Most breeding resources indicate that chicks should be weaned at around 28 days, but this is rarely practical for first clutch babies as their mother becomes focused on her next round. Babies from the last clutch can generally be given more time, but in my experience babies begin weaning between 21 and 25 days. This is of course largely dependent on the development of the chicks. The longer they remain with the parents the better, but if they are pecking at food and being harassed by the parents they can be separated. If the chicks are being plucked, but are not ready to wean they may be placed in a cage which is hung on the side of the breeding cage and the parents will continue to feed them through the cage bars.
Fathers will generally feed chicks longer than hens will. In my experience, usually the chicks fed the longest turn out to be hens. When chicks begin eating on their own breeders should watch feeding males carefully as they may attack young males.
After chicks have been seen eating for a couple of days they can be removed to the weaning cage. No dramatic change to the diet should be made when chicks are placed in the weaning cage; only foods they have been reared on should be provided. Do not crowd weaning chicks- no more than four or five chicks to a double breeding cage. Perches should be placed as low as possible in the weaning cage- as chicks become more independent the perches can gradually be moved higher. Food in the weaning cage should be placed on the floor in shallow dishes- chicks will walk through the food and peck at it when it sticks to their feet. Small glass ashtrays and glazed plant saucers are good feeding dishes as they are heavy and flat.
Some chicks able to manage on their own in the breeding cage can regress when placed in the weaning cage so they must be monitored carefully. Chicks refusing to leave the perches to eat can be restricted to a single perch placed as close to the floor as possible.
Chicks being weaned which peep continuously are starving and should be attended. They can be placed back in with the father or the father may be placed in the weaning cage for some time.
Placing an older bird with an easy-going disposition in the cage with chicks being weaned can help teach the young birds to eat on their own by allowing them to mimic feeding behaviors.
Good first foods are well-cooked carrots- the bright orange color attracts the chicks and it is easy to eat. Other foods should include soft foods such as egg food or nestling food, shredded wheat moistened with carrot or apple juice, cooked couscous, soak seed, and greens. Some small pellets for finches and canaries should be offered as well as they will be able to eat these before they can crack seed. Some breeders scatter rolled oats directly on the clean cage floor; chicks seem to notice it and peck at it.
Chicks will not be able to crack seed for at least six weeks and probably will not be able to fully support themselves on seed until a few weeks later. During this time they must have access at all times to foods they can eat. The introduction of unlimited quantities of hard seed too early can result in the loss of chicks- don’t rush them onto hard seed too quickly. I introduce small amounts of seed at five weeks or so but continue providing soft foods right up until chicks begin the baby molt.
Chicks in the weaning cage tend to become fascinated by each other’s tail feathers. Providing young birds with plenty of toys will help alleviate this. Chicks which continue plucking their cage mates must be separated. Placing them with other aggressive pluckers usually solves the problem as pluckers will generally not allow themselves to be plucked.
Some breeders insist that chicks cannot receive a bath until they are six weeks old out of concern that they will inhale water and develop chronic respiratory problems, but I routinely allow birds to bathe from the start and have not seen any problems arise from doing so.
Chicks can easily be lost during the weaning period due to illness. Careful husbandry can largely prevent such losses. Diligent attention to ensuring that cage papers and perches are clean and that all scattered egg food is removed from the cage is vital. Take care to not become absorbed in the tending of second clutches to the detriment of first clutch chicks.
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