Free range chick rearing

Chicks PerchingFree range hens that go broody in the nest box can be a problem because they deter other hens from laying where they should and sometimes free ranging hens go AWOL to nearby hedgerows.  The absence of a Blue Andalusian from the Derrick flock last November was not unexpected because she has always been a free spirited individual who seems impervious to the effects of having her wings clipped. It was a surprise that she encouraged a normally well behaved Rhode Island Red to abscond with her. Just before Christmas the Andalusian returned home from the paddock with five small chicks and about 10 days later the Rhode Island Red emerged from hiding with four very young chicks. With so many wild birds about, coccidiosis is a threat to small chicks so some NRM Chick Crumble with coccidiostat was quickly purchased. Laying hens should not be fed coccidiostat if their eggs are being eaten so throughout Christmas the chicks were discretely fed crumble whenever the laying hens were preoccupied elsewhere.   During a festive break which at times was pretty dismal weather wise it was a joy to watch the hens and their brood.

Previous experience has shown that wild cats and possibly birds of prey can pick off unattended small chicks. Young chicks can drown in the shallowest of water containers and heavy rain can be a real threat until they have proper feathers. Fortunately both hens proved to be excellent protective mums, ensuring the chicks remained dry during some very heavy rain showers over Christmas.  The chicks were quickly encouraged into the safety of the hen-house at night and staked out a place on the perching despite their small size - no-doubt achieving status in the pecking order from their protective mums.

Bigger ChicksThe high protein medicated starter feed seemed to help them through with all nine surviving despite the trauma of free range living. As they finish the Chick Crumble they will go onto Pullet Grower which was recently launched in 10kg bags specifically for the smaller lifestyle farmer.  At this stage it looks like three or four  of them are hens. Their long term health will be better if they can be encouraged away from layer pellets during the pullet phase which contain too much calcium for young growing birds.

In the mountains of Wales, when farms change hands the famers buy the sheep that know the land and the best placed to graze and keep out of the snow. In a much less severe environment it has been good to see 9 chicks thrive and the diversity of colours that can emerge.

If you don’t mind the crowing, giving a rooster a home can have its rewards.