The number of households that are keeping poultry has skyrocketed in the last 5 years. You hear all the time about cities changing their zoning and animal laws to allow for small numbers in a ‘backyard’ flock.
Zoning laws are seldom the reason chickens are not raised here in rural Alaska. Three issues affect our ability to raise chickens out here in Western Alaska: Getting the chicks out here alive in the first place, keeping predators at bay, and, of course, keeping them warm enough in the winter.
Most of us bring the chicks in via mail in the spring. You order weeks in advance and try to guess when the temperatures will be mild enough not to kill them off in transit.
It is most important that you keep them at 90+ degrees for the first 3-5 weeks, as they feather out and can then regulate their body temperature.
Yes, heat lamps can help but I have found if the general room temperature is not at least 75 degrees they will just pile up on top of each other, under the heat lamps, to get warm and your losses will be huge.
When you run your household and business off as much as 70% renewable energy, wind in our case, loading on a few 250W heat bulbs or a 1300-1500 W heat lamp the costs start to rise quickly, making the project less sustainable.
This year we decided to try something a little different, starting the process in the fall.
We got chicks the week before Thanksgiving, during one of the few weeks that had negative temperatures. The pilot on the mail plane was kind enough to make sure the box of babies was kept away from drafts, covered with a blanket and in the warmer area of the plane. As things went a couple, originally from Texas, that were on their way out of the area sat next to the box of chicks coming IN from a Texas hatchery!!
They arrived quickly (less than 4 days) from the hatchery which greatly improves the chances of getting them off to a good start.
The first 2-3 days are the toughest so I have found if I keep them in a box or tub in our house, with a heat lamp or two, we can keep the rate of death to almost nothing. One small complication we found this time is that one of our (new at the time) kitties is a very determined hunter. Now the box or tub must have a screen or metal rack of some type over it at all times or we will find the count down and stray feathers showing up here and there.
Into this adventure almost two months now, all seems to be working well. We have found that our brooder, located in an outbuilding that has electricity but not heat, works well down into the single digits for temperature. It is insulated between the concrete floor and bottom of the chicks, has some insulation on the top and sides and a couple of places for lights, heat or otherwise. We did not hook our 1500W infrared heater up this time and have not used the thermostat to turn off one of the heat lamps just yet.
Given our success this time we hope to use this same method through the summer and into the fall to try to raise more meat birds. They are harder to raise than these replacement layers but we are hopeful we can do it and have another source of meat.
There are number of other issues to consider -like figuring out alternative food sources for the frozen times of the year and housing so they can ‘free range’ once they are feathered out.
The possibilities for having local and ‘fresh’ sources of food seem to be possible, just working to figure out the details to make sure they are sustainable too!!