We raise our own chickens for meat. About a month ago we received 100 chicks in the mail and put them into a heated brooder box my husband constructed. The brooder consists of a heater in a rabbit hutch, vacated by Bunny who passed away in late winter at the age of 12, that stands outside against the back of the barn.
Like much of our farm equipment the brooder box does not function particularly well. The brooder box is fronted by glass windows that open by swinging down (like the door to a mailbox). When they are young the chicks have to kept at approximately 95 degrees. Keeping the temperature steady has proven very difficult, especially with the 40 degree-plus temperature swings we have been having. On a cold night the temperature in the brooder box can drop to 75 degrees causing the chicks huddle together for warmth. In the morning, when the sun hits the brooder box, the temperature can shoot up to well over 100 degrees making them pant.
It was on one of these sunny days that my husband, using an old twisted wire he apparently found on the ground and a couple of screws, devised a means of leaving the brooder door hanging open about six inches at the top, so the heat could escape. Good thinking and it worked well--until the wind came up.
One recent weekend afternoon it began to get a bit breezy. Dieter was out and I was wondering where our corgi puppy Moby had gotten to. I called and called and he didn’t come. I walked out toward the barn looking for him. I came across a small, wet bird lying dead in the grass and couldn’t imagine why it was there. I continued walking. I saw Moby come around the corner of the barn in full play mode—bright eyes, tongue hanging out. I also saw that the long grass at the end of the barn was alive with birds—broiler chicks to be precise. At my feet I saw another wet bird, alive but bloody. Moby picked up a chick from the grass in his mouth and threw it up into the air. The chick landed on the ground, sprang to its feet and toddled off.
Needless to say, when the breeze had come up the old and twisted wire holding the brooder door failed. When I rounded the corner of the barn I saw the brooder door hanging open and the brooder nearly empty. Most of the chicks had apparently simply jumped out. I found another wet, dead chick on the ground beneath the brooder. I ran to put Moby in the house and to get my 15-year-old son, who told me he’d be along in a few minutes because he was trying to download something onto his iPod until I shrieked at him and he came out stuffing his iPod into his pocket.. It took us quite awhile to catch all those chicks and put them back in the brooder. My son spent a long time laying flat on the ground in the brooder trying to chase chicks out from underneath with a section of hose while I grabbed them as they emerged.
When we finally got all the chicks back inside it was still hot out. I closed the brooder door, holding it open a crack so the heat could escape using the same twisted wire. But I twisted the wire tighter!