Though we’ve seen a few snowflakes this week, spring is definitely here. With it comes fresh energy and enthusiasm for outdoor projects and growing things. There is a long list of things to do and thankfully, more daylight hours in which to do them. To our delight, our kids and grandkids have begun their spring-through-fall season of treks to the farm, which slowed down in winter to one visit for Christmas. A new adventure for us this spring is hatching our own chicks. Last year we raised 42 hatchery chicks, most of which were two days old when they arrived. We got that chick-rearing process down pat and decided to go a step farther this year. We bought an incubator.Although one can buy fertile hatching eggs, we want to reproduce our colored broilers and we do have a fine specimen of a rooster and several hens. We are also interested in crossing the heavy broiler genes with our dual purpose hens for a possibly meatier egg layer. So the lucky rooster gained some more hens for his harem.
We looked at the calendar to determine when the weather would be conducive to chicks moving outdoors at four weeks of age. Backtracking from there, we decided that a late March hatch date would be just about right. We collected a number of eggs and got them started in the incubator. The gestation time is 21 days, but it’s suggested that eggs be “candled” early on to see which ones contain viable embryos. Candling involves shining a light on the egg to show the air cell, blood vessels, and even little chicky eyes. It’s also possible to see the embryos moving around and tiny hearts beating. So at one week we candled the eggs and removed several undeveloped ones. Again at two weeks, we took out a couple of eggs. On the 18th day, when the eggs should be “locked down” and undisturbed, we had 12 viable eggs.
Springtime Is Peeping on Our Farm
An interesting thing had happened early in the month. A few days after we set the incubator eggs, one or our hens went broody. This means that she focused on becoming a mother and glued herself to a clutch of eggs, leaving the nest only about once a day to eat, drink, and take care of other business. She had no idea that her eggs were not fertile and would never hatch. Tiny Pigwidgeon (“Piggy”) is our smallest hen, a petite Dark Brahma banty. She was faithful and determined, and in three weeks I only saw her off the nest one time for a brief jaunt outside. Hopefully she took a break at least once a day. But a broody hen lives for one thing only: to hatch and raise some baby chicks. We decided to give Piggy half of the incubator eggs in hopes that she would hatch them. So on Day 18, we removed her clutch of infertile eggs to replace them with 6 viable incubator eggs. What a shock to see that she had accumulated 13 eggs in her nest, stealing the eggs her roommates had laid on the other side of the nestbox and hiding them all under her fluffy body and wings.
Day 21 came and went, and by Day 23 three chicks had hatched in the incubator. But not a peep came from Piggy’s private nest. Unfortunately by Day 26 she hadn’t managed to hatch any chicks. Perhaps she was off the nest too long, or the coop was just too cold, or maybe all six of her eggs just happened to fail in the last days of gestation. We didn’t do eggtopsies, so we’ll never know for sure. Since Piggy had been brooding for three weeks already, with very little exercise and less food and water than normal, we removed her from the nest and took her private little brooder box out of the coop. We told her to go be a regular chicken for a while, scratching and pecking outside and regaining her strength. Reluctantly, she complied. It didn’t take her long to remember the joys of fresh air, sunshine, and treats to be discovered in the chicken pen. If Piggy goes broody again, we’ll just give her some fertile eggs to start with and leave her to brood them. Piggy has two banty roommates, a Silkie and a Cochin—breeds that tend to become broody and will happily raise standard chicks, unaware that the chicks will soon pass them in size. We also have two Buff Orpingtons that could become broody as well. The colored broilers we want to reproduce are not known for broodiness, so we may need some able foster mamas.
Hopefully we will experience both natural and mechanized hatching and brooding and have the joy of watching some of our hens putter around with little chicks toddling after them. Today we’re starting our second incubator batch but won’t be surprised if spring weather also brings on the broodiness in the henhouse. Meanwhile, these six little chicks are hanging out in our brooder in the barn, waiting for the day they can join their banty aunties in the coop and run. The four yellow chicks are hatchery White Leghorn pullets (young females) we bought to increase our laying flock. The two brown ones hatched a day apart in our incubator. The front one is full colored broiler, and the one in the back is a cross of colored broiler and Rhode Island Red.
Spring Is Trying to Spring
Twice a year I feel that my life opens up for new beginnings. The first is in January, the start of a brand new calendar year. The other is springtime, when so much outdoors seems fresh and new. When my kids were at home, there were also June and September, with the beginning of summer vacation and later the start of school in the fall. But now the school year doesn’t affect me as much as it did in those days. January is not far behind me, and the new year has almost passed through its first quarter. Now it is March, which I usually consider the beginning of spring. But this year, almost daily the evening news still brings a report of a snowstorm or two somewhere in North America. Something seems late. Is it winter that’s ending late, or spring that’s arriving late? Or are they one and the same? Such deep thoughts on such a complex subject, I know 🙂
I see signs though, that spring is definitely trying to spring. Bulbs have sprouted, trees are budding. I think I even heard a frog croaking the other day. And every once in a while, the sun shines so brightly and the air smells so fresh that it seems just…like…spring.
What new beginnings will you embark on this season? Will you conjure up some ideas in your mind and sketch some out on paper? Will you try to grow a new plant, or raise a baby animal? Will you learn a new skill or hone a long-forgotten one?
Here at our place we’re hoping to hatch some chicks, plant a new garden, and put in some fruit trees. Right now we’re trying to finish some indoor projects so we can give our all to the outdoor tasks. A little fencing here, a little construction there, and a lot of thought to our outdoor living spaces. There’s so much we’d like to do before fall comes around again. Even though it’s long past Christmas, I’m making a list and checking it twice. How about you?