Incubating Eggs, part 1

Incubating Eggs, part 1

Back in September we bought our first two sets of breeding chickens, Ameraucanas and Minorcas. I have been “patiently” waiting to actually start hatching those eggs. Well, that time has finally come!

The only eggs we have ever hatched were hatched by a broody hen, so all I had to do was give her eggs and check back 21 days later. Amazingly we had a 100% hatch rate on those eggs. Sadly she was not the best mom and by 3 months we only had one chick left… Perceval the Jerk rooster.

So once we purchased our breeders I began researching the best way to hatch eggs in an incubator. There is lots of slightly conflicting information out there. The only consistent information I could find was: experience will teach you what works the best. This is not the information I wanted. But let’s be real, it is true.

I should mention that the temperature should ideally be between 99-100 degrees depending on if you use a forced air or still air incubator. The conflicting information has to do with the humidity levels. Some say keep it high, other low, other day try dry incubation. Checking the weight of the eggs and the size of the air sack seems to be the best judge of humidity level.

I finally gave up trying to find the “perfect” information and bought an incubator, set it up and watched the temperature and humidity for a few days. So far Ive learned we live in a super, super humid area (because my hair couldn’t have told me that) and I have to use the smallest water trough in the incubator. The instructions said to start with the biggest trough as that is the normal one people need, I assume those people also don’t have frizzy hair issues, lucky.

I chose the GQF 1588 Genesis Hova-Bator Incubator by GQF. It got good reviews on both Amazon and chicken websites. It also has a large window, so we can watch and see how things are going. I splurged and got and an automated egg turner. Half the time I don’t know what day it is, so there is no way I’d remember to turn eggs at least three times a day. I went with the Little Giant Farm & Ag Miller Manufacturing 6300 Automatic Egg Turner because people said it was sturdy and easier than others to clean. We will see how this hatching season goes before I make any judgements myself.

I am still a little paranoid, but Friday we put our first eggs in as a test run. They say 80-90% hatch rate is good, I would be happy with 50%, thats a lie, I’d be happy if any hatched!

Thursday will be day seven and I can candle the eggs to see if we have any developments, until then there is nothing I can do.

Given my controlling nature, this is a huge leap of faith for me. On a chicken forum, someone summed it up perfectly, “hatching is NOT a science – it’s part art and part nature, part miracle.” So for now I just get to sit back and wait.

Pigs, a Learning Experience.

Pigs, a Learning Experience.

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Normally when I start something new, I spend weeks to months researching about it before I jump in. I read numerous books, articles, blog posts, all the while taking meticulous notes. I still feel woefully unprepared, but it eases my mind a bit. I did this with gardening, canning, new babies, chickens, and goats… I did not do this with pigs.

With the pigs I read a few articles, while Vince “read” <a href="http://Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, 3rd Edition: Care, Facilities, Management, Breeds“>Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, by Kelly Klober. Turns out he didn’t finish it, and didn’t actually get to read nearly as much as I thought he had before I bought four pigs. This was my fault I really should have communicated with him better about the purchasing of the pigs. In case you were wondering the following was the extent of the pig purchasing conversation:

“I found five feeder pigs outside of Senatobia. One was a male so I told him just the four females, would this date or this one be better to pick them up?”

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Vince responded with a relatively calm look and picked the later date and we bought pigs.

I do have to say, I’m super proud of ourselves for how quickly we learned, I wish we could have learned a different way, but experience is the best teacher.

We had the pigs about five and a half months and in that time we tried: two different shelters, three different fencing methods, two feeding troughs before giving up altogether on troughs, and never found an easy watering solution.

Learn from us, don’t do what we did!

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We had a “plan” for whenever we got pigs, we were going to rotate them around the pasture using electric fencing, then life happened. When we went to pick up the pigs the fencing was up, but they had no shelter. Life had gotten in the way and the pick-up date snuck up on us. Well, we intended to pick them up early enough to fix the shelter once we got them home. Then the baby had napping issues and the pig wrangling took longer than planned, so by the time the shelter was ready and the pigs were in the pen it was dark and we were exhausted.

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Everything seemed to be going well and they happily lived in their pen for about 1-2 weeks and then we moved them to the next pen and fresh pasture. They remained there a whole TWO days before they escaped. They escaped later in the afternoon and we lured them back in with food and found out the fence was not charged and therefore not sending a shock. We worked long after dark to secure the fence using woven wire, then we went to bed. Both electric fencing and woven wire were recommended to hold pigs, but only if the fence actually shocks and the woven wire is EXTREMELY tight. When we woke up to the dogs barking frantically and pigs in the front yard we realized the woven wire was a no go. The rest of the day was spent purchasing hog panels, setting up a new pen, wrangling pigs, and lots of threats to kill the pigs right then. To add to the stress we had an ultrasound appointment that afternoon to find out gender and we barely made it.

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Turns out for us hog panel worked best for us. We first set up the panels with electric wire along the bottom, just in case, but they covered it in dirt pretty quickly, so we gave up on that. Using panels and T-posts we were able to create a strong enough enclosure that was also easy to remove once they moved to the next section. Once we figured that out it was much smoother sailing.

We also learned that in wet winters like this one, we have a flooding issue. The pigs didn’t seem to mind, they made mud and had a blast. We, on the other hand, did not enjoy the mud, nor do we enjoy the mud in the other areas that are now flooding, but that is a whole separate issue. We also had to worry about how to get them to the butcher with all the mud and soft ground. We were terrified that the truck and trailer would get stuck.

As our butcher appointment got closer we started trying to plan for moving the pigs in all the mud. Sunday we took a leap of faith and drove the trailer down and opened a new pen around the trailer. The pigs were fascinated with the trailer and even slept there that night. This was one thing we had learned in the little research we had done. Let them get used to the trailer before you try to drive them onto it, and it worked. Monday when it was time to go, they easily got into the trailer and were loaded up in about ten minutes. Thankfully the land was dry enough that we drove out of there with no trouble. After months of troubles and worry, the final move was easy and calm for everyone involved.

img_4091It is supposed to rain for the next week, but once it dries out enough we will start dismantling the pens and let the land rest for a while. We made a rule of no new animals (except chickens) until the beginning of May. That gives us time to work on other projects before baby arrives, and gives us a month to adjust to life with a new baby. This also give me time to better research pigs before we get anymore.

2018 Plans

2018 Plans

With the start of the new year, I have been planning my goals and to do list. I’m trying to keep it simple since we will be adding a baby and that is a huge addition. However, there’s a lot we really need to do this year… and a lot I just want to do to make things prettier. Obviously necessity trumps aesthetics, but I can’t help but confused the two sometimes.

The master to do list is so long that it is slightly overwhelming. Every time I cross one thing, I find two more things that need to be added. And everything seems to be a huge priority! I keep reminding myself this farm as our lifetime project and one day it will all be done. For now I just have to focus on one project at time.

The good news is two of the biggest things on this year’s list or are done and it’s still January! That gives me great hope for this year.

One of the biggest things was in backyard fence. I know that doesn’t seem priority, and it wasn’t  until my belly started to get bigger. There is no more climbing over electric netting for this pregnant lady, and that made feeding animals extremely difficult. Now that the fence is up, I have a gate into the animal yard and can easily walk into their yard. Its nice to be able to be able to do something on ones own again, small victories! The other great thing is Isaac is contained. Which means that instead of spending half our time chasing him, he can play with the dogs and goats and we get things done quicker. The goats also really love coming into the ‘people’ yard, so there’s that.

Most of the priorities for 2018 are animal related. The reality is to make this farm profitable, we need more animals. We need to be able to efficiently house, feed, and water the animals to reduce waste and maximize profits, all while not sacrificing their health and happiness. And yes, for us happy animals are very important. This recent freeze showed us many flaws in our current system. Thankfully it isn’t as bad as it could be, but we still need to fix things.

The other big priority is the garden, Oh the garden! Did I ever mention the fiasco that was last year’s garden? I’m not sure I want to revisit it, but the short version is the garden failed for many reasons and now we are trying something else. I would like to point out I suggested doing this in the first place, but was told it was too much work… Let’s see how this year goes.

The change is that instead of plowing traditional rows, we will be using raised beds and a more intensive style of gardening. We did this at the old house on a smaller scale and it worked marvelously, so hopefully it works on the larger scale. Again I am going to take a moment to applaud myself. Every time something happened and Vince, looking befuddled, said “this didn’t happen at the old house,” I smiled and told him the benefits of the system we used at the old house. Now things could still fail, but we both have hope. Raised beds will at least help the soil quality, the not so great drainage, the moisture retention, and will mean I do not have to bend over as far. That last point is my favorite part!

Since the farm and the new baby will mean lots of work for the next year… who am I kidding, it means lots of work for years and years to come, my big project inside the house is our bedroom. It has taken a backseat to the rest of the house, but no longer, I will make it a nice relaxing retreat, and hopefully before baby arrives. The plan is bold, red velvet drapes and pink walls. I have a wonderful husband who lets me decorate however I want. There has also been extensive searching for bedside tables, headboards, and new bath vanity, but I’m so picky, I’m not sure I will find those things in the next 3 months. I really shouldn’t have waited till this late in the pregnancy, but oh well.

So there are some of the big plans for 2018, and sadly these aren’t half of them, so wish us luck and pray for our sanity!

At Least It’s Not Maine

Funny little story.

A couple years ago Vince was searching the internet for land. All the sudden he excitedly exclaims, “I found the perfect place!” Upon further inspection I inform him that land is in Maine and I don’t do cold Maine weather. It was winter in Mississippi and I already barely left the house, so me in Maine just wasn’t going to happen. He agreed I just couldn’t function in Maine and kept searching.

“We could have moved to Maine,” became his go to statement anytime I complained about how hard it was to find land around here.

Thankfully when we bought this farm the random Maine comments stopped, for the most part. Then the cold came to us.

It is freezing here, temperature are in the teens, but feels like single digits. We live in Mississippi for goodness sakes, it’s not supposed to get this cold!

At first it wasn’t that bad. We decided to bring the cats in and add more straw to the farm animals houses. The first cold morning, Vince proudly proclaimed he could handle Maine winters since he successfully handled that mornings feedings in freezing temps. Then came that night, when the temp dropped to 10 degrees.

The cats didn’t want to come in or stay in, so they have been fun to deal with. Then all the animals’ water froze… and still hasn’t thawed. The lake froze. The goats and chicken refuse to leave the warmth of the goat house. The dogs don’t want to go outside. The toddler demands to go outside, but refuses to dress appropriately for the cold. And I refuse to stand too near the doors since they are cold.

Since the waters are frozen and the hoses are frozen, Vince has to carry buckets of water to the animals a couple times a day to ensure they have water to drink.

All this was to say I finally got my payback. After multiple trips carrying water in freezing temps, sitting in the cold trying to catch a cat in the dark, he comes in and wearily sits down trying to get warm. I smile and say, “We could have moved to Maine.”

Merry Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas Eve!

img_3452Merry Christmas Eve!

This time last year we were in the midst of a move. We had just moved the day before and were surrounded by boxes and chaos. So much has changed since then, but we still surrounded by boxes and a bit of chaos. This year though, its boxes of presents and chaos  of hosting all the family here Christmas Day.

Since I am a procrastinator by nature, there has been a huge push to finish certain projects around the house. We finally hung the porch lights, patched the holes in the walls, and got dinning room chairs. Chairs are very important when you have twelve people expecting a place to sit at breakfast!

I need to take a minute to gush over the chairs. They are so pretty! My mother took my chipping, generic chairs, painted them and turned them into one of a kind “pink diamonds.” My mom doesn’t give herself enough credit for her abilities, she is a wonderful decorator and painter. I was fine living with chipping chairs, but now I am so glad she “stole” them and redid them!

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Since we were moving last year, we didn’t get to decorate. This year I went a little overboard decorating, and I would have done more but I ran out of time. I’ve already started planning for next year so this tragedy doesn’t happen again.

Christmas decorations and pretty rooms bring me such joy, but there are so many other things that bring so much more joy. For years Vince and I searched for land and planned our dream. Now we wake up each morning and live that dream. I am so jealous of the childhood Isaac, and Vivienne, get to experience. Watching him caring for the animals and helping Vince brings so much pride and joy to my heart.

So with that I wish you a Merry Christmas, I hope yours is full of family and joy!

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Chicken Math

Chicken Math

Ever heard the term Chicken Math?

I hadn’t either until I got my first chickens.

It appears there is this weird phenomenon where you set out to have a specific number of chickens and through various reasons you end up with anything other than that number.IMG_2433

For Example:

I originally got 4 chickens. When they were about five months old one was killed by a hawk, so then I wanted to replace her. But ended up adding 4 more, so we had 7.

Then we had a hen go broody, so I gave her 5 eggs to hatch. I was expecting only 2 to hatch… all five hatched. Then nature took its toll and 4 of the 5 didn’t make it. That was fine because 8 seemed like a good number.

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Well then when we moved to the farm, we discussed adding more chickens to get our laying flock up. Since the chick we hatched was a rooster we only had 7 layers and only got 5 eggs consistently. We decided 12 layers was a good number.

Back in July we finally decided to add to the flock, but get ready for more Chicken Math. We found Lavender Orpington Pullets to add to our flock. I didn’t want to deal with more roosters, since Perceval was such a jerk, so we spent a bit more to get already started pullets. So we brought home 8 pullets. Bringing of number of chickens to 16, so much for just 12 layers.

Unfortunately we were dealing with a terrible heat wave and we lost 3 of our older hens to the heat. I will admit, I didn’t handle it very well, and I still get a bit sad thinking about them. Hormones don’t help! Two of the three were from the original chickens I purchased, so I had gotten very attached to them. So then we were down to 13 chickens (4 layers, a rooster, and 8 potential layers).

So then morning sickness kicks in and we lost a month. Then we notice a strange sound, an extra crowing in the morning, then another, and another. It quickly became clear that 7 of those 8 pullets were in fact roosters… Any guesses how happy I was?

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About this time we were planning for P.Allen Smith’s Poultry Workshop, which meant more chickens. The plan was to get about 9 chickens, two set of Dorking breeding trios and Andalusian breeding trio. So we started looking for homes for the roosters, while we also planned for our new breeders.

Well we got there and the only Dorkings they had was a breeding pair, but they had Minorcas and Ameraucanas! I was super excited and we came home with 8 Minorcas (7 hens and a rooster) and 4 Ameraucanas (3 hens and a rooster). Now we had 25 chickens, hey it could have been worse!

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Minorcas
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Ameraucanas

Thankfully within a week we found a guy who wanted to 7 Lavender Roosters, so we are currently at a more reasonable 18 chickens.

However, guess who is still scouring craigslist for more chickens, yep this crazy lady here!

In my defense, due to age of the new hens and molting, we are only getting 3 eggs a day. That is crazy and we desperately need more layers.

Wish me luck!

Update: We have since lost an Ameraucana hen to internal laying, which caused a huge infection.

It’s a…

It’s a…

During all the chaos that was loose pigs, we also had our appointment to find out the gender of Baby #2.

The appointment was scheduled right in the middle of Isaac’s nap time … on Halloween. That wasn’t my brightest idea.

I hoped that either he would sleep in late that morning and therefore want a later nap, or be tired enough for an early nap. Well he would have slept in, if the dogs hadn’t gone crazy barking at the pigs, and then he was tired enough to take a nap early, but because of the pigs he was too excited to sleep in his carrier. I have to agree, who wants to sleep when there are pigs running around.

So just in time I loaded up a sleepy toddler and headed to the appointment, while Vince and his dad finished putting the pigs enclosure up. I hoped Isaac would fall asleep and at least get a 20 minute nap on the way into town, instead he sang along to his movie. I love how everything works like that.

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I get there just in time and sit down and get ready to wait, because normally the wait is super long. Not today! Today they get us back in a couple minutes, which means Vince is not there. The idea of missing this because of stupid pigs made the day all that much more stressful.

I tell the ultrasound tech I am going to film it for my husband since he was on his way but wouldn’t be here in time. She wouldn’t accept that and insisted that it was fine to wait on him, even though he was 30 minutes away. She was so sweet about it, insisting that this was not something he should miss.

Vince finally gets there, and we wrangle an overly tired toddler back into the room. Once the video popped up on the screen Isaac was engrossed in watching his little sibling move, kick, and wave. And then the sweet Ultrasound lady asked him if he was excited that he was going to have a baby sister.

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Needless to say we are thrilled!

We had hoped this baby would be a bit calmer than Isaac, but based on that ultrasound and the kicks I feel, she is a mover! I think she is going to fit in around here nicely.

We are so excited to welcome our sweet little girl, Vivienne Grace, this April.

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Pigs…

Pigs…

Something possessed us, mainly my love of bacon, to add pigs to the farm…

I’m going to take a moment to remember how much I love bacon.

It could be much worse, we have had them two weeks and they have only gotten out twice.

We had originally talked about getting Gloucester Old Spots. Vince found some breeders back in the spring, but the female was pregnant and I wasn’t sure I wanted to jump into that many pigs at once. So we put pigs on the back burner. By the time I felt well enough to function and discuss pigs, we had trouble finding Old Spot feeder pigs. Vince found some… thirteen hours away… that wasn’t going to happen.

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So I searched Craigslist. I found some Yorkshire/Duroc mixes only an hour away. So we bought 4, because I love bacon.

IMG_2584We got them home and in their pen, and I named them Prosciutto, Sausage, Bacon and Ham. Our plan was/kinda still is to rotate them around the pasture. We started them on a small section of what was the garden this year, within a week they tilled up the spot. So we moved them to the next section. After two days in this spot it was mostly tilled and two pigs broke free that afternoon. We got them back and ‘fixed’ the spot they broke free. We woke up the next morning to the dogs barking as the pigs explored around the house.

IMG_2688We spent the rest of that day fixing a new enclosure, chasing pigs, and seriously contemplating sending them to the butcher early. With the exception that we took a break to find out Baby #2’s gender, that day was all about those stupid pigs.

It turns out something was wrong with the electric fence, so instead of being electric it was just a simple flimsy net that they just walked straight through.

This time they are in an enclosure of hog panels and electric wire that gives a much more powerful shock… Vince and his dad both decided to test it. We were a bit worried it wouldn’t discourage them, but once Bacon decided to bite down on the electric wire, not once, but twice, they seem to stay away.

IMG_2476They have now been in this section four days, every night and every morning we pray they stay where they are.

Despite the craziness, pigs seem to make this feel so much more like a farm. You can’t have pigs in a backyard in the city!

Pray for us that they stay where they are supposed to be…

Big News

We’ve been MIA the past month. There’s been a lot going on, all of which I plan to fill you in on, but the biggest news first…

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We are expecting Baby #2!

So that’s why I’ve been quiet. Like last time morning sickness… or should I say, never ending sickness… has left me spending much of my time in bed, while Vince has been trying to hold down the fort. Thankfully I am starting to function again and its been a game of catch up.

Not only do we have to catch up on farm work and cleaning, but now we have lots of planning so that spring time runs smoothly.

One more thing to look forward to this Spring!

More About Chickens

More About Chickens

After my last post, I want to be clear, I was not bashing the chicken industry. These large scale operations are a product of the world we live in. Families can’t grow and raise their own food in a normal city setting. Big cities don’t offer the room needed and most suburban settings have strict rules about animals. I will alway believe small locally and ethically raised food is better for the environment and the individual. But unless the majority of people change how they shop and eat, the industry will remain how it is.

Like I mentioned last time, unless the packaging says, “pasture-raised,” they are most likely housed in huge flocks of thousands in huge warehouses. While I do not agree with this model, I understand it. Large flocks of production breed chickens are highly susceptible to disease. Any large gathers of creatures spread germs quickly, just think about pre-schoolers and their constant runny noses. On top of that production breeds of chickens are bred in such a way that they tend to have weaker immune systems. All it takes is one sick wild bird to infect and potentially kill off thousand of production chickens. That being said, I want to discuss the different types of chickens.

There are three main types of chickens: egg producers, meat producers, and dual-purpose.

Egg producers are bred to produce large quantities of eggs, while not wasting feed on building muscle. Meat producers are bred to grow big, quickly. They will be in your freezer long before they ever start laying eggs. There is nothing inherently wrong with either of these types of chickens, they are bred to do a specific job with little waste.

Here are the “downsides” to these breeds. Egg producers tend to produce a lot of eggs quickly and only produce for about 18 months. Since older hens and roosters have no use to humans, they often end up in animal feed. Meat producers grow so fast so quickly, that if they are not butchered at the right time their legs break under their own weight and they suffer heart attacks.

Most breeds of chickens, however, are dual-purpose. They are decent layers and produce a decent sized bird for dinner. These are perfect for small farms since older hens, roosters, and extra hens can be used for dinner. The downside to these birds is it takes longer, and more feed, to get them big enough to eat.

Then there are Heritage Chickens!

The Livestock Conservancy defines a Heritage chicken as “A Heritage Egg can only be produced by an American Poultry Association Standard breed. A Heritage Chicken is hatched from a Heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the mid-20th century, is slow growing, naturally mated with a long productive outdoor life.”

When I first got chickens, I went with Heritage breeds for two reason: they tend to have better temperaments and I wanted to help keep the breeds alive. Many of the breeds still go broody and will hatch and raise chicks, which is a trait that has been bred out of many breeds. They forage well and still have those natural instincts. And many of the breeds are beautiful!

I’m going to say this, so I don’t sound like a Heritage chicken snob. While I love and want to save Heritage breeds of chickens, I also love my non-Heritage breeds and would get more of them. They are still dual-purpose, they still forage as well as the others, they have decent temperaments, and they lay well. So far I really haven’t met a breed of chicken I didn’t like.