The Perfect Chick Brooder

20180301_154220A brood is a group of chicks that are hatched or cared for at one time such as a hen with her brood of chicks.  A brooder is a place where a young chick can be kept safe and warm.  It takes the place of the mother hen but still can provide warmth and protection.  Even if you always use a broody hen for your hatches, it is good idea to have one available for emergencies.

This article is going to concentrate on the brooder box itself.  The box is an important starting point. The dishes, food, bedding and heat lamp are all added after the box is chosen.  There is an abundance of options out there for brooders.

The basic brooder can be made out of many different kinds of materials such as plastic, metal, wood or cardboard. You can buy a ready made brooder or you can make one yourself out of a cardboard box or plastic tote.  I prefer plastic because it is easy to clean and you can use it for multiple hatches.  Cardboard falls apart when it gets wet and damp conditions are not healthy for the chicks. Heat lamp use with cardboard and pine shavings can be a fire hazard unless you are extremely careful with mounting the heat lamp.

There are some wonderful brooders available.   A brooder box  or a rabbit hutchcan make a very sturdy brooder.  Some people use a wading pool  or even a dog carrier.    Whatever works for you.  Your choice will have to do with what time of year it is and whether the chicks will be inside or outside.  If outside, you will need to protect both the brooder and the chicks from the elements.

Folding play pens also can make great brooders.  Remember that protection from the outside world is very important.  The sides should be high enough so that the chicks do not jump out and that other pets cannot get in.  Twelve inches high is a nice height.  You will also need some kind of a top.  I just place a window screen on top that can be easily removed and can allow for maximum ventilation.  A larger screen can be used with larger brooders.

The size of your brooder will depend on how many chicks you are brooding.   Newborns up to 4 weeks old need around 1/4 square foot per chick.  Five weeks and up will need around 1/2 square foot per chick.  Bantam breeds will not need as much space as they are smaller.  It is better to buy a larger brooder and then use dividers to make it smaller for newborns.  A smaller space allows for a warmer area for newborns.

There are several home brooder kits that allow you to change the size of your area.  Some brooders come with stands for the heat lamp and other kits have even more extra equipment included.

Chicks stay in their brooder until they are feathered out (have lost their baby down and now have actual feathers).  I brood mine until they are ready to move outside at about 10 weeks.  Ten week old birds will not fit into their baby chick brooders.  As your chicks grow, you will need to find larger brooders or set up a brooder situation inside of their outdoor coop.

If you plan on brooding chicks every year then I would suggest something that is going to last and is easy to clean.  I have had the most success with plastic tote brooders or brooders made from large plastic dog carriers.  I use the plastic totes for the newborns and the dog carriers for larger chicks.  The clean up very easily.  Ventilation is important but brooders should not be drafty especially for newborns. If you need advice about how to heat your brooder check out “How to choose a heat source for your Brooder“.   For information on taking care of newborn chicks check out “Silkie Chick Management20180301_154243“.

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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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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Feeding Strategies for Silkie Chickens in the Winter

bestFeeding chickens in the winter is a little different than feeding chickens during the rest of the year.  During nice weather, chickens love to forage and free range in the pasture looking for the choicest bits of protein and green roughage.  They are so happy and content and their minds are fully occupied. In the winter, however, there are limited opportunities to free range. They do not like snow and in Minnesota their chance of finding bugs is slim to none.

Hens that are laying eggs need extra protein all year round and its not just the right kind of food but the right amount of food that is important as well.  As winter approaches , a chicken’s feed consumption will be 1.5 times the amount they eat in the spring and summer.  You will notice an increase in your feed bill and you will be filling those feeding dish more often.

This increase in food consumption is due to the fact that they are coming off of their fall molt and need energy to regrow feathers.   They are also using more energy in order to keep warm in the winter.  They can’t just put on another sweater. They have to generate body heat to keep themselves from freezing.  If they were free rangers they no longer have access to free food in the form of bugs and greens.  Instead they will be increasing their feed consumption in their feeding bowls.

The most important thing to remember when feeding in the winter is to  make sure that they are getting plenty of their regular, nutritious feed.  Some people have their hens on layer food which has calcium in it. It is around 16% protein.  I like to feed mine a Gamebird feed which has a higher percent of protein.  I think that silkies benefit all year round from that higher 24% protein. These basic feeds are created to give your bird the correct amount of vitamins and minerals that they need. This is what they should be eating most of the day.  Add Oyster shell to the feed for eggshell development.  I also put vitamins in their water because I think that silkies need that extra amount of nutrients.

Carbohydrate treats help to keep your birds warm especially on exceptionally cold days. The best sources are what you would find in chicken scratch.  Cracked corn, oats and wheat. Scratch scattered around the coop or run will also give the birds something to do and keep them occupied.  Remember to offer grit with the scratch.  In the winter the small rocks in your run may be covered in snow not allowing the chickens to find their own grit.  They need the grit in their crops in order to grind up these scratch grains.

Some people make a nice bowl of warm oatmeal for their chickens on cold mornings. It is a great treat to warm up their insides.  Just use regular breakfast oatmeal but make sure that you are not serving it too hot.  Cracked corn is a wonderful winter treat. I give mine to my silkies right before bedtime. They will go to bed with a full crop and be warm all night. Watch out for cracked corn turning white silkie’s feathers a yellow tinge on their necks and crests. I usually feed oatmeal instead of corn to the whites.  Also, be aware that too many carbohydrates will make your chickens overweight.  A heavy hen is not a good layer so be careful with the amount of treats.  Treats should be given later in the day as the birds need the nutrients from their main feed first.

Sprouting grains and fodder is a great way to bring the goodness of the outdoor summer pasture all year round.  Sprouting grains can increase the enzyme, vitamin and protein content of any seed.  I have sprouted and fed my birds both oats and wheat.  If you would like to learn how to sprout check out “Sprouting Grains and Growing Fodder” in our blog archives.

Live mealworms can be grown at home or ordered as a fun protein treat.  You can grow them using wheat bran as bedding.  If you are not sure that you want to deal with live mealworms, they also have the dried form which the birds also enjoy.  You can also order live crickets which your hens will have no trouble gobbling up.  There are freeze dried crickets as well.

Boredom is common during the winter in the coop.  You don’t want the birds to turn on each other in desperation for something new and interesting to do. Try hanging a cabbage or head of lettuce in one of these treat balls. They will spend hours trying to get at those leafy vegetables.  Be sure and feed extra greens such as kale, collard, chard and spinach.  Leftovers from your salads are great for them as are any kitchen scraps.

Flock Blocks are popular because they lasts a long time.  Chickens have an instinct to peck at things.  Better to have them pecking at a flock block than pecking at each other during the winter months.

If you are offering treats to your flock outside in the winter, make sure that you are placing it in some kind of bowl or feeding dish.  The ground can be very wet outside in the winter.  If you sprinkle food on the ground it will get soggy.  Birds do not like soggy food.  Make sure you clean up any left over food and pellets.  If you don’t it will attract pests such as mice.  Store extra food safely in sealable containers so you don’t attract predators.

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 – 1/31/18

Managing Laying Hens in the Winter

20180123_121042-1     For most chickens, winter is a time of rest and repair.  They have just finished a long summer of laying and their bodies are depleted of energy.  Most people will see a decrease in egg production from their flock as the days grow shorter.  It is discouraging to think that one might have to start buying eggs from the grocery store again. We miss those beautiful golden yolked eggs.

Chickens will stop laying during the year for many different weather related reasons. Hot spells, storms, steady rain can all have an effect on how the girls are laying but almost all hens dramatically slow down in winter for the entire season.  All breeds reduce egg production but the silkie never has had a steady egg production to begin with.  You might see nary an egg until spring.

First of all it isn’t natural for hens to lay at all in the winter, but selective breeding has made it possible to continue to get eggs all year long.  Hens instinctively know that winter is not a good time to be raising a brood of chicks but they can be tricked into thinking that spring is on the way.

Reduction in egg laying is caused by two factors. The first is the molt.   A molt causes the replacement of feather on the chickens body by shedding all of the old feathers and growing new ones.

Feathers are made out of protein.  Replacing all these feathers is very hard on the hen.  After the fall molt she needs a rest and a break from laying.  Increasing the amount of protein in the diet will decrease the time it takes for the hen to regrow her feathers and return to laying.

Make sure that you have a good Gamebird feed that is high in protein.   Feather Fixer is also a feed that many people use during a molt.  In addition there are high protein treats available to help with new feathers growing in. Mealworm Frenzy is a dried mealworm supplement but you can also serve the live mealworms to your birds.  Omega Fields has a high protein chicken supplement that can help with new feather growing and cat fish pellets or fish choware high protein treats.  Remember that these supplements are for treats only. They should not replace a good Gamebird feed which also includes needed vitamins and minerals.

During a molt reduce their stress level. Don’t move them to new quarters or introduce new flock members. Increase their regular feed so that it is around 20-22% protein.

The second reason for a decline in laying has to do with the length of daylight.  Shorter days are telling the hen to suspend laying because it is not a good time to hatch out a family of baby chicks.  For more information on the effects of shortened days check out “Changes to Silkies as the Days Grow Shorter.

One way to increase the rate of lay is to manipulate the length of day using artificial lights in the coop.  You don’t need much light to fool the hens into thinking that the days are getting longer. A 25-40 watt bulb is sufficient to do the trick.

I use 40 watt Led bulbs on a manual on/off night light fixture.  You plug the entire assembly into a timer and plug it into an outlet.  You could even use a string of Christmas lights on a timer.

Have the lights on a set schedule with the timer, not just whenever you think about turning the lights one. Erratic lighting will encourage chickens to molt which you do not want in the winter.  They need their feathers in order to keep them warm in the winter.

The combined artificial and natural light should total around 14 hours.  Make sure that the supplemental light is coming on during the morning hours.  If you do it in the evening it will confuse the birds to have the lights suddenly go off and them may not make it to their usual night time spot.  This will cause them stress.

Set the timers so the light comes on between 4 am and 8 am.  Remember to check periodically to make sure that the bulb is still working.  Make sure you have a back up plan in case there is a power outage. Battery powered camping lanterns work well.

If your birds are getting up at 4 am they probably are not getting outside until sunrise.  Your chickens may get bored during this time.  This can result in them pecking at each other.  Food and water should be inside the coop so they have something to do.  Chicken toys such as Treat Balls and Peck and Play balls relieve boredom.   If you are a late sleeper you could install an Automatic Coop Door where you could decide when you wanted them let out.

One other thing that can influence egg laying is the temperature outside.  The colder it is, the less eggs seem to be laid.  Heat lamps, which create warmth, can stimulate laying.  250 watt red bulbs give the feeling of night time.  For  more information on heat lamps check out “Heat Lamp Use.”  Sweeter Heaters also create warmth in the coop.

Silkies are very hardy in winter temperatures far below freezing.  If their eggs remain at these temps for too long they will crack.  It takes temperatures below the freezing point for eggs to crack.  That means they need to be 28 degrees or lower for there to be a problem.  Hopefully a silkie will cover the eggs until you can pick them up or that a soft bed of pine shavings can act as an insulator.

Make sure that your hens have plenty of water in the winter.  If their water is frozen most of the time this will lead a huge drop in egg productivity.  Hens need a great deal of water to create an egg.  Use a heated water base to make sure that the water is always open.  For more information on using heated water bases check out “ Using Heated Water Bases. ” at the VJP Poultry blog.

In addition, offer supplemental oyster shell so that the hens have plenty of calcium for eggshell formation.

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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