Franken-bator – Part 2 (Losing Humidity and Overheating)

After building the Franken-bator, I was pleased at how well it held temperature. It seemed like it was working well.

Humidity issues

However, I noticed that it was not retaining humidity as well as it did before. Prior to gutting it and adding the Incukit Mini to it, all I needed was one or two wet sponges to keep the humidity above 65%. After, I couldn’t keep the humidity above 45%, even with all the water wells full.

My first step was to assess my hygrometer to make sure it was accurate. To do this, I put some salt in a bottle cap, added water until the salt was very damp but not covered in water, and put the cap and the thermometer/hygrometer in a clear sealed container.
After 6 hours, the humidity inside the container will be 75% and how much your hygrometer is of that number, is how much you need to adjust when reading the humidity. Fortunately for me, the hygrometer is very accurate. So the problem is the incubator.

The next thing I decided to check was if there was too much air and humidity was escaping from the holes I put in the incubator box to make room for the Incukit and it’s cord.
IMG_7647.JPG IMG_7654.JPG

So I took a Ziplock bag, cut a square out of it, and taped it over the holes in the insulation on top of the lid. This immediately fixed the humidity problems. There was too many air holes that was allowing the humidity to escape.


The next couple of weeks, everything went fine until we had a heat wave that pushed the temperature into the upper 80’s for a week in April. During this time, I noticed that several times the incubator thermometer was reading low temps (97 degrees F) and the internal thermometer/hygrometer was reading temps in excess of 103 degrees F. What I discovered was that in an attempt to keep the thermometer at the level of the eggs (the black wire hanging down from the middle), I was allowing it to slip down into the water wells underneath the eggs when I shut the lid. This tricked the thermometer into thinking it was cooler in the incubator than it actually was and quite a few of my eggs got cooked.

My solution for this was to loop the wire up into the fan guard and bring it back down so it would only drop down as far as the level of the eggs.

After that, I noticed that the incubator was still holding at high temperatures for a long period of time and not cooling off as it should. The solution for that has been to remove the insulation from the bottom of the incubator to allow for more heat to dissipate now that the air wass warmer.

I still have a few kinks to work out of the system, but I don’t currently trust it to maintain temperature for starting eggs while it is so warm this summer as I have no AC in my house to maintain a steady temperature. I’ve gone back to using it as my lock down incubator and starting my eggs in my Brinsea Ovation 28 EX.


Franken-bator – Part 1 (Making of)

Back in November (2017), I bought two of these 56 egg, brandless, yellow topped Chinese incubators on eBay. After a refund for some shipping confusion, I spent around $85 for the pair of them. I was really pleased that they came with turners and I ran a test hatch in each one with 1 dozen eggs.
The hatch, was less than spectacular. I hatched 5 out of the top incubator, and 1 out of the bottom. I assumed the bottom incubator just didn’t work well that close to the floor (this was during a cold snap) and didn’t think much else of it. When I tried using them again, the incubator that had been closer to the floor was discovered to barely work. It didn’t maintain temps well enough to keep eggs alive and developing. So I started using the other one to incubate eggs, and that didn’t work so well either. Because it was hard to keep the humidity low enough for the first 18 days without the thing beeping like crazy. I tried resetting and it didn’t work. After this, I bought a Brinsea Ovation 28 EX for my starter incubator (LOVE IT!!!!) and I started using it as my lockdown incubator, since high humidity didn’t matter for the last 3 days. This worked well, but after a month of this use, it started misbehaving more often.

So I decided to gut both these machines and retrofit them with Incukit Minis. I also decided to spend the extra $9.99 to get the 5rpm Egg Turner Motor for the Incukit MINI and retrofit it to the turners with this motor.

I converted my first incubator last week, and after some trial and error, I got it working perfectly. I’ll go into that later in the tutorial. I decided to document the second incubator conversion once I had most of the kinks worked out.

The first thing I had to do was to take the old guts out of the incubator. I unscrewed the grid, and clipped the zip ties that were holding parts to the grid.

Here you see the the hygrometer, the fan, the turner plug, and the thermometer.

I unscrewed the fan and the heating element was located underneath.

I was surprised at how small the heating element was.

Next, I removed the 4 spacer brackets that kept the heating element off the lid. I presume to keep the element from melting the lid.

I then removed the 8 screws holding the face plate to the lid.

I clipped all the wires as close to the circuit board as i could get. Who knows when they might come in handy again. I could have also removed the circuit board, but I decided to leave it. I don’t ever see the need to use that again.

The size difference in the fans is interesting (Incukit on the left, old fan on the right).

The heating elements for the Incukit are really interesting. They are these 4 grey tubes. The fan blows air up and over them carrying the heat throughout the box.

I centered the mounting template under the lid so I could mark the hole I needed to cut for the display and buttons.

I used a 1/2″ drill bit to make holes in the corners of the display hole.

I used this sawzaw blade with a handle to cut between the drilled holes.

This did a good job of cutting the center out, but the unit needs to lie flush with the top of the incubator, so most of those 4 ridges and the screw sockets had to go.

I used my drill to shave the screw sockets down to the level of the lid.

You have to be careful not to go too quickly, but it works better than shaving them down with a knife.

A very sharp utility knife works very well for carving away the ridges and cleaning up the remnants of the screw sockets

It takes a bit of time and patience, but it can be done.

I drilled this hole through an air vent grid on the top of the incubator and cleaned it up with the utility knife. The purpose of this hole is so I can drop a temperature probe of a test thermometer without lifting the lid.

I cleaned up the edges of the main opening with the utility knife. I then made two holes for the mounting screws.

The unit mounted in the hole perfectly.

This is where I screwed up a bit. I had forgotten to drill a hole for the power cord for the Incukit until after I had mounted the kit. So I got a 1.5 inch hole saw and tried punching through. Since I wasn’t able to lay the lid down flat on the board I was working on, I punched through and the plastic cracked.

When the plastic cracked, the down control switch off the unit hit the table top and broke. My solution, use a toothpick to use the controls.

Note: After I finished the construction, I contacted Incubator Warehouse to ask how I could fix the problem and they are sending me a replacement unit. YAY!

The next step was to fit the new turner motor, to the turner base. This is the original setup. The motor is attached to the metal mount, a shaft sticks through the mount and turns an arm, the arm rocks the turner cradles back and forth to turn the eggs.

The new turner (on the bottom) is smaller than the original turner, so it couldn’t be screwed into the existing holes on the mount.

One nice thing, the shafts are both the same diameter, 5mm. So the original turner arm fits perfectly onto the new motor.

However, the shaft for the new motor is almost 3/4th of an inch longer than the original motor.

Since the workings of the original incubator were in the lid, the wires for the original turner motor were pretty long.

It also had this handy connector so you can easily disconnect he turner when it comes time for lock down.

The new motor had a couple of problems. First, the wires running to the Incukit unit were too short. Second, since the Incukit is going to be behind that mesh grid that is screwed into the lid there is no easy way to disconnect the turner when it is time for lock down.

So, I decided to splice the wires from the original motor into the wire for the new motor. Since both the wires running out from the original motor were red, I ran a black sharpie down the wire that connects to the black wire on the new motor and to the black wire above the quick connect joint.

So, first, you clip the wires and strip them. Then I held them next to each other.

Then I twisted the wires together.

Since I didn’t have any wire nuts to hold the wires together, I folded the twisted wire back against the wire shielding.

And I wrapped the wire connection in electrical tape.

One problem with the way I connected the wires above, is that with a firm yank, the wires can be pulled apart (I did this accidentally to my first Franken-bator conversion). To prevent this, I held the two wires together, and wrapped them with electrical tape above and below the join.

And now, I have a longer turner wire with a quick disconnect.

I then plugged the wire into the Incukit. At this point, I attached the protective plastic mesh back to the lid as well since I didn’t need access to the inside of the lid any longer.

In order to make the new turner motor work. I had to take two different things into account, how to take up the extra 3/4ths of an inch in length on the turning shaft, and how to mount the motor. Fortunately, one solution takes care of both, a 3/4″ thick block of wood. I screwed the block onto the mount, using the holes for the original motor.

I drilled a hole through the block for the shaft.

I put the shaft through the hole and mount it to the block using its mounting holes.

And now the turner arm sits right where it needs to be.

Here is the retrofitted turner in the box.

It is now attached to the wire connected to the Incukit. The black wires hanging down are connected to the temperature probe from the Incukit.

I use the original foam packaging to insulate the bottom of the incubator.

After I cut a window for so I can view inside the incubator.

And this is when I started testing my first build. The Incukit instructions say to check on how much your heater elements are being utilized to check if your incubator box is either 1) too big and/or 2) not well enough insulated. When I first tested the incubator in this configuration (with a smaller power cord hole). It took almost 3 hours for the incubator to get up to temperature. Once it got there, the Incukit had trouble maintaining the temperature, and kept dipping down into the 97-98 degrees F range. The instructions say that it is best if the heating elements are being used at less than 65% capacity most of the time. In this configuration, the lowest utilization I saw was 85%. So, the box is either too big or not well enough insulated.

So, I went out and got some 2ft X 50ft Reflective Insulation which is basically metallic bubble wrap. and made a lid cover out of it. After I added this cover, the heaters usually hover around 50-56% capacity and spike up to 85% occasionally. After lifting the lid, it can jump to 100%, but that is okay for short periods.
I used double sided foam tape to adhere it to the lid, and I cut the corners and folded them around the corners and stuck them together using packing tape. I intended to get more pictures of the process, but I forgot until I was almost finished.

I also put a piece of the insulation in the window to retain the heat there as well.

After everything, I spent about $230 on two 56 egg incubators. Not bad considering I paid over $400 for my 28 egg Brinsea.

Second Hatch Update

Well, I promised you updated photos of the chicks from the second hatch. Well, here they are….. almost five months later.

Their mama did a very good job raising them. She mothered them for close to 14 weeks, until they got too big for the broody box. At that point she tried to encourage them to join her in the chickshaw, but they were having none of it. She mothered them a bit during the day for a few more days after that, they were on their own.

IMG_6402 (2)

After that, we moved them into the chickshaw after dark. It took them a few days to get the hint, but they then slept there.


In January, we had a coop failure and the bottom wire of the tractor was pulled away from the frame. It was really cold and the wire was frozen to the ground, so we were waiting for warmer weather. One night, I was coming back from dropping Mr. G off at my parents’ house next door. I often do this when I have to work online in the evenings. That is when I heard my Black Cochin rooster making a warning call. This was very unusual. The chickens rarely make any noise at night. So I had Matthew and David venture out to check on what was wrong.  They found an opossum had gotten in through the breakage and killed one of the Cockerels. Since the chicken was almost as big as the opossum, it couldn’t get away and they dispatched it. It had warmed up, so we got the parts we needed to fix the mobile coop and did it the next day. It just goes to show, even if you haven’t seen any signs of predators, it doesn’t mean they aren’t lurking around, testing your defenses.

Fast forward the beginning of this month. The “chicks” were 23 weeks old. We decided to move the cockerels into the bachelor pad with our 2 Delaware roosters and 1 New Hampshire. There used to be more roosters in the bachelor pad, but we intentionally culled any roosters that were overly aggressive to other roosters and these 3 are pretty chill.  We dumped all 5 of the cockerels in very quickly. And once the 5 were submitting to the 3 previous residents, all violence stopped. There was no excessive chasing, no blood, no beating another rooster after they submitted. It was a lovely change compared to past introduction experiences.

After about an hour, the three main roosters were allowing the cockerels to eat with them with only an occasional peck on the head to remind them to watch their manners. Later that afternoon, the 5 cockerels started fighting with each other. Two of them in particular were showing signs of extreme aggression to each other. When things got too bad, the Delaware and New Hampshire roosters would jump in and break up the fight, chasing the combatants to opposite ends of the run. It was an amazing thing to watch. Good roosters are worth their weight in gold.

These little homegrown BSL roosters grew into quite handsome birds.


Their sisters are also quite good looking as well. We recently started getting small pullet eggs and I’ve been seeing them getting in and out of the nest boxes. So they are starting to lay. They are also beautiful birds. 3 of them are completely black with the same green iridescence as Molasses (their father). The fourth is very similar, except for a red bib of feathers on her neck and chest.


Photo bomb by Cheeks.


Last week, the three most aggressive of the cockerels went to freezer camp. I’m not planning on breeding them, so there is no need to keep them around. Their brothers will be following soon. When dressed, they look halfway between a Cornish X bird and your standard dual purpose bird. They have about twice as much breast meat as a normal DP bird and their legs are meatier as well. They dressed out between 3-4 lbs. I’ll have to experiment with slaughtering this cross sooner and see how they are.

Second Hatch

Back in my August post, I mentioned that I isolated Molasses and the Dominique and Dominique cross hens in the stationary coop because I wanted to hatch eggs from that group. So, for about a month, I carefully gathered eggs from this grouping and set them aside in a “hatching eggs” box. Once I see how many eggs I got from the girls, I would remove the same number of eggs from the back of the carton, move them to the eating eggs, move all the eggs left towards the back, and put the new eggs in the front.BC-Dom hatching eggs

For a little while, I noticed one of the hens was giving me thin shelled eggs. One spot was always “off”. It would sometimes have a raised bump.

Thin egg 1

And other times that side of the shell would be so thin you could see the yolk through the shell in that one spot.

Thin egg 2

I started making sure that the chickens had oyster shell 100% of the time and that seemed to help with the shell thicknest a good deal.

In August, we decided to move the previous batch of chicks into the chickshaw with the Delaware and New Hampshire pullets. After a couple of weeks, all the chicks decided they wanted to sleep in the chickshaw with the older hens. This left the broody tote available as a nesting box.Tote closed

The hens loved using this box, much more than the milk crates in the chickshaw. Towards the end of August, I was noticing that every day, when I would go out to collect eggs, that there was always this one buff pullet in the nesting box. She acted and sounded broody but would run away when I would reach in to gather the eggs. So I tried an experiment. I set up the pullet with the broody tote inside my 5’x 5′ PVC run with food and water and gave her 6 fake eggs to sit on and watched her for several days. This way, she wouldn’t be disturbed by other hens coming in to lay eggs and I could see how often she would get off the eggs. I work from home and the chickens were set up around the garden area between the two houses and there is a window behind my desk that overlooks that area. Over the course of a few days, she mainly stayed on the eggs but would get off every few hours to eat, drink and pace the fence for a little while. The one thing that was perplexing me is that she was still laying eggs, pretty much one every day. A hen that is truly broody will stop laying. So, after 5 days of watching her, I decided to go ahead and give her a dozen of the hatching eggs to sit on. The next day, I noticed that she hardly left the nest at all, and she stopped laying all together. She seemed to know that these were real eggs and decided to set on them. She was actually so tied to the nest that I had to go out once a day, and lift her off the nest and set her down next to a plate of food to so she would eat and not lose condition as rapidly. When I would take her off the nest, I would check and count the eggs. The day after I gave her the eggs, I noticed that she only had 11 eggs in the nest. I found some yolk covered wood chips and a shell remnant that was really thin. A few days later, I found another egg was missing and there was signs of fresh yolk and thin shell remnants. Apparently, the calcium supplementation wasn’t enough to make the thin shell problems for the one hen go away enough that the eggs could handle being hatched by a broody. When I candled the eggs at day 9, all 10 of the eggs had wiggly little embryos in them. When I candled on day 17, I saw all 10 eggs had wiggly babies. I was excited, but didn’t want to count the eggs before they hatched. On the morning of day 20 of incubation, we had some friends from our previous church in the city come visit us. They are farmers in earnest, and enjoy looking at other peoples’ animals. When they arrived, I decided to check on the eggs and saw at least 2 eggs had cracks in them! We visited and had a great time. When they were getting ready to leave, I checked on the eggs again and there were 3 chicks already fluffed out and 2 that had just hatched. It was fun being able to show the tiny babies to our friends.

Cochin-dom chicks 1 day

By the end of the day, all 10 eggs had hatched, with no help. From the beginning, this hen was a really good mama. The next day, she had all her babies outside and was showing them how to scratch and peck for food.


Because of the parents I selected, all these chicks are Black Sex Links (BSL) and I could tell gender at hatch.

According to this article on Sexing Day-Old Chicks on Small and Backyard Flocks, unlike mammals, where the male genetics determines sex, in birds, the Female determines the sex of offspring.


Barring is a dominant trait, linked to the sex chromosome of the chicken. The article goes on to say:

“The sex-linked trait of barring has been used in such sex-linked crosses. When a non-barred male is crossed with a barred female, the resulting females will be non-barred like their father, while the resulting males will be barred like their mothers (see Figure 3). At hatch, both sexes have dark-colored down, but the males have a white spot on the top of their head. It is this specific cross that must be used. Crossing a barred male with a non-barred female will not work. Common breeds used as the non-barred male include Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire.”


This sex linking works with any barred breed hen and most solid colored breed males. The main exception is that you can’t put a dominant white male (like a Leghorn) over a barred female and get sex linked chicks.

As you can see in this picture, this chick, dubbed with the name penguin, is clearly a male because of the white spot on his head.


This is another little male, his dot is more defuse but it is definitely there.


This is a little girl and she has no dot on her head.


At first glance, I definitely had 4 females and 5 males, but one chick perplexed me. It’s down was a dark grey, rather than black, and rather than a spot, it had a slightly lighter patch on its head. You can see it compared to a darker female chick in the pictures below.


At that point, it was a toss up whether this chick was male or female. The only option was to wait.

Two days before the chicks were two weeks old, I got my answer, the dark grey chick was developing barring on his wing feathers. Because of the sex linking, it was clear it was a boy. At this point you could also see that the spot on the chick’s head is more visible as well.

barring of doom

Bay the time the chicks were a month old, you could really start to see the difference between the males and the females. Even though they still looked rather raggedy, they were starting to feather out nicely.


This is penguin.


Despite the feathers, they still needed Mama to keep them warm.


She also does a great job of teaching them how to forage for food.


The chicks are now 7 weeks old and they are looking like proper little fluff ball chickens.

BC-Dom chicks 6 weeks

BC-Dom chicks 6 weeks with mama

They still need their Mama as well.

Mama warming 7w babies

This little chick is rather interesting. All her sisters are pure black, but she has some red/buff feathers on her chest. I think her little bib is so cute.

Red breasted 7 weeks

I’ll post more pictures of the chicks as they grow up.

Flock Record Keeping

Now that we have 61 chickens, I definitely need a system to be able to differentiate individual birds. I was originally intending to use color coded zip-ties to tell birds apart. However, with as many birds as we have, it just isn’t possible. So, I had to come up with a better system. I also want to keep track of which birds were bred to each other so I can do controlled breeding within the flock. To accomplish this, I needed two things. One, I needed a way to individually mark each bird. Two, I need paper/electronic records to keep everything straight.

Marking the Birds

Earlier this year, I started implementing a plan where I marked the year a bird was hatched by banding them with a color zip tie (Orange for 2016, Purple for 2017) and other attributes by other band colors. We decided to use Pink band for hens who have gone broody; Blue for friendly birds; Black for escape artists; and Red, Green and Blue for weight classes of growing birds with the heaviest birds getting a Blue band, the lightest ones getting a Red band, and the ones in the middle getting a Green band. However, after doing some research on how best to keep records of a flock, I decided that I needed a way to individually number each bird that grows to maturity. I started looking at all the options for leg bands and they were either too expensive or not sturdy enough. I posted a question on about how best to band birds and someone suggested numbered zip ties. Intrigued, I looked into the brand they mentioned. The biggest problem was I intended to use a color for each year of chickens. This brand only had 4 colors. I wanted the option to keep colors around for longer than 4 years if necessary. After more searching, I found  ZBands from the Chicken Hill. The bands come packs of 25 consecutive numbers (available numbers are 001-300) in 10 different colors with the 7 unique first letters of color names (there are two different shades of Blue and Green and Purple and Pink have the same first letter). The reason why having so many unique first letters in the color names is because I use the first letter of the color as the first character in a bird’s identification number. For example. I use Orange bands on my 2016 birds. So, a bird wearing an orange band with the number 101 will be O101 in my records. Having 7 colors to roll through will most likely provide me with enough years to keep from reusing a color and number while I still have birds with that color band. When you place the order, you can request certain numbers, if those numbers aren’t in stock, the company will email you with the options you have. For example, I ordered purple bands with numbers 001-050 earlier this year for all my 2017 hatched birds. I recently realized that 50 bands won’t be enough to tag all my 2017 birds, especially if I buy adult birds from someone else or if I hatch any more babies before the end of the year. So I ordered another bag of Purple bands. In the requests, I asked for numbers 051-075 and if that wasn’t available to give me any numbers other than 001-050. They came through with a bag with numbers 076-100.


I decided to stay with the year colors I picked out earlier this year for plain bands, plus I selected Green to be the band color for 2018.


I am very happy with these bands. I haven’t had a single one fall off or become damaged so far. I am marking the birds by putting their numbered band on their right leg and any attribute bands on their left leg. Here are my Dark Cornish sporting their new leg jewelry.


Keeping Flock Records

The next step, was to create a record keeping system for my flock. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I needed a good template to start from. While doing research I found Poultry Show Central’s Record Keeping page. This page has examples of many different types of records a chicken breeder may want to keep. In the end, I decided to use only four of their charts as templates for my record sheets. I thought this page had a really good starting point, but I wanted to include more information in my records (and be more efficient in paper usage).

Flock Inventory

I made the most changes to this record sheet. This sheet doesn’t contain a place for a lot of the information I wanted to include.Flock Inventory Original

I separated out some of the fields that were lumped together; added “Sex”, “Name”, “Attributes”, and “Breeding Group” fields; and refined “Sold to” and “Details of Death” field into “Details of Removal from Flock”. You can see that some of the information on the page is printed and some is written. I did this because it was easier to print out a lot of the repeated information than writing it by hand.


Once my records have had a lot of handwritten updates, I go back into my electronic copy of the records and update it with the new information and reprint the pages I updated. This way I have the information in multiple places. Also, in case you were wondering what the Bs, Gs, and Rs are after the Legband #, that is the bird’s weight class band which I am still utilizing. I will explain my “weight classing” process in another post.

Flock Inventory Updated

Breeding Records

I didn’t edit this chart much at all except to add a Hatch # to the records.

Breeding Records Original

This hatch number will be used in the “Acquired From” field in the Flock Inventory for all home-grown chickens. As you can see, I made some changes between Hatch 1 and Hatch 2. I started Hatch 1 and sent my Leghorn X rooster, Alfredo, to freezer camp before I started this records project so I don’t have a number for him and the eggs for this hatch were not from any specific hens, so I couldn’t put down the Legbands for the hens either. But I needed Hatch 1 in my records because I still have 6 chickens from that hatch in my flock. For Hatch 2, I used band numbers for the parent birds and did a controlled pen breeding so I can be sure of who the parents of my chicks are.

Breeding Records Updated

Hatch Records

I kept this record sheet pretty much the same as well. I initially just added the “Hatch Number” to the new sheet.

Hatch Records Original

However, after I had printed the sheet out, I added and “Incubate Method” column.


The “Incubate Method” field allows me to record if the chicks were hatched by a hen (H) or by and incubator (I). This way I am able to analyze if there is something wrong with my mechanical incubation method or if I shouldn’t allow a certain hen to hatch eggs again. I actually think I will add the setting hen’s “Legband #” to the “Incubate Method” column in future so I have a record of who hatched who and who is a better setter.

Hatch Records Updated

Egg Collection Chart

I thought this chart was useful, but very wasteful in paper.

Egg Collection Chart Original

So I compressed the chart so that I can fit 6 months of egg collection records onto one page. I like that I will be able to see 6 months of records in one place. I also added a place for you to record the number of hens you have laying for the month. I put the number of verified layers over the number of pullets who should be laying soon so, right now. I have 22 verified layers and 18 up and coming pullets. So, I put 22/18 in the “Hens” box.

Egg Collection Chart

Here are links to download my files. I’ve provided PDF links for people who want to use paper only and I’ve provided excel for people who want to have electronic and paper copies and for those who want to modify what I’ve provided. I know not everyone has the same wants and needs when it comes to record keeping. All the excel files are set up to print out with the first two rows at the to of the page. If you need any help editing any of the files or have any ideas on how to make the files better, feel free to contact me.

BreedingRecords pdf

BreedingRecords excel

EggCollectionChart pdf

EggCollectionChart excel

FlockInventory pdf

FlockInventory excel

HatchRecords pdf

HatchRecords excel

Bought Lessons

Wow, has it really been almost 3 months since I posted last? Where has the time gone? There has been a lot that has gone on in the past 3 months that I’ll catch you up on in future posts. Today, I’ll highlight 3 lessons I’ve learned in the past 3 months.

Lesson 1: Design Matters

I was getting tired of the hens sleeping and pooping in the chickshaw nest boxes. This lead to poop covered eggs and chickens who started laying in other places because of the poop. The chickens LOVE laying in the broody tote. So, when one of our buff pullets went broody and we gave her the tote to hatch eggs (another post) we needed another solution for the nest boxes. So, we bought two 18 gallon totes and cut holes in the long side of them. The hens love them, they keep the hay dry, and the eggs clean. However, there is a problem with the design that I didn’t foresee. One afternoon, when I was out collecting eggs, I saw that one of the totes was flipped on its side with the hole facing the ground. When I lifted the tote, it was heavier than it should have been with just hay inside. I popped off the lid and I found one of our Leghorn cross hens in there, dead. She hadn’t been dead long either. It was only a moderately warm day and the tote had been in the sun all morning. That was enough to cause the hen to die from over heating. To remedy the problem, I put heavy stone pavers in the bottom of the totes to keep them from flipping. In future, I plan to turn these totes into chicken transport bins with a wire window for ventilation. When I replace them, I’ll be putting the access holes in one of the short ends of the tote as they are highly unlikely to tip onto that side with the hole down. Sorry, for the bad picture. I wanted to get this post out today and it was getting dark so I took the picture through the upstairs window. You can see the nest box tote behind the chickshawbad nest box

Lesson 2: Ask a Lot of Questions

Over the past month, I’ve stumbled upon the idea of getting heritage breed meat birds to eat rather than raising dual purpose birds primarily for meat. We will still be eating some of our dual purpose culls, but one bird barely has enough meat on it for one dinner, never mind leftovers. Plus, some of the family prefers white meat to dark meat and the dual purpose birds have very little dark meat. The Large Fowl Cornish chicken grows out to similar proportions as a Cornish Cross hybrid does, but they take about twice as long to get to a good slaughter size. However, they are a sustainable heritage breed that doesn’t die from leg or heart problems before the reach maturity and can live a long, healthy life. I wanted to get my hands on White Cornish, but there are very few breeders of Large Fowl Whites and they are pretty far away and/or their breeding trios are VERY expensive. However, I found a show breeder of Large Fowl Dark Cornish for a reasonable price that was about 5 and a half hours from us. I was able to cut the travel time to them a good bit because we went to the city for a business trip to visit with my new manager and swinging by the breeder on the way home only added 3 hours to our homeward trip as opposed to making a special 11 hour round trip for the birds. When I arrived I found 3 absolutely beautiful birds that were exactly what I was looking for. While I was talking to the breeder’s wife, she mentioned that they used Frontline on the birds to keep mites away. I didn’t think much of it in the moment so I brought the birds home. After I recovered from the trip a bit, I did some research on Frontline in birds. I found this well researched article about using Frontline on chickens. Apparently, even CAFOs aren’t allowed to use the stuff. It is a carcinogen that remains in the system for 8 weeks or so and can be found in a chicken’s fat for up to 8 months.  So, the current plan is to wait at least 8 weeks before trying to incubate any eggs from these girls and we won’t be eating anything directly (meat or eggs) from these birds. This will also give the birds a chance to get used to being on grass and eating organic feed. If I could go back, and do it all again, I would have asked more questions about what products and medicines were used on the birds before I bought them and I wouldn’t have bought these particular birds since I want to keep this operation as organic as possible. That being said, they are beautiful, well bred birds.


Lesson 3: Scout Auctions Before Selling at Them

I head from someone online that they had great success selling their chickens at auction. At the auction she scouted, roosters were going for $10-50 depending on breed and looks and young trios of birds were going for $75-150 depending on breed and looks. That got me very excited. I had two roosters (one Delaware, one New Hampshire) that were both royal pains in the butt. They weren’t human aggressive, but one of them wasn’t very nice in a flock situation and caused problems and the other started mercilessly beating up on another rooster. I also had 2 hens of each breed I had decided not to use as breeders but I was keeping them for layers. I decided I would bundle them up as trios and sell them at auction. The night before, Matthew and I put together temporary cages out of one of our potato cages cut in half, 1/4″ plywood that had been left out to be put in the burn pile, and a few zip ties. I originally tried to use boxes with wire windows but the Delaware hens busted through them in almost no time flat. The reason we decided to go with containers made of leftover scrap material is because the container goes with the birds at this auction and I didn’t want to buy a crate only to have it taken. Again, sorry for the photo. This was taken before I left for the auction and I only had the outdoor flood lights on.

Auction Cages
After driving two hours on little sleep and waiting 5 hours for the auction to start, I discovered that this auction was a buyers’ auction. All the animals were going for lower prices than I thought they should. I was aghast when I thought my Delaware trio brought only $9 and my New Hampshire Trio brought $8. At those prices, after the auction took their cut, I would have only received $10.75. That would be less than what I paid for two of the Delawares as day old chicks. However, yesterday I received a letter from the auction with a check and a seller’s receipt. Imagine my surprise when the check was made out for $36.25. Huh?!?! I look at the seller’s receipt, apparently the bid price was PER Head, not per box. Whew. So my birds sold for $27 and $24 and $36.25 is what was left over after the auction fees. It wasn’t as much as what I was hoping for but at least I’ll be able to buy almost 1.5 bags of feed with that money.


August 2017 Update

Hello Everyone!

Wow, I wasn’t really intending to take a month long break from blogging, but life happens. I’m now back to work after having two and a half weeks off from work. On the first day of vacation, we separated the Delaware and New Hampshire cockerels from the pullets. We counted out 7 New Hampshire and 8 Delaware Cockerels. We moved the cockerels into their own coop and run.


The reason we did this is so that we could integrate the pullets in with the laying hens with the least fuss and bother possible. The integration went smoothly and we were even able to start releasing the mutt chicks from their run in the afternoon to start integrating with the can see some of the small white chicks on the left side near the gut bucket.


At first, the chicks respected the fence, but after a while they got bolder and started roaming and foraging more freely. You can see the little white birds clearly roaming outside the electric fence.

Free roaming chicks

The first half week of vacation, we spent in Pennsylvania for a family wedding. The next week, I took off as a stay-cation to do some chores on the farm. Sad to say, I didn’t get as much accomplished as I intended. I thought I would have oodles of time to do farm projects if I didn’t have to work. Nope! It turns out that taking care of a 13 month old little guy while working on the computer is VERY different from doing farm projects while caring for him. I did manage to get one very important task completed. Over the course of 3 days, I whittled our 15 cockerels down to 3 of each breed. I will go over our process for selecting our top 3 from each breed that we will be assessing for temperament in another blog post. For that last week of vacation, David, Mr. G and I, along with Grace, spent the week with some friends in a state park about 5 hours away. It was a very relaxing week, which we all needed.

DENH six

Today I made a surprising discovery. I saw one of the Delaware “pullets” doing something very… un-pullet like… to one the other pullets. I cornered the bird for a closer inspection and, lo-and-behold, we missed a rooster. Thinking back, when I separated the cockerels from the pullets, there was one bird I wasn’t sure about, so I left it with the pullets. We caught, banded and put this cockerel with the 6 others. We aren’t even considering weighing it against the other cockerels for several reasons. One, we want to select for fast maturing birds. If the rooster was still ambiguous at 13 weeks when we separated them, he didn’t mature fast enough. Two, while I was trying to catch a Delaware pullet to show Grace the feather differences between a pullet and a cockerel, this guy deliberately bit Grace. People aggression is a trait we don’t want to encourage in our birds. So we gave him a red band to make it obvious he is going in the freezer. Sadly, it means that we had one more cockerel than pullets in the Delawares, but if you look at our Animal Tally, we are now down to 59 chickens! That is a big difference from our high of 83.

ambiguous rooster.jpg

Another thing we did when we rearranged the chickens, was to move Molasses (who was in with the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks) in with the Dominique cross hens. The two Buff Orpington roosters we had put in with them had been slaughtered and we didn’t think he would get along well with Inca and Mellow. Also, just in case we have another hen go broody, we want the Dominique eggs to be fertilized by Molasses so we can hatch them out for mutts that should be broody as well. At first, Molasses wasn’t too sure about the full grown hens, but they warmed up to each other and he now watches over them like a good rooster should.

Molasses with Doms

We do have a slight problem that we do need to keep an eye on, though. Molasses, has a favorite girl. Blondie, one of our Dom/Buff cross hens, is definitely showing the wear and tear of being constantly loved on. She was a little ragged looking before this because she was Alfredo’s (our now frozen Leghorn rooster) favorite as well.

With summer in high swing, we are now rolling in tomatoes, eggs, and basil. Our hens are dependably laying 20+ eggs a day and the 18 Delaware and New Hampshire pullets are only 16 weeks and haven’t started laying yet. They should start laying in 2 weeks or a month. On an average day, we eat between 10 and 14 eggs. So, to use up the leftovers, we’ve been giving some to my parents as well as making dinners with them. This is great because we are using a lot less meat in our diets. We are actually almost able to make dinner completely off the farm. Except for seasonings (salt, garlic powder, pepper) and some cheese, our favorite summer dinner comes straight from the farm. We slice up a few tomatoes and lay them in a baking dish, chop up some basil and spread it over top, beat and season some eggs and pour it over the tomatoes and basil and top the dish with some shredded cheese. It makes a DELICIOUS dinner. Also, between the eggs we are currently getting and the 18 roosters we have in the freezer, we figure that we are breaking even on our feed bill every month now.

Dinner from land

One interesting thing I found before we left for the vacation with friends was these tomato plants growing out from under our house. At first I couldn’t figure out how these volunteer tomatoes got there and then it dawned on me. Earlier this year we had a “sewage pipe incident” with our back bathroom toilet. Apparently, humans can spread seeds as well has birds can. I found that notion to be quite funny. As much as I like using volunteer plants, we had to mow them down. One, we are going to have our plumbing system inspected and possibly upgraded and we needed them out of the way. Two, this side of the house is shaded until well after noon, and the plants got a late start so we probably wouldn’t get any fruit from them. And three, since they were growing straight out of fresh poo, it wouldn’t be sanitary to harvest anything that did grow from them.

Volunteer Tomatoes

It has now been nearly a year since we moved to the farm. So much has changed! There are a few things I miss from the big city (our former church, cell phone reception, having internet that doesn’t have data limits) but I love my life out here. Each day is a new adventure and I love being in such beautiful country.

Rainbow over house

Culling Named Roosters

So we came to the decision this week that we needed to cull two of our named roosters. While Alfredo – our Leghorn cross rooster – was really good at guarding and taking care of the hens, we do not want to use him for breeding purposes and he isn’t accepting of ANY other roosters around his ladies. Because of this, we decided it was time for him to go. We also decided to cull Butterball, the Buff rooster we removed from the rooster pen because he was getting beat up and had become VERY skinny. He had a couple of weeks to fatten back up and “spread his wings”, however, he was scared witless of people. This made the night-time routine difficult because he wanted to roost outside of the coop rather than inside. This lead to me, Matthew, and sometimes Grace chasing him around until he went inside the coop. He was also neurotic and not very interested in mating with the hens, two marks against having him as a breeding rooster. It was definitely harder to cull two roosters that we had named, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Alfredo was a year old and was much tougher to process than Butterball, who was 22 weeks old. They were both decent sized birds, note how they fill up the 9 X 13 dish we use for chilling in the fridge. Alfredo had the most fat in him that I’ve seen in any bird I’ve processed to date.  I think it is interesting how different the two birds look. Alfredo had yellow skin and Butterball had white skin.

Two roosters

Next week we want to integrate the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks – now almost 11 weeks old – into the layer flock. Most of the Delawares are now larger than our smaller Leghorn hens. To reduce tension while integrating the younger birds we’ve decided to do two different things. First, our Dominique hens and Dom/RIR hen like to bully smaller birds. So we decided to move all of our Dom and Dom cross hens (even the more laid back Dom/Buff hens) into the Love Nest. I was originally planning to cull 4 roosters yesterday, but all of us were really tired and it was much easier on me to only cull Alfredo and Butterball. This means that we have 2 Buff roosters left on the cull list. So, to simplify feeding and watering, we decided to let them have one last hurrah and moved them into the Love Nest with the Dom hens for the week. This is going well and everyone seems to be pretty happy. However, moving them in with the hens has reinforced their status on the cull list. Both roosters, one in particular, have become more people aggressive and possessive of the hens since we moved them.

love nest doms-buff roos

On Saturday, after we pull the two Buff roosters out of the Love Nest we will be moving our Black Cochin rooster, Molasses, into the Love Nest with the Dom cross hens. Since we currently have the two Buff roosters we’ve selected as our breeding roosters in with the laying hens, we figured adding a third rooster to the mix while integrating the chicks would be too much. This move also allows us to accomplish another plan, next time we have a good hen go broody we will have fertile eggs for her to hatch that we have pre-screened by isolating a particular breeding group. When we found out that Molasses was a Black Cochin and his disposition turned out to be fairly good we knew we wanted to breed him with our mutt flock to add new genetics, particularly the broodiness of the Black Cochin breed.

Molasses crowing

Since removing the Dominique cross hens from the layer flock, the Buff and Leghorn cross hens have seemed to integrate much better and there is less pecking and squabbling going on. The Buff hens even seem to be teaching the Leghorns that approaching people isn’t a bad thing. They have taken to crowding up to me whenever I come out to check on them or collect eggs. I think it is because I like bringing little tidbits for them (bugs from the garden, food scraps, an extra handful of grain). Another nice thing about having the Dom cross hens out, no body flew over the fence today. Usually, a couple of the Leghorn hens end up on the wrong side of the fence. Today, that didn’t happen. It was lovely. I’m guessing they had been jumping the fence when they are getting picked on.

We are also rolling in eggs now. Today, all 15 of our fully mature hens laid an egg and 8 of our 9 Buff hens laid tiny little pullet eggs. We mainly eat our normal sized eggs hard boiled, so the pullet eggs would get overcooked if we hard boiled them. We have been able to give my parents 2 dozen of the pullet eggs and we will be using another 2 dozen for dinner tomorrow. The little pullet eggs are so tiny and cute. The pullet egg in the picture below is actually one of the larger pullet eggs we’ve had next to one of our smaller Leghorn eggs.

Since they get along so well and we have enough hens to keep them happy we have decided it won’t be too much trouble to keep two Buffs for breeding roosters, for genetic variety as well as redundancy. The first Buff we are keeping we have called Inca (as in Inca Kola, a yellow soft drink). He is the last of the 4 roosters that were heaviest at 16 weeks old. He has a very calm personality and loves the hens and looks after them. He isn’t overly afraid of people and will come up looking for treats.


Our second breeding rooster we decided to call Mellow (as in Mellow Yellow). He isn’t as large as Inca is or Butterball was but, as his name implies, he is an extremely calm and chill bird. He doesn’t particularly want to be handled, but when we have to handle him he calms down quickly and is non-aggressive and very curious about what is going on around him. He also loves the hens, particularly the Buff hens, and is constantly watching over them and finding treats for them.


The chicks are now officially on their own. We were letting Mama out with the rest of the flock during the day and putting her back with the chicks at night because she was hanging out next to the cage to be let back in. About a week ago, she stopped “asking” to be put back in with them and doesn’t seem to care about them any more than any of the other hens do. They are now almost 7 weeks old and are growing great and are completely feathered out. They are still too small to release inside the electric fence, so we will be keeping them in their run until they are a little older.

mutt chicks 7w

Gleaning in the Hay Field

Earlier this week, Bobby got around to cutting our hay. On Thursday he bailed it. After bailing, I noticed there was a LOT of hay left over in the field. It was all over the edges of the field and randomly strewn around the field and in the lane.

So, that afternoon, my mom took the riding mower with the blade positioned high and used it to blow the hay in the middle of the field into windrows and I raked the hay from the edges of the field and the lane into piles. Mr. G really enjoyed riding on the mower with Mom-mom for 2 hours. David drove the truck around the field next to me and I pitched the hay into the bed. After I ran out of steam, 2.5 hours into the process and a dime sized blister on my palm, we pitched half the hay into the run of the brooding house. We have since re-christened the brooding house as the love nest. Since our broody hen solution has worked SO well, we decided that we won’t use the stationary house and coop for brooding unless we have another large batch of chicks. For now, we will be using it for breeding groups or as a holding area for extra roosters. We currently are housing Alfredo, the Dom hen whom we have dubbed Broody, and 3 Buff hens. We are currently testing different Buff roosters in the laying flock to see if they are good flock roosters. As far as Broody goes, we added her into the run to see if removing her from her favorite nesting box would help break her of being broody. Since moving her, we haven’t seen any signs of broodiness and she started laying again today. The chickens LOVE digging down through the hay to get at bugs living in the hay and scratching at the ground.

hay in run

We also covered the patch of dirt that was hidden under the log pile with hay. The soil is so loamy and will make a great garden in the future. However, it is very late in the growing season, so we covered it to prevent weeds from growing.

hay on dirt

When I was finished in the field, the Hay was as high as the top of the cab. We plan to weed the garden tomorrow and put the rest of the hay down around the plants to discourage weeds.

Hay in truck

The chicks are doing amazingly well. We haven’t lost any of them since the first week. The Delaware and New Hampshire chicks are now 10 weeks old. Some of the roosters are now as large as our leghorn hens.

Molasses is now king of the flock. We have put him and the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks out on grass in a paddock next to the laying hens. It is really nice to be able to introduce the two flocks to each other without anyone getting hurt, a few of the chicks have even gone over the wire into the other paddock and the hens and rooster didn’t seem to mind at all.

2 paddocks

The mutt chicks are also getting bigger. 4 of them are a nondescript  white, but three have shown some interesting characteristics. Our grey chick is looking very pretty now that he is feathering out.

There is another little rooster that is pure white, except for the end of one feather on his back which is barred. It looks like he had a Dom or a Dom/cross mother.

onefeather 6w

Two days ago, I was looking at the chicks and noticed that one of them wasn’t as white as the others. I picked her up and I noticed she has gold lacing on the edges of her feathers. Very pretty. I wish I knew which hen was her mother and what parentage she had.

GL close 6w

GL full 6w

GL right side 6w

On a brighter note, we have been getting pullet eggs! Yesterday, I found 2 similarly undersized eggs in the paddock where 6 of the buff hens are residing. Today, I found 2 more in the paddock, and 3 in the love nest (there are 3 buffs in with Alfredo). It is great the the buffs have started laying since they are almost 22 weeks old. Our original layers have slacked off a bit with the heat we’ve had recently. Hopefully the buffs will help make up the lack.

A Hard Lesson

This week, we learned a very important lesson of farming and animal care. Our animals are dependent on us to keep them secure and safe from predators. Last time I posted, I showed a picture of the makeshift pens we used to separate roosters to fatten them up for slaughter. The base cage was made out of 3 of our left over potato cages made with 1″ by 2″ welded wire. We kept the roosters in by covering the cages in snow fencing. While the welded wire would keep the roosters in, it isn’t predator proof. To make it more predator proof, we would encircle the three cages with 1/4″ hardware cloth. However, there were a couple of times that we forgot to keep the cages encircled in the hardware cloth.

Sunday morning, Grace saw the roosters moving around in their cages before she left for church. After we returned from church, Matthew found one of the roosters missing entirely (except for some feathers next to the cage) and a second rooster has been 3/4ths eaten.  I felt sick. It was my fault that the birds were exposed and vulnerable. I felt even worse because we had plenty of warning. Over the previous week, we had seen multiple signs of raccoon incursion on our property. As seen in the previous post, a raccoon broke my feather drying rack. The raccoon also got into the cat litter and food bags we were keeping on the porch (not a good idea, I know) and the electrolyte supplements my mom has for her horses. Needless to say, this raccoon had gotten way too habituated to ransacking human habitations and had figured out we had a tasty source of live meat. So we set up a live trap and baited it with the what remained of the second rooster.

We also planned to get up extra early the next day and move the electric poultry netting for the hens. The ditch behind my parents’ place was really good  as far as forage for the chickens, but it was out of the way and the wire was grounded out from going up and down multiple hills. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the fence well charged in that terrain.

I woke up around 5:45 am Monday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was light enough, so I went outside to start moving the hen’s paddock and I found the live trap was tripped. Inside, was a raccoon. It had returned for seconds. We had to euthanize the animal for several reasons. 1) Relocating the raccoon often leads to the raccoon dying of starvation because it doesn’t know where to find food. 2) We couldn’t just release it back onto our property because it was a danger to our birds and could eventually pose a risk to humans and other animals on the property (rabies, biting, etc.). Since we took care of this one animal, we haven’t had any issues. We will probably be setting up several traps around the property so we can remove any other predators that make a habit of coming in too close.


Even though we caught the raccoon, we still moved the chickens to a “flatter” area. By flatter, I mean a hill side that is close to being a similarly graded slope the whole length. The hens LOVE that I included an ash pit where my parents had burned some brush. Anytime it dries out, you can find the hens scratching and bathing in it.

Wood Ash

Earlier this week, we also added a new addition into the hen’s run. We moved Mama and her babies up into the run. The babies are still too small to be contained by the electric poultry netting so we still have them and Mama in the 5′ x 5′ run.

Run uphill view

Since the chicks were about 3 weeks old, Mama had been regularly pacing the fence, and clucking at us any time we walked past, she also has gotten really easy to handle and downright friendly with people. She had also started laying eggs again. On the morning the chicks turned 4 weeks old, I went to open the run to check on their feed situation and Mama tried to make an escape from the run. I figured that she was done with the chicks and wanted to get back with the other hens. A bit sad, I tested my theory. I picked her up and put her inside the run with the other hens. Within 10 seconds, Alfredo jumped on and mated with her. She got up and pranced off to explore the run. I thought “Well, that’s it, she’s done with her babies.” However, about 15 min later I came back outside to see Mama pacing the side of the fence closest to her babies and making her “come here” call to them. Then it dawned on me, she wanted to take her babies back to the flock. So I put all her babies in the tote and brought them up to her. On my way up, I slipped on the hill and jostled them, which made them cheep. Mama tried to come see what was wrong and shocked herself on the fence. She hadn’t had to deal with the electric fence before she was already sitting on the eggs when the fence arrived. Once I got her pen set back up and let her babies back out she was quite content to take her motherly duties back over and started showing them how to scratch around in the taller grass and weeds.

Brooding pen in run

Besides keeping the tiny chicks from slipping through the fence, this is also a good way to introduce the chicks to the flock while keeping them safe from predators, which includes the other chickens. Within an hour of moving them, I looked outside and saw Red (our RIR/Dom cross) challenging Mama through the fence. As I watched, Red kept trying to peck at the chicks through the wire and Mama would push herself between Red and the chick while trying to attack Red through the wire. Alfredo didn’t quite know what to do and stood by watching two of his hens duke it out. In the end, Red back off and I haven’t seen her go after the chicks since.

Mama vs Red

We also definitely need to slaughter a few Roosters this week. Because of the all the reworking of the chicken living arrangements, and the shock of loosing two of the birds we were going to slaughter, we decided to put the surviving rooster back with the other roosters. We banded him with a red zip-tie so we would know who should be on the next “cull” list. He has definitely proved to be up to his old tricks again. He has been guarding the food and terrorizing the other roosters so that they stay in the coop all the time. He is definitely on the list for tomorrow.

Meanie Roo

Earlier today, I pulled all the roosters out of the coop so they would have a chance to get some food and water. One of them was so terrified that he jumped off my back and escaped from the run. When we caught him and put him back, the other roosters started attacking him 2 and 3 at a time. So I pulled him out again. He is one of the two remaining birds that I marked as the 4 heaviest. However, he has since gotten very thin. So I moved him in with Molasses and his little buddies to see how they would do. Molasses was not happy to see him, but after making sure his position as head honcho of this run wouldn’t be challenged, they came to an uneasy truce. This rooster also seemed to be ignoring the chicks and the chicks were just staying out of his way. Since things seemed to be going well, we decided to call this rooster Butterscotch.

Butterscotch N Molasses

However, when Matthew went to refill their feed for the night, a Delaware chick came into the coop where Butterscotch was hanging out by himself and Butterscotch viciously attacked the chick. Matthew went in to try to break up the fight and Butterscotch flew out the door that Matthew left open in his haste to save the chick. We were able to trap him inside the grow-out coop that we are currently not using and decided to leave him there for the night. We have now decided to change his name to Butterball. Our current plan is to move Molasses and the chicks out on pasture in the new length of PoultryNet that we received earlier this week and we will move Butterball and 1-2 hens into the stationary coop to assess how he treats hens. Until he attacked the chick, we were seriously considering him as a nominee for our Buff breeding rooster because he seemed to be conflict adverse, but we are now going to watch him closely and see how he does with the hens as we fatten him back up.