Basic care for your flock: Food, Fomites, and Flocks

Last month, we introduced the FLAWS, which are the things that contribute to poor performance and, possibly, mortality in your backyard birds. The easiest way to help your flock succeed is to cover your FLAWS (Feed, Light, Air, Water, Security). This month, we’ll crack into the first of the FLAWS: Feed, plus Fomites and Flock. Here are some considerations around each of those elements of care.

FOOD: Chicks are hatched with their yolk, which can provide supplemental nutrition if they cannot find food right away. However, the sooner they are on feed, the better. Most chicks will do just fine on a chick starter, which you can get from a variety of feed sources. These starter mixes help prevent disease and offer balanced nutrition. A protein level between 10 and 20 percent will work for layers, while the protein ration for broilers should be higher, at least 26 percent. Other important components include grains, vitamins and minerals, and fat. Laying birds will need calcium as they mature.

Food should be readily available and fresh. You can offer the food in a clean egg carton or a shallow box lid initially, but a plastic or metal chick feeder is a good investment to prevent chicks from walking through their feed. This will ensure the feed stays fresh and dry and free of any toxins like mold or fungus. Be sure to store your feed in a sealed container in a dry area that offers a consistent temperature.

To prevent bullying, make sure the feeder is big enough for most of the chicks to eat at the same time. There will be minor skirmishes as they establish the pecking order within the flock. Make sure to give the chicks fresh feed every day, and consider using a medicated feed to help protect the chicks from disease if they were not vaccinated.

For broiler chicks, you can switch from the starter to a grower mix after 4 weeks. Make the switch with layers after 8 weeks; then transition to a layer feed once the first egg arrives. Some feed companies offer a combined starter/grower that can be used from day one.
Here’s a feeding plan for day-old chicks:

Data table

FOMITES: Fomites are inanimate objects or materials that could transfer infection to a chick in your flock. Make sure you order chicks from a hatchery that vaccinates them because this can provide a layer of protection. Some infections can spread through your flock without the birds ever showing any symptoms so vaccination is essential. In addition, make sure your coop is clean so it does not attract rodents and other pests. A build-up of litter in the coop is a breeding ground for bacteria and disease. Be sure to clean the coop itself from top to bottom as well as any removable equipment, including feeders, waterers, nest boxes, and/or perches. When you have the equipment out, be sure to inspect it and
replace anything that is cracked or broken.

FLOCK: A group of chickens functions as a flock because the members take on roles like people in families or teams. Within a flock, an individual will dominate the others, which establishes the ‘pecking order.’ Dominant chickens earn priority for access to food and nesting locations. Conversely, chickens do have a communal approach to egg incubation and chick raising. In addition, chickens naturally flock together for warmth, comfort, company, or when they are stressed or frightened. You will probably notice certain chickens forming bonds with others in your flocks; like people, chickens do have their
“besties,” and you will see those relationships in the birds who take a dirt bath together or roost together at night. Chickens can live alone, but it is not ideal or recommended because they are very social animals.

See you next month when we break down the next of the FLAWS: lighting.
Information provided by Dr. Corissa Robinson, Best Veterinary Solutions, Inc.