Raising babies from day 1
Hand raising babies from day one is grueling, time consuming and all in all, quite a difficult task. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it is just like raising babies from pin feather stage, this thinking will give you dead babies and a broken heart. The word neonate refers to a baby that is in absolute infancy and is completely dependent on it’s parents. There are three core problems that we need to address when dealing with neonates before we look at anything else, overcoming these are the key to success.
Neonates do not have a functioning immune system – full stop. Essentially the neonate is at the complete mercy of any bacteria that enters the gut as they have very limited defense systems. Deaths from bacterial infections at neonate stage are extremely common and can occur as quickly as 24 hours after the baby is exposed to the bacteria. Treatment is really difficult with babies of this age, as antibiotics still rely on the body’s immune system to gain the upper hand. Prevention however, is very effective and simple – good hygiene practices and common sense are all that is required. Using a poorly cleaned feeding utensil that has been used on older babies is one sure way to introduce a bacteria that could potentially wipe out every neonate in your brooder. Be smart and fastidious with your hygiene and if you really need to use the same feeding utensils for a range of babies of different ages, disinfect thoroughly and feed your neonates BEFORE your older babies.
A complex way of saying that neonates cannot control their body temperature. Much like a premature baby, neonatal birds are absolutely reliant on their environment to be both the right temperature and the right humidity. Too cold and a neonate will become hypothermic, too hot or too dry and they will dehydrate, too wet and they will absorb too much moisture – the result of any one of these imbalances can be death. Humidity and temperature are controlled by your brooder, if you cannot afford a brooder or do not have a brooder, do not attempt to raise neonates. Where you will get away with a cardboard box and a light bulb with some birds at pinfeather stage, you won’t get anywhere when raising babies 3 days old or younger, they simply rely too heavily on the correct environmental conditions and these CANNOT be achieved without spending money. The ideal conditions and a good starting point for neonates is a brooder temperature of about 38-39°C.
After the ordeal of actually hatching from the egg, many neonates are fatigued and more importantly, dehydrated. It is important to get two things correct when dealing with dehydration. Brooder humidity is absolutely crucial and again, a good quality brooder is essential here. The ideal brooder humidity for most species is about 70% relative humidity. The second important step to preventing/combating dehydration will be covered in the next section.
Foods and fluids from Day 1
Once the 3 core principals covered above are taken care of, the next matter that requires attention is food and fluids. Getting the correct food and fluids into a neonatal baby in the first 7 days and in particular, the first 24hrs is imperative.
Once the neonate has finished hatching and is clear of the egg, the biggest danger we have is dehydration. Actual food is not a concern at this stage as the baby continues to feed on the remnants of the internal yolk sac. A “starter solution” of 20ml Spark Liquid mixed with 1lt distilled or boiled water, along with 5g of Probotic should be mixed and fed drop-wise (1-2 drops) via syringe to the beak every 2-3 hours until the first dropping (the meconium) is passed. This solution will supply everything the bird needs in the first 24 hours while the digestive system begins to function. Although some may disagree, Vetafarm do not feel overnight feeds are necessary, even at this age. Simply administer your last feed at 10-11pm and then the first feed of the day at 5-6am. Note: It is important that the “starter solution” be fed at the same temperature as the brooder, 39°C.
Now the meconium has been passed we should be through the first 24 hours of life and it is time to very slowly introduce solids. This last statement can be misleading as we initially start the process by making a “Neocare Tea” rather than a solid food. The “Neocare Tea” is made by adding approx 5g of Neocare in 100ml of the “starter solution” mentioned above, mixing thoroughly with a fork and leaving to stand for 15 minutes. We then simply use a syringe to suck a small amount of the “Tea” off the top of this concoction and feed very small amounts (start with as little as 0.1ml and progress up to 0.5ml over a two day period) by syringe warmed to 39 °C every 2-3 hours as above.
After day 3 we can very gradually start to thicken our “Neocare Tea” over a further 3 day period until we reach “normal” consistency. We no longer need to wait for 15 minutes to extract the liquid from the very top of the formula and can now leave our mix stand for 3-4 minutes and feed as required. The same rules for food temperature apply to the thicker formula, however after day 7, plain distilled or boiled water can be used in place of the “starter solution”. Remember to always mix your formula with a fork to ensure an even consistency and allow to stand for at least 3 minutes to allow full absorption of water into the food and correct feeding consistency to be achieved. At day 7, we should be feeding a formula at a normal consistency. This consistency will be continued up until the point the bird is weaned. The best way to measure the correct formula consistency at this point through to weaning is to pick up a small amount with your mixing fork. If the formula just drips through the prongs you are spot on!
Good luck and happy hatching!