Keeping hens

...In middle age





...Table chickens

>..Rearing program

...- Quality

...Multiplying chickens

...- Incubator

The simplest way to start producing table chicken is to buy day-old chicks.

You can find different varieties for sale in Poultry World and Farmers Weekly. Select a producer, 'phone your order, send a cheque and then turn up at the railway station on the appointed day to collect your chicks. A word of warning about collecting birds this way. Some years ago we collected several boxes of quails. They were segregated into breeding trios, one cock and two hens per box. Beautifully packaged in their little cardboard houses, they proved too much of a temptation. Just a quick look into one box resulted in a dapper cock doing an amazing imitation of a helicopter. He rose quite vertically, wings whirring, and then did circuits and bumps round the inside of the car fortunately all the windows were closed! Of course, little chicks cannot manage the same kind of escape but it is probably a wise rule to keep everything intact until you are right beside the brooder.

A brooder is basically an artificial mother hen. It has a heat source which in sophisticated models is thermostatically controlled. If you are using an infra-red bulb, you just raise it or lower it to alter the temperature. A large lampshade covers all the chicks; from the edge of this a skirt hangs all the way round almost touching the ground. A barrier of some kind, often cardboard, is put a little distance outside the skirt to keep the chicks in. The gap under the skirt allows for ventilation. The brooder should be kept at an even temperature. If you run the brooder for a couple of days before the chicks arrive, the temperature will be constant. Chicks are extremely susceptible to infection. The brooder itself must be scrupulously clean. If you use the same room regularly as a brooder room, it must be totally disinfected between batches.

You need 50 sq. ft per 100 chicks in a brooder and 7 sq. in of hover space per chick. A ring of netting close round the hover restrains the chicks for the first few days; it can be removed after Day 4 to allow them the full brooder space. Decrease the temperature gradually. If you have 10 ft of snow around you then you will need to keep the heat going. During the summer, you may well be able to dispense totally with the heat after four weeks. If you have bought hybrid birds and have kept them growing well, they may well be up to weight at eight weeks. If you have a profitable market for poussin (birds of around 1 Ib in weight), they may be ready at four weeks. Obviously, it is not worth feeding your birds to reach higher weights unless you have a market for them.