By keeping a few chickens in your backyard you get protein from eggs and meat. And you can make extra money by selling the eggs or meat. In fact, you might start thinking about increasing the number of birds you have and making a business of selling eggs and meat.
First of all, decide how many chickens you want to raise. If you do not have experience raising chickens, it is better to start with a small number of chicks, say about 20 to 30.
It is especially important that you know how to care for the young chicks. Chicks hatch after 21 days of incubation. Eggs can be hatched by a broody hen or by artificial incubation. During the first two weeks of their lives, chicks are delicate, and need a lot of attention. You must make sure that you keep them warm while they are starting to grow protective feathering.
You may have noticed how the mother (broody) hen takes care of chicks that have just hatched. She takes the chicks with her in search of food and water, and protects them from wild animals and birds. At night, or during cool days, she keeps the chicks warm by keeping them close to her. A good-sized broody hen can take care of about 10 or 12 chicks at one time.
Of course, if you buy day-old chicks and bring them to your farm, they will not have a mother hen to take care of them. So, before you buy the baby chicks, you should have a brooder ready. A brooder is the place where you keep the chicks until they are 4 to 6 weeks old. The brooder protects the chicks and keeps them warm.
You can make your own brooder out of a wooden box, bamboo, or wire mesh. The box must have a heat source inside it, and it must keep out the cold, particularly at night.
There are many ways of keeping chicks warm. For instance, you could put an electrical bulb or a kerosene hurricane lamp in the brooder. But these may be too costly, or they may not be available.
You can also make your own little stove to keep the chicks warm. Use a metal can approximately 20 centimetres in height, with a diameter of 15 centimetres. Make holes with a small nail around the top and bottom of the can so air can move through it. Fill the can with charcoal, sawdust, or paddy husks. Leave an opening on the top so you can re-fill the stove with material and light the stove. The top of the stove must be cone shaped so that your chicks will not be able to stand on it. Put a wire mesh guard around the stove to protect the chicks from burning themselves by touching the metal stove.
When you are finished preparing the stove, put it in the box where you are going to keep the chicks. But don’t put the chicks in right away. Burn the stove for at least 12 hours before you place the chicks inside the box so that the box will already be warm when you put the chicks in. When you put the chicks in the box, watch carefully how they react to the heat so you can find out whether they are too cold or too warm.
If you have a thermometer it will help you to get the right temperature inside the brooder. Hang it about 10 to 15 centimetres above the ground. The ideal temperature for the brooder during the chicks’ first week is about 35 degrees Celsius.
If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell the right temperature from watching the chicks’ movements. For example, if the chicks huddle together near the stove or in one corner all the time, they are probably too cold. On the other hand, if the chicks keep away from the stove, it is too hot for them. If the temperature is right, the chicks spread evenly all over the box and are always active and alert.
As I said, if the chicks are huddling together in a bunch, then they are too cold. This can be dangerous. You may lose your chicks due to chill or they may try to stay so close together that they will squeeze or trample each other. Give them more heat if this is happening. Make another stove for the box or cover the box with bags or sacks to protect it better from the outside cold.
Your chicks should not huddle in the corners of the box. To prevent this from happening, put in circular guards so that there are no square corners. Your chicks also need air, so make sure that your brooder has holes in it for better ventilation.
Each week after you get the chicks, reduce the temperature in the brooder by 3 degrees Celsius, so that by the third week the chicks will be adjusted to the outside temperature. You can take the heat source out of the box during the day, or let the chicks go outside. But until the chicks are 4 to 6 weeks old, you may have to provide heat all day long on cold days. Providing the right temperature in cold or rainy weather is difficult. So it’s best to start your chick brooding during warm days.
To raise chicks you need to feed them properly, prevent diseases, and give them enough space. Making sure your chicks are kept at the right temperature is just one of the important steps you must take if you want to raise chickens successfully.
- by Theivendram Vigneswaran
- Theivendram Vigneswaran was Farm Manager at the Jaffna College Institute of Agriculture in Maruthanamadam, Sri Lanka. He presently works as a consultant with DCFRN in Toronto.
- The Complete East African Poultry Book (168 pages) by Helen Cockburn, available from Text Book Centre Ltd., Kijabe Street, P.O. Box 4754, Nairobi, Kenya.
- Brooding and Rearing of Chicks on Deep Floor Litter, Extension guide No. 42, Poultry Series No. 6, Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services, Ahmadu Bello Unviersity, P.M.B. 1044, Samaru, Zaria, Nigeria.
- Pigs and Poultry in the South Pacific (1975, 93 pages) by Ian Watt and Frank Michell, published by Sorrett Publishing Pty Limited, P.O. Box 94, Malvern, Victoria 3144, Australia.
- Practical Poultry Raising (1981, 225 pages), by Kenneth M. French. Available from Peace Corps Information Collection an Exchange, 806 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20526.