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!

No More Babies

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The house is quiet tonight for the first time since late February. At six weeks old, the nuggets are spending their first night outdoors locked up tightly in a pet carrier-turned mini-coop. They’ve already been spending their entire days outside for the past week (after a week or so of partial days) and with night temperatures in the 50’s–the time has come.

While they are not grown up by any means, if they were being raised by a mama hen, she’d likely be done doing maternal duties and they’d be turned out into the flock to fend for themselves. We are NOT turning ours into the big flock any time soon since that flock is still working out the blending kinks with the nearly twelve week-old teens!

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The teens spend the days in the large run with the old gals–they’re learning how to make their way while getting out of the way when the mean girls come pecking. At night, they roost in the little house that has been theirs for a couple months now. They are starting to spread out a bit and actually roost on the roosting bars during the night instead of piling into a cozy heap in one of the nesting boxes. With four pullets (females) and one cockerel, there is safety in numbers. We’ve told Sprocket that until he starts crowing, as far as we’re concerned, he’s just one of the gals. Our last Ameraucana roo started crowing around 14 weeks, so maybe we have a couple more weeks before Sprocket has to go.

 

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And, speaking of cockerels…we’re pretty sure this little bantam Mottled Cochin is a male as well. He’s got quite the long-necked strut and his little comb is just as red as can be. He flits around trying to tell the other two what to do and we’ve taken to calling Daisy, “Dudley”!

 

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The three nuggets love their makeshift run we’ve created out of chicken wire right next to the big gals coop and while they are separate and safe, we want them to get used to each other’s presence. The nuggets had no trouble figuring out that the new little cage in their romper land was where they should be when the sun set; they hopped in an out for a little while and then in they went just about the time the older hens were getting settled in their roosts.

It always amazes us how they all just sort of figure out how to be chickens and all we need to do is try to give them what they need at each developmental stage.  So, as the full moon rises over Raggedy Hen Farm, our baby chick raising days are just about done for this year. Now we can turn our nurturing attention to the garden!

Four Weeks Old and Counting

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Mini, Brownie, and Daisy enjoy a few hours each day–weather permitting–romping in the grass. They still need protection around the outside and over the top of their little “play pen” to keep them safe!

 

The Nuggets, as we refer to the three youngest chicks here at Raggedy Hen Farm, are four weeks old. It’s sort of a funny, uneven four weeks old and since this is our first time with the bantams, we’re not sure how fast or slow they are supposed to be growing! We’re feeling pretty confident that Brownie, the Easter Egger we also got as a day-old at the same time as the bantams, is a pullet (female), but we sure don’t know about the other two!

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Mini & Daisy-two little bantams!

 

Mini & Daisy are Teri’s two bantams and, let me tell you, that Mini is a tiny thing! We think Mini is likely a Welsummer bantam, Since all the bantams at the farm store were unsexed and sold as “mixed,” we get to practice our identification skills yet again as these chicks age. Daisy seems to be in no hurry to feather out and is still sporting a lot of baby fluff.  We are used to chicks being much more feathered by this age and her raggedy appearance reminds us a bit of Trudy, our Jersey Giant, who took a full 11 months to lay her first egg!

 

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Hmmm…what breed of chicken is this?!

 

Daisy has an interesting upright build; a long neck and black and white coloring. We think Daisy might be a Mottled Cochin bantam, but we’re just not sure! One thing is for certain, this chick does not seem to be in any hurry to grow up. In some breeds, this can be a good indication of a cockerel as they tend to feather out slower in those breeds. We may just have to declare this year our year of the roo!

 

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The little trio of nuggets practicing chicken things in the clover.

 

In the meantime, these chicks are ready for some outside time, but not large or feathered out enough to spend all day or a night outside. They get supervised play time where they can run and fly about, nibble at the clover and dandelion seed heads, and get a taste for the great outdoors!

They’ve Come So Far

Seven Weeks with Names

 

We thought you all might like an update on the little flock of five we hatched in early February. Here they are now at almost seven weeks… (You’ll notice that “Betty” has morphed into “Betsy”–it wasn’t intentional, it just sort of happened!)

 

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And here they were back at two weeks…They are growing up so quickly!

Operation Integration

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The teens find a little safety in a corner of the run: Speckles (Rhode Island Red), Sprocket (at the back with the larger comb, an Easter Egger/Ameraucana), Betty (with the light head, a Dark Brahma), and Blue Andy (our Blue Andalusian). Life on the outside takes some getting used to!

The teens are almost seven weeks old and quickly outgrowing their grow pen. With the weather in the sunny sixties, we’ve decided it is time to start the integration with the big girls in the larger flock during the day.  Despite the fact that we follow every rule in the book and all the suggestions of the most seasoned chicken keepers–the first day was not a walk in the park!

These teens have been spending days outside next to the big girls for about three weeks and have had their grow coop right in the middle of the big run for the last week and a half or so. You’d think this would give everyone the chance to get good and used to each other. But, alas…

Before we opened the doors of the grow pen, we gave the big hens extra treats to distract them and make them think it was fun time. As soon as the pullets started to creep out into the larger pen, however, the big girls rushed into the grow pen–eager to find any morsels of chick feed that might be on the ground. This forced the teens out into the wide world and they took off running and peeping.

The way the pecking order works in a flock the size of ours, the old gals on top don’t really care much about the new interlopers.  They are secure in their position as Queen Hens. They do still peck, bump and dominate the other gals in the top six, but they barely noticed the teenagers in their coop. The most intense bullying, however, is coming from the two hens at the bottom of the current social order: Mavis and Dottie.

Dottie, our gorgeous Silver-Laced Wyandotte, is our current lowest ranking hen, followed by the stubborn and extremely dim-witted, Mavis (a Dominique). In the wonderful world of chickens, both of these gals have the most to gain my making sure the teenagers know their place. Plus, it is a ready-made group of underlings for them to share some of the pecks and pushes they’ve been subject to.

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Mavis has the classic Hollywood bully’s combination of stubbornness, dim-wittedness, and being a bit of an outsider from the in-crowd. She does not deter easily!

 

This bullying is a combination of charging and posturing, and actually trying to give the teens some hard pecks. For the first half hour or so, we stayed in the run with everyone to intervene every time Mavis and Dottie tried to get too aggressive–this generally sent the young ones squawking and trying to fly anywhere and everywhere–they ended up in water buckets, stuck in fences, and clinging to the sides of trees. We needed to remind the nasty ones that we were ultimately in charge and such poopiness would not be tolerated.

For a while, things settled down–the teens kept to one end and the big gals had 2/3 of the run. There was exploring, scratching, chirping, and posturing from afar. A temporary truce appeared to be called–with the emphasis on temporary! When the teens got a bit more comfortable and started to wander and the older hens got bored exploring the grow pen, Dottie and Mavis were back for some more struts, pecks, and growls.

We know from experience that this will be a process. As the younger ones get bigger and used to life among the hens, and the pecking order re-establishes itself, things will get into a new normal groove. Some people choose to avoid these challenges all together by having a flock where all the chickens are the same age and are together from the very beginning. While this works fine for folks with farms or room for big or multiple flocks, it is not very practical for the small urban chicken keeper.  We have to allow for the phasing out of the older hens as their laying decreases by bringing in some young pullets. If the teens had been raised by a mama  hen, she would protect them and help them to integrate into the flock, but there would still be some adjusting and reshifting of the pecking order. We have found that things don’t get good and predictably calm until the pullets start laying–then they seem to become fully-integrated members of the flock.

So, for the next week or so, they will all be having supervised integration time as we keep an eye on everyone and make sure the jostling, posturing, and pecking does not get out of hand. After all, there’s plenty of food, treats, and space for everyone!

 

 

Teenagers and a Taste of Independence

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Speckles (at the back), a Rhode Island Red is still looking a little prickly about the neck. Blue Andy, the Blue Andalusian we hatched in the incubator is a combination of blues and greys. We’re pretty sure both of these chicks are pullets (females).

 

Our chicks are six weeks old! Hard to believe, I know, but they grow up quickly. If they were being raised by a mother hen, she would normally stop mothering them sometime between 5-8 weeks. We try to follow what a mama hen would do and our chicks are now living full time outside and they love it! We still have to encourage them up to roost at dusk, but we’ve had to do this in one way or another with every batch of chicks we’ve raised. It seems to take them all a couple weeks to get the hang of it–with no mama hen to show them the ropes!

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A good view of both Sprocket (an Easter Egger/Ameraucana) and Buffy (a New Hampshire Red.) Buffy was all yellow as a chick and we were skeptical she’d be this light buff red color, but she is!

The chicks are almost fully feathered in the colors/plumage of their adult selves–although there are still some wild pinfeathers here and there. They are developing combs and waddles and looking and acting more and more like chickens. They spend the day scratching and foraging, eating, and roosting. They love treats like greens and weeds (dandelions are a favorite) and they are in their grow pen right in the middle of the chicken run so they are surrounded by the big girls.

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We are pretty convinced that Sprocket is a cockerel. He is the biggest of the five and his tail feathers are starting to come in pointy. This is the second Ameraucana chick we’ve raised and the second to be a roo. When/if he starts crowing, we’ll have to make other plans. Sprocket is a beauty, though!

Sassy & Saucy

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What can we say? It’s Spring…and things and critters start to get a little sassy around here. Squirrels are leaping from tree branches, bees are buzzing the opening blossoms, and our own critters are feeling their oats as well.  As we are spending more and more time outside in the yard and garden, we’ve been capturing some of those saucy behaviors!

The picture above finds our cat, Bad Toby, taking a little siesta in the hens’ nest box.  Teri had opened up the door on a sunny afternoon–after all the girls had finished laying for the day, to air things out and add some fresh nesting material.  Toby found it to be an irresistible invitation. He preferred the same nest box the girls have been favoring too!

 

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As Teri likes to say, “there’s one in every crowd” when it comes to raising chicks–there is generally one chick who has the sticky bottom in the first few days and there is always one chick who starts the early perching and flying. In this batch, it is Blue Andy who finds her way to the highest spot in every location.

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Not to be outdone, little Buffy, the New Hampshire Red, practiced climbing up the ramp and jumping off–with a mighty (for her) squawk!

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Blue Andy’s feet are almost too big for balancing on the water fount–we wonder where she’ll fly up to perch next?