I had 43 tiny fluffy chicks, now what? Obviously I had spent the last couple of months reading up how to look after them, but most websites are either about breeding at least hundreds, or assume you have barns/large amounts of space whereas I was going to be doing the first 8 weeks in my back garden!
Given my space issues, I was panicking somewhat about keeping all 43 of them, so I gave 25 to the shoot to add to the ones being hatched there, leaving me with a much more manageable 18.
Initially the chicks need heat, food and water, and this I thought I was prepared for. I had lots of support from the shoot’s gamekeeper who was the one encouraging me to do this in the first place, and he kept me supplied with food for my tiny flock. Thank you!
Water was straightforward, although the method of providing the food and water did change over time and with experience. All of this was during lockdown, and I was on a budget so I had to buy everything online, guessing at sizes. Again, most advice is “per 50 birds” or “per 250 birds” which isn’t that helpful when you only have 18!
I bought what seemed to be sensible sized food and water containers (called feeders and drinkers respectively), but as soon as I put them in the brood box it didn’t look like there was any space for the chicks! Back to ebay and smaller ones were acquired, for about £1.50 each, so that was ok.
Heat, was the next thing. And in this case I got my first attempt wrong. I remember from having puppies when I was a child, and was mostly seeing online (again remember the scale issues!), heat lamps as a red bulb, sometimes encased in a wire frame so birds can’t get too close. I was also seeing pictures of things called ‘brooders’ but it seemed to be expected that you know what these things are, and no way to actually find out. So based on what I thought, and my budget, I bought a heat lamp pack which turned out to be lighting flex with a clip and a normal lightbulb that had a red covering over the glass.
So far, so good. Expect the handy clip had to be removed as it was in the way and too big for my little brood box.
The next thing is how high do you hang the bulb? What I learned was the trial and error method, or about 12 inches. As the brood box was only about 12 inches, and that clearly wasn’t going to work, I went down the trial and error route.
This works as:
- Put in heat lamp
- Add chicks
- If chicks spread out far away pull up lamp
- If chicks pile up underneath then lower lamp
However I ended up needing the bulb practically touching the ground initially. Not ideal. So while the little pheasant chicks got very happy pecking at the red shiny thing that they wanted to sit near, I headed back to the internet to do some more digging.
It appeared, although I wasn’t completely certain, that the brooder was a warm plate that the chicks huddle under, replicating a mother bird. With some trepidation, especially as they were pricier than a mere bulb, I purchased a little one to fit my little box.
While waiting for it to arrive, the chicks grew rapidly, while continuing to make so much noise for such tiny creatures. The brood box was in the conservatory, next to where J was working and it became clear we needed to get them outside as soon as possible to get some peace! The box seemed to be shrinking as well, so their next home was set up.
The next home was a rabbit hutch that someone local was giving away. After a jet wash and being liberally dosed with disinfectant, it was lined with straw and the new brooder was set up inside. As it needed power an extension lead was set up from the conservatory.
The brooder was an instant improvement. The legs are adjustable to you can raise it as the chicks get bigger, but it amazed me what a small space they could fit into.
By this time, well indeed, before they even reached the rabbit hutch, the chicks were gaining their flight wings, and even if they weren’t fully flying, were able to jump exceedingly well! This did make cleaning the hutch out interesting.
With care, and a couple of near misses, I worked out the best way was to have a trug underneath the small door on the right, open it carefully, gently shooing any birds to the far end. Pulling out the feeder wasn’t too bad, but the drinker was always interesting. It twists together, and undone, and it is very easy to twist the bottom off while picking it up, and end up with water everywhere. Thankfully it only happened 3 times – once still in the kitchen sink, and the second and third times with the 8 litre drinker. The first of those I had only made a couple of steps from the outdoor tap, so only drenched my feet, and the other was in their third home at our house. Fortunately, there wasn’t much water in there at the time, and it only went at the end that I’d left open (more on that another time).
After removing the feeder and drinker, I could carefully sweep all the dirty straw out, and trying to get most of it into the trug, while keeping all the chicks inside the hutch. The are not clean birds and it wasn’t a fun job trying to keep them all inside.
Only once did one escape. The thoughts that passed through my head:
- how on earth am I going to catch in
- oh bother (this may not have been the word I thought!) what if the cat finds it first?
- Not in the house! I don’t want bird poo everywhere.
Now the cat was remarkably uninterested in the chicks. Apart from when they first started hatching and she tried to get a good look at them in the incubator, she had completely ignored them thereafter. I don’t know if it’s because she couldn’t see them, and we have such a racket of bird noise from outside anyway she just was inured to the sound, but she never once found or investigated the brood box or the rabbit hutch. But I didn’t believe for a second if she actually saw a baby bird that she would ignore it. The cat was currently asleep upstairs…
The dog was less of a risk, but still I didn’t know what she’d do. She was padding about in the garden…
Firstly, the pheasant didn’t want to stay outside, it hopped straight into the conservatory and there made its way speedily to the kitchen. I followed behind, trying to be stealthy, listening out for sounds of either animal trying to ‘help’ me. Thankfully nothing so far.
Pheasant chicks are speedy little things, and they can fly. Thankfully for me, while it was moving pretty quickly it stayed on the ground. Heading straight to the living room. At this point I assumed cleaning up bird poo was a given. Darn. It tried to go up the stairs, but I managed to head it off, and it spotted a dark corner, heading behind the sofa, and onto the bookcase. It couldn’t have given me a better place to trap and catch it! Still with no signs of either cat or dog, I pushed the sofa out the way, knelt down at the bottom of the bookcase and quickly scooped up the escapee, and popped it back in the hutch. It couldn’t have ended up being any less dramatic! Thank goodness.
Overnight I kept the front of the hutch covered, trying to keep them toasty warm, although over time they seemed less and less fussed about the heat plate. It was always nice to say good morning to them.
They seemed to grow so fast, and it wasn’t long before the hutch seemed too small for them.
Their next home was in progress and they were looking forward to moving in at just 3 weeks old.