Hopefully you have thought long and hard before making the decision to
hand feed. You must be prepared for any situation that may arise.
First you will need a brooder. A brooder is a container that will hold your babies safely, similar to the nest box. Place two to three inches of pine shavings, or whatever you use for bedding in the nest box, into the brooder. I place some paper towels over the bedding so the babies cannot eat and ingest the bedding and cause problems with their crops.
Also cover the brooder with a towel and keep it dark with some of the cover exposed for air and ventilation. This is similar to how things would be had the parents raised them to weaning.
Pull the chicks between two and three weeks of age. They are usually covered with pinfeathers at this time.
Do not add heat since the brooder is covered and the babies will generate heat themselves. If heat is needed, use a heat lamp or heating pad. Just be sure to monitor the temperature regularly. If the babies are cold, they will shiver and huddle together. If they are hot, they will pant and keep away from each other.
The formula should be mixed according to the
directions on the package. Kaytee Exact Handfeeding formula
is very easy and nutritious. The temperature of the formula should be approximately 100 – 110 degrees F. 105 is "perfect". If the formula is too cold, the babies' generally won't accept it and it can cause the crop to slow down. If the formula is too hot, you can burn the crop. They don't realize when it is too hot just when it is too cold.
There are several hand feeding tools and methods available. Some of them are syringes, pipettes, spoons, cups and
gavages. The syringe is easier to measure, to use and
also is disposable.
The best position for hand feeding is offering the syringe on the
chicks left side of the beak angling down to the right. This helps prevent the food from going into the babies' lungs.
If the formula goes down the windpipe located in the
middle of the tongue, it could be instant death to
the baby, so be careful.
Once the baby gets the idea, they will bob their heads up and down while eating. This is how they eat when fed by their parents and it also helps them swallow easier. When the baby stops bobbing its head, this is usually a sign that they are full. Their crop should look full but not bulging tight. If it is not full, then give the baby a few minutes and offer it again. You will notice that it seems as though you are feeding straight on instead of from the left. This is okay and normal. As the chick bobs his head during feeding, the windpipe closes off.
Here is a simple feeding schedule that works.
You can adjust these times a bit to fit into your own schedule.
15 – 24 days old: 7am, 12pm, 5pm, 11pm
25 - 34 days old: 7am, 3pm, 11pm
35 – 44 days old: 7am, 7pm
45 days old to weaning: 7pm
Move the babies into a weaning cage once they are fully feathered and start exercising their wings. The cage does not have a grate on the bottom until they learn how to perch. They also will
still sleep in a huddle on the bottom of the cage for a while.
Cover a couple of the sides of the cage for security. At this time start offering seed
and millet because they will start pecking at the bottom of the cage. They usually only play with the food instead of eating it but they will get the hang of it. They will start eating some on their own at about five weeks and
generally wean at about eight to twelve weeks of age. Some can take longer though. As they are weaning, you will notice that they take less and less from you until they refuse it all together.
Once the babies have been weaned, still monitor them for at least another week before
you let them go to their new homes. Be completely sure that they can eat, drink and care for themselves.