Hello Everybody, Frank here.
It's chicken time again. The current flock of birds we have, have not been good birds, they have been egg eaters, not great layers, and they're not pretty either. I've been fighting with these birds ever since we bought the first batch of Black Australorps. If your memory is good, then you might remember that these birds had a cannibalism problem when they were young. So I butchered all the
males, well maybe butchered isn't the right word, but I got rid of all the males. But the problems with these birds never really stopped. The whole time I've had them, they've been anti-human. One of those things where you walk into the chicken house and they run like terrorized animals upsetting everybody. In six months, all of the adult birds I have right now will be gone. I use the 6, 12, 18 month rule, and a couple of days back I hatched a batch of baby birds. In about six months, let's say Christmas, they will start laying. That's when the adult birds will go in the canner. Then six months later, I will hatch a batch of birds, which will be one year from the time these were born, which was about two days ago, and the cycle continues. When the birds hatched two days ago are one year old, I will hatch their replacements which will start laying in six months, making the birds born two days ago 18 months old. Wa-la! 6, 12, 18 months.
These birds I just hatched got off to an unusual start. I was starting to gather eggs for this hatch, and put them in the little cardboard cartons, then tilt one end up and down. Kind of the poor man's version of an egg turner. So, I got out one of my egg turners and started using it, just not inside the incubator. A couple of days before I was going to start the eggs
in the incubator, I got out one of the old ones and set it up to try it out. Well, the fan didn't work. I tried cleaning it, blowing it out, even put some 3-In-One oil on it's little plastic bearing. Well, it was determined to die, and it did. But, last year I had an incubator, same style, that the heating element went out. No big deal, just take the motor out of it. Well that motor had a missing screw, and at that particular time we were extremely busy. Then I got out my brand spanking new third incubator. I told you about it a while back, it operates off of 12 volts DC. I put the two old incubators back in their boxes, marked on the boxes what was wrong, and maybe someday during the cold of winter I'll dig those two things out and try to make me one happy incubator. Maybe.
Okay. New incubator, 12 volts DC, new turner, 12 volts AC. Make sure you read the small print. I plugged in the turner and incubator separately to
make sure they both worked. The egg turner did what it's supposed to do, and so did the incubator. Life is great. I put my brand spanking new turner inside the brand spanking new incubator, filled up the water trough, put the eggs in the turner and set my clock for 21 days. Being the good chicken hatcher I am, I checked the temperature meticulously every time I passed the incubator. This is one of those new fangled type of incubators, electronic. You set the temperature and it does everything else. Well, actually, the temperature was preset, but you can adjust the temperature if your conditions vary. Life's good.
Three or four days later I notice that eggs are in the same position every time I check the temperature. So, I started checking not just the
temperature, but the egg turner position. Guess what? The turner is not turning. We opened up the incubator, took the turner and eggs out, put the eggs back in the incubator and observed the turner for a couple of days. The turner turned it's little heart out. Put the turner back in the incubator with the eggs in the turner, watched it again for another day, and you're right, it's not turning the eggs. The turner is not a complicated little gizmo. I checked all of the logical reasons why it wouldn't turn. It wasn't crimped anywhere. There was nothing blocking it's movement in any form or fashion. It just wouldn't turn with eggs in it. Out comes the turner again, the eggs go in the incubator, and we do it the old fashioned way. Took a pencil and marked an 'x' on one side of the egg and a '0' on the other. We started turning the eggs by hand.
The problem is we had gone for about seven days not knowing if the eggs had ever been turned. We talked about it. Do we just abandon the 42 eggs we have in there and start over? Or do we let them go for another two weeks and see what we get? We decided to go ahead and let them finish their cycle. We knew that we might get a terrible hatch rate, or deformities, or both.
The big day comes. Well, actually, the big day came one day early. We heard a cheeping sound, looked in the incubator, and guess what? We had
what would appear to be a nice, healthy, little Buff Orpington. That was Friday morning. Before Saturday morning we had 34 healthy, vigorous baby chicks. That means we only had eight that didn't hatch. This is the best hatch rate we have had since we have lived here for seven years. They are probably the healthiest birds we have ever hatched. We did all the usual things. We quit turning the eggs three days before the scheduled hatch. We only removed the baby birds from the incubator about twice a day. You don't want to let out too much of the moisture or heat, you can chill some of the birds that are still wet. But at the same time, we also removed the empty egg shells.
There is a sad part to this story also. Of the eight that didn't hatch, three had large peck holes, and you could hear cheeping and see movement. It's real tempting to help these birds out of their shells, and I know some people do. But it's just not a recommended practice. I took the eggs that didn't hatch, put them in a plastic bag and put them in the trash. The next morning I took them to the trash dumpsters. I know some will disagree with that. I'll leave it at that.
Now we have the 34 healthy baby chicks in their temporary brooder, which was very temporary. Baby chickens put off a very fine dust that plugs my head like a stopper. This morning I had a smashing migraine. So the baby chicks are now in their permanent quarters in a secure section of the chicken house. They have heat, they have shelter, food and water. These 34 birds will be part of our replacement flock. We have started gathering eggs for the next hatch, and will probably start them on Wednesday. Three weeks from then, hopefully, we will have another good hatch. This should round out all of the female birds that we will need, and give us another large batch of males to process for the freezer and canner. If we want more meat, then we'll do one more batch in the incubator for just meat. That's the plan anyway.
Here in about 10 weeks, we'll be butchering some friers, and we'll let you know how things go. I almost forgot something. Last July I had lower back surgery. The surgery went fine and I'm doing well, but I will never in my life tote another 50 lb. bag of chicken feed again. For years we have always mixed our own chicken feed, ingredients were rolled oats, sunflower seeds, sweet feed, and a portion of laying pellets. Those days are over. We have gone to a standard laying pellet that has been formulated by chicken gurus, and this is what our adult chickens will be eating in the future. We do supplement their food daily with greens and other forms of herbs that come from the garden, along with whey from our cheese making. Someday, we will let the birds free range again, but not just yet.
Sometimes you have to streamline life a little bit. One example, as just mentioned, is going to a standard chicken feed. But we're also doing the same thing with all of the livestock. The day's of mixing 500 lbs. of feed are over. Sometimes we just have to accept certain facts of life. But the good news is that I have 34 healthy, baby chicks. For this, I am truly thankful.
We'll talk more later, Frank