Sunday, August 17, 2014

Peep! Peep!


21 days is all it takes to make yourself a batch of chicks!


Well... 21 days of constantly messing with the temperature and humidity of a very temperamental and inexpensive incubator which was poorly situated in an uninsulated building just as a storm front came in.

As the movie below attests I did a decent job of being a momma hen, but I have to tell you, it is sooooo much easier to let a real hen do it.

The eggs have X's and O's on them because they needed to be turned three times a day and that is how I kept them all on the same turning schedule.

The temperature is supposed to be kept between 101 and 102 but I had problems keeping it warm enough and at times it went as low as 96 and as high as 104.
The humidity is supposed to be around 45 but I had to put two bowls of water with sponges in them before I could get it that high.


During all this fussing I had a lot of time to ponder the architecture of an egg. It is fascinating and a real testament to the miracle of nature.


Anyone who has ever peeled a boiled egg has noticed it has a big end and a little end and on that big end there is an air pocket.When eggs are being set on by a hen, she is turning them every few hours and this helps the chick to form in the proper position in the egg- with it's head at the big end where the air bubble is. This is the air that the chick breaths just before it manages to pip a hole in the egg shell.

In the end I had 19 hatch out of 30 eggs. Not fantastic, but not bad either. All were healthy and fit.

That night I put half of them under each of two broody hens and breathed a sigh of relief. Being momma is such hard work!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Incubator Chicks


As you know I LOVE our Cuckoo Marans breed of chickens. They are gentle, good mothers, good foragers- without being nuisances and they lay lovely dark brown eggs. They are dual purpose, meaning they can also be eaten, but I can't really tell you how they taste since the coyotes have been the only ones doing Cuckoo Marans taste tests.

We did actually butcher a few at the same time as some meat birds, but I lost track of them in the freezer. Someday we may eat one and we might be able to know it was a Cuckoo, but I doubt it.

When I ordered my original Cuckoos in 2009 from a mail order hatchery, it was clear such hatcheries no longer worry about the quality of their breeds. These days it seems it's quantity over quality.

I believe they used to be much more concerned with breed standards when everyone used to exhibit their birds in County Fairs and 4-H. But now perhaps there is not such a concern since most people  are primarily buying chicks for backyard flocks.

My initial Cuckoos had a mixed bag of faults, from the wrong colored legs to the wrong colored eggs. They are supposed to have white legs and some had yellow. They are supposed to lay very dark brown eggs and some of the first hens laid eggs that were barely tan.

In my search for better stock I found that no one in our area was breeding Cuckoo Marans, so I sent out several requests for hatching eggs from breeders I found through poultry swaps and poultry exchanges.

It turns out that because of new regulations for diseases and the low hatch rate of shipped eggs, no one wanted to sell me any.

What to do? Well, one breeder very kindly encouraged me to hatch my own eggs and increase my flocks' quality by selecting only the biggest and darkest eggs, because that is what she had done 10 years ago with great results.

Eureka, I could do it myself! So I started only letting my hens set on the very darkest of the eggs.

Then, a few batches of chicks later, I was using the roosters from those dark eggs, so I had the genes for dark eggs on both sides now.

Most of the eggs we get now are dark brown to chocolate brown, but my flock is dwindling. I have had most of this flock for about 2 years and it's time to replenish the hens and replace one of the roosters who was eaten by the coyotes.

Last June I put selected eggs under a hen and waited. When no chicks emerged after 21 days I reached into the nest box and felt under the hen. She was sitting on an empty nest.

Close inspection revealed that a something had dug under the backside of the pen, where the wire skirt had accidentally been folded under.

The varmint had eaten all of the eggs out from under her and the broody hen had stayed on the nest anyway.

I repaired the wire skirt around the pen, but everything was now riding on the few dark eggs I had left.

I decided not to leave it to chance and I got out the incubator.

In my next post I will have lots of photos and a little movie of the new chicks hatching, so stay tuned!