Since education and outreach are a big part of our theme, we've decided to devote an entire page to passing along tidbits about a variety of topics. This is a precursor to those Lessons. Each lesson will then be archived so you can "catch up".
If needed, pictures or diagrams will be added as part of knowledge based lessons. We hope you enjoy! I will add a new lesson twice a month or so and look for comments or likes in the blog. Feel free to ask questions.
I gave you a bit of a warning that I am a practical farmer.... I typically don't name farm animals or even my hens in the hen house. I reserve that for pets. I have Grand kiddos and I know they want to name a few, but I think you might be setting yourself up for broken hearts when a predator attacks or if an animal reaches old age. Obviously, it's your choice.
LESSON 1 ~ Understanding the word digestion. 5/1/2018
A practical farmer is actually a "producer". He or she manages animals with something in mind. Maybe it's a cow or goat for milk or cheese. Maybe it's sheep for wool or a hen house full of laying hens for eggs. The point is, farming is an operation that is managed with animal health, well being and comfort in mind. The healthier livestock remains, the more valued and/or nutritious will be the edible product or fiber. I understand some of the need for large corporate farms with animals in some kind of confinement, but ... I firmly believe "excessive" confinement should be avoided if at all possible. Here at Clawfoot, we strongly believe all animals were meant to live on the surface of the earth, with fresh air and natural sunlight, free to pick and choose the foods that the earth supplies. OKAY, with that in mind, here goes.
Terms, ...... I'm not going to look these up, but you can for yourself. Instead I'll explain each in layman's terms as best I can.
G.I. tract (Gastrointestinal tract) AKA Alimentary Canal ~ All mammals (milk producing species) and avians (birds) have a tube which begins with some kind of lips or beak and extends through the body cavity. That tube sets in motion a series of changes to food that is swallowed before it is expelled at the opposite end of the tube with a terminal opening typically called simply the vent. (the nice term). This tube is the G.I. tract. The rest of these terms are in a logical order.
Mastication ~ This is the act of chewing or grinding food into smaller particles and at the same time adding some lubricating saliva to the food mass. Some animals like chickens or other birds eat food whole and grinding occurs in the gizzard further down the G.I. tract. Saliva actually contains amylase (enzyme) which begins the breakdown of carbohydrates. More on that in another lesson.
Ingestion ~ This simply means swallowing. Dogs and sometimes kids are often known to swallow something that isn't even close to food. Such as, "My dog ingested a plastic bottle". Yikes! Animals known as ruminants are also capable of bringing previously ingested food back to the mouth so they can chew it again. (cud chewing) I'll talk more on that later as well.
Digestion ~ Thanks to enzymes, and probiotics (live microbes) that live in the animal's G.I. tract ingested food is "broken down" to minute particles or sometimes ions that can then be absorbed into the blood stream. Digestion is the breaking down of food. That brings us to Absorption.
Absorption ~ Food that is sufficiently digested is now small enough to pass through the lining of the G.I. tract. As food leaves the stomach it enters the small intestine. The small intestine is covered on the inside with finger like projections that increase the surface area. These "villi" also allow the tiniest of nutrients to pass into the blood stream to be carried where they might be needed.
Assimilation ~ When a nutrient becomes part of the animal's body it is said to be "assimilated". Not everything that is ingested is converted to muscle, bone, hair or some organ. Some of the food is burned as energy (metabolism), Some becomes an end product like milk or eggs, and some is expelled from the body at the vent. It's the challenge to the farmer to supply adequate complete rations so the animal stays healthy and yet productive.
Defecation ~ Any food or indigestible material that is not absorbed or burned for fuel will eventually pass from the body. That does not mean that there are no nutrients left in the droppings. Most manure smells because of the continuing decomposition of the ingesta. Properly handled manure can be a valuable soil amendment and promoting a sustainable growth cycle.
Urination ~ I guess we should also add urination to our glossary. Excess water from the G.I. tract is removed by the kidneys and stored in the bladder until enough accumulates that the animal feels mild discomfort and the desire to expel the liquid. Both urine and manure contain soil building products. ALWAYS have free choice clean and cool water in front of your animals. By the way, birds do not store up water, but instead eliminate the excess with their manure.
SUMMARY ~ Read this over a few times, and you should have a basic understanding about what we typically call digestion. Food is handled much differently by different species. I'll provide some of that information in a later lesson. Click on the blog if you have comments.
LESSON 2 ~ Characteristics of livestock and pets. 6/5/2018
For this lesson, we're going to look at some characteristics of several species of animals that normally fall under the care of humans. The trouble, is the topic is so wide open. Not only are there a huge variety of animals that have been domesticated, but the reasons that we "keep" animals is just a varied as the number of species that we maintain. I guess that's a good place to start.
So, why do you keep animals? Is it because they're a pet, or for the food they might provide? I realize this potentially opens a whole discussion that some might find controversial, but people are omnivorous and as such, we do consume meat. I'll let that settle for a second and I'll list the usual reasons that we normally keep domestic animals. Clawfoot is a working farm in that we keep animals for both fun and profit. I hope that sets okay with most. I assure you we love and respect our animals.
1. PETS ~ Companion species, like: Reptiles, Birds, Dogs, Cats, and you name it.
2. LIVESTOCK for meat production: Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken and others
3. LIVESTOCK for milk, butter, ice cream, gelato, cheese or other procuction
4. LIVESTOCK for Eggs, fiber, leather or other by-products
5. ANIMALS for labor or service work ~ This would include horses, and service dogs.
Those of us that love our animals often find it paradoxical that we can also consume meat and animal by-products. Never the less, as a culture that's exactly what we do. Children and the young especially find it problematic when their "farm" animal is sold at auction.
Right now there is a cultural rediscovering of our food. By that I mean our food safety, sources and nutritional value. The topic of farm to fork food, will be another whole discussion, for now let's get back to animal characteristics. We can complete our species breakdown by tying the topic of digestion from lesson one to the topic of animal characteristics. Animals prefer different feeds based on food habits. This is just the basics: Notice each group ends with the suffix VORE.....
1. HERBIVORES ~ Animal species that eat a plant based diet. This would include all the cud chewing, ruminant species like cattle, sheep and goats. Other non-ruminant herbivores would include horses and rabbits. They do just fine with what are called roughages. All species need adequate water and will consume more and grow faster and more healthy, when given plenty of water with their feed. Ideal food for herbivores would include pasture that is both grass and broad leaf in nature. All the grasses and broadleafed plants like the clovers or alfalfa. Free ranging livestock will pick and choose their feed as they graze. Over grazing will eventually result in less desirable plants taking over the pasture, so pasture reseeding, irrigation and rotational use is ideal. If pasture is properly maintained however, soil will actually improve when used by livestock.
2. CARNIVORES ~ These are animals that eat primarily a meat style diet. Dogs and cats will eat fish, poultry, and other forms of meat. When given too much grain in the diet they may develop diabetes or other problems. They can and do enjoy some plant protein when mixed in their feed, but plant protein should not be the mainstay of their diet.
3. OMNIVORES ~ These animals eat a varied diet. They can and do enjoy both plants and animals as food sources. Swine and poultry are both good examples of animals that will eat plants like grasses and grains, but will also consume insects or flesh if it's available. Commercial swine and poultry production these days usually means confinement. I think this is probably not ideal but can be safe and humane if the cages or building are not too confining. It's a matter of how much confinement and I should emphasize we prefer little or no confinement. Animals are meant to have their feet on the ground with sun, shade and water nearby.
By the way, people are also classified as omnivores. I know all about the vegan movement, but animal protein is also healthy and safe. You can decide for yourself. I just don't appreciate someone preaching to me about how their lifestyle is better and more humane.
At Clawfoot, we believe "IT'S A PERSONAL CHOICE"!! As long as animals are treated as humanely as possible through their entire life, there's nothing wrong with using animals as a food source. If you disagree.... at least try to respect other people's viewpoints, their lifestyle, and their right to choose. Also... if you disagree, you will likely be turned off by our "practical" approach to keeping animals. Keep an open mind and try to be tolerant of others lifestyles and food choices. Some will try to tell you that consumption of animal protein is not safe. At Clawfoot we believe that over consumption is the issue. The truth is, we need 6 types of nutrients. Specifically they are: Water, Protein, Vitamins, Minerals, Carbohydrates and Fats. Trying to get these nutrients from a single source is not healthy for the human body. We are omnivores. Try to source your nutrients from a variety and try to minimize your intake of food that might be over processed, contaminated, or not organic in nature. Again it's your choice! The purpose of this website is to educate, not to stir controversy. We'd like to have all our followers, healthy, happy and content! We're hoping our readers are also individuals most likely to spread the word about seeking health giving knowledge about diet and animal care. If you're not a subscriber please consider CLAWFOOT FARMS.
Have a good one, Uncle Bill
LESSON 3 ~ West Nile Virus 9/3/2018
Perhaps you live in an area that has seen an increase in the disease known as West Nile Virus. The virus is carried by mosquitoes and transmitted to humans that are bitten. Symptoms can vary a great deal and begin with flu like symptoms. Most adults show no symptoms at all and are basically unaffected by the virus. However, some experience dramatic symptoms and a very few individuals can die from WNV. The best precaution of course is to eliminate breeding spots like ponds, fountains and of course water troughs. I watch for the wiggler larvae in my animal water sources and dump out the water every few days if possible. Try not to let it go for a week or longer.
As far as the animals themselves are concerned, most breeds including sheep and chickens are asymptomatic. In other words the virus is in their blood but they do not show any signs of WNV. Here's the big question... Can you eat the meat from stock, chicken or eggs? The answer is there is no evidence that consumption is harmful to humans. Most of us may have already done so.
Several Universities Extension services have conducted studies on WNV and livestock. The following is information from the University of Kansas:
Although chickens may become infected by the virus,they show few or no signs of the infection. The virus can be isolated for eight days from infected chickens. However, the level of virus in chicken blood is low and is probably not high enough to infect other mosquitos. Chickens develop antibodies to the virus within five to seven days. Thus, chickens are unlikely to amplify the WNV infection in mosquitoes. There is no evidence of animal-to-animal or animal-to-person transmission of WNV. People can only become infected through the bite of an infected mosquito, and only a small number of mosquitoes carry the virus.
LESSON 4 ~ Livestock Behavior
In my animal science classes, I frequently get questions about animal behavior. Actually, each species behaves quite differently. Most livestock species are prey species. Examples are sheep, goats, chickens, cattle and to a lesser extent swine. Most pet species are by nature carnivores and therefore hunting species like dogs and cats. If you check back earlier on this page, (LESSON 2) you can check out the differences between herbivores, carnivores and omnivores, but let’s get back to behavior.
The general public has little understanding of where their food comes from or how it is raised. This is true not only of the vegetable isle but especially the meat, dairy and egg sections of the grocery store. Of course, I can’t speak for every producer or operation out there, but I can pretty much assure my readers that the folks that homestead and raise animals for consumption love being around animals and love the country life. Many if not most, were raised in a rural atmosphere and have been around animals since they were young. That’s certainly true for me. Let me share just a part about what I have learned about animals.
Four legged prey species and poultry tend to be a pretty suspicious of their surroundings. They possess eyes located laterally on the sides of their heads which allow them to see about 270 degrees around them. This type of eye placement makes it much more difficult for predators to approach. During their waking hours most of their time is spent searching for food, caring for young and socializing. Many also spend time relaxing and chewing their cud. Almost all prey species develop the tendency to form groups. The ruminant animals that chew their cuds, live and socialize in herds of various sizes. Poultry also group together in flocks. This behavior is not only social but for protection. All these species will be much happier in a group, so don’t keep just one sheep, one chicken or one donkey. Keep a small herd, at least two or three. Never crowd animals, but keep them together if you have the space and can properly care for them.
Because of this tendency to live as a group, predator species must try to sneak up on the flock which is now being protected by many eyes. Because of their suspicious nature, prey species are often curious or even fearful of the unknown. For instance, a paper bag that blows across a pasture full of sheep may send them scattering. Actually scattering in the case of sheep, is the wrong word, because flock animals tend to move as a group.
Ok, I could write a chapter, if not a book on how different animals behave. The idea is to learn all you can about the species that reside on your farm plot and use their behavior to your advantage. Use best housing and fencing to protect them from predators.
I am adding a story about the completed roof on the sheep pen and I added a photo illustrating the curious nature of my sheep. The photos are on the "Projects" page, under a section about finishing the roof. Send any questions you may have through the blog page or "Projects on the farm".
Talk to you soon, Uncle Bill
LESSON 5 ~ Kids and Critters
First off, Let me say that my two girls are grown up and have kids of their own, so my experience is a bit rusty with raising kids in this troubled world. I suspect kids now days have very different concerns and desires.
When I was a lad, I was raised around animals. My parents lived in town and my Mother's dad, (my grandpa) had a large poultry farm. We had dogs and cats at my folks house in town, but at the farm we had chickens, geese, sheep, hogs every year, and a horse named "Patches".
For the record, I deeply miss not getting to know my other Grandpa. He lived on the east coast, and I only saw him on a few occasions.
Having animals teaches young kids that life comes with responsibilities. I have found that kids have a natural love for animals. They WANT to be around them. It's our job (as parents) to nurture that love and desire. They will want to participate! That love of animals never goes away. Remember the old saying, "You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy".
I am not a young guy anymore, and right now it's Christmas morning (2018), but I still had to feed my cat and all the chickens this morning. By the way, I'm taking care of quite a few extra chickens because of the CAMP FIRE. These so called "responsibilities" are something I have done most of my life. And after all these years, I still love having animals around. Blessings from your Uncle Bill
In keeping with our education theme, I have decided to be a little more systematic with my lessons. I will break my bimonthly lessons into groups of five to make editing simple. Lesson six will be about getting started with chickens and we'll see where we go from there.
LESSON 6 ~ Best poultry breeds for the beginner. 1/1/2019
Happy New Year! It's a brand new year and time for resolutions and life style changes. Perhaps you're thinking about losing weight. Or?? Maybe it's just to be happier.... BEST ADVICE?.. Keep it simple and keep it general. The reason many fail at resolutions is because their resolution is too specific! For instance, if you commit a resolution by saying "I'm going to lose 10 pounds in January." You'll likely be discouraged if you haven't lost 5 pounds in the first week. Once you're discouraged, you will lose motivation and simply give up on the whole notion. Anyway, just being happier is a much better choice.
If you want to be happier in 2019, the possibilities are endless and each day presents a new possible decision day. Having animals in your life will automatically add to your life. Critters can add to your stress, but in general they are far more rewarding than they are problematic.
OK, to my point....
I'm hoping by now you have at least considered a small flock of birds in your backyard. Besides the simple pleasure in just watching the antics of flock of hens there's the obvious benefit of having the most nutritious eggs you can imagine.
Step one is to make sure you can keep chickens in your area. If so, how many? Can you have a rooster? And most importantly, how many is too many and which breeds should you select. Check with you local city by phone, but you will find most cities will allow small flocks. Very few will allow a rooster within the city limits. The point is, be sure to check.
If chickens are a possibility in your area, decide how many. I would recommend at least three and as many as five or six for the average household. No need to have more than that until you're sure you love keeping fowl and have a market for the eggs. Remember, you are committed to buying feed, and feed costs can add up unless you are selling a few eggs. Chickens also mean a certain amount of work and responsibility. Next time, I'll discuss housing, but for now I'll recommend a few breeds.
I have a few favorites for newbies. Here's my favorites for a first time flock;
- Plymouth Rock (or Barred Rocks) See photo above
- Speckled Sussex or other color variation
- Orpingtons (Buff color is easiest to find)
The reasons I like these breeds and will always have a few of each in my own flock, is because they are mild tempered and they are consistent layers. All three are good around children if handled and all lay various degrees of a brown colored large to extra large egg. The Barred Rock is probably the best layer. You may have noticed I did NOT recommend the ever popular Rhode Island Red. RIR's are a great breed but I prefer a calmer atmosphere in my coop and the Rhode Island breeds tend to get pretty caught up in the pecking order thing.... if you know what I mean.
By the way, at this writing...today is January 1st of 2019. Since it is the dead of winter finding baby chicks will be next to impossible! Hens will begin to lay again sometime in February, so take the time to get started on your coop plans. Watch for baby chicks in the feed stores in a couple months, but be sure you're ready when chicks arrive! You can also order direct from hatcheries, but most have minimum orders and other restrictions. Chicks will come next day mail and must be picked up at the post office.
LESSON 7 ~ Getting started with Livestock (Chickens)
At the end of 2018 (if you read lesson 5) I boldly declared to be a bit more systematic when writing my lesson series. I then went on to state (lesson 6) that I would cheerfully write a lesson on poultry housing. To write a lesson on poultry housing seems a bit out of order and therefore NOT systematic. Here's the deal: I need to share with my followers, my direction.
So here it is!
I want to put down my thoughts in a systematic order, so that those thoughts may eventually find their way to book form. Hopefully, you are reading a book in its infancy!
For that reason, you can see the need for chronological or at least some kind of logical order. I have read nearly every type of livestock based book you might think of... Still there are dozens more. Writing something new will be a true challenge, but most are written in a matter of fact style with similar traits and lacking "flare". The facts still need to be there, but style may be just as important. OK let's get started!
I think my series might logically be called: "Getting started with livestock" (Chicken Series). Raising chickens is easy, can usually be done within the city limits with some restrictions and its fun for anyone with that type of desire. Uh-oh, there's a roadblock already! "That type of desire". What does that mean?
Something made you open this website or book as the case may be. I contend that you are either interested in animals, or have the desire to learn about something new or both. Chances are, it's something in your background or you've been talking with a friend and now you want to explore the possibilities. When it comes to a new adventure with chickens or other livestock, that's exactly what it is, "a possibility". You are pretty sharp to study the topic before jumping in with both boots. Yes, boots may be required!
In my effort to stay systematic I started with "getting started". Seems logical, if not chronological. Getting started implies getting ready. I suggest you DO NOT run to the local feed store today and buy a fist full of baby chicks. I do suggest you study the topic a bit, talk to people who might already have chickens of other livestock or even visit a neighbor with an appropriate size flock.
Have you ever heard the phrase "Gateway Drug"? Chickens are the gateway livestock species. Warning! Getting started with chickens may lead to sheep, goats, donkeys or llamas. If you have the room, it frequently happens.
I'm gonna let that settle in and start lesson 8 in a few days. In lesson 8, I'll get specific about how I get started each spring with baby chicks or other critters. Thanks for sharing your time, this is Uncle Bill.
LESSON 8 ~ Spring Forward
Maybe you've made a New Year's resolution. Maybe you've made many. I can bet almost every one of us has! Usually they're about taking better care of ourselves or getting more exercise. It could be, your past resolutions have been about better nutrition too.
Keeping chickens can fulfill some of those resolutions. I'm sorry if you're a smoker, because chickens or other livestock can't help with that.
Concerning livestock, you better think it through. Keeping any livestock involves commitment. Nevertheless, having any animal for any reason provides reward. Critters give you companionship, humor, animal by-products and of course commitment.
If you don't have the stamina to take care of your animals please don't take them home in the first place. Before I get into setting up a brooder in lesson 9, let me restate the obvious. Animals need feed, water, shelter, medical attention and even human interaction. These things all take a little time and some even take a little money. The money can be offset by selling nutritious products or fiber or even meat. Nothing can offset the time. What actually DOES offset the time may be the joy the animals provide and the fun derived from the interaction. I don't know if I've talked you in to keeping animals or if I've discouraged you. I just want you to be aware, it's reward with a little cost.
In the beginning of this lesson I mentioned the health benefits. Don't let anyone tell you that eggs are bad for you. Even store purchased eggs are safe and healthy. However, if you keep your own chickens (or ducks for that matter) you will enjoy some of the finest eggs available. The truth is... store purchased eggs are usually from hens that are kept indoors and only have one food source. Even egg cartons that say "free range" only means that the hens must have "access" to the outdoors. A tiny access door to a tiny outdoor area is simply not adequate for large commercial flocks. The so-called access door simply meets the regulatory requirements. It would be as if your exposure to the outdoors was only to a small patio through a very tiny opening. It does not mean that the hens are in an open pasture most of the day. Please understand, I am not condemning large producers. Their birds are healthy and usually well cared for. Commercial producers are necessary to feed the masses. I just prefer more natural and more nutritious food in my diet. The commercial guys, do not produce the tastiest and healthiest eggs! Their hens are fed a steady diet of bulk feed that meets, but does not surpass the needs of the flock.
Chickens need the things I mentioned above. Namely: Water, feed, and shelter. But they also need growing greens, bugs, fresh air and sunlight. Chickens are omnivores. That means they thrive on both plant and animal tissues in their diet. Commercially raised hens don't receive that variety in their rations. The nutritional quality of their eggs suffer as a result.
So the bottom line is, keep a few hens at the homestead and enjoy the benefits. They will provide you with entertainment, some exercise and some super nutritious eggs. The time to get started is now, before spriing really happens and before chicks are even available. I'll bet you're looking forward to lesson 9 about how to get prepared for those new chicks. I'll be publishing that next. Signing off, I'm your Uncle Bill
LESSON 9 ~ The brooder
Okay before we get too far along I'm thinking subscribers might be getting a little anxious. For that reason, I'm going to give a basic lesson about what a brooder box is, and what it must accomplish. HOWEVER, building a brooder may morph into a longer lesson. I will edit and extend this lesson over the next week or so. DON'T BUY CHICKS UNTIL YOU READ THE NEXT FEW LESSONS!
All animals whether they are born or hatched have specific needs. In addition to feed, water and shelter, baby chicks need predator protection and warmth. The brooder nursery box must supply all their needs. I have been raising baby chicks since I was in grammar school. I also grew up working on a poultry farm with 20,000 hens! Needless to say, I can tell you how to raise baby chicks.
So let's start with the structure itself.
First of all, consider how many and how long. If you're only going to have a small flock of birds (say under 10), you can easily get by with keeping the chicks in a good size cardboard box or large plastic storage container. For 6 to 10 chicks I would use a box approximately 2 feet by 3 feet. It's nice to have a rectangular shape so that the heat lamp can be on only one end. The chicks may want to escape the heat at times.
Usually plastic storage containers aren't quite that big and they still work until the birds outgrow the space. The more space the better, just be aware you must cover the space with some kind of secure wire and it should be deep enough that the chicks can't jump out. Jumping out will occur way sooner than you might think, even if it is pretty deep. I also like to raise the brooder off the floor somewhere between 2 and 2 & 1/2 feet. Raising the brooder means you won't have to bend over to add feed, water or bedding material.
If you have never seen a brooder, I would suggest you call various feed stores that sell chicks. Once you have them on the phone, make an inquiry to see if they have chicks in stock. Any feed store of reputation will be keeping and selling baby chicks for their customers. Starting in the spring, they will have crowded little brooders with all the things the baby chicks need. Don't go to buy, go to look and learn. Remember these brooder boxes are going to be pretty crowded. Probably about 1/2 the floor of the brooder will be covered with baby chicks. Feed stores can crowd the birds tight like that because from the day they arrive the birds will begin to disappear as they are sold.
What you should look for is this. Check out their heat lamps and check out the bedding on the floor of the brooder. Ask yourself a few questions like: How is the heat lamp being hung above the brooder? Is the brooder fire safe? What type of watering system is in use? Could a chick drown in the waterer? Lastly, What feeder is being used and what kind of feed is it?
Okay, I'm going to come back and add to this very important section. There's much more to learn about the first few weeks of life and what the chicks need to survive. Remember, if you head to the feed store you'll learn just the basics. Don't buy your chicks yet... I have some key terms that you'll need know. Besides, if you buy chicks now, you may end up with breeds you would not choose later.
Thanks for your patience! This is Uncle Bill .... signing off.
The photo above shows newly hatched chicks just days old and huddled under a heat lamp in my plastic brooder box.
The Brooder cont.
I suppose any lesson should include some explanation and it occurs to me that the reader may get lost in some of the terms. For that reason let's start with the basics and breakdown some terms.
1. Brood ~ A brood is a family of offspring that were all born or hatched together. It usually applies to birds but could also be used for hogs. The term is the equivalent to a litter, but used for birds. It may also be used as a verb, as when a hen broods over a clutch of eggs. That hen is said to be broody when she is "insistent" about setting on eggs.
2. Brooder ~ This term can be used two ways. Sometimes it refers to a person who "stews" over a situation or worries. That old term is rarely used in today's language. Much more common is that a brooder is any enclosure that is used to raise or house a brood. It could be a brooder box or a brooder house in the case of a large operation. Baby pigs may also be raised in a brooder house, but for pigs it is more typical to refer to their house as a farrowing barn and they stay with the sow until weaning.
3. Brooder Box ~ A brooder box then is any smaller enclosure for a small number of any type of poultry including ducks or turkeys. The key here is that its a smaller space than a brooder house and must be kept indoors out of the elements and with some kind of heat source.
A brooder box can be constructed of most any material. I have seen round or oval metal horse troughs used in many feed stores with a few hundred chicks. I have also seen smallish cardboard boxes with as few as three little peepers. You may also decide to use a plastic tub or build something more permanent out of wood.
The brooder box must have a heat source. It must have solid enough sides that chicks cannot escape and that a cat cannot simply reach in and snag a chick. I like sides that are solid up at least 16 to 18 inches. I personally use a very large plastic tote that once held fertilizer. If you use a plastic container just be sure what ever it held previously was non-toxic. If you plan to raise a brood every year like I do, you will probably want to use something that you can use each year and then store away.
The brooder box must also have a wire breathing lid. The lid protects the chicks from intruders and prevents them from hoping out when they reach that age. Young chicks can and do escape when they are quite small. I also like my heat source to be used in only one section of the brooder box. Chicks may need the heat, but in the daytime hours they will choose to come and go under the heat as they need.
In the photo above you will notice pine shavings on the floor of my brooder. Pine is a fine material and although it absorbs manure it must be kept away from your heat source. My heat lamp is simply a 100 watt bulb in a lamp with a protected cover. The lamp has a base clamp, but I also wire it in place. If you don't have a protected cover you could simply lay the heat lamp flat on your non flammable wire cover.
I can't put the subject of the brooder box to rest until we learn the little details. For instance, in the cute little photo above, you will notice the baby chicks sleeping near exposed plastic. The truth is, the shavings should be much thicker than what you see there. I like a couple inches of shavings and then I sprinkle in a little more every few days. I mentioned that shavings absorb manure. Shavings and other forms of "bedding" also store heat and thus help to keep the chicks warm. Change out the shavings every week, perhaps more often as they get older. Chicks hatch in the warmth of spring because they would not survive the chill of winter. Because of the cold, a brooder box alone is not the whole answer.
Brooder boxes must also be kept indoors. A garage, mud room, shop or an enclosed hen house will work. Chicks obviously can't take cold wind or rain, so keep the little peepers inside where you can keep and eye on the situation. If you have questions about brooder boxes you can post them here, or on my blog page. Here's my homework assignment to go with your lesson. First decide how many chicks you would like to have in your flock and then think about how much space they will need when they're about the size of a burrito. That's how big they will be when they're about 5 weeks old. If the brooder box is large enough you could even keep them in there for about two months. I never go past two months, by then they deserve to see the whole world and join the rest of the flock. Just make sure you have your brooder box all set up before dragging home the peepers. The brooder box will buy you some time to get the hen house ready, but you can't procrastinate... They grow pretty fast! Have fun with it and I'll be writing about how to pick chicks in the next lesson. Actually, the next lesson could either be a discussion of feeders and waterers or chicken breeds. I'm going to decide in the next few days but I would love to hear your thoughts. If I were writing an actual book manuscript, I would probably stay on preparation and talk about breeds later. Hmmm. Well I hope to hear from you... Talk to you later, this is Uncle Bill signing off (2/17/19)
LESSON 10 ~ Chicken Breeds
Well the decision has been made.
As I concluded my study of brooder boxes for small flocks, I was undecided as to where to go next. I thought about it and knew it had to include the accessories and fixtures that are inclusive to a brooder box. What else to put in the brooder box, other than the CHICKS THEMSELVES? So I will discuss chicken breeds first and go from there.
First of all, let me state that like the previous lesson, this lesson may be lengthy and edited on the fly. Entire books have been written on the subject of chicken breeds alone! Just to give you an idea of the scope of the topic, there are over 500 named breeds of chicken, although many are not "recognized". At this writing, the American Poultry Association recognizes 65 breeds. For this text, I'll try to include the most popular breeds and some of the reasons you may want to either choose them for your flock or not give them a second glance. At this point, I must admit I do have some favorites, but I'll do my best to simply state the facts as I know them and not be biased either for or against any particular breed. By the way, it's okay to disagree with my evaluations a bit. You have to think that who ever developed a specific breed had to define their chickens as very desirable.
Anytime there's a topic with such huge scope, it's at least possible to throw things into categories. For sure that's the case when considering chickens and other livestock species. There are meat birds, laying breeds and dual-purpose birds. Meat birds will be discussed last since most of my readers may not have the desire to dispatch and harvest chickens for their meat. Just be aware that all chickens produce both eggs and meat. Therefore the term "dual-purpose" can be a bit misleading. Look at it this way, its a matter of efficiency. Some breeds are better producers of meaty bodies and some are proficient egg layers. The developers of the specific breeds used cross breeding and other techniques to save certain characteristics.
I am going to breakdown the dual-purpose breeds into four groups based on their origins. This would be the place where early breeders worked to establish the breed and its specific characteristics. When a breed receives recognition, it must have repeatable traits such as body size, shape of comb and wattles, color of the feet scales, bare or feathered legs and feet or perhaps feather color and pattern. Any characteristic you might think of could be written in to the "breed standards". Even egg size and egg color may be a consideration.
The four groups of origin are;
- American (developed in the U.S.)
- European (Mediterranean)
- British (developed in the U.K.)
- Other (not often included by other writers)
ALL chickens are of one species. That simply means they are capable of breeding each other and producing fertile viable offspring. There may be different breeds, but all will interbreed and can produce hybrid chicks. ALL chickens are the result of a common progenitor that still exists in South East Asia. ALL chickens originated from Jungle Fowl. They exist is color variations but they are all known as Jungle Fowl and still exist in the wilds of Asia. It should pointed out that in the recent past century many different breeds have been developed all over the world, not just in the regions I'll discuss in this text.
I will start with the most popular Asian birds, but not for any reason. I will also go in alphabetical order, not in order of popularity. Just remember the following breeds were developed in Asia and have made their way to the Americas.
LESSON 10 continued~ Asian Breeds
Several breeds were developed in Asia during the 1800's. Refinement of many breeds continue to this day. The following is a list of the most popular breeds and thus they might be easier to find and add to your backyard flock. Of the five listed below, the Cochin and Silkie are currently the most common. The Asian Black has been developed as a separate breed only recently and is currently NOT recognized, but is gaining popularity.
Okay I'm gonna take a break here and gather my data. Signing off for now and I'll come back to eventually delete this line. Your Uncle Bill signing off.