It’s an exciting time when you hear the first “peep” from a newly hatched poult! They are tiny and fragile the first 48 hrs or so. If you must take a peek, leave the hen undisturbed on the nest. Causing her to move about too soon with her large feet could lead to death of the young or currently hatching babies!
If the hen is on the nest for 2-3 days, don’t worry! Before poults hatch they draw the remaining egg protein up into their body. Weird, I know! They will feed on that nutrition and can go without food or water for several days. God’s wisdom and special design!
The hen will know when its time to get off the nest. Make certain she and the poults have food, water and shelter. Don’t worry about teaching the lil’ birds how to eat and drink. Mama is the best teacher in the world and they’ll cling to her every move!
I’m going to walk you through the system we use with our turkey tractors. I know you will have a different setup. Follow the principles and you’ll be fine!
Bomb-Proof the Run
Before your hen leaves the box with poults, make certain the run is safe. What do I mean? Make certain there are no cracks or holes where baby could squeak through. We usually have to check for cracks around the base of our turkey tractors when on uneven ground. Separation usually=death.
Poults need a high protein feed. Longer ago the pioneer women would boil eggs and mix it with crumbled bread. They’d also feed the poults buttermilk. Today we have protein (or game bird) feed that may be offered. You can also use chick starter (medicated or non-medicated). Regardless of choice, make certain its at least 16% protein and up to 22% is ideal. For the sake of your hen you can also mix in scratch (a mix of legumes, grains and corn), but know that she will benefit from some extra protein after sitting on the next for 3 weeks!
The ideal situation is to allow some free-ranging space. Our turkey tractors were designed for this purpose. In fact, as your poults grow, their likelihood of being stepped on will increase if confined to tight quarters! Even in a 4×6 run, they out grow it in a week’s time. These are busy little birds! However, this free ranging space gives the mama the ability to teach her babies how to forage and find bugs. Its also more protein for their diet!
Poults will begin drinking water almost immediately upon leaving the nest. Keep fresh and clean supply for them in a shallow dish. You don’t want ’em drowning! I know this sounds simple, but in effort to “make” a shallow dish, some have built ramps up to their deep watering containers. Poults inevitably fall in and due to depth of it, can’t get back out. Don’t make this mistake!
While poults have very long legs, the lip on feeding and watering container should be no higher than 1 inch. Wanna know the redneck truth? I use glass pie plates for both water and feed in the beginning! Regardless of the dish, it ought to be kept on the ground where poults will climb in it (yes, and make a mess). The important things is that they learn!
Clear the Nest
After the hen moves off the nest, remove all the old straw, eggshells and any droppings or feathers. Replace with fresh straw or wood shavings. And dump the shells in a far off place to avoid attracting predators to the location!
While poults are born with tiny flight feathers, they won’t try to roost until at least 2 weeks of age. Don’t worry about it in the first week!