The following suggestions may provide some helpful hints for raising poultry on the West Coast. We have been in the British Columbia poultry industry for over 30 years and believe the following practices have contributed to our success.
Facility - Setting Up a Brooder for Day Old Chicks
The initial brooder should be in a draft-free building, away from continuously opening doors and windows. The brooder should not be in a location where ambient temperature can be influenced by sun and shade. Cleaning and disinfecting your building is a good place to start. If cleaning between flocks, we remove all used bedding and equipment and blow our buildings clean with a leaf blower. We then spray completely with a commercial disinfectant. All equipment will have to be sanitized as well between flocks - feeders, waterers, heat lamps, etc.
Litter: We aim for dry litter - 4" thick minimum comprised of several layers. Begin with a 2" (minimum) of clean, dry bedding material. Add a skiff of Stall DRY or similar absorbent/deodorizing product. Add a minimum 2" even cover of kiln dried shavings. We strongly advise against wet shavings or sawdust. Top with a thin layer of peat moss- enough to provide a thin, black cover. This will help prevent sawdust eating. As well, peat moss has an acidic pH which aids in slowing the growth of bacteria. Turkeys need additional peat moss. They are notorious for eating shavings. Clean, dry bedding is essential to chicken health and for optimal feed conversion. Wet bedding contributes to decreased resistance to disease (like coccidiosis), poor weight gain and failure to thrive.
Water: Poultry should always have access to fresh, clean water. Unrestricted access to plentiful water and feed is essential for the first six days. For the first few days, placing newspapers or other similar product under feeders ensures chicks are eating only feed and not bedding or feces instead. It is important that water is accessed from a waterer that does not tip or provide an opportunity for drowning. Turkeys will need marbles in their waterers for the first few days to prevent flock drowning. When initially placing chicks in your brooder, it is recommended to individually dip their beaks into the water in order to assist in orienting them with the brooder.
Ventilation: Good ventilation is essential for heat distribution and maintaining healthy air quality. Ammonia and/or carbon monoxide both contribute to poor chicken health. If you are comfortable with the smell in your hen house, chances are conditions are most likely good.
Temperature: Your brooder will need a consistent, reliable heat source. This is typically provided by infra-red heat lamps but could also be another suitable, fire-safe heat source. It is important temperature is monitored regularly. We recommend a digital indoor/outdoor thermometer that records the history of highs and lows. Remember nighttime temperatures are often cooler than daytime. Place the thermometer at ground level (where the birds are) and not in a direct heat or light source. Regular observation is always best and really the only sure way to ensure birds aren't huddled (requiring more heat) or too compressed against the walls (indicating it is time to raise the heat lamps or adjust the temperature).
The brooder should be preheated for a minimum of 48 hours before your chicks are scheduled to arrive. It is essential that your brooder is enclosed with rounded corners and walls that are a minimum of 18" high. Piling (especially in square corners) could result in suffocation for bird(s) that unfortunately find themselves on the bottom of a huddle.
RECOMMENDED temperatures for the first three to seven days are: 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) - turkeys and silkies 91-94 degrees F (33-34 C) - layer chicks 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) - broilers 87 degrees F (31 degrees C) - ducks
If chicks gravitate to the wall, the brooder is too hot. If chicks crowd under a heat source, the brooder is too cold. If the chicks feet feel cold when you place them on your neck, the brooder was not sufficiently preheated and is still too cold. It is important to monitor chicks both day and night, especially if outdoor temperatures are varying significantly.
Light: Inside your barn, when your poultry are past two weeks of age, keep it dark. Ventilation is important but windows (glass pane) are impractical and let in too much light. Outside is for fun and inside is for work - growing, laying eggs and sleeping. Dark, with red or blue lights on timers, works well. This will make for a much healthier flock that cohabits better, enhances feed conversion and reduces aggression, pecking and egg eating. A good lighting program works well for meat, layer and turkey production.
Feed: Your local feed supplier will have a recommended feed schedule.
We use starter feed as follows: Layer chicks - 7 weeks Turkeys - 7 weeks Broilers - 3 weeks
After this period, we recommend mash for all three as it is absorbed by the bird at a reduced rate and is more natural. Because mash is not heat-treated, bugs can occur naturally so don't be alarmed by the odd one. Your poultry won't be squeemish. Clean, dry storage of feed is essential.
Vitamins: Provide water-soluble poultry vitamins on alternate weeks- one week on, one week off. This is food for them and good for us. Vitamins (and probiotics) will boost the immune system and overall health of the bird. Don't overdo it. A break with just pure water will flush bad things out.
Roosts: Providing roosts for poultry has many benefits. Well constructed, sturdy roosts are definitely worth the effort for both layers and turkeys. They enhance the birds' natural perching instinct, allow for greater coop capacity and provide a refuge from more aggressive birds.
Free Range: Grass is great - especially if you are a goose - but should not be considered a sole alternative to a properly balanced poultry feed ration. Nutritional deficiencies will slow meat growth and reduce production of eggs. Changing the species offered will promote foraging, enhancing the growth of your birds and assisting to reduce feed dependency. Berries, chard, legumes, dandelion, clover, kale, lettuce and nasturtiums are a good mixture of different species that will be beneficial as will the bugs that accompany them, of course. The area that is bare from poultry grazing will benefit from a treatment of lime from your feed store about once a month in the rainy season. Most of the common chicken diseases thrive in wet conditions. The sun is a great natural disinfectant. Rain however, makes puddles and , for some reason, all poultry prefer puddles over clean waterers. Reduce opportunity for disease with a sprinkling of lime. Fresh lime will burn feet so make sure you don't put chicks directly on it until it has had a chance to neutralize.
We recommend the 'brooder cleaning, deep dry litter method" as outlined above for preparing your hen house for new layers. It is recommended you leave the coop vacant for two to three weeks between flocks.
Our Prelay hens are beak trimmed. We believe this reduces the risk of egg eating and cannibalism by: -enabling greater uniformity in hen size. -reduces vent pecking. -reduces egg pecking and egg eating. -helps with general health with decreased opportunity for abrasion. -allows fewer points of entry for bacteria. -does not affect free ranging. -chickens are naturally omnivores and are cannibalistic despite years of domestication.
Life is better with chickens. Phone (250) 337-5956 Fax (250) 337-8836 firstname.lastname@example.org