Bedding in the brooder.
Again, I think this is one of those lessons I’ve been trying to master for more than a few years, and this year was the first time I feel like it went as it should. I try to practice deep bedding, but whether it’s my brooder set up, or the wood shavings I use (about all that’s available here, at least through the feed stores), or my management techniques, I am usually in a desperate and losing battle to keep the bedding in the brooder from feeling soggy. These little birds excrete a LOT of moisture and it takes a lot of wood shavings to absorb it all. Others around the world are using different beddings, and some sound like they work much better. I’d really like to source a finer grade of wood shavings, as I believe it might absorb better, but I’m not sure how to go about that, so it may not happen soon. Ideas, anyone?
In the past I’ve tried removing half and replacing (a lot of work and it panicked the birds) it with new shavings. I’ve tried adding shavings daily and stirring them in. I’ve tried adding shavings twice a day. This year, I was adding bedding in the mornings, quite a bit of it each time, over the whole floor space – a few centimetres deep. Didn’t stir it, just let it sit on top. I also made sure the place was always ventilated (even at night), thinking that perhaps the moisture was building up overnight because the shed is insulated. And I think that may have done the trick, because for the first time since I’ve been using that building, the bedding got damp, but not soggy, I didn’t get any respiratory issues with the birds (a problem in the past), Having that window open 24/7 (it’s away from the brooder, so no draft, and it has mesh, no rats) did rely on the hot dry weather of August, so this is another point in favour of starting chicks end of July.
Another factor of course was that this was the shortest time I’ve ever kept the broilers in the brooder – 12 days for most of them (I kept a few inside for a couple more days), and I know in the past the weather has compelled me to keep them inside the brooder for a week or so longer. They start getting big after week two, and their size has a big impact on my ability to keep up with the bedding.
Key take aways on brooding. Be religious about adding a good thick layer of fresh bedding at least daily. Try and source a more absorbent non-dusty bedding material. Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation. Get the birds outside as soon as possible.
As a sort of postcript to all this, I let a broody hen from the layers set a batch of eggs this summer – 9 of the 12 hatched, and she raised all 9 successfully. Her own body temperature was all the heat they got, and even when the ground got damp from rain, the chicks always thrived – her own body heat and the thick pad of hay they had for a nest seem to have sufficed. She had them venturing out of the brooder within a week, and by the end of week three, they were going through tall grass, and under brambles, scrambling over and under and around to keep up with her. Watching those chicks while I was providing all my careful TLC to the broilers across the yard in their brooder, I am aware as never before of just how fragile we have bred them to be.