Tag Archives: chickens

Incubating!

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We’ve never tried incubating our own eggs before, but we got a new rooster a couple of months ago who takes his procreating duties very seriously, and he seems to have inspired our old rooster to do the same. After noticing that just about every egg we were using was fertile, I dug my old incubator out of the back corner of my parents’ basement.

(Full disclosure: I think I once plunked a couple of quail’s eggs from who-knows-where in there for a few weeks, but with no knowledge of turning, humidity, or even proper temperature, the venture was doomed from the start.)

I was happy to find that after 25 years on the shelf, my Hova-Bator (made with pride in Savannah, GA) still works perfectly. It’s holding its temperature and… well, that’s about all it really has to do. I do the turning (three times a day) and keep one of the channels full of water to maintain the humidity.

None of this is very difficult, I know, but I was still pretty sure that I would somehow mess it up and end up throwing out all 13 eggs. It’s Day Six, though, so I decided to do some candling and see if anything was happening.

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*stunned silence*

There’s actually something in there! That little dark blob behind the “X” is the beginnings of a fluffy baby chick! I can see it moving, apparently from the force of the heartbeat that started after two days of incubation! I haven’t killed it yet!

In fact, all three of the white eggs and at least three of the four brown ones are developing. The blue/green eggs are impossible for me to see through with my little flashlight, but I’m optimistic, mainly because the Easter Egger hen seems to be the new rooster’s special favorite.

That bright crescent at the top of the egg in the photo is the air pocket. It will grow larger over the next two weeks, and shortly before the chick begins to hatch, it will pierce the membrane with its beak and begin to breathe air. Seriously, could that be any cooler?

So, while I realize that we’re only 1/3 of the way there and there’s still a lot that can go wrong, I’m kind of ridiculously excited.

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Summertime Blues

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An unusual year we’re having. First, we had spring, a season we typically only see mentioned on the calendar. Now, here we are in late summer, when the grass is usually brown and crunchy underfoot, and we’re setting rainfall records. Fifteen inches in July alone, and we’ve had more rain in the past seven and a half months than we were projected to have for the entire year!

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful for the rain after years of drought. And like everyone keeps saying, “It’s nice to see the lakes full.” But really. Everything in moderation.

The tomatoes are spindly and growing ever taller, searching for nearly nonexistent sunlight. The mosquitoes have organized and are demanding better wages and flying conditions. And the ground is so saturated that the rain in recent weeks has just been running off in torrents, filling the ditches and damaging the roads.

Oh, and weakening the trees. Which is how we ended up with three down in our yard a few weeks ago. A weird storm came out of the northeast, and I’m guessing we were hit by a microburst. Whatever it was, it did some major localized damage. Besides our big pine tree and two tall oaks from the woods behind us, the wind took down the last of our neighbor’s three huge oak trees (all three gone within a year!), then crossed a field and felled four large trees in one yard on the other side.

Our splintered pine tree. We'll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Our splintered pine tree. We’ll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Both of the oaks behind the house landed on the power lines, and one came down smack dab in the middle of the chicken tractor, killing two hens and trapping two more, while four managed to escape from the wreckage. Because the downed power lines were draped over the whole pile, I couldn’t even rescue the Marans hen I could see, let alone search for any other survivors. Fortunately, when the power company guys (who must have been very nice) arrived the next day, they got her out unharmed and put her in with the escapees I’d already captured.

Tree on tractor

Looking at this, I’m still amazed anything survived. The Marans hen was trapped in the corner on the left in this picture.

We stayed at my parents’ house until the power was restored, so it was two days after the storm when I found my little red partridge Silkie under the splintered tractor, alive, but with one foot crushed under a 2×4 that had a lot of weight pressing down on it. We got her out, but I really didn’t know how much damage was done and what her chances of recovery were. After a few days of rest, though, she was running around with hardly a limp. Now you’d never know she had been injured.

Crushed tractor

Here it is after the tree was semi-cleared by the power company. The Silkie was sitting quietly in the corner on the right, apparently waiting for rescue.

The destruction of the chicken tractor has really exacerbated our overcrowding problem, since all of the girls from the tractor have had to move into what had been the portable extended run for the main coop. I sold my five Buff Orps last month and hope to sell the ten Silver Laced Wyandottes this weekend. At that point, we should be back down to a manageable flock size. Oddly, most of the ones I’m keeping are the older hens. They’re just still laying too well for me to get rid of them, and obviously people buying adult hens would rather have the younger ones.

In the midst of all the mayhem and losses, one of the two surviving Gold Stars from this spring has started laying. It’s amazing to see how the cycle of life carries on in spite of what must seem to those chickens like nearly apocalyptic events.

Not bad for a first egg!

Not bad for a first egg!

Life goes on inside the house, too. Ben is working an insane number of hours because of “back to school,” so we probably won’t get to see much of him until late September. The 47-mile drive tacked on to each end of his 10+ hour workday certainly doesn’t help. He’s only had three days off in the past month, so his homecoming is a big deal every evening. The Boy is always waiting to open the door for him and tell him the latest news, and The Baby lights up and starts trying to push off of me to reach him. Daddy is pretty popular in these parts.

I’m staying busy with kids, critters, and the everyday. What life might lack in excitement, it more than makes up for in cuddles, giggles, and kisses.

Lash Eggs — Thank Goodness They’re Rare!

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This is a basket full of perfection fresh from the coop at my parents’ house last month. In the background, you can see my nephew apparently being crept up on by a giant bee while he waits for his turn at the Slip’n’Slide. Kind of bizarre. Also, in the upper left, you can see the big flat rock where Ben and I got married eight years ago next month. Anyway, what’s in this basket is what’s supposed to come out of chickens.

Basket of Happy

What’s next is what came out of one of my chickens recently. Warning: it could be considered graphic. If you get grossed out easily, stop scrolling now! You’ve been warned!

Lash egg

The hens would probably have eaten it if I hadn’t been in the run when it was, um… laid? Exorcised? From its mother’s womb untimely ripped? Whatever. A couple of chickens were scratching in one spot, and when they moved on, one of them had left this behind. At first, I thought it was a large but normal egg. Then I got closer and actually saw it. And then I picked it up. Not because I really wanted to, mind. I just knew if I didn’t, it would get torn apart pretty quickly, and I wanted a chance to study the thing.

After some Googling (“weird egg,” “hen laid ovary,” “hen laid alien life form,” etc.), I figured out that it’s called a lash egg, or just a lash. There are several posts on Backyard Chickens about similar occurrences, but I found this one most informative. The original poster did some research after finding out a name for the thing and then shared this:

“Experience of hard-core chicken keepers  (official experts enough, imho) seem to suggest it is a sloughing off of the reproductive system, usually thought to be lining.  It is discussed on forums in hens of all ages but evidently going though either a hormonal change at the beginning or end of their laying production period overall.  Sometimes lash is connected to a stressful incident that caused them to stop laying for awhile or a change from broodiness to laying again. Hormonal changes seem key in producing lash.  What “lash” material actually is, is debated.  Photos show various textures and sizes which make it extra hard to pin down.  I suspect “lash” is a broad term used to describe anything that comes out of the hen’s reproductive tract (usually coated with a rubbery layer of material in pink to yellow hues) that is not easily identified.  It is obviously flesh material, though, and not egg.”

Seems to sum it up pretty well. I don’t know which hen produced the lash, so I can’t say if she’s laying or not. I do have one Buff Orp that’s acting a little “off” right now, but she’s only been like that for a few days, and the lash was laid several weeks ago.

Has anyone else had a lash experience?

From The Farm Blog Hop

Happiness is a Warm Slice of Bread.

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I’ve wondered several times recently if it’s worth doing all we’re trying to do to live differently. Life can be so easy if you’re willing to just run down to the grocery store and buy pretty packages of ready-made food that bill themselves proudly as “natural,” “healthy,” and “old-fashioned.” And I will freely admit that for a few weeks (OK, months) after bringing our new baby home, I succumbed to the convenience. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of looking at an ingredient list on something I was about to feed my family for supper. Yeah. Bad idea. Now, I’m trying (read: struggling valiantly while wearing a baby on my chest) to get back into the habit of cooking from scratch.

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a sweet husband who loves to cook, so if the baby needs me around suppertime, Ben is totally capable of stepping in and fixing food for the three of us. Over the past year of pregnancy and babyhood, he’s also been awesome about taking care of the chickens and rabbits whenever necessary. I hope I won’t ever take for granted his willingness to come home after 10+ hours of work and still take an active part around the house. I’m trying to do as much as possible on my own, though, because I hate so much for anything to add to his burden.

But really, at times like this, it does seem so tempting to just let all of that stuff go. Let Ben come home from work and enjoy a well-earned rest. Let me focus on Legos and Golden Books and baby snuggles. Isn’t that all that really matters? Obviously, the answer is yes. And no.

I really do believe that we’re doing what’s best for our family by making the choices we’re making. Even the ones that might make other people think we’re crazy or have our priorities completely out of whack. (I’m pretty sure half of my Facebook friends have gotten sick of my agricultural/anti-GMO/crunchy-ish posts and unsubscribed from me!) And I want to be totally honest about the fact that we cheat sometimes. I don’t ever want to give the impression that we have this whole thing figured out. We don’t. But we’re trying.

For one thing, for reasons I’ll explain soon in another post, this will not be The Year of the Garden. I got a few tomato and pepper plants in the ground last month (didn’t even try to start from seed this year!), but my poor eggplants, okra, and cucumbers never even made it out of the pots. Next year, though, we should have a fantastic start as we work in all of the rabbit and chicken manures, straw, and leaves we piled on the garden plot this past winter.

We’ve also decided to cut down on the number of chickens we have. Our main coop is overcrowded, mostly because we planned to replace our older hens as their laying slowed down, only to find that they continued to produce like champs right alongside the new pullets. And overcrowding has led to feather-picking, so my beautiful girls aren’t so beautiful anymore. I’ve put up portable fencing in front of their coop so that they have more space and fresh ground to work through. But the simple fact is that we have too many.

So we are cutting back where we can and trying to lighten the workload. But in other ways, I want to do more. We’re using cloth diapers about 90% of the time, so laundry has increased somewhat, but it’s hardly overwhelming. (And now when I do have to use them, I realize just how nasty disposable diapers smell!) I have high hopes of doing more canning this summer and fall as well as making our own baby food, even though it looks like most of the produce for all of that will have to come from the farmer’s market. And I’ve been experimenting with new bread recipes, including this super quick and easy whole wheat from Modern Homesteaders. It’s so satisfying and absolutely scrumptious with last fall’s apple butter!

Whole Wheat Loaves

Mostly, though, when I make bread, it’s the same sourdough my mom made when I was a little girl. It takes two days to get from starter to bread, but the plus side is that you only spend a few minutes at a time working on it. Feed the starter, wait 12 hours, make the dough, let it rise 12 hours, knead it and make loaves, let them rise 10 hours, and bake. Given the lengthy time frames, though, it’s not uncommon for me to (finally!) get the boys settled down for the night and realize that I still have to mix up the dough or form the loaves. Funny how long those few minutes of work can seem when I know I could be curling up in my soft bed!

My 3-month-old, while a better sleeper than his brother was, is still waking me up a couple of times a night. So when I’m up late making bread, I do wonder if this (like so many other aspects of the life we’re trying to make) is worth the effort and the loss of rest. But the next day, I pull the finished loaves out of the oven and cut a slice while it’s still almost too warm to handle, but that’s when the butter melts into it the best. And I hand it to The Boy (just like my mom used to give me the first slice when I was little), and he takes a bite and says, “Oh, Mommy, you make the best bread in the whole world.” (Seriously, how did I get such a sweet kid?) And it means so much more than the extra 20 minutes of sleep would have meant. And someday, even if he never understands how much work went into it, he will remember that his mama used to bake the best bread ever.

I think that matters. I think it’s important.  And I think it’s totally worth it.

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Thirty-Nine Weeks

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Thirty-nine weeks, and I am beyond ready for this baby to get out of me! I’m quite certain that God deliberately makes the last few weeks of pregnancy this uncomfortable so that labor will be a more welcome prospect. At this point, even though I know about the sleep deprivation that awaits me, all I can think of is being done with these itchy stretch marks and the claustrophobic-in-my-own-skin feeling. Plus, I want my Boy to be able to sit in my lap again without sliding off my knees!

I’m hoping to labor at home for as long as possible this time, because last time I didn’t feel the need for an epidural until I was lying flat on my back in a hospital bed with nothing to think about but the discomfort. But I ended up hating my epidural and hope to avoid it altogether this time, so I want to stay active for as long as possible! Still, I’m trying to keep all of the animals fully fed and watered in case we do have to head to the hospital quickly for some reason. Do you have any idea how much food two nursing rabbit does and eight growing baby bunnies go through? They seem to view a full food dish as a personal challenge, so keeping them prepared for us to be gone for a couple of days is not the easiest thing.

I do have to mention that we had a small poultry tragedy this weekend. The hen I removed for egg-eating spent the last week or so living the life of a happy free-ranger. We called her Mabel (or Marbles, as The Boy said at first), and she had a great time digging through leaves, tearing apart the straw bale in the carport, and laying eggs (which she never ate) in the compost bin. She also insisted on sleeping there, although there were plenty of safer places she could have roosted. The Boy loved the novelty of having a chicken that came running over as soon as we went outside. On Friday, we came home from a trip to the grocery store and found her digging through the straw in the carport again. My Boy went over near her, and when I called him to go into the house, he said, “Oh, just let me explore with Mabel!” It was pretty cute. Unfortunately, on Saturday night, something found her sleeping spot, and on Sunday morning, all we found were feathers. I hate losing any animal, especially one with so much personality, but I’m really glad she enjoyed these last couple of weeks so much.

The one good thing about losing Mabel is that it lets me know that our coops are secure, because there are obviously predators around. We’re still making improvements, but at least the coops are already doing their most important job well.

My mom got 18 new chicks last week — 6 each of Buff Orpingtons, Ameraucanas, and Black Australorps. It’s very hard to not be getting any of my own right now, but maybe later in the season I can add a few. My Boy is absolutely in love with the little dibbies and handles them so gently. Here he is cooing over one of the little Ameraucanas.

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He’s going to be such a wonderful big brother. Hopefully he’ll be one by the next time I write here!