Keep Your Chicks Warm and Safe… Without Burning Down the House

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The smell of warm dry wood chips and the sound of calmly chirping chicks in their brooding area is one of my favorite parts of spring, but I’ll never forget the day I noticed smoke rolling into our laundry room curling from around the door to the garage and the sound of frantic chicks coming from our makeshift chick brooder. I rushed in to find the heat lamp had slipped from the board it was clipped to and the impact of the fall had caused the wire guard to also slip off. The light bulb was lying in smoldering wood chips. Thankfully, I arrived in time to douse the wood chips before they burst into flames. I also managed to ventilate the area before the chicks got sick.

chick brooder
That incident prompted me to seriously consider how to keep my chicks warm and safe without accidentally burning down the house. And a quick Google search reveals that homes and barns destroyed by heat lamp triggered fires are all too common.
Through a bit of research on the topic I found several safer brooding options:

1. Brinsea sells a line of “Ecoglow chick brooders” which provide radiant heat which the company says are safer and more efficient than conventional heat lamps since they use a 12 volt transformer. The company sells a 20 chick brooder for $94.99 and a model for up to 50 chicks for $189.99.

2. You can build an Ohio Chick Brooder. Though the concept was originally developed decades ago you can still get the directions published by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in 1942. This roomy brooder will accommodate a good-sized flock, but I would definitely recommend adding a plexiglass viewing area in the top of the brooder so you can get a peek at your chicks without putting your head on the floor.

3. Set up a brooder in an insulated shed detached from your home. This proved to be a quick and easy option when I needed an immediate solution. I simply positioned my cardboard chick brooder border under a rafter. Then I used sturdy string to hang my head lamps from the rafter. This allowed me to tie the light up a little higher to keep the chicks from overheating  during warm weather. On cool spring days I could lower it to make the brooding area warmer.

With all of the above options it’s critical to provide a round border around the chick brooder area and monitor the chicks regularly. Many experienced chicken-keepers have learned the hard way that a variety of factors can cause temperature fluctuations in the brooder area. And if chicks begin to feel cool they will inevitably pile up in a corner to take advantage of the warmth of their fellow chicks’ body heat. Unfortunately those on the bottom of that heap can quickly suffocate.

Your chicks’ behavior will also tell you a lot about their comfort level. If they crowd together near the heat lamp or warmest point of another heat source it means they are a bit cold. Often a few will also be loudly chirping their displeasure with the accommodations. If they are pressing their bodies against the outer edge of the brooder area and are lying down, look a bit lethargic or are even panting they are dangerously warm and need the temperature reduced. A group of cozy happy chicks will usually be scattered throughout the chick brooder area with some eating and drinking, some running around chirping softly, and others content to doze off.

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And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

Sprouting Seeds for Chickens

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Even in winter time you can do some sprouting seeds for chickens to give them something fresh to eat and to keep them from getting bored. They may want something green to eat but without lots of leftover greens from your veggie trimmings they have to wait until spring. Sprouting seeds provides the greens that help chickens stay healthy in the winter season and it gives them entertainment. I know. Chickens aren’t very bright, bless their hearts. But sprouts have seeds attached and then there’s the green part so they’re happy.

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You can easily grow sprouting seeds for chickens at home without any special equipment. There are two basic ways of doing it.

1. Get a shallow shoebox or an old egg carton and fill it with dirt. You’ll need a few because you’ll want to plant fresh every three days or so to ensure a good supply. Moisten the dirt with plenty of water and sprinkle the soil with the seeds of your choice, pressing them gently into the dirt with your hands.

Place the box or carton under a light source out of cold drafts and keep the soil moist with sprinkles of water. Try to keep them warm. Once the sprouts grow to about two inches long go ahead and either set them in the coop for chicken-tainment or cut them off to eat yourself.

2. Get a large mason jar and poke several holes in the lid with an ice pick (or if you want to get fancy use a piece of screen or a double layer of cheesecloth).

Put the seeds in your jar, fill with water to cover the seeds, and let them sit overnight. The next morning pour out the water and put the jar in a window (no drafts, try to keep the jar moderately warm) until you see sprouts. Rinse them a bit and aerate them each morning so they don’t get moldy on you. Once the sprouts are to the desired length toss them out with your chicken’s morning feast or eat them yourself. I suggest keeping several jars going at a time. Chickens seem to enjoy this method the most because they can eat the little crunchy seed ends. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time with it because I usually forget to rinse my seeds and they get moldy on me which is why I do little compostable flats of sprouts.

When buying seeds make sure that they are either listed for sprouting or you find them for direct eating such as in a bulk bin at the grocery store. Seeds made for planting are often treated with chemicals.

 

Best seeds for sprouting

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Alfalfa
Radish
Chickpea
Peas
Lentils
Oat Groats
Wheatberries
Broccoli

Do you have a favorite sprouting method or sprouting seed? How about a tip to give chickens fresh greens and entertainment in the dark months? Tell us in a comment below!

The Father of All Chickens – A Short Story of the Red Jungle fowl

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The Red Jungle fowl is an ancient bird said to have roamed the jungles of Asia as early as 5,000- 8,000 years ago. It sustained generations of mankind and appeared in early cave art in parts of SE Asia. The birds still run wild today. This tropical member of the pheasant family roams areas of India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even the Hawaiian Islands. The Red Junglefowl is the father of all chickens.

In July 2012, Dr. Alice Storey of the University of New England and her associates made a big discovery: the Red Jungle fowl was the ancestor of all modern chickens. This team of scientists studied the mitochondrial DNA of ancient chicken bones collected from a huge variety of geographical locations, including Spanish Colonial Florida, Europe, Chile, Thailand, and Pacific Islands. The results? Every modern chicken breed descended from the Red Jungle fowl. According to Science Daily, humans kept Red Jungle fowl as livestock 8,000 years ago. It’s believed that they were first kept for cockfighting. Later, they were used for religious reasons. Then, the Red Jungle fowl was raised for food.

Since then, hundreds of unique chicken breeds have emerged. Just how did one breed of jungle birds turn into hundreds of distinct chicken breeds? Swedish zoologists Daniel Nätt, Per Jensen, and associates tackled that question in early 2012. The results of their study were published in BMC Genomics. Nätt and Jensen studied how individual patterns of gene activity in the brains of modern chickens differ from the original gene activity patterns in the Red Jungle fowl. Throughout their research, they found that hundreds of genes showed distinct differences.  Domestication has led to a variety of epigenetic changes.  The greater amount of methylation in the genes of modern chicken breeds may have something to do with the huge amount of variation within the chicken species in such a short period of time.

The male Red Jungle fowl is even more brightly colored than its tame counterpart as well as larger. Deep red facial skin, a metallic-green tail, and orange or red crown and neck feathers make this fowl stand out. Females are smaller and a diminutive brown. In the wild, the Red Jungle fowl lives in small, mixed-gender flocks with three to five hens per each cock. Some groups have been spotted with up to twenty birds. Young cocks live in isolated groups of 2-3 birds. The Red Jungle fowl subsists on seeds, fruit, and insects. There are five subspecies of Jungle fowl recognized today. All varieties are extremely shy and will scurry or fly into underbrush for cover at any sign of danger.

An endangered species in some parts of the world, including Singapore, the Red Jungle fowl is affected by habitat loss. Poaching is also a problem, too. Yet inbreeding with domestic chickens is perhaps the greatest threat to this ancient species.  Many Red Jungle fowl held in captivity have turned out to be genetically mixed. The prevalence of this puts the breed at a great risk for extinction.

It’s an amazing opportunity for mankind to be able to examine the chicken’s early ancestor and its modern offspring side-by-side. There aren’t many chances in life to see evolution so distinctly. However, without some serious conservation efforts, this is an opportunity which will not be afforded to our grandchildren. The Red Jungle fowl’s future lies on the line…. What can we do to ensure that this breed doesn’t join the list of extinct species?

Domestication of the Chicken: Out of the Jungles of Asia and Into The Modern World

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Backyard chickens are all over the news these days. In towns and cities across the United States, people are fighting for their right to raise their own food. The United Kingdom has also seen a rise in the popularity of small-scale poultry farming and other European cities have legalized the practice as well. Have you ever stopped to wonder where this trend came from? Or consider that raising chickens was popular for thousands of years before it became unfashionable to have chickens pecking about one’s yard?

Photo by: Garrett Heath
Photo by: Garrett Heath

Between 5 000- 8,000 years ago near China, the first chickens were domesticated from a wild Red Junglefowl. The success of this breed couldn’t be contained; Chickens slowly became popular throughout other parts of the globe. Chicken bones have been discovered in the tombs of ancient European Pharaohs. The Greeks also portrayed chickens in their pottery around 500 BC. A bit later on, the Romans considered chickens to be oracles. 7th century BC Corinthian pottery features pictures of domesticated chickens. A 2007 study by The University of Auckland’s Department of Anthropology suggests that prehistoric Polynesians were the first to bring domesticated chickens to the Americas. Other studies claim that chickens arrived in the Americas with European explorers. Easy to care for and inexpensive to purchase, the chicken offered man quick and nutritious food. Chickens were vital to early American colonists striving to survive in a harsh and unforgiving new world. Pioneers brought chickens West, relying on their eggs and meat in a vast land.  Chickens were an important part of life. Regardless, these useful birds became popular wherever they were taken, raised for eggs and for meat and sustaining generations of humanity.

Today, there are more than 24 billion chickens worldwide, making it one of the most common domesticated animals in existence. Men have bred and changed chickens in countless ways over the years, creating birds that meet every requirement imaginable. There are breeds that do well in hot climates and those that thrive where it is cool. There are birds that do well living in confinement and those that do best in a wide, open yard. With hundreds of breeds in existence, there’s one to meet every need.

Industrialization brought about a lot of changes. As people moved to cities for work, raising one’s own chickens became less popular. People got away from farming, and likewise away from the source of their food. Commercial farming made the problem worse. It’s far more common today for chickens to be raised in huge, commercial buildings, living in cages or cramped together in tight quarters than to be raised on a traditional farm. Consumers turned to the supermarket for their chicken meat and eggs. Raising chickens was seen as unsophisticated and unfashionable. Many traditional heritage breeds almost disappeared from existence because of this dramatic shift.

In recent years, raising one’s own chickens has made a huge comeback. The ugly side of commercial farming has been exposed time and again and people have started paying attention and taking control of their own food. It’s no longer unfashionable to raise chickens, but instead rather hip. Whether for health, environmental, or economic reasons, caring for chickens is a popular trend in modern society. More cities are allowing chickens within their backyards each year. The chicken seems to be the ultimate comeback bird. With its long and varied history, it’s not hard to believe that this bird is here to stay.