A short story, a few questions and cute pictures!

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by slagartist, Aug 21, 2013.

  1. slagartist

    slagartist In the Brooder

    Aug 6, 2013
    Seattle, WA
    So, about three weeks ago, my mum's baby chicks arrived a week ahead of schedule. As her dutiful daughter, I raced across town to adopt the little buggers. And since my mother is employed and I currently am not, I am keeping the fuzzy little torpedoes until they're ready to be transitioned to their coop.


    Unfortunately, two of the original six didn't fare well from shipping and passed away (warm and loved in my lap, being nurtured with sugar water and such). I want to take a moment to express thanks to everyone here who helped me with advice and good luck and well wishes for those poor babies. Two more nearly passed, but my roommate's girlfriend is an ER LVT (thank goodness) and helped with great advice and care and now we have four insanely cute (and naughty!) chicks.

    Fortunately, we found an inner-city farm supply that had recently gotten chicks (also vaccinated), and they were only 5 days older than our own, so we took two home to join the flock.

    A note: I have never owned chickens, though my mother kept some when we lived in New Mexico on ten acres (I was in Alaska, at university). However, it's a much different climate (and goodness, coyotes!), and a much different way of life than here in intercity-Seattle. With not much to go on and my mother unreachable on her vacation in the wilderness, I converted my old (passed away) Bearded Dragon's tank into a nursery, with a 250w heat lamp, pine shavings, feeder, waterer, and an old half-log with bark-on that they love to sleep on.


    The chicks are now about three weeks old, with the two new additions going on four weeks. They've long started to lose the fuzz and all of their wing feathers are grown in, or almost grown in. The two four weekers and two of the three weekers have tail feathers also making an appearance, as well as random other places (specifically, I've noticed, the tops of their shoulders, where the wing connects with the back).

    I have no official training, but I spent my young and adult life fostering and training abused and stray dogs. I only have one (a rescue) at the moment, a little miniature pinscher mix, who at first was MUST SQUEAK NEW LIVE SQUEAKY TOYS and is now, after only a week of training with his mommy, all MUST RESPECT BABY CHICKENS, AS THEY ARE TECHNICALLY TINY VELOCIRAPTORS. All I had to do was give him some limited "chicken time" every day, and now he's partly just curious and mostly just terrified of them (apparently, he's watched Jurassic Park too many times). He doesn't even try to eat their poop, for which I am most thankful for.

    The Ancona (code name: Velociraptor Prime) investigating her prey:


    Unrelated: dog now refuses to go near chickens without camouflage. I kid you not. I did not put the blanket on him; he went and got it himself, crawled under it, and thinks they can't see him while he's hiding and only then will venture close enough to sniff:


    Clearly, the Orpington is on to him.

    They all have their own personalities (there's one we nick-named "Brat" because, well, she's a brat. She doesn't so much "pick on" the others, just seems to think she can walk over and/or bulldoze her way wherever she wants, which results in lots of indignant peeping). But in the course of these few weeks and with the looming time of coop-transition coming up, I wanted to ask a few silly-new-person questions. I did a little looking in the forums to see if they'd been answered before, but every case seems very specific, so hopefully this isn't too irritating.

    First, I'd like to introduce you to our girls:


    From left to right and bottom to top: Barred Rock, Ancona, Easter Egger, Speckled Sussex, White Rock, and Buff Orpington

    That pic is from the weekend, when I took the kids to my mum's yard where they'll be living. They got to forage around for an hour and really seemed to enjoy themselves. Anyway, on with the questions:

    1) At three-four weeks old, I notice they are beginning to roost. I had the lid (screen) of the tank off to do food and water maintenance, and noticed the Barred Rock had perched on the edge and taken up the corner and gone to sleep. Shortly thereafter, the Easter Egger and Ancona followed. The Oprington has tried, but unfortunately his wing feathers are the most underdeveloped and he can't quite flutter up there. I've taken to leaving the cage top off, and allowing them to sleep there. They seem content, and don't even try to leave the tank (after all, the food's in there). My concern is this: is this them trying to tell me they need more space? That they're ready to go outside? As you can see in the pic, they still have at least half their fluff, but as I don't have a lot of options, the most I could do is set up a separate nursery and put half in one, half in the other... but I hate to separate the flock. I can leave the tank lid off all day and night and they don't budge outside it, just sit on the edge, and I've even rigged a branch (securely) to the top of the tank, and they seem to like that even better. They hop down to eat, drink, and run around when they want, and then hop back up to sleep. So usually, there's three up top and three down bottom. Rather than set up a separate area, is this enough to give them some extra room?

    2) Coop transition. For those that missed it, I live in Seattle. Now with September upcoming, there's no rain or overcast yet (it usually shows up early to mid-October, and by then they should all be in the coop), but while the days are sunny and very warm, the nights get very chilly. I was told by our farm-supply guy that he recommends them going outside full-time around 6 weeks, assuming they've all grown in their feathers... does that sound right, considering the climate, here? And once we do the transition, I've heard you should lock them in for a while, but does that mean lock them IN the coop 24/7, or just at night, or just for most of the day with a few hours outside to forage and work out some energy?

    3) Sneezing! So, the other day, while roosting on the edge of the tank, my Barred Rock sneezed on me. I definitely felt some "discharge" hit my hand (which I immediately washed), but she only did it one more time. The next day, the Easter Egger did the same thing to my roommate. Now, they're not sneezing enough we've noticed it again, but I've seen some scary posts about infections and wanted to make sure. I mean, I assume they have nasal lubrication of some kind, so if it's a dusty sneeze, it's normal if some "boogers" come out with it, but wanted to make sure.

    4) Grit. When I got the laundry list of supplies from the farm supply, I got chick feed as well as grit. We needed to grind up the chick feed for the first week, but after that, they seem to be eating it just fine. I got some grit and mixed it in per instruction from farm-supply guy, but now that the chicks are growing I'm wondering how much good it's doing. The chick feed is fairly chunky compared to the grit, which is almost powder-like in texture. Do I need to upgrade to something closer consistency to the feed, or is this powderish grit exactly what they need?

    5) Dogs. While I am quite capable of training my dog, I also am blessed with an exceptionally astute one who responds very well to my training techniques. However, my mum's neighbor has a dog that (while ADORABLE and super-friendly to dogs and humans alike) thinks that chickens are for chasing and eating. They have had us dog-sit on multiple occasions and while we love having her (she's good for our lazy dog), since I can't spend every moment of every day training her, I was wondering if anyone had any advice on training a dog to calm down around the chickens. I mean, it's not like we plan to let her at them, but I'd hate to say we can't dogsit because she'd be harassing the birds all day. They have their own fenced enclosure inside the yard around the coop, but we can't have her attacking the fence/barking/going batshit crazy at them, either. I'm hoping when they're full grown (and, at that time, 1/2 her size so not so meek-looking), she'll calm down, but any advice would be welcome :) I'm just worried that since they're used to my dog they have no fear of them whatsoever, and I don't want anyone getting hurt.

    Thank you all so much for your help and support! I hope you enjoyed the story and pictures, and can't wait to hear your advice. As a parting gift, I give you cuteness:

    Last edited: Aug 21, 2013
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    You are right. Each situation is unique for many reasons.

    1) I have no idea how big that tank is how crowded it is. They may need more room. I don’t know. But the perching is just instinct, not a way to get more room. With them flying to the top, I’m surprised they have not hopped down on the wrong side. That’s probably coming soon. When they get too crowded they have behavioral problems, feather pecking, fighting, all the way to cannibalism. There is no magic number for how much space each flock needs. They are all different with different personalities.

    2) Coop transition.

    Again there is no magic number for age they can go outside. Part of it is your weather and climate. Part is what your coop looks like, ventilation and draft protection, bedding to nestle down in. Part of it is how they have been acclimated. Part of it is breed and how they have feathered out.

    I raise my chicks in a brooder in the coop from Day 1, only heating one area and letting the rest cool off as it will. In winter I do a bit more but not much. Many people would be surprised at how much time they spend in the cooler parts of that brooder. By heating only a part of the brooder I don’t have to worry about keeping the entire brooder a perfect temperature. They find their own comfort area, which is really all over, just going back to the heat if they need to warm up.

    During the heat of summer, I’ve turned the daytime heat off at 2 days and the overnight heat off at 5 days. During winter I’ve kept heat on until they are five weeks old. I watch them and let them tell me what they need. I’ve put 5 week olds in my unheated grow-out coop when the overnight lows were in the mid 40’s. The overnight low hit the mid 20’s just a few days later. They were fine, but they were acclimated, the grow-out coop has good ventilation and draft protection, and there were about 20 of them, enough to keep each other warm.

    I can’t tell you what the magic number is for you to put them outside, but I can’t imagine me keeping them in the brooder any longer than 6 weeks unless the weather is really brutal.

    The reason you would lock them in the coop for a week or so is to imprint on them that this is a safe place, that it is a good place to sleep and to eventually lay eggs. It should have more room than the brooder so they will be happy about that. When you let them out, they might go back in the coop to sleep or they might pile up just outside the coop. But they practically always return to the coop area to sleep. If they free range, that’s pretty important. If they are in a run, that’s less important. Whether they spend a week locked in there or not, you may need to physically go out there after they bed down and put them in the coop to sleep. Sometimes they catch on really quickly they need to go inside to sleep. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks for them to get that message, even if they were locked in there for a week. If you don’t lock them in there for a week, you can still train them to sleep inside just by putting them in there after they bed down. If they sleep in there, they will probably lay in there.

    You can do it any way you wish, it’s just usually easier on you of you leave them locked in there for a week.

    3) Sneezing!

    No experience with that.

    4) Grit.
    Chickens don’t have teeth to grind up their food so they swallow rocks from the size of a tiny piece of sand to maybe pea-sized for adults and keep that in their gizzard to use as teeth. When it gets ground down to fine sand, it passes through their system. If they have much access to the ground they will find their own. How long it lasts depends on how big the chunks they swallow are and what rock it is made from. The grit you buy is made from granite, a byproduct of quarrying so it is cheap. It is also very hard so it lasts a long time, maybe as long as a month. They need grit to grind up anything that needs to be ground up to digest. Plus it is possible if they eat a lot of fiber especially for them to get impacted gizzard if say long blades of grass get to the gizzard, ball up, and block their digestive tract. They should have grit if they eat practically anything other than the prepared chicken feed.

    Chicken feed is pre-ground, even the pellets and crumble. They make chicken feed by grinding all the ingredients together. That’s called mash. To make pellets, they wet it with water to make a paste, extrude it form a dye, and flash dry it. To make crumble, they crush the pellets. The reason you get different forms is because different automatic feeders handle the different forms better. Since it is pre-ground and their digestive tracts are wet, the pellets or crumble dissolve when it hits their digestive system so they really don’t need grit if all they eat is prepared chicken feed. But if they eat vegetable matter or critters they need grit.

    5) Dogs can be a huge problem. They probably cause more chicken deaths than any other predator around. Yet most dogs can be trained to tolerate or even protect chickens. Most dogs, not all. I can’t give you any magical help with that one. You seem to know a lot about them and training them. Just do the best you can but don’t trust that dog alone with them for quite a while.

    Chickens will often get used to a ground-based “predator” that is not acting threatening pretty quickly. They are not really good at avoiding them or getting away from them either. They seem to have a strong instinctive fear of flying things but not so much ground-based. It’s not so much that they are used to your dog; they are just not good at avoiding or getting away.
  3. They are so cute! I have never ordered chicks by mail! :)
  4. slagartist

    slagartist In the Brooder

    Aug 6, 2013
    Seattle, WA
    1) Right, sorry, I should have specified - it's 2ftx5ft, so about 10 sq feet in total. It's the largest thing I had in a pinch. It's worked out pretty well overall, and with one heat lamp, it left half the tank nice and warm and the other half shady and cooler, and they've been spread out the entire time (I have a theomometer inside already because of the ex-lizard, so I can monitor it), and I've just raised it up based on their clumping habits. As far as behaviour -- aside from our "Brat" bulldozing her way around the tank, there's been no pecking, feather-plucking or otherwise nastiness of any kind. They cuddle up at nap time, and eat peacefully at mealtime, and otherwise seem to get along, which I'm thankful for. As far as hopping off the wrong side... you've got me. I have the area around the tank sealed off from the rest of the place, just in case, lined with newspaper, but so far, they haven't left the tank. They seem to like to roost and to eat and peep, lol.

    2) While it does get chilly at night, I don't think it drops past mid 50s, mid 40s at the worst, until October rolls around, and by then they'll be fully feathered. So it sounds like ~6 weeks should be about right. I've already taken them to the yard where their coop is, and they seemed completely fearless running around, so if anything yeah, I may need to lock them in to tell them it's sleepy time. Then again, while they were running around, I had my dog-carrier set up as a travel-box/temp coop, and when they decided they were tired and wanted to nap, they all ended up back inside of it, so maybe they'll catch on quick and I just got lucky.

    3) Well, from what I can tell, it's nothing to worry about, but the paranoid mom in me felt I should ask XD

    4) Well, yeah, I know why they need the grit, but from everything I read and researched and people I talked to told me to get grit even for the chicks, so I did, even though they were only eating feed for the first few weeks. And I only had to grind the feed in week one, because they chunks in the chick feed were too big for them to get down easily. After the first week, it did fine. I was just worried at how... powedery the grit was, compared to how chunky the food is. Like, it already is a fine sand. However, they will be foraging in a run (with the occasional free-range under supervision), so should I still provide some grit, or trust them to get their own?

    5) As I said, I am well-versed with training dogs that I keep on my own, because I form a pack-mentality with my own dogs and they learn very quickly with me. My problem is with other's dogs, who I see regularly but do not live with me so do not quite conform to the pack-behaviour my dogs do. I was just hoping someone had some tricks/advice :)

    Thanks so much for your help! It's so exciting to see them grow up! :3

    @iluvmychix - it's pretty hard to get baby chicks any other way in Seattle, as our ONLY farm supply gets them very sporadically. It's risky because they have to ship them so young and it's common for a few not to survive. Our problem was that we ordered them to arrive August 12-15th, when my mom would be home and ready to pick them up ASAP in the early morning. But they arrived on the 6th while she was out of town, and her place is 45min from me, and her post office is 1.5hrs from me (yay for rush hour traffic), so by the time I got the message (10am) got dressed and down there, with THREE dogs I was watching, because I couldn't leave them alone, which certainly didn't make it any less stressful for anyone, baby chicks included (12pm) and then got back through town through lunch hour traffic and to the farm supply for emergency supplies (1:30p) then home (2:30p) then everything setup (~3pm), they had had a long, long, stressful journey and I'm survived four pulled through as it is. I was frankly disappointed that the place we ordered them from (supposedly reputable) screwed up the dates so badly and endangered the lives of the poor chicks because of it :(
  5. Roxannemc

    Roxannemc Songster

    Mar 30, 2012
    SE Missouri
    First the pics of your dog and the chick are so cute and funny under the blanket helariousI agree totally but dont know about the neighbors dog.When my one big male sees the chickens near his fence he gets singularily obsessed and will not stop wanting to get them.He has killed one when hegot in their yard as we were heading to the vet.My son nearly had to strangle him on the choke chain to get him out of the yard He weighs 170 lbsso im not sure about desensitizing a neighbors dog
    .I put some 3week olds out lately and at night i put them in a small dog carrier.at night and cover it wuth a towel except the door.zit gets about 60s at night and they have been fine.I agree put them in the coop with a heating lamp in one corner.Start thrm in that corner under the light they can then decide if its too cool or not.I would lock them in the coop a few days if not yes you do have to put them in at dark for a while.until they know its where they go at night which as the other reply said may be 2days might be 2-3 weeks.They will start to jump down off the side of the brooder as soon as they get their nerve up.and make a poo mess on your floor6 weeks they should be feathered out where cool air wont bother them but if its warm out now idget them use to it at least during the daytime
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2013

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