Even for those who have had a great mating season, challenges emerge when the chicks are weaned. In many situations, everything runs well; the chicks emerge from the nest around four weeks, the cock feeds them and teaches them how to feed themselves, the hen continues with responsibilities inside the nest box, and all the fancier needs to do is remove the chicks once they become self-sufficient.
In certain circumstances, however, a variety of issues occur that the fancier must identify and address as soon as possible. Here are some of the issues that the fancier should be prepared to deal with.
Ignored or Treated as a Sex Object
When the chick exits the nest box, the cock entirely ignores it or regards it as a sex item, despite the fact that it may be crying for food. This indicates that the child may starve or grow retarded due to a lack of nourishment. It is possible that the chick may be moved to another couple with chicks of a similar age, although this does not always succeed. One option is for the fancier to place such chicks in the nursery cage with other chicks who can feed them, but if that fails, I hand-feed three times a day with warm milk and a trace of multivitamins using a syringe. The issue is usually rectified after a few days when the chicks start feeding themselves.
Quite often, the hen may assault the chick, perhaps perceiving it as a competition. The only option is to remove the child and treat as mentioned earlier. If this is the final batch of chicks from a specific couple, an option would be to remove the hen and allow the cock to raise the kids.
Reluctance to Feed
Some four to five-week-old chicks are highly immature and refuse to feed themselves; instead, they spend their time begging for food and re-entering the nest box. This often tends to infuriate one of the parents, resulting in an assault. I had one such situation when the chick was assaulted but not fatally. It was immediately taken from the cage, and after three days with the other juveniles, including syringe feeding, it was totally weaned.
Not Enough Food
In rare circumstances, the adult birds provide less food than is required for the young to reach their full potential. Instead of overflowing crops, they are barely half full. The chicks just “tick over” and do not grow. If this happens while they are still within the nest box, the solution may be to move them to another nest. I attempt to assist by putting a 3″ piece of millet spray in the nest box to encourage the hen to eat more and, perhaps, feed well. When these children leave the nest, it is critical to improve things by either transferring to another nest or providing extra food, as previously said. If the parents do not assault the young, they may be left in the breeding cage.
A Crucial Stage
The movement of chicks from a limited region to bigger units is a vital step. When chicks leave their parents, they tend to “go back” in the sense that they stop being fluffy and become very sleek. This is due in part to the shift in feeding; earlier, they had food pumped into them. In the stock cages, they must forage for themselves in competition with their fellows. As a result, juvenile birds should be placed in stock cages of 4 to 6 feet in length, with one perch relatively low down.
For the first several weeks, I am pleased to watch them learning to fly effectively and coping with the stress of their new environment. I keep a close eye out for chicks hanging about looking unhappy, since this might suggest enteritis. I also keep an eye out for bullying and, if necessary, transfer the perpetrator to another cage.
When the chicks are around 10 to 12 weeks old and in their first moult, I move them to a flight with a few of adult birds. Vigilance is still maintained, and I pay special attention to the well-being of any “star”birds; if I suspect they are growing anxious, I relocate them to a more tranquil spot.
Weaning is an exciting part of the breeding season, analogous to harvest time for farmers. We are now harvesting what we have sowed, and we will be able to judge the success or failure of the preparations we made a few months ago. Few things beat assessing young stock, especially stormers with the potential to win at next season’s shows.
When it comes time to divide up the breeding pairs, the hens are especially vulnerable. I’d rather them tell me when they’ve had enough than I decide. The cocks may be safely returned to a small flight, but I keep the hens in the breeding cage for many weeks after separation, during which time I closely examine them for symptoms of stress, the vent region in particular being an indicator of their health.
One must remember that they have been confined to a relatively tiny space for many months, with high temperatures and humidity. Much of their time has been spent huddled, and much energy has been expended on regurgitation. Many hens are lost each year because fanciers fail to recognize the need for a time of rehabilitation before returning the chickens to the flight. Good hens are incredibly precious assets that need the same level of care as the chicks when they leave the nest box.
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