Some of all y’all know that I’ve got some chicks that I hatched in an incubator, some non-incubator-hatched chicks that I rescued from a duck’s nest (3), a couple of ducklings I rescued during a freeze from a duck nest where the mom duck decided to go for a swim and let the still wet hatchling and hatching egg fend for themselves in the freezing weather and then, a couple weeks later, 5 more newly-hatched bantam chicks from another duck’s nest. All of these were being kept in an overcrowded brooder, overcrowded because standard chicks grow BIG and so do ducklings. Bantams, not so much.
At the end of two weeks, I started putting the chicks outside in a covered pen on the grass for an hour or two every day after work while I cleaned the brooders, all day on the weekends. This was despite dire warnings from chicken experts that they were too young to be outside. Whatever. The rule of chick raising is, I believe, lowering the temperature 2 degrees every week until they’re @ 6 weeks old, at which time they should be sufficiently feathered to withstand outside conditions.
I left the chicks outside all day and overnight several days this week (three weeks old for the standards and ducklings, 4 weeks old for the older mixed bantams) with no observable ill effects. I loaded them up to bring inside this morning about 1 a.m. because the temperature was falling so low. They were all taking shelter in a nest box, the smaller ones and ducklings under the wings of the larger, more feathered ones, and they protested mightily about being brought inside. The five little bantam chicks still inside were happy to see them, though, and quickly scurried under the feathers of their surrogate “mothers”.
I put them back outside this morning when the temperature hit 50 but the wind was cold. Rather than huddle together for warmth, they immediately started foraging, scratching and pecking at the fresh grass that their pen had been moved to. I noted, too, when I put them back inside under the brooder lights last night, that they were much taller and heavier than before. That short time outside on the grass under the more natural conditions seems to have really accelerated their growth!
The week-old black bantam chicks would probably benefit from being outside, too, but they’re just so much tinier than everybody else! The ducklings pulled all the down off their backs when they were outside the last time, so they’ll have to wait until their feathers come in or it gets much warmer. I “think” the ducklings were preening them, not attempting to cannibalize them, as they had no bleeding wounds.
So far, about 30ish ducklings have been hatched by momma ducks this year. Of those, the only ones that are left are the two that I took inside and put in the incubator then the brooder. The rest have succumbed to predation (the hawks have hungry hatchlings!) and cold weather. Of the chicks that have hatched, the ones that I left loose with the mothers have all been snabbled up by predators along with their mothers.
All the people that want to abolish all chicken operations except for “free range” chickens are going to be very, very hungry. The foxes, dogs, racoons, possums, rats, snakes, coyotes, bears, and bobcats, however, will be quite well fed.