End of Chick Season

End of Chick Season

Our last batch of chicks just hatched, and since Mama Hens (two hens are Co-parenting) will raise them it’s time to start focusing on the next farm project.

Over the past 6 months we have hatched over 100 chicks and bought 28. To some that sounds like nothing and to others it sounds like way too many!

I expected we would loose more chicks than we did, they lived. It evened out in the end because a good portion of the chicks were roosters. To give you perspective of how many roosters, out of the first 85 chicks, we only got 22 hens. Since most of our chickens are slow maturing breeds it will be a few more months before we get a final hen count.

I’ve learned a few things this chick season. The most important lesson: Mama hens are the way to go!

Give them eggs, wait 21 days, check to see cute babies, and walk away.

Mama hens have a much better hatch rate than incubators, since God, you know, made them perfect for that job. They also feed, water, and heat the chicks perfectly.

The Chicken Lady, who I’ve bought eggs from, said she gave up on incubators and just lets mama hens do their thing. Here’s to hoping we get some good mama hens!

Thankfully I’m done with the hard work of chick care and get to enjoy the fruits, or should I say eggs, of our labors. The new layers are showing off and we are getting lots of colorful eggs.

So since the chickens are settled, what’s the next farm project? Pigs, more pigs.

We learned a lot with the last group, so we felt we knew enough to purchase breeding sows and boars… did you hear the sarcasm in my voice.

For now we are putting up lots and lots of fencing for the ridiculous number of pigs, who will be joining our farm in just a few short weeks.

Goodbye, last bit of sanity I had left, fare thee well.

Incubating Eggs, part 4: The Hatch!

Incubating Eggs, part 4: The Hatch!

Hatch Day is officially over!

Everyone who is going to hatch is hatched.

We have 18 more baby chicks!

*Of the eggs we had left at day 18, only one didn’t hatch. It never broke the shell, so I candled it and there was no movement at all. It pipped into the air sack, but never made it to the shell.*

I noticed the first little pips in the shells Wednesday afternoon and by 11:45pm that night we had our first little chick.

We had 3 chicks when we woke up Thursday, and I frantically checked on them and hovered all day watching the rest hatch.

When we went to bed Thursday, we had 12 little fluffs nestled in their brooder and 7 eggs left in the incubator. I told Vince I would be utterly amazed if any of those 7 hatched. One had broken a dime size hole in the shell by lunch time, but hadn’t done any more in hours.

Well, we woke up to 4 more chicks in the incubator!

So there were only three eggs left: the non-pipped one, the dime hole one, and another that was hatching.

We had to go to town for a playdate, and I told Vince if the one with the hole was still alive when we got back, I might break down and “help” it a bit.

Sure enough it was still alive and the other one still hadn’t finished hatching.

The membrane around the hole was dried and hard, so I broke off a few small pieces of shell to see if it could do the rest. Sure enough it started to work at hatching once those pieces were loose. I had told myself I wouldn’t help them at all, I figured it was natures way of culling the weak, but this little chick was still fighting. It did the hard work itself and while weak seems to be okay. I am still a bit hesitant to make any future plans for that chick, but now it at least has a chance.

As soon as that chick was free and cheeping around the incubator, the other chick still hatching perked up and hatched. It was like it was waiting for a friend to encourage it.

I would have been happy if any of the chicks hatched, so I am overjoyed we have so many little fluffy chicks pecking around.

Now for the next batch! Since we will not be using the Minorca eggs and we sold the Rhode Island Red/Barred Rock hens, we had to by eggs to fill the incubator. Hopefully they will do as well as these and we can get a better hatch rate.

Below are our numbers from this first hatch:

Ameraucana: 11 placed in incubator, 10 fertile, 9 hatched = 82% hatch rate

Minorca: 19 placed in incubator, 1 fertile, 1 hatched = 5% hatch rate

RIR/Barred Rock: 11 placed in incubator, 10 fertile, 2 lost to cracks, so 8 viable, 8 hatched = 73% hatch rate

Thanks to the 18 Minorca eggs that weren’t fertile it looks like we have a terrible hatch rate:18/41 or about 44%.

Incubating Eggs, Part 3

Incubating Eggs, Part 3

We made it to day 18!

The day 10 candling confirmed that the all those Minorca, and two other eggs, did not develop. While I am disappointed, it might have been a good thing. While the Minorcas are supposed to do great in our climate, they are extremely flighty and annoying. So we decided we aren’t going to bother breeding them, at least for now.

I candled the eggs again on day 14 and all the remaining eggs had happy little chicks moving about.

It is amazing to see!

On the outside it looks like any ordinary egg, but on the inside there is a tiny chick, growing and moving.

Now for the most stressful part, at least for me, day 18.

I candled them to double check the air sack was about the right size. I am hoping with more experience this wont be so much of a guess. A few of the sacks looked a bit smaller than they should, which makes me nervous, but hopefully I just saw it wrong.

I also removed the automatic turner, and bumped up the humidity. Everything I read said bump the humidity up to 60%-70%.

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Those first few days I struggled to get the humidity lower, well as would be my luck, I am now having trouble keeping the humidity high enough. They say not to open the incubator these last few days, but make sure to keep the humidity up so you don’t end up with “shrink-wrapped” chicks. So I am sitting here trying to decide which is more important keeping the humidity up or not opening the incubator.

I am a huge control freak and this whole process is a huge test of my patience and a lesson in letting go.

Just a few more days, and we will all know how this went.

I stopped at Tractor Supply Sunday to pick up bedding for the brooder to make sure everything was ready for any chicks that do hatch… and I left with 12 Rhode Island Red chicks. This is what some might call a problem.

Incubating Eggs, part 2

Incubating Eggs, part 2

Today is day 7!

This is a big day because we get to see how the eggs are doing, and because I have patiently waited this long. Yay, me!

So far, so good.

Most of the eggs are showing veins and a tiny baby chick, and the air sack looks about the right size.

The eggs that aren’t developing are all from the Minorcas, and it makes me wonder if it is more of a fertility issue than an incubating issue. Out of 19 Minorca eggs only 1 showed any signs of development. All the eggs have been handled the same since collection, so something is off.

From the Ameraucanas, 10 out of 11 eggs are showing development. From the Rhode Island Red/ Barred Rock crosses all the eggs showed development, but two of them were somehow cracked, so we pulled them from the incubator.

I left all the non-developed eggs in the incubator for now and plan to recheck those in a couple days, just incase they are extremely late bloomers.

A few of the eggs were light enough you could see the baby chick squirming around, which was super exciting.

I am a bit frustrated about the two cracked eggs because I thought I made sure none of the eggs were cracked. But we did use them as a learning experience. Instead of just tossing the eggs, we opened them to see how they looked at this stage of development. It is truly amazing how quickly they develop.

***Below is a photo if you are curious, or if it’s too much, stop reading here.***

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Below you can see all the veins connecting embryo to the yoke (its food source) and the giant eye in the tiny embryo.

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.