While it rarely happens, occasionally we find the need to hand-feed chicks in our aviary. We prefer not to foster (as discussed in our Hand Feeding article) and actually prefer to hand-feed if parents toss or become ill. Because breeding season for our aviary is also typically show season, there are times we need to take hand-feds with us on the road. Because we don't always have access to electricity and have yet to find an incubator we feel is reliable, the need to come up with a system to keep the chicks warm and fed during travel was a must. Below is what we use when traveling with chicks. This travel box is NOT intended to be used as a permanent hand-feeding environment.
HAND FEDS ON THE FLY
KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.
Because the hand-warmers are a dry heat, I keep the small sponge damp and next to the dish with the chicks to add a small amount of humidity to the container.
Formula is mixed fresh daily minimum and is stored on the opposite side of the container. Once mixed, the lid is sealed. The heat from the chick side of the container travels through enough to keep the formula warm, but not hot. I've found that as long as the CHICKS are warm, the temperature of the formula doesn't matter. Room temperature works best for MY birds.
Chicks are fed on an ON DEMAND basis. When their crops are empty or nearly so, I then feed them again. Syringes are thoroughly washed and dried after each use.
Immediately upon return from travel, I move the chicks back to my hand-feed cage then disinfect the entire travel box. Syringes are disinfected and everything except the powdered formula is STORED in the box for future use.
What We Use:
Heating the Ceramic Bowl
I use my oil-filled radiator to preheat the bowl before travel. It usually takes several days for it to reach optimal heat, so I make sure to put it on the radiator several days before I intend to travel with the chicks. Once the bowl is fully warmed, I activate one of the hand warmers and place it INSIDE the bowl. I then add the nesting material and tissue. The nesting material holds the heat, yet keeps the chicks from being burned, while the tissue prevents the nesting material from becoming soiled. I change it each time I feed the chicks.
The thermometer is placed on the side with the chicks. The hand warmer will usually keep MY container at a steady 80 degrees. If it doesn't, I will wrap the container in a small towel, or add a second warmer. But it is very important to monitor the temperature inside the box. If it gets too hot, the chicks will begin to pant and eventually die if the temperature is not immediately adjusted. If it is too cold, the chicks will not be able to process the formula, fail to thrive, and die. There is a very fine line between too hot and too cold. If I am not able to watch them myself (perhaps I'm driving), I assign one of my passengers the job of checking the temperature regularly.