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Causes of chick death in the brooder

Contact chick brooderRaising chicks from day one to adulthood seems to be far less fraught with peril than getting them out of their eggs, but my track record still improved over time.  As long as you can keep your chicks disease free (which our chicken waterer pretty much does for you), there are only two big causes of chick mortality --- temperature and predators.

Heat
Until they're fully feathered, chicks need an external source of heat to keep them alive.  The mother hen would serve this function in the wild, but if you're raising chicks on your own, you'll need to resort to a powered heat source.  I was thrilled when I discovered Brinsea's EcoGlow Chick Brooder, which mimics a mother hen by letting the chicks snuggle up under a warm object rather than warming their entire space.  I felt like the contact brooder raised happier chicks than the traditional brood light, although I was a nervous chick mother and hated not being able to see the chicks for the first day as they slept off their hatch exertions.

Hand warmer for chicks

But what if the power goes out?  I learned the hard way that even an hour without heat can kill your weakest chicks, but we also came up with a stopgap solution for brooding during short power outages.  Putting an activated hand warmer in the bttom of a small box and closing the lid partway kept our chicks from anxious peeping until the electricity came back on.  (Our readers also suggested some other good alternatives here.)

Predators
Mother hen with chicksI lost a quarter of my first two batches of chicks to rats.  My mother hen did a better job, but still lost one of her offspring.  Only on hatch four did I figure out that it's not rocket science to keep predators away from my chicks.  Just:

  • Keep your chicks inside the house a little longer, if possible.
  • Once you move the chicks outside, seal gaps in the coop so rats have a harder time getting in.
  • Shut the chicks in the coop each night until they're six weeks old and too big for rats to attack.
  • Keep chicken feed in a sealed container outside the coop.


I lost 25% of hatch one to rats, 33% of hatch two to a power outage and then to rats, and 18% of hatch three to introducing the chicks to the mother hen incorrectly and then to rats.  But our final batch of 14 chicks have all survived their 6 week birthday and will probably make it until we pull the plug and put them in the freezer in November.  That's more like it!


This post is part of our 2011 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Last year we lost 9, 10 week old chicks that had been momma raised to a weasel! We lost them one by one until I finally saw the dastardly varmint actually grab one in broad daylight! Boy, was I mad!!!! So this year I’m watching the new little brood of 5 more carefully and we cut all the high grass around the chicken coop that an offending weasel might hide before striking. So far the 6 week old babies are ok and the mother hen is very diligent. I also have a very large rabbit hutch that sits just off the ground that I have placed in the coop where I shut the little family in at night. This way they are safe off the ground (they are too small yet to flutter up to the roosts) in a cage and safe locked inside the coop. Hopefully this double safety will ensure 5 more productive members to our flock!
Comment by Elizabeth Tue Oct 11 19:41:12 2011
I'm so sorry about your chicks! It's heart-breaking to lose chicks, and definitely worth a little extra effort to make sure they all make it to adulthood. I've been closing in our Light Sussex every night even though they're now nearly two months old and past the really scary period --- it just feels like the right thing to do. Good luck with your current batch!
Comment by anna Tue Oct 11 19:55:32 2011

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime