New babies

When I took the eggs off the turner I could hear many of them peeping very loudly as I positioned them on the floor of the incubator. Within 12 hours, the first chick had pipped and hatched.

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The very first chick hatched at Bramblewood Acres. This one has feathery legs, his momma was a Brahma!

Once they started pipping, hatching came quickly and we spent most of the next two days hovering over the incubator, delighting in each new hatch, encouraging them to hurry up and break free!

Come on, little guy, you can do it!

Come on, little guy, you can do it!

Kayleigh told me her life has been changed by watching the chicks hatch. I believe it. It’s pretty incredible. Their feet are HUGE.

Almost there!

Almost there!

I had to help three hatch. They were taking so long to get out they got “shrink wrapped” into the shell and couldn’t push out. The humidity in the incubator wasn’t quite high enough so the fluids/membranes were drying pretty quickly. If they didn’t get out fast enough, those fluids and membranes glued them into the shell. A pair of tweezers and patience helped unglue them and they could finish hatching on their own.

Being born is exhausting!

Being born is exhausting!

We gave the  newborns about an hour to dry out in the incubator before moving them into the brooder. I think next time I’ll move them faster. Those wobbly babies wreaked havoc on their unborn siblings, knocking eggs all over the place.

First bites

First bites

It’s easier to eat while standing in the food dish, ya know. They figured out food pretty quickly. These babies are about 4 hours old.

So tired!

So tired!

Who knew eating was so exhausting! Wake up, eat, fall asleep in the food, repeat.

Getting to know each other.

Getting to know each other.

Under the heat light, resting. Out of the 31 eggs we incubated, 24 hatched. Not a bad rate. I put another clutch in the incubator yesterday and one of the broody hens has six chicks with her. We are giving her the chance to raise them herself and see if she is cut out to be a good mom. The last hen who hatched out 2 chicks lost them both within 3 days. She just lost interest and abandoned them. Hopefully this momma will be a little more attentive!

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Hatching Chicken Eggs: Part Two

Day eight of the new batch of eggs in the incubator and my daughter and I candled them.

Out of 41 eggs, three were not fertilized. Bad roosters! No cookies! Actually, that’s not a bad ratio at all, just not as good a fertilization rate as the last (failed) clutch. We had more questionable eggs this time, too. I don’t know why. Two had the dreaded blood line, one has a tiny crack that I didn’t notice when I put it in the incubator and four don’t look like they are growing. We tossed the unfertilized eggs and the two with blood lines, marked the questionable ones with Xs and all the others we could tell were growing with check marks.

Oddly, the two with blood lines were the two largest eggs in the whole batch. I think they come from the Brahma hens who typically lay super huge eggs. These are beyond Grade A jumbo. These were so big they may have been double, possibly even triple, yolkers. So, if that’s the case, they were bound to fail. I don’t think twin chicks happen.

We tried to take some pictures but they turned out awful. You can’t even tell what the pictures are supposed to show!

Some of the shells were so thick and dark it was hard to see any blood vessels growing in there, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt and hoping something is going on inside the shell.

We will candle them again in eight more days just to check on progress and get rid of any that aren’t growing. After that, we just wait. Hatch date is April 28.

Funny thing…our white Aruacana hen (the only white one of that breed I’ve ever had) started setting a clutch of eggs one day after we started the incubator.  She is setting 7, I think, all Aruacana eggs (the green and blue ones). She’s pretty nasty and adamant about not letting any one get their hands near her nest so getting a good count was rather painful. We’ll see how many she hatches out. We’ll probably snag the chicks from her shortly after hatching and keep them inside for a few weeks. The last hen that hatched eggs abandoned caring for them shortly after hatching and they all died.

Dreaming of chainsaws

Some girls want diamonds. Or new shoes, maybe a new designer bag or some jewelry.

I don’t shop at the mall…instead, I drool at the farm supply store and run my hands longingly over shiny, new power tools and equipment. (yes, I know, it’s an illness.)

This girl is seriously coveting a new chainsaw. And a tractor would be the icing on the cake. But, we’ll start small, I’ll be happy with a chainsaw. I have/had a chainsaw, but, it is a “light duty” model and has not stood up well to the chores we’ve put it through, here, on the farm. It finally gave up the ghost this fall and of course, now that it’s spring, we have a LOT of wood and trees to cut and no chainsaw to cut them with!

Winter was not kind to my trails in the woods and we lost several trees….right across the trails. I have plans for that wood (which involves a natural fence, many climbing rose bushes and a plethora of native wildflowers) and would like to get to work getting it cut and out of the woods before the leaves and poison ivy are in full bloom. Naked woods make the work easier.  Plus, there are a few more trails I’d like to add, and that requires a chainsaw. I COULD use a handsaw, and I’ve resorted to using a handsaw in some cases, but honestly? It’s more work than I’m willing to do!

I’ve managed to plant 24 asparagus crowns and some more lavender and herbs, but, in doing so, I must now face a problem head on. A problem I’ve been able to ignore over the years.

The problem is the chickens. I love my chickens. I love watching them and talking to them and I love the freedom they have at the farm. They keep the bugs in check and keep the horse manure in the pastures manageable. They also hunt mice, snakes, moles and voles, so they are paying for their keep not only in eggs and meat, but in pest control, too.

What I don’t love is their incessant, destructive scratching and dust-bathing in EVERYTHING. And that includes my herb bed. The flowers, I don’t mind so much. But the herbs are tender and we use them and those darn chickens scratch and rip them right out of the ground without a care in the world. So, I have to figure out a way to keep them out without putting up big, ugly, metal chicken wire or mesh. I’m on the hunt for a light, plastic-type netting/fence than can easily be put up around those beds. If I can find what I’m looking for, that will be added to the ever-growing list of projects I must get done.

As the dirt warms

Ahhh, yes. That time of year has finally arrived. I’ve spent the last three weeks chomping at the bit to get out into the gardens and get busy. Now, it’s here and I’m busy! I’ve never been one of those people who can sit still for very long. I can’t barely sit through an entire movie so winter is usually torture for me. I scrub walls and cabinets, ceilings and light fixtures because I cannot just sit and do nothing. Let’s just say, by the time spring rolls around, there isn’t much left to “spring clean” in my house.

Thank goodness for that, though, because if I had to spring clean my house, it wouldn’t get done. I’ve been busy, busy creating new beds, preparing old ones for new plantings and planting. So far, I have carrots, onions, romaine lettuce, a mesclun lettuce mix, spinach and 24 new asparagus crowns in the ground. Doesn’t seem like much, when typed, but in the ground, that’s a lot of space to prep and plant. And, that’s only the veggies. I’ve also prepped and planted three new wildflower beds, a sunflower bed, marigolds, lavender and a hummingbird/butterfly/bee garden. Four more of those left to prep and plant, along with the rest of the veggies. I won’t put tomatoes, peppers or eggplant into the ground for a couple more weeks, but potatoes, beans, summer squash and new herbs will be going in this weekend and early next week.

We started a new clutch of eggs Sunday, and between the new incubator fan and upgraded thermometer/hygrometer I’m hoping we get a hatch this time. We candle for the first time in 6 days then again a week later. Then, cross fingers, eyes and toes and hope for the best! I read that incubating eggs is part art, part science, and I have to agree. Successful momma chickens just rose a few notches in my admiration book!

Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking

None of the eggs hatched. I gave them til Saturday and when I opened the incubator to remove them, the smell was incredible. I’m going to say they died in the shells. I think what may have happened is, since my hatch date was off by a couple of days and the temperature wasn’t high enough, I stopped turning them too soon.

If you stop turning the eggs, the embryos stick to the shell, and if they stick, they can’t move to peck their way out of the shell.

It’s very, very disheartening and disappointing. But, we will try again. I picked up a fan for the incubator yesterday and got a new thermometer with a hygrometer on it to keep close tabs on the humidity AND the temperature. Having a fan to keep the warm air circulating is supposed to increase the hatch rate, too.

It’s heartbreaking to lose any animal, and we’ve lost quite a few. I can’t even tell you how many chickens we’ve lost over the years to predators – hawks, fox, coyote and raccoons – and every loss is hard. Last year, my vegetable garden was a failure, for the most part, some plants never made it to fruiting due to the extreme drought and heat and we had to make a choice: Water the vegetable plants or water the animals. Our well had gone dry, twice, so the garden had to die because we had to go to a very strict water use regimen. There was nothing I could do but watch all my plants, all that work and sweat and time, dry up and die.

Very disheartening.

But, you keep pressing forward. If I gave up after a loss, I might as well pack it up and move to an apartment.

Trying to be self-sustaining is no walk in the park. It’s hard, sweaty, often back-breaking work, it’s time-consuming, and sometimes, heartbreaking and disappointing. But, you learn, you make changes or improvements and you keep moving forward, striving to do better the next time. This is a lifestyle I have chosen and I love it, I love the work and the satisfaction of a job done well.

With every disappointment, every heartbreak, there is always something that keeps me going and reminds me how lucky I am and how wonderful this life I’ve chosen is.

ImageBecause sometimes, there ARE new babies to welcome into the world. One of our does, Pumpkin, had a strong, healthy litter of eight.

And, there are always fresh eggs.ImageWhich means there is always the chance for more chicks.

The Fowl News

The egg pipped, didn’t hatch, and unfortunately, the chick died in the shell. I don’t know what went wrong, it was breathing and pecking away at the shell. The membranes looked a bit dry so I added a wad of tissue soaked with warm water to the incubator thinking perhaps the humidity was off.

When I checked progress around 11 p.m., it was no longer breathing, no longer pecking or moving. It was definitely dead. Very sad and very frustrating. We sure were hoping it would break out of that shell! We have a second pipped egg, it was pipped when I got home from work yesterday, but no more progress this morning and I can’t tell if it’s still pecking away in there or not.

I’m going to give this batch of eggs until Saturday to do something. And, I guess if this one was a failure (I know I messed something up, but I don’t know what), we’ll try again. Maybe pick up a fan for the incubator this time. I’ve heard that does make a difference in the hatch rate. And a hygrometer because of all things, the humidity level was probably the biggest variable. We kept the channels in the bottom of the incubator full, but had no way to really monitor the levels during the incubation process.

In other news, I think Ari and Max want me to open the pool for them.

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We’re just taking a walk on the pool.

They discovered that if they head towards the center of the pool cover it dips enough to sink into the water. The geese LOVE that!

Of course, Christmas and Thanksgiving are hanging out with the geese…I think they believe the honkers are their mommies! All four of them like to follow Kayleigh around like she’s the Queen Bee. Too funny.

We have pipping!

The chicks were due to hatch, by my calculations, on Easter.

None have hatched, yet. We’ve had a lot of egg wiggling and a bit of peeping but no little babies yet out to greet the world. Three days past the “due” date, I had begun to give up on them, setting a deadline and ready to start over, sure I’d managed to kill an entire clutch of eggs before they even had a chance to begin.

But this morning…hope! We have one egg pipped (the chick has broken through the shell) and a couple more still moving as the chicks get into position to work their way into the world.

How could my date be so off? I started thinking about it. I counted the day we put the eggs into the incubator and I should not have. The embryos don’t start growing until they reach the right temperature inside the shells, and, they most likely didn’t reach 99.5* until at least 12 to 24 hours after being put in the incubator. So, that makes the due date April 1. I did some research and asked questions of those with more experience hatching than I and learned that a still air incubator (which is what we are using) is usually set a few degrees higher than a forced air incubator…so 102* instead of 99.5-100*.  We did not do that, which most likely delayed hatching by a couple more days…lower temperatures equal slower embryo growth. A lesson learned.

I was so excited to see that pipped egg this morning I almost called in sick to work so I could stay home and keep an eye on them. But…I also know that being home would be more nerve-wracking than being at work and I’d waste an entire day staring at eggs like a crazy person.

Crossing my fingers that I get home to a few hatched chicks tonight!