My production system is to have pairs allocated to a nesting compartment which is 80 cm wide, 50 cm deep and 50 cm high. Birds are locked in these compartments until they understand it is their home and then they are left to free fly. If need be, I can always lock them up again. There is enough room for 2 nestbowls to easily fit in these compartments.
“Nesting compartment with wire front taken off.”
As the babies get moving around, they often bother their parents enough to affect the fertility of the next round and/or soil the next round of eggs as they moved over to the other nest and sat beside their parent. So when the babies were big enough to walk around and molesting their parents – about 3 to 4 weeks old, I would place them on the floor. Frequently the more dominant cocks would harass and maybe even scalp these chicks. The chicks would be left on the floor until I would see them eating and drinking and then they would be transferred to a young bird pen at 5 to 6 weeks of age. With the old birds flying up and down to their nest, the youngsters on the floor often hide under their tails.
So what do you do with babies on the floor that are being bothered by aggressive cocks? You could lock up the pairs with the aggressive cocks but that is a lot of work and some birds do not adapt well to being locked up. You can place the babies back in the nesting compartment with the parents where they are a nuisance and vulnerable to falling out of the nesting compartment onto the floor. I decided to place some of these babies in a small pen by themselves, with the intention of placing them back with their parents twice a day for feeding. I decided to offer feed and water to the babies and to my surprise they started to eat and drink by themselves. They identified the feed right away but it took longer for them to learn how to drink I found an open dish worked best and then I went to a chick waterer with a bright red bottom (as pictured). I recall from university, a trial that a fellow graduate student was doing about chicks’ attractiveness to color. The birds drank more and had less mortality with red bottomed waterers compared to blue, yellow, green and black. I also use a red feed dish, again sourced from the poultry industry, and have a mix of smaller grains for the babies with millet, safflower, vetch, milo etc. Babies are fed and provided fresh water at least twice a day.
So then I started weaning more at this age and found they adapted very quickly In fact they learned quicker than if they were not weaned until 6 to 8 weeks of age and with a lot less stress on the parents. At the end of the breeding season, I am frequently surprised at how much weight my breeders lose, but when you see how hard they work feeding youngsters that are 75% the size of parents, I can understand why. I think that feeding youngsters can be very stressful on the breeders.
For a few years now, I have used this system of taking babies at about 3 weeks of age, tails about 2 cm long, and placing them into a weaning pen. It has worked very well. I watch the birds in the weaning pen very closely to ensure that they eat and drink. Occasionally I need to stick the beak of a baby into the water, but I find generally that they just learn from the others that have already mastered it. Overall this system is easier on the fancier, easier on the parents, and improves production.
“Chick water dispensers where water is readily available and easy to find.”