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!


  1. So now it is wait and see. It is quite a range of shades of brown! I have never seen they as dark as many of yours. The ones I see in stores are very beige.

  2. Great post! Very informative! I hope it works and I look forward to your next post.


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