The chicks are growing fast! If week 1 was about acclimating them, week 2 was about containing them.
Today the chicks were flappy. Rooster Cogburn can now fly about a foot laterally (not up and down) and likes to prove it. They’ve all mastered balancing on the perch-stick. The Langshans are best at it, but Cogburn took it up a notch by learning to hop from the perch to the top of the heater. Big change from yesterday when he couldn’t stand on the perch without falling off.
There was one last minor pasty butt on a Langshan. I read protein can help so gave them plain yogurt with a sprinkling of raw oats. Nobody was interested. Cogburn eventually tested the yogurt but didn’t like goop on his beak. Woe be it to the other chicks to try something the rooster disapproves of. They liked the fresh oregano, though. The sprigs are part treat, part toy.
We had a vet thing with BamBam, so for the first time I wasn’t home at sunset to make sure all the chicks were healthy and clean before disappearing under the heater for 12 hours. It was also the first time we noticed them come back out after dark.
Around 9 p.m., they were making noise, which is unusual, so I peeked in. The chicks were around the waterer. I had just refreshed it with plain water, which, like an obsessive helicopter parent, I keep in a mason jar on the kitchen counter so it’s room temperature by the time they need a refill. It was the first time I hadn’t added electrolytes or apple cider vinegar, so I wondered if it smelled novel to them, but maybe they were just thirsty. After drinking for a few minutes, they went back under the heater.
I woke up an hour before sunrise, and the chicks were already up and eating in the dark. They might be growing so fast they need sustenance between dusk and dawn. They have new feathers on their legs and wings.
Cleaned out the bin again. They’re indignant about being transferred to a cardboard box but ecstatic about fresh pine chips. They scratch and rearrange chips for hours as they poop and poop. And poop. My routine is to sprinkle new pine chips every few hours to cover messes. Pine chips are dusty but work well to keep everything dry. I read chickens don’t like piles, so I dump the chips in the middle of the brooder and let them remodel.
I tied a broccoli floret to a heater post, and they played with it for the rest of the day.
After sunset, the routine is to close off the study, though I usually walk in every 30 minutes or so to grab something. At 9 p.m., as soon as I cracked the door to sneak in, they ran out for nighttime food and water, like last night. Ten minutes later, they were under the heater and silent again.
Rooster Cogburn learned a new trick: fly-hopping to the top of the feed jar.
The others haven’t learned it yet, but they’re intrigued.
They’ve become so tame I decided to carry them to the sofa for the poultry portaits you see throughout the post.
When they’re not posing for pictures or scaling the feed jar, they love pooping and hanging out on top of the heater (and pooping) now that the pyramid cover is off. I switch out my patented poop-away cardboard heater cover once a day.
At sunset, they were making noise instead of going under the heater. The heating plate instructions say that’s a sign the plate is the wrong height, so I reached under and adjusted it up one more notch on one side only, since some chicks are still smaller. Right away, they ran under and were quiet. I cracked the door to give them light around 9 p.m. so they could come out for evening snacks, but they didn’t.
This morning, they greeted me by flying to my arm when I lowered my hand in the bin. Time to prioritize making a brooder cover.
This meant a trip to the hardware store after morning chores, which are abundant because we just had our last foreseeable frost. Between chicks and preparing for bees, gardens, the spring turkey hunt, etc., it’s a busy time. After doing a bunch of homesteady things, including giving the chicks grass/dirt with dandelion greens and flowers (they played with the flowers but ate the greens), we went shopping.
We bought hardware cloth (wire mesh) and zip ties, plus a grab-bag of PVC parts to upgrade the brooder with a new feeder and waterer inspired by a “Share pictures of your brooder!” thread on BackyardChickens.com.
We’ve realized the standard 99¢ watering tray and $3 chick feeder are flimsy, messy, wasteful spacehogs. The chicks scratch 1/3 of the kibble from the feeder onto the floor, then take dust baths in it. They kick chips, food, and pooh into the water tray all day. It has to be dumped at least 6 times a day.
The feeder and waterer also take up around a quarter of the floor space in our brooder. Evidently, crowded chickens are aggressive chickens, and these Brahma pullets already don’t mess around. Hopefully the new setup we’re envisioning will make the brooder more spacious and make it much easier to keep the water clean and the feed in the feeder.
After an afternoon visit by the neighbors – it was impressive how sociable the chicks were, even the shyer Langshans – Chris chopped up the PVC to make 2 excellent feeders. Then we sawed out the insides of the storage/brooder bin lid, cut hardware cloth to fit, and drilled a bunch of holes to zip-tie the wire to the lid.
We didn’t finish until after dark (look at that big moon off barnbungalow’s porch!) so would work on the waterer and install things another day.
Here’s a weird slow-motion video of sparks flying from the grinder as Chris cuts wire for the brooder cover.
Today they enjoyed oregano sprigs, flapping, growing, and pooping. They have a lot more feathers suddenly. Despite this, they haven’t tried flying out of the bin yet, so we haven’t put the cover on. I’m not looking forward to having a barrier to visiting with them.
They appear to be working on pecking order. This is a vital part of chicken life, and they decide who’s at the top and bottom of the social pyramid. We can’t decide for them based on who’s cutest.
It does seem like Cogburn will take his place at the top as a rooster. The smile on that beak is the smile of a leader.
After Cogburn, the largest Langshan chick seems to have high status, or maybe it seems that way because it’s so large and calm.
If this chick turns out to be a rooster, I don’t think we’ll be disappointed. Black Langshan roosters are iconic. We’ll just separate into another flock with the easter egger pullets I’m hoping for later this spring.
It’s supposed to be a “she,” though. Win-win.
The 2 smallest Langshan chicks seem to be at the bottom. They lurk under the heater the most but while there seem to be doing constant housework, rearranging the chips. At first I was concerned that they seemed antisocial, which is a symptom of illness, but that was helicopter parenting again. They eat and drink and run out for treats and preen and scratch all day but happen to be more shy about it. They don’t mind being petted or picked up but don’t necessarily run to you the way the Brahmas do.
In other news, the nipple waterer didn’t work, which I didn’t figure out until after work, when the chicks were already in sunset drink-eat-poop mode. I’ll add the new feeders when I clean their bin tomorrow and go back to the drawing board on the waterer.
Chicks were up throughout the night eating and drinking. I finally turned on a light in the study’s 1/2 bath to help them see. Chickens supposedly have terrible night vision.
Maybe it was all the late-night snacks, but they were noticeably bigger and more feathered in the morning. Rooster Cogburn greeted me by flying to the top of the waterer but still hadn’t tried to fly out of the brooder…until 11:30 a.m., when there was a flap and a few peeps, and Clover started watching the study intently. I peered in and saw Cogburn wandering around.
I congratulated him, put him back with his flock, filled the feed jar, cleaned the waterer, and slowly lowered the cover on the bin. Their first reaction was panic. It must’ve seemed like the sky was falling. They recovered quickly and went back to eating and preening. Now they seem even calmer than before. If you think about it, they’re probably watching for flying predators even at this age. Having a roof might be a relief.
At lunch, they and their heater waited in a cardboard box while I deep cleaned the bin and hole-sawed and zip-tied 2 PVC feeders to it. Here’s what they look like.
First impressions are mixed. It’s a space-saver, but gravity seems not to be pulling the food all the way down to the open area.
Our coop builder had mentioned that PVC feeders work better with higher-quality feed because real grains are heavier than the by-products in my door-prize chick starter. I’ll order the good feed I’ve been eyeing and give these feeders more time before deciding all we’ve done is drill 2, chick-sized escape holes in the side of the brooder.
On the positive side, they tried the feeders almost immediately and seem pleased.
See how much space the feeder and waterer take up now that the chicks are bigger?
It took over 30 minutes redo the brooder. During that time, the chicks were without food or water, which isn’t great, so I left the old feeder in for the night for maximum grazing options.
And here’s the cover. We’re pretty proud of it.
Are they 2 weeks old already!? In the morning, though I could see their water was miraculously clean, I couldn’t resist taking the cover off to visit. It doesn’t hurt to get them used to the cover going on and off.
I sprinkled in pine chips and refreshed the grit…then removed the old feeder to see if the new PVC feeders would hold their own. They do. We still have to jiggle the pipes to get the food all the way down, but the chicks are getting plenty of food and aren’t scratching as much of it onto the ground.
I added a couple new sticks from outside where the feeder used to be so they have more things to hop on. They had grass + dirt, which is a treat they love now. This to-go pho container lid is their treat tray. They get crazy when they see it.
Interestingly, the smallest Langshans are aggressive when it comes to grass. They elbow in and park themselves in the middle of the treat tray. Maybe they won’t be at the bottom of the pecking order.
Will we figure out a better watering system? How will the pecking order shake out? Will the green “I’m a rooster” mark on Cogburn’s chest finally fade as he grows feathers? We’ll see in week 3.