would be 90 degrees and so on.  I find that formula way too warm and could lead to your little chicks pasting up on their fluffy behinds. In the world of the mother hen, the little ones would be exposed to cooler temps much sooner and I think that less heat is better than too much heat when it comes to brooders.  You need to make sure that the chicks are able to escape any temperature that is too warm.

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The most common way to brood chicks indoors is with a heat lamp fixture and a 250 watt heat lamp bulb.  It is the cheapest way to go and many people use it especially if they don’t brood chicks very often.  The pros for going this route is that you can purchase them at most places that sell chicken supplies.  You can hang them at any distance from the brooder.  However, many things can go wrong.  The biggest issue is that they can fall into the brooder and start a fire.  They must be hung very securely.  Do not rely on just the clamp.  Use zip ties and chain to secure it.  We always use a double system so if one cord fails the other cord will prevent it from falling. I will put a flat screen on top of my brooder as an additional measure to keep the heat lamp from falling into the brooder.  Make sure that your heat lamp fixture has a porcelain socket, not a plastic one that can melt.  The bulbs will have to be replaced. I have found that they also lose strength as they get older and do not put out as much heat.  Always have extra bulbs available in case your bulb burns out.  If they bulb burns out at night your chicks will become cold and begin to pile up on each other for warmth.  This will cause the ones on the bottom to suffocate.  Always start each season with a new bulb.  I have found a 250 watt heat lamp bulb too warm for small brooders. You can get infrared bulbs at lower wattage. Always dust your bulbs and hoods as dust buildup can cause a fire as well.  Reptile ceramic heat emitters  can also be used as a safer alternative to heat lamp bulbs.

There are also heat lamp holders  that are caged at the top to operate safer.

Radiant heat is another brooder heat choice.  Radiant heat passes through air without warming the air.  There are several products that rely on radiant heat.  Brinsea’s Ecoglow , Titan’s Electric Mama Hen andRentACoop’s heating plate all use less electricity than  a heat lamp bulb and mimic a mother hen.  They are for small batches of chicks but the Ecoglow 50 can warm up to 50 chicks.   The advantages of these are that there is no fire hazard , it uses less electricity (14 watts vs 250 watts) and there is no disruptive light.  It is more like a natural mother hen by creating a little cave to hide under.  You can adjust the height of them as the chicks grow.  You do not have to hang it up as it stands on legs.  You will have adventurous chicks jumping up on top of it and creating messes but it is easy to clean up.  These types of radiant heat brooder heat sources work best if the air around it is above 50 degrees. They are not effective in outdoor use if it is less than 50 degrees.  These products are not as warm as a heat lamp can be and will not heat the air around it.  I think that these are nice if you plan on doing a batch of chicks every year.  It may be expensive at first but it will pay for itself in lower electric costs.  There is nothing to replace on it so you do not need to worry about bulbs burning out.

A Sweeter Heater uses radiant heat as well. Instead of being a free standing unit, it is hung from above or as a side panel as in the cozy products panel.  Sweeter Heaters come in different sizes and are the best heaters for people who brood chicks frequently.  Hang it above on chains so that they are just above the chick’s height.  Raise it higher as the chicks grow taller.  Since it swings on chains, the chicks will be reluctant to roost on top of it.  Radiant heat has one temperature and no light to keep chicks up at night.  The unit is completely sealed so there is no fire danger.

I am in the process of changing out all of my indoor heat lamps and replacing them with Sweeter Heaters.  I have used heat lamps with brooders for ten years, but I have always had that nagging feeling that I should replace them.  I brood chicks all year long so it was best to switch to the Sweeter Heater method.  It will be cheaper in the long run on the electric bill and I will have the peace of mind that no bulb will burn out and leave all of my chicks in the cold.

Chicks will let you know if they are too warm or too cold by their behavior.  Cold chicks huddle up and cry (cheep). Too warm of chicks stretch out to the corners of the brooder to get away from the heat source.  Chicks that are just right will wander around all over the brooder doing typical chick things like eating and drinking.

If you are still undecided on what kind of chick brooder to get, check out “The Perfect Chick Brooder“.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

 

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Silkies For Sale – 2/15/2018

The Mysterious Courtship Dance of Chickens

20161105_140426Most birds perform some kind of courtship dance as a prelude to actual mating. There are many magnificent displays in the avian world. Think about what peacocks do in their foreplay to get the lady bird in the mood with their beautiful tails.

Roosters will try to lure and entice their mates by displaying their beauty as well.  They attempt to attract their mates as they fan their wings in a romantic manner.   This is called a wing drag or wing flicking.  He will begin to make some croaking sounds as he gets closer to the hen.

The rooster performs a dance, circling the hen with his wing dropped stiffly towards the ground and quivering.  As he circles around her making his croaking noise, she will either encourage him or try to come up with an escape plan. In a perfect situation the hen will daintily squat down and raise her shoulders to flatten out, welcoming him in every way.

The rooster then leaps onto her back and balances precariously with one foot on either side of her shoulders.  This is called Threading.  He grabs the female’s neck with his beak and pulls back her head. He then lowers his vent opening (cloaca) by sliding his tail under the hen and she pushes her vent opening to meet with his.  There is no penetration.  The sperm released from the male is taken into the vent by the female.  From there the sperm travels up the oviduct where it awaits the release of an ovum.  The sperm can be actively alive in the hen for more than two weeks. This whole sexual act takes about two seconds.  When mating is done, the hen will rise, shake her feathers and go on with whatever she was doing beforehand.

The female chicken does not have a separate vaginal structure.  The vent or cloaca is used for both defecation and reproduction.  The males also have a vent or cloaca but they do not have a penis to actually penetrate the hen.  The rooster’s sexual organ is called the papilla. It is located inside of the bird, just inside of the vent.  It looks like a small bump.  Semen exits through it.  Ducks have a penis but chickens do not.

A hen lays an egg every day or so regardless if there is a rooster around or not.  In order for it to be a fertile egg, you will need the rooster to do his part.  Each time a yolk ripens, the sperm will fertilize it provided it is in the hen’s oviduct.   The white is created and then lastly the shell will form around the egg.  A fertilized egg will have a dot surrounded by a ring around it which looks like a bullseye on the yolk. In an infertile egg there will only be a white dot.  You can check this out by cracking open an egg and looking at it.

Chickens also engage in a little dance called “tid-bitting.”  If a rooster finds a choice bit of food that looks really tasty, he bobs his head up and down and makes his “tid-bitting” call.  He picks up the food and drops it repeatedly in order to attract the hen.  He may even offer the morsel in his beak.  It all looks very romantic and sweet but he is also establishing his role among the hens as a provider and leader.

There are many different recommendations as to how many hens per rooster to give you adequate fertility in your eggs.  Most say eight to twelve hens per rooster. If you have a heavier breed, the ratio would be lower. If you have a smaller breed the ratio would be higher.  If you would like more information on how to improve fertility in roosters check out this article.

You may want to isolate breeders to make sure that you know who the father is. Wait at least two weeks if your hen has been exposed to other roosters to make sure that all of the sperm inside the hen is no longer active.  If you are interested in showing poultry or are just interested in improving your flock you can set up breeding pens where you can isolate certain pairings in order to get certain types of chicks.

As winter ends and spring begins the testosterone in the roosters starts to rise.  Roosters will begin to mount challenges to each other as they fight for the rights to the hens.  You may want to separate the roosters, but remember, once you separate them it will be very hard to put them back together again.

Crowing is both an invitation to hens and a warning to other roosters in the area.  Serious fights can happen between roosters. They can use their sharp spurs as weapons.  Aggression when establishing dominance is normal behavior in the chicken world.  If you give them plenty of space, they will usually work the dominance hierarchy out themselves.  Chickens have strict pecking orders. The alpha rooster is at the top, then the hens and lastly the younger pullets and cockerels.

A rooster can mate up to thirty times a day depending on how many hens are available to him.  Not all roosters are interested in mating or are built for it.  You should have a similar sized rooster matched with a similar sized hen for best chance of fertilization. If you want to try and improve the virility of your rooster, you may want to add some vitamins and electrolytes to his water or some Rooster Booster Poultry Cell. A little B-12 would perk him up a little too.

Most roosters are very interested in mating with the hens. They will chase hens causing them to lose feathers. Constant harassment on the part of the rooster can cause bald spots on the hen’s back. The roosters do have favorite hens which they will mate repeatedly.  You may want to invest in hen saddles.  They protect the hen’s back and sides.  They can also be worn to prevent self-picking or feather picking from other hens.  Pick no more and Blu-Kote are also products that can help prevent the picking and aid in treatment . Vetericyn Spray will help to treat wounded birds as well.

If you want to aid in feather grow back, Feather Fixer feed can help increase protein in their diet. You may also want to trim the spurs and toenails on your rooster using a diagonal wire cutter.   Information on how to do this is Here.  This can help to prevent any wounds occurring on your hens.

A well mannered rooster who dances for his ladies and waits for them to accept him is a joy to behold. Your pens will be much calmer if you keep and breed roosters with this special ability.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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Silkies For Sale – 2/8/18

My Experience With VJP Poultry from Cage-Free Mom

20180206_141456-1When we decided to get chickens, we knew we wanted them as pets and not for meat production. That led us down a rabbit hole of research and getting opinions from people we trusted. We decided that we were going to get some Silkie chickens. They are known for being friendly , beautiful, small and easy as well as having fairly good egg production (3 per week). Everything we wanted in our first batch of chickens.

A friend of mine referred us to VJP Poultry in Forest Lake, Minnesota. One of her friends had some show chickens from VJP that had done very well in the 4-H program. We were relieved to find someone near us that had quality chickens. They are NPIP tested and hold a State of Minnesota Hatchery Permit. We felt confident that we could get some great chicks from here.

At that point I still wanted to do some more research on how to care for our new chickens and how to sex them so we wouldn’t end up with all roosters! The internet gave me a bunch of mixed information (turns out it is nearly impossible to sex Silkie chicks) so I decided to reach out to VJP Poultry and see if they could give me any nuggets of information! The response time was very fast and they were very patient with all of my questions. I was relieved that they have a rooster return program. I was really nervous about this because in our area, we are not allowed to have roosters. If we do end up with any roosters we can return them to VJP and they will re-home them. Every question was answered and we were welcomed to come out and see their options.They do post weekly on their Facebook Page VJP Poultry Facebook which is very helpful. You can see what colors and ages are available as well as the pricing of them.

Not only do they have great customer service but they also run blog posts on their website. They have links to items you can purchase for your chicks/chickens , articles on ventilation and how to keep your Silkies safe and happy during the winter.

We set a date and went out to see the chicks. Victoria (owner) met us and gave us some time in the chick room. It was nice to have some time to check all the chicks out and discuss our options without feeling the pressure of picking right away. When she came in, she was able to guide us in the right direction. We really wanted a few splash chicks so she went upstairs and brought down some 4 day old babies. We fell in love and decided to take them.

Along with the chicks, she provided us with some bedding and a little sheet giving us tips on how to care for young chicks as well as a copy of their certification.  We were very pleased with our experience and will be returning for all of our future Silkie purchases! I highly recommend them and if you are anywhere in MN or surrounding states, go check them out as they do not ship. Tell them Ashley with Cage-Free Mom sent you!

Stay tuned for pictures of our new chicks! (Shadow, Ducky, Butterscotch, Marshmallow & Fairy Potter)

You can find more blogs from Cage-Free Mom here.   Text and lower picture by Ashley Molin – The Cage-Free Mom

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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