Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Week 3 - Grow Out Pen

I decided that the brooder box is not big enough for 50 chicks through 3 or 4 weeks. So I started working on a "grow out pen". Next to the shed there is a 12x20 foot section that is very well fenced with 2" welded wire. So I added a layer of 1" plastic mesh that I had laying around to the front half, and wired up a 2 foot high border of scrap OSB plywood around the perimeter of the back half and across the gate (so that I can step over it but the chicks can't get out). I put a tarp over half the area so they will have shade and dry ground.

The best idea came from Mary, was to build a "heat box" rather than using a 250 watt heat lamp. A heat box is 3 to 4 foot square, a foot high with a roof but no floor, and a small gap at the bottom for the chicks to be able to get under neath. I wired it up with two regular old 60 watt light bulbs on opposite ends on the inside near the top. I also screwed a cedar board over the gap at the bottom on the two back sides so that it will contain the heat better and give them safe corner. Not only does the box keep them warm, but it also provides them shelter and protection from cats and hawks, and uses less than half the electricity of a single heat lamp.

LESSON LEARNED: Use a heat box in a confined area rather than brooder box.

Yesterday the chicks were 2 weeks old and just way too big for the brooder box. So I decided it was time to move half of them to the grow out pen. I tried to pick out the ones that had the most feathers. I ended up with 24 in the pen and 22 left in the brooder box. Here you can see them in their new home for the next week or two.

I sat and watched them carefully for an hour or so. At first they were very timid and took near 20 minutes to come out of the box that I moved them in. Then they finally started to check things out. It was really fun to watch them explore and flap their wings and run around. Some were even flapping and chest bumping with each other, probably learning how to be roosters. You can see a few chicks just under the heat box in these pictures.

My layer hens were extremely jealous to see these guys eating in front of them, so I threw some scratch for them in front of the pen so that everyone can get to know each other. Maybe the chicks will learn some "chicken behavior" from them, who knows, can't hurt.

This guy is Mr. Curious. I watched him (he has a distinguishing white breast) as he was always the first one to explore around the back side of the heat box, out to the back corners of the pen, then he came right up to my layer hen, "Beakers", without any hesitation. Could be that he is brave, could be that he is curious enough to get himself in trouble. We will see.


The first half of the chicks did so well in the pen that I moved the other half in to the pen 3 days later. I was worried about the cooler weather (40-45 degrees at night) for the first night with each move, but all survived and are doing great. I cleaned the disgusting pine shavings out of the brooder box and cleaned up the mess in the shed. Now both my compost bins are full.

The chicks have almost finished the first 50 pound bag of feed (25% protein BTG starter), I am going to put them on 23% protein chick starter for the next week or so to reduce the protein content some. Then they will all get moved out to the hoop house. I still haven't posted my hoop house build. I will do that soon.

And we got a pair of goats, "Brownie" and "Granny", to eat down the grass and weeds in the pasture. That was another whole adventure! I had to add a hot wire to the pasture fence to keep the younger one from getting her head stuck in the fence. Some how she managed to squeeze it through, but then the angle of her horns didn't allow her to back her head out. It was a major struggle to free her without cutting my fence. After the fourth time I put her on a cable tie out until I got the hot wire finished. It took her all of 5 seconds to figure out the hot wire, I about died laughing when she hit it with her nose and jumped 6 feet straight up in the air. She won't do that again.

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