In order to raise organic chickens and eggs you need to take possession of the chick by the time they are one day old. They can be inoculated on day one but no anti-biotic after that, if they do get sick you must give them what is needed to keep them alive. The dilemma is if the bird does truly need an anti-biotic it should get it or be culled (another one of those jargon words). If you chose the former the Organic rules would prohibit you from then marketing the meat or eggs as organic. If there seems to be a paradox it’s not really.
We are a humane farm, no cages, plenty of space per bird, they feed on organic grasses, legumes and get fed organic feed, along with organic scraps we pull out of the garden, like strawberries, kale, collards, tomatoes just about everything we pull out of the garden they get some, especially the bug infested fruit.
At first baby chicks are susceptible to Coccidiosis which they eventually develop immunity for but until that happens you are left with one choice (if you are organic) and that is to keep their bedding, food and water free of fecal matter. Up to three weeks old they are prone to get it and if that happens you either cull it or treat it. So far we have raised three groups of day olds and we have been lucky enough not to have to make that choice. Being a humane farm our answer is going to be treat it and keep it in a non-certified group, we already have what I call tenants, layers that are not laying but are just living with the group. Traditional practices would be to cull the non-layers but we haven't done that. Actually of all the layers we've raised all but one lay. Industry wide the percentage is seventy-five to eighty percent. We'll have to see what the rate will be with the 25 new Rhode Island Reds.
It is not easy protecting baby chicks from themselves. You think you got the water clean and setup so they can't perch and drop leavings, but they must be acrobats, it defies logic how they dirty their water and food and with such gusto. Grant it, all they have to do is run around, grow out of their fur and sprout wings. The first week all they do is eat and sleep under the light moving very little; cleaning up isn't too hard. Then they start to get energy and eat like teenagers and the fur is starting to fly and they are finding more and more ways to go to the bathroom from higher and higher heights. I swear they've had competions with judges and score cards voting on who can go to the bathroom from on top of the water can. Because this was the biggest flock that we have had, we built what amounted to a big cardboard box in the garage. It was too big so we divided it in thirds and opened more up as they grew. The water and feed were hung from two by fours spanning the width of the box, low enough for them to get to and high enough so they couldn't perch. At least that was the plan. The sides of the box were only a foot and a half high a design that would allow us to easily bend down and scoop out liter and the foul food. The chicks eventually learned to use the edges of the sides as a spring board to get to the top of the water bucket.
Our water bucket has a flat lid, with drip nipples on the bottom that I installed. The flat lid design is not how store bought waterers are designed, but I created one from a piece of scrap plywood and jig-sawed it to fit. It covers the bucket, the lip of the bucket is under the rim of the plywood, there is one little tiny hole were the bucket handle meets the plywood. Suffice it to say, version two of the watering bucket will have some kind of cheese cloth or other organic stopper.
You go out and check on them four to five times a day, clean their leavings out of the water bucket, food and bedding and you make sure the light is not to hot or they are not too cold and you listen for sounds of happy chicks enjoying the day. Happy chicks, it wasn't a concept that was on our radar until a graduate student from the University of West Virginia said something. We are participating in a study on nematodes with UWV and they were at the farm taking soil samples and asking about our organic and agricultural practices. The student made the comment, "You have some happy chickens," "thank you," I said but hadn't really thought of chickens that way. But if you look at the picture on our webpage here on Local Harvest you'll see one of the more photogenic ones, it looks like she is smiling.
So you go out and listen, this happens every day until they start to grow feathers and beaks and longer legs and bigger feet, but you still listen no matter how old they get or where they are housed, you listen for and hopefully you hear the sound of happy chickens, but thats all in a days work.