Brooding chicks- a crucial stage in pastured poultry

Brooding chicks- a crucial stage in pastured poultry

A brooder is a place where the chicks are kept safe, warm and have their needs for food and water met. 

At Maple Wind Farm, we have 2 high tunnels with shade as chicks need to be protected from full sunlight. They need a controlled environment that gives them what a nest would provide until they grow feathers and can fend for themselves.

Our season begins each April with the first delivery of chicks from the hatchery in Pennsylvania.

2 brooder    Chicks in boxes

For 23 weeks each season, we get 800 day old chicks delivered weekly via the post. Its crucial to get them settled as soon as possible for them to thrive. We give them warmth, easy access to food and water and clean bedding. It's during the first few days that are critical to assuring a strong and viable chicken that will then grow and thrive for the following 8 weeks.

The infrastructure that goes into our brooders is extensive.

Heat is a key element to the chicks survival.. We used to have heat lamps spaced throughout but we have moved to hover propane lamps. They heat a larger area and are easier for farmers to move around and care for the fast moving chicks under foot.

Brooder Preparation/ Bedding. Clean and absorbent! To prep brooders for a batch, we start the season first with hardware cloth so rodents can not bury up from underneath! After that, we put down lime to reduce pathogens, spread some initial wood shavings about 3 inches thick and then a few inches of peat moss. Peat moss has proven to be a healthy bedding material for many reasons: more absorbent (especially for the ammonia from chick manure), it is edible and non-toxic, and over time it does not accumulate as much to keep the pack depth down. Every day we spread a bit more peat moss in soiled/wet areas.

It also makes a great soil amendment! We take out the bedding pack at the end of the season and compost the material. All the nutrients stay on the farm!

Food and water: accessibility is key! Chicks should not have to travel far to get either to thrive. So we have many trays and vessels at the beginning stages and as they grow we use the automatic feed line as seen in the photo below.

Protection: Surrounding both brooders is Cassie, our trusted canine livestock guardian dog. Her presence deters predators (ie rats, minks, raccoons). She has plenty of room to roam, gets plenty of loving from our staff at each feeding time and enjoys roaming at her free will within her netted enclosure. Thank you Cassie!

Moving out to Pasture- Beyond the Brooder: Once the chickens have grown their set of white feathers (approx 2-3 weeks) it's time for them to move out to their pasture homes called MRCs (mobile range coops) where they live on fresh grass, hanging feeders with non gmo grain that move with the MRC. Every morning, the shelters (which host 400 birds each) get pulled forward one length so they get green fresh grass and leave behind a swath of nutrient rich manure.

Chickens inside MRC

Brooding success is key to having a profitable and viable chicken at processing time. As you can tell there are many details to attend to care for the total of 17,000 chickens that go through our system each season. 

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