The Perfect Sight

You know those times when everything just feels perfect – when the small things that niggle are put into perspective and for a moment everything is just as it should be. For me, and I know others here at Merrybower, it’s ‘down the patch’, where you step into another world – a world that belongs to the animals, the trees, nature – where you’ve guided things but never have complete control – nature’s not too kindly towards you taking complete control.

Today was one of those days, and this photograph sums it all up – a group of happy fat Light Sussex hens scratching beneath a fruit tree coming into blossom. A display of the life there is, and all the life yet to be.


Light Sussex Chicks

Light Sussex Chicks at Three Weeks

Light Sussex ChicksI can’t believe we’re already at the end of the first three weeks the Light Sussex chicks have been with us – they grow up so fast! Over the course of the first few weeks, everything about the chicks gets bigger – the noise, their appetites, and their daily pile of brown gifts left in haphazard piles on the wood chippings. Ah yes, and the smell also grows bigger – when you wake up to the not-so-fresh odour of chick poop, it’s probably about time they moved to the garage. Today was that morning – no amount of coffee could unplug my nostrils – so for the first time ever the chicks were lifted out of the house and on to grass. I love that feeling – showing them the world for the first time, knowing that it just gets better hereon. The weather was warm and we borrowed the rabbit run for them to play in for a couple of hours – there were no complaints about cold so we knew we were good to go with the cleaning. Whilst they skipped and frolicked (well – ate and drank), I gave their brooder a thorough clean and disinfect with Dettol, and moved it into the garage. The heatlamp is at its highest, their feathers are coming along nicely, with the black heads appearing quickly. We may even be ready by the start of week four to move them off the lamp, but I’ll check the outside temperature and their feathering before risking that – they may need another week.

Light Sussex ChicksThey’re still on chick crumbs, with a coccidiostat to help build up an immunity to coccidiosis. At six weeks we’ll start mixing grower’s pellets into the crumbs, over the course of a few days, until by week seven they’ll be on growers only. This will change to layer’s pellets at around 22 weeks – some suggest earlier but as these are Light Sussex chicks – a pure breed and slower to mature – 22 weeks is about right. If for some reason one of them starts laying quicker than that, then we’ll start the layers before then.

Light Sussex Chicks – 1 Week Old

Light Sussex chicks - one week oldAs the Light Sussex chicks become slightly larger, their poops also become slightly larger – it’s the law of inevitability 🙂 Towards the end of the week we’re changing the towels they walk/run/sleep/poop on, twice a day. However, by this stage they’re also pretty sure what their food looks like, in the shape of chick crumbs, so we’re safe to move them on to quality pine shavings. It’s a well-timed plan, they’re all air-lifted into a waiting pet carrier (“Rescue Pod 1″ as it’s known here, as it brings all sorts back), then clean shavings are added to their run, to between 1 and 2 inches deep (2.5cm – 5cm). We also take the opportunity to raise the drinker and feeder by aroud 4cm, low enough for them to reach each, but high enough to prevent a mass of wood shavings from clogging them up – they’re more feisty now and have a tendency to kick shavings high up – I’ve even cleaned poop from the side of the drinker, 8” high – they must be firing cannon balls! We’ve also raised the lamp slightly, and during week two is a good time to begin bonding with your Light Sussex chicks – we pick them out one at a time and gently hold them close, so they get a feel for us. This said, Light Sussex are generally a calmer bird than many, and you can even see this in the chicks themselves. Our last lot of Derbyshire Redcaps were the exact opposite and I’m not sure I would have handled them as chicks in the same way! Five minutes close won’t harm them, you’re warm enough to keep them happy.

Light Sussex chicks update

Light Sussex Chicks sleeping on my hand

Content to lie on your hand – the perfect age to begin socialising them with humans

The Light Sussex Chicks Have Landed!

Here we finally go! On the morning of 21st May, three Light Sussex chicks beat the rest to hatching, and lay over the tops of the other unbroken eggs, like miniature, fluffy yellow beached whales. It’s recommended to open the incubator once every six hours at most during the hatching process – not because of the temperature drop but mainly due to the humidity drop. A dry atmosphere inside the incubator can lead to the chick drying out and getting stuck to the inside of the egg – and on the last two days we raise the humidity and lay kitchen towels into the small water troughs inside the incubator, to increase the wettened surface area, which leads to increased evaporation and therefore raises the humidity. Unfortunately our incubator ran dry on about day 17 – the instructions recommend checking the water level in the internal reservoir every three days, but ours ran out on the second night and we awoke to a dry reservoir. I could have kicked myself for relying on instructions – last year I checked religiously every day and we had no problems, but this year we lost six eggs who’d almost gone full term and failed to hatch. I can only put this down to the dry spell they had.

Light Sussex Chicks asleep in a brooder

There’s always one bucking the trend!

But the good news, we have thirteen lovely little Light Sussex chicks! I’m going to have a stab at how many cockerels and how many pullets we have – 6 and 7. It’s strange but looking at general temperament and attitude, even at a day old, and I *think* I can have a good guess at what’s what – but we’ll wait and see, I’m probably totally wrong!

Light Sussex Chicks hatching setup

Incubation corner, complete with viewing chairs

Home-made Brooder

We’re adept at the home-made brooder setup now, after hatching a few broods over the last two years. It consists of our 4 foot plastic field trough, lined with newspaper and a towel on top of that. The towel is to give the chicks some traction for their tiny feet, newspaper on its own can lead to splayed legs. Then we commandeer the camera tripod (sacriledge!) and dangle the heat lamp from the head. With this system we can raise and lower the heat lamp by winding the tripod up and down, easy! Into the trough go the chick crumbs, fresh water (changed at least once daily, more if they poop in it) and some sand, the chick-sized equivalent of grit. You have to make sure the sand is untreated though – basic sharp sand is good, no anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-anything added! The towel gets changed as soon as it fills with the tiny poops, and in a week or so when they’re eating properly and hungrily, we’ll move to wood shavings. If we use wood shavings too early, they’ll try and eat them which can be fatal, so we give it a couple of weeks. And make sure the shavings are pine, not cedar.

Light Sussex Chicks asleep in a circle

When they’re lying in a circle like this, you know you’ve got the heatlamp at the correct height

We monitor the Light Sussex chicks – they need a certain temperature and there are many websites telling you how high to raise you lamp, and how often to do so. The rub is, the chicks will tell you! If they’re lying in a big clump directly under your lamp, it’s too cold, if they’re spread around the outside of the brooder, they’re too hot! If they’re in a nice circle, then you’ve found the goldilocks distance. We place ours around 1.5-2 feet high and lower it gradually whilst watching them, but it helps to know the starting temperature is 35 Celsius (95 Farenheit), just below the temperature of the incubator when they popped out.

Light Sussex Chicks newly hatched

The gang say “Hi” to the newbie

Day 2

And this is where we’re at at the moment – all thirteen Light Sussex chicks have hatched and alternating between improptu naps and looking around cheeping. Some of the more curious are starting to peck at things and sample the food and water, but we won’t see proper eating and drinking until day 3, when they’ll starting chasing around the brooder and generally become far more active, with the wing pin feathers developing fast! They grow up so quickly!

Light Sussex Chick!

Day 20 of the Light Sussex incubation and several eggs were pipped, and on the morning we had a new little friendThe first Light Sussex chick of 2016! Here’s a quick sneak peak at the first past the post, before we post something more substantial!