Our Cornish-cross chicks arrived on Thursday morning, fresh from the hatchery in California. There are about 600 in all and they are all healthy! We didn’t lose any even though the shipment spent two days in the postal system. Those chicks are amazingly hardy for being so small. They can survive for at least a day on the nutrition they received from the yolk sac in the egg, without needing any additional food or water.
The chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes with holes in the sides and lids. Each box is divided into sections with about 25 chicks in each partition to prevent them from piling up and smothering each other during transport. In the middle of summer, the hatchery usually puts fewer chicks in each box so they don’t get too hot.
Our day begins when the local post office calls to let me know the chicks have arrived. The call usually comes at 5:30 or 6 a.m. We head straight to the post office, where the poor postal workers are enduring the incessant cheeping of hundreds of chicks. I think they’re always glad to see them leave! We pull up to the back loading dock of the post office and unload all the boxes off the postal carts and into our car. Then we head straight up to the farm where the heat lamps are already turned on and food and water is set out for the new arrivals.
Keith and I each take a stack of boxes into the brooder and work quickly to unload the chicks. They are so hungry, thirsty and cold at first! Each chick makes a bee-line straight for the water or feed as soon as its feet hit the ground. They run everywhere, peeping in a state of panic and you have to be very careful not to step on them.
After their little bellies get full and they find the heat, their cries of distress fade to a quiet murmur. They all huddle under the hovers and cozy up next to the heat lamps for warmth. Their eyes drift closed as they bask in the heat. Sometimes they fall over, they get so relaxed. It’s really adorable!
We will be getting at least 6 more batches of chicks as well as another couple hundred layer chicks for egg production, over the course of the summer. This kicks off the busy farm season! We’re looking forward to a good year in 2013!
Emmie loves the chicks. She has to stay up on a straw bale so that she doesn’t step on them, but she watches them intently, quivering with delight. I think the frenzy of little running birds really kicks her herding instincts into full gear – she really wants to get them all bunched up into one spot. She’s pretty adept at herding chickens, which comes in handy when these birds are bigger and sometimes escape from their pasture pens.
The brooder is all set up – shiny new heat lamps are installed, an overhead automatic watering system is in place, mason jars waterers are filled, feeders are set out.
Now where are the chicks?!
My hatchery in California tells me that my 600 Cornish-Cross babies are enroute but transit has been taking two days instead of one. I’m imagining fluffy yellow chicks standing in long TSA lines at the airport. It makes me laugh so I don’t worry too much. I am looking forward to getting them out of their boxes and into their plush new living quarters!
This farm is on the move! This Sunday, Keith and I loaded a couple of our brooders onto a flatbed trailer and hauled them up to their new resting spot at the ranch.
These brooder houses are pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself. Each one cost less than $200 to build and they’ve served us through 4 different farm seasons at 3 different locations and have (mostly) held together well.
Please excuse my “migrant farmworker” husband in the straw hat. He found the hat in an old refrigerator and spent the afternoon wearing it and dancing a jig to Irish music as he worked. I can’t really explain any of that previous sentence in a way that makes any sense whatsoever. Whatever makes him happy, since I took him away from his precious Mt. Bachelor to help me on the farm this weekend.
Here we are, about to hit the highway with one load of brooders! We’ll transport the other two next weekend if I can peel the migrant farmworker off the ski slopes again.
One of the most rewarding parts of owning a farm is sharing the experience with other people. Views like these are too good to be kept to oneself.
the farm at sunrise
The biggest attractant, though, is not the view but the fuzzy baby chicks in our brooder. With batches of broiler and layer chicks arriving every four weeks, we have a constant supply of cuteness. No matter how ungainly these birds will look in a few weeks, as day-old babies they bring out the child in all of us.
After all, aren’t baby chicks what a farm is all about?
Many of my friends bring their kids out to the farm to see the baby chicks and to feed the laying hens. The chickens are just the right size for a child to approach. There is nothing more adorable than seeing a little 2 year old girl in a plaid dress, hand-feeding chickens in a pasture. Heart-melting adorable, I’m telling you.
Know what else is adorable? These:
Kid's drawings - the price of admission for a farm tour
The last few kids who have come to visit the baby chicks have each brought me pictures and letters. One sweet little blonde first grader even brought Chocolate Banana Braed, as mentioned above. Her note was written in blueberry-scented Mr. Sketch marker too…she gets extra points for that!
I’ve decided that the new price of admission for a farm tour is a hand-painted picture. Disney character drawings merit extra special farm tour priveleges. I wouldn’t turn down a loaf of Chocolate Banana Braed, either. That stuff was good.
As promised, I have uploaded our plans for building portable, low-cost brooders and hovers. These brooders are modeled after one pictured in Joel Salatin’s book, “Pastured Poultry Profits”, but we developed the design ourselves.
The following pictures should be of help to anyone who is inexperienced in construction. They are really easy to put together, and require minimum tools; just a circular saw, a cordless drill, a hammer and a square. The cost for each one came to just less than $200.
There are probably ways to build these better, and if you’re experienced you’ll probably catch things we did wrong. But at the end of the day, they are sturdy, watertight and are doing a great job brooding chicks. Use our guide as a base and make any changes as you see fit.
Link to PDF file for plans: Provenance Farm Brooder and Hover Plans
one wall, partially constructed
all four walls joined to create the brooder frame
brooder frame, with partially completed plywood walls
cut removable plywood panels for sides
attach hinges for lids
Finished brooder (with sides removed)
Select an experimental chicken
test brooder for chicken-holding capacity
When satisfied with chicken-holding capability, drag brooder to designated Brooding Spot
Build a few more, and you're in business
Link to PDF file for plans: Provenance Farm Brooder and Hover Plans
It’s been a busy few weeks out here on the farm, as we prepare for spring livestock. The first to come will be 150 Delkab Amberlink chicks, which will add to our laying flock this fall. Keith and I have been spending evenings and weekends building cozy brooders for the babies. We don’t have a barn here, so we designed weatherproof, stand-alone houses to be used as brooders. These could even double as a pasture pen for larger chickens; when the weather is nice the sides can come off to let the sunshine in.
A hen tries out the partially-constructed brooder
The day-old chicks arrive next week, straight from Ohio via the U.S. Postal Service. I will go pick them up at the Post Office and show them to their new homes. Once they are settled in, and we make any necessary adjustments to the brooder design, I’ll post plans here for anyone who is interested in copying the design for their own farm.
(Edit May 7, 2010: Plans are now posted here with a pictoral guide and here as a PDF file)
Hauling the brooders out to the pasture
There is nothing more satisfying than accomplishing a big project after a lot of hard work, many late nights, and dozens of strong cups of coffee.
Now bring on the chicks — we’re ready for them!
Pasture brooders - ready for chicks!