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.

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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.

Sex-determination-geneticallly

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.”

sex-linked-crossings-Figure3-BSL

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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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This is penguin.

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

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

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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.

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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.

Cockerels

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 flock.you can see some of the small white chicks on the left side near the gut bucket.

Hens

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.

Inca

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.

Mellow

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