Meeting Chicks at the Watering Hole

One of my favourite parts of spring is when we get our chicks. It doesn’t seem to matter how often we have gotten them in the past, new chicks are always fun to watch.

When they first arrive, they are given a drink of water, shown where the food is and then placed under a heat lamp.

But of course everything is new and has to be explored. So when they feel warm enough, off they go.

Pecking at bits of bedding or a dark spot on their brooder wall. Over to the feeders for a snack with maybe a drink of water to wash it all down. Then it is off to check everything out again.

Sometimes they decide that running is the thing to do. And there isn’t anything funnier than watching something the size of an egg running at top speed for no apparent reason. Allan compares them to popcorn, they just don’t stay still.

Along with chicks, we also get turkey poults. The two types of birds can go into the same brooder for the first couple of weeks. This benefits the turkeys most.

Turkeys are naturally curious, so when they see another chick pecking at some food, they try it too. If one is drinking water, then the turkey will drink as well. This is how they discover where the food and water is. Otherwise, they would be just as likely to lie down next to the feeder and starve.

Of the two, turkeys are much the more fragile. They need a warmer brooder and higher protein feed. They also need a very dry environment. Until they have true feathers, if they get too wet or even damp they can lose their body heat and die.

They shouldn’t be put on straw. Straw can be slippery when wet and this would lead to leg injuries. Also, there can sometimes be found in straw, a mould that is noxious to turkeys. Wood shavings are best.

So when preparing for the chicks, I like to lay down a layer of peat moss and then put wood shaving on top. The peat moss will absorb up to 100 times its weight in water and the shavings keep the birds from eating it. They will also eat sawdust in the shavings but once they have found the real food, this isn’t as attractive to eat.

For the first few weeks, the turkeys are by far the bigger bird. But when the chicks “discover their stomachs” or appetites, they really start to size up quickly. You could almost measure a difference from morning to night, it seems.

At this point we remove the turkeys. While the turkey may be taller, the chicks are much heavier. And would crush a turkey if they slept on one.

But by then the turkeys no longer need someone to show them how to eat or drink. They have started to “find their stomachs” too, and are off and growing.

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