Incubation Tales

Chicken Egg Incubation

We are on day 15 of our incubation adventure here at Raggedy Hen Farm. This means, we only have 6 days to go until hatching should begin. Of course, we’ve all heard the wisdom about not counting one’s eggs until they’ve hatched, so we remain cautiously optimistic. While we haven’t had the winter storms and power failures like last year (fingers crossed), we have had some incubating adventures…

We candled the eggs early on (around day 5) and since this year’s eggs are rather dark-shelled, it was difficult to determine whether all the eggs were viable and developing. We’re still novices, but we do our best. We did a second (and last) candling on day 14 and it was a little easier to see the dark shadow and air sack on most of the eggs. Those green Ameraucana eggs are a challenge, however!

Later in the evening on day 14, we went to turn the eggs and found one of the eggs had little droplets of a very sticky, syrupy substance on one end. From all of our reading and research, we knew this was NOT a good sign.

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When incubating eggs get this oozy substance, it is because the embryo had died and the egg is basically rotting from the inside. Gases are building up and if left unattended, these eggs will explode and cause quite the contaminating mess in the incubator. Then we’d have to discard all the eggs and start over.

So, we pulled the egg immediately and carefully, putting it on a paper towel. After it cooled, we took it outside (just in case it had an awful odor) and broke it open. It cracked with a bit of tension–meaning there was some gas build-up inside. Sure enough, there had been an embryo developing in the egg, but it looked to have died around day 9 or 10. It could have been from something genetic, or bacteria (more likely) that got into the egg.

We’re feeling wary now, hoping that this egg did not contaminate any of the other eggs in the incubator. It is certainly a possibility and since all the eggs came from the same place, there is always the chance that they could have similar problems. We want to make sure we catch anything that might be going wrong before lock-down on Day 18–the day we stop turning the eggs, boost the humidity, and leave the incubator closed for the possible hatch!

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We started with 9 eggs this time around…now there are 8!

A Year’s Worth of Eggs

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Here we are…the very first day of 2015. It finds us with exactly twelve hens–even though 2014 saw a few more chickens coming and going from our little flock. We keep track of our eggs, expenses, and the little bit of income we make from selling our eggs and we thought we’d share last year’s results!

Our food expenses for the chickens came to about $142. This does not include straw or table scraps. We earned exactly $34.50 from selling eggs. Of course, we gave away dozens and dozens too!

Our gals laid us 120 dozen eggs over the course of 2014 and they cost us right around $1.12 per dozen. Not a bad price for fresh, organic eggs from very happy hens.

What we haven’t really calculated is the value of the chickens who ended up in freezer camp, or the value of having a broody hen hatch and raise new chickens, or the value of all the tilling, fertilizing and compost management our gals do. Of course, there is our labor involved in caring for the chickens, but it has also provided us with an active hobby and a grand urban adventure!

The Tiniest Egg

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Teri wanted to try raising the bantams and she started out with two little ones earlier this spring. One of those nuggets turned out to be a rooster, so Minnie remains the only bantam currently in residence at Raggedy Hen Farm. We’ve gone back and forth on our thinking about her breed and had originally thought and hoped she was a Welsummer Bantam. As she’s grown, however, we’ve been leaning toward thinking she is an Old English Game Bantam. We finally figured we’d know when she laid her first egg–dark brown would mean Welsummer and barely tinted would mean Old English.

At 19 and a half weeks, without any fan-fare at all, Minnie took to the newly-fluffed nest boxes this past weekend. There was a bit of rustling and some funny little hen noises. She looked awfully tiny in there next to the regular-sized “inspiration egg” (we’ve painted them forest green so they don’t get confused with actually eggs), but as we’ve learned about Minnie, as far as she’s concerned, she’s the biggest, boldest hen there is.

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After some time in the nest box, she emerged and took some long, drinks of cool water. Teri says this is the tell-tale sign that a chicken has laid an egg–when they go straight for the water trough!

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Minnie’s first egg was tiny, faintly tinted and perfect! Her Old English Game-ness confirmed, Minnie has taken her place as the tiniest egg-layer with the littlest eggs at Raggedy Hen Farm!

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Busy, Bustly Days at Raggedy Hen Farm

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This…is crunch time!  The garden is blousy and overgrown and producing like crazy; Most of the pullets are laying, along with the old hens; it is time for canning, drying, saving seeds,, and just trying to keep up with this last big hurrah of another summer season. This has been an incredibly prolific year as some of our long-term projects like raspberry canes, grapevines, and hop vines are really coming in to their own.  Here’s a little run-down of what’s keeping us so busy…

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We are getting 5-8 eggs a day from our plethora of busy hens. It is so fun to have the diversity of colors in the egg basket. We now have everything from white to green, to dark brown (along with the light brown we’ve had for a while.) We haven’t had any trouble finding homes for all these yummy eggs!

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Our daily forages into the garden with a harvesting basket under one arm are yielding pounds of tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers and, now, some of the ripest of the winter squash. This means we’re doing all sorts of canning and preserving, along with eating our share of these tasty treasures!

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The apple trees are laden and almost ready to be picked and canned. We’ll make applesauce and can slices for winter pies. Any “drops” get tossed into the chicken run as the hens all love to eat up the fallen apples.

 

 

 

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We have dozens of pumpkins this year and they are all starting to turn orange! It’s a good thing, too, because it’s helping us realize and find them all…although there tend to be daily “surprises” as we stumble upon yet another swelling pumpkin. These magical vines are starting to get a little ragged after roaming all over the edges of the garden all summer.

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Harvesting Hops! We have three different hop vines that we planted a couple years ago. This year, they are laden with ripening hop flowers and we are determined to dry them and use them in the making of home-brewed beer. These have been incredibly easy and fun to grow–the vines twine and stretch and grow along the fences and up into the trees and the hoppy smell is delightful too!

So, there you have it! We are neck-deep in projects and preserving all the bounty coming from our overgrown urban lot. Stay tuned for an update on the also-very-busy honeybees!

Guess Who’s Laying?

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Well, if truth be told, several of our gals are laying eggs almost daily, but a pullet’s first egg is always an exciting thing! As of two days ago, we’ve been finding little white eggs and this means that Blue Andy, the Blue Andalusian we hatched in the incubator this past February is the first layer of this year’s pullets. When we say “finding,” we literally mean that she has yet to figure out that the nest boxes are for laying and we’ve found these eggs–looking ever so much like little golf balls–scattered amidst the bedding in the coop! It’s as if that quirky, independent, and jumpy chicken just happened to drop it as she was walking by…

 

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With gorgeous shades of blue-gray, to almost black, feathers and a bright red floppy single comb, Blue Andy is a striking chicken. She also marches to the beat of her own drummer and is a bit of a challenge to contain. We’ll just see how long it takes her to conform to putting her eggs where they belong!

Watch the video of Blue Andy’s hatching on our YouTube channel

Broody Update

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Hilda is all puffed and fluffed and her comb and wattle have faded a bit–a broody hen will instinctively make her feathers big and fluffy and, when a hen is not laying, her comb and wattle lose some of their bright redness.

 

Well…it hasn’t exactly been successful convincing our Buff Oprington, Hilda, to get un-broody.  She’s a stubborn one! After repeatedly removing her from the nest, putting her in with the teens, and even giving her a few dunks in a bucket of water, she’s still got the strong urge to set. Of course, there are no fertilized eggs for her to set on, but she doesn’t care. She just wants to brood!

After about a week and a half of trying all the other methods, we finally decided to remove her from the henhouse and run and keep her OUTSIDE–she now has roam of the yard and no access to the henhouses and nests. We are hoping the distraction of having all the glories of free range, will distract her and  get things back to normal. But a determined broody hen is not easily deterred.

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Hilda comes beak to beak with the nuggets–Dudley is letting her know he’s in charge of this little trio.

Hilda is not straying too far from the other chickens and their home turf. While the others are envious of her being outside the run, she just wants to get back in and get up on that nest! After a day roaming the yard, we let her back in to the coop for the night to sleep in safety. We put two big ice packs in each nest box to make them less inviting but, alas, Hilda spent the entire night setting on an ice pack pillow!  We took her out again the next morning and after a little breakfast and wander, she decided to create a new nest…

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Hilda’s decided this bale of straw in the wheelbarrow will work just fine for a makeshift nest. Never mind it is right out in the open and there are no eggs to be found!

 

Stay tuned!

Creamy Potato Salad

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It’s Spring! We have eggs, eggs, and more eggs and that means preparing some of our favorite egg-laden recipes. This is Kori’s basic potato salad recipe and it seems to get made a bit differently every time.  It can be spicy or mellow; full of fresh herbs or dried; and it goes oh, so well, with everything from baked ham to roasted chicken (Teri likes to eat it on its own as a lunch dish!)  Here’s how it’s done…

Creamy Potato Salad

12 medium potatoes–whole and unpeeled (but washed)

6 eggs, hard boiled and cooled

1/2 cup chopped onion (yellow, white or red)

1/2 cup diced pickles (dill or sweet)

2 Tablespoons pickle brine/juice

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/4 cup prepared mustard–homemade or purchased

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon celery salt

salt & pepper to taste

Optional: chopped parsley, chopped cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, fresh or dried dill weed, etc.

Cover potatoes with water and put a pinch of salt in the water. Boil 20 minutes or so until fork-tender, but not soft. Drain and allow to cool. Meanwhile, peel eggs and chop the onion and pickles.

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After potatoes have cooled, slice into bite-sized chunks. Toss these in a bowl with chopped onion and diced pickles. Cut peeled, boiled eggs in half, putting the yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Chop the whites into small pieces and add to the potatoes and vegetables.

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Mash the yolks with a fork. Add pickle brine/juice to the mashed yolks and stir to make a paste. To this, add the minced garlic, mustard, sour cream and mayonnaise and stir well. Pour this over the potato mixture. This is where you can add any other seasonings like celery salt, dill, etc.  Fold all ingredients together carefully until well mixed. Add salt & pepper to taste and top with sprinkled parsley, smoked paprika, dill or other garnish of choice.

This is best made a few hours before you intend to serve and then refrigerated. This gives the flavors a chance to blend and become well-incorporated.

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Eggs!

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Every chicken keeper knows that spring is truly here when the hens start laying eggs like mad! It doesn’t matter if you have 3 hens or 300, when you start getting about an egg a day from all the gals, you know that the stark days of winter are over.  We are currently getting almost three dozen eggs from six laying hens a week. I can tell you that pulling those brown orbs out of the nest boxes never gets old and we feel like the richest folks on Cedar Street!

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Dottie, a Silver-Laced Wyandotte, tends to be the first one on the nest in the early mornings.

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Mitzy, a Dominique hen, is going about her almost daily egg laying.

Our hens do not lay every single day. Each one lays what is known as a “clutch.” A hen will start laying early one morning and then lay a little later each day after that until she’s laid 5 or 6 days in a row this time of year. A good layer will then take one day off and begin again early the next morning. In the mid summer, when the days are long, a hen might lay 7 days or more before taking a day off.  Our oldest hens–Trudy and Hilda–are laying less now that they are in their third year of laying. They lay about two days on and one day off. Now that they’ve been through a couple molts, however, their eggs are larger than they were when they were newbies.

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Hilda, a Buff Orpington, and the bossy chief of our flock, is still laying, but not quite as often as the last couple years.