Chickens…From Egg to Life Part 4: Candling Eggs

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I candled the 52 eggs I set last week and wanted to take pictures to show everyone. My camera, however, is AWOL. I’m not even going to bother putting the crappy pictures on here that I took with my phone. Instead I’m posting a link to the Backyard Chickens forum that has an INCREDIBLE thread with amazing day by day pictures of what you’ll be looking for when you candle. (While you’re there, look around. These are some of the nicest, most helpful chicken peeps around.)

Egg Candling Pictures: Progression through Incubation

Egg Candling Picture from BYC, the dark circle in the center is the eye

So the update is, out of the 52 eggs I set, 48 are viable growing chicks. I’m pretty pleased. These are set to hatch for Valentine’s Day.

Also, here is a pretty sweet clip (not mine) of a moving embryo. When I candled eggs the other day my middle son was able to view this and was so excited.

Coming soon will be a post for science activities about incubation and hatching eggs, perfect for homeschool, 4-H, etc.

Growing Your Own Pharmacy

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Herb gardens can be planted in all sorts of styles and arrangements. Most common are the kitchen herb garden, for culinary purposes. I plant a wide variety of herbs, but not just to season sauces. That’s really just a fringe benefit. My herbs are grown primarily for medicinal uses.

This will be our third year here at the farm to include herbs in our list of garden fare. Like each year, this year’s garden will be broadened based on last years successes and pitfalls.

Here is a (nearly final) list of what we’ll be planting this year:

Angelica

Basil (multiple varieties)

Borage

Burdock

Calendula

Catnip

Chamomile

Chives

Cilantro

Cumin

Dandelion (I don’t cultivate this, I harvest it as it grows naturally in the yard)

Dill

Echinacea

Feverfew

Goldenseal (Harvested responsibly from the countryside)

Horehound

Lavendar

Lemon Balm (aka Bee Balm)

Lemongrass

Marjoram

Mint (a couple varieties)

Mugwort (I’m going to try again!)

Oregano

Parsley

Plantain (I harvest where it grows wild-everywhere!)

Pyrethrum

Rosemary

Sage

Savory

Sheep Sorrel

Spilanthes (Native American toothache plant)

Thyme

Valerian

Wormwood

Yarrow

Spilanthes

Spilanthes

Feverfew

Feverfew

 

Dill

Dill

Basil

Basil

Many of these I’ve grown before, most with good luck, some not so much. A few of these I have never grown before, but every year is an experiment. I’m looking forward to it!

Chickens…From Egg to Life Part 3: Setting the Eggs, What next?

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Whopper, one of the Bourbon Red Turkey poults I hatched last year.

Whopper, one of the Bourbon Red Turkey poults I hatched last year.

Setting your eggs

Setting is just a term used to mean you start incubating the eggs. When you’re ready, place your eggs in the incubator. If you have an automatic turner, put them in that. (My turner is external, so I simply put my eggs in the tray and fit the bar snugly to hold them in place.) The eggs are going to incubate in the same position they were stored in, pointy side down. If you don’t have a turner, you will have to lay them on their sides, and develop a system of turning them manually, three times a day. You need a system in place so you can tell each time which eggs have yet to be turned. Some people write X’s and O’s, one on each side.

After you put the eggs in the incubator, the temperature will go down for a bit. If you had it set properly to begin with, walk away and give it time to warm the eggs up. It will come back up but it can take several hours.

Now What?

Keep a calendar, or a piece of paper nearby to your incubator for keeping notes. I prefer a calendar myself, but there are many different ways, even inexpensive software available. On the calendar, write down the time you set your eggs on the correct day.  Put your finger on that day and slide it down 3 times, each time advancing one week. The date that you land on is the date that your hatch should be finished. Write that down. Now on the day before, write down: hatch should start. And two days before that write down: lockdown. All of these dates are very important for you to keep track of. Writing them down now will save a lot of headache.

Candling Eggs

At some point you will probably want to candle the eggs and see whats going on inside of there. This is trial and error, you won’t get it right all the time ever, and hardly ever at first. I promise to take some pictures as I go and I will create a new post regarding candling for you. There are certain things you should expect to see, and certain things such as blood rings that tell you to throw the egg out.

Lockdown

Lockdown is the final 3 days of incubation. At the start, take the eggs off the turners (or the turners out if that applies to your incubator). Fill the water reservoirs completely full. Keep the vents 1/2 open. All the eggs should be laying on their sides. Close up the incubator, and walk away for 3 days. Don’t open it for anything, until the hatch is completely over. (Note the term lockdown.)

Around day 19-20, you may start to see eggs moving around, or hear cheeping inside the eggs. So cool!! Right about the same time of day you set your eggs on day 20, you should begin to see or hear holes being punched in the eggs. I will update you with photos toward the end of next week with complete details about the hatching process, as well as definitions for the terms pipping and zipping. As always, if you have questions about anything, feel free to ask!

Chickens…From Egg to Life Part 2: Egg Selection/Storage

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Egg Selection

If you have chickens outside, egg selection will be quite simple. Choose eggs from mature hens. (I don’t recommend hatching pullet eggs. It can work, but it doesn’t always.) The hens must have access to a rooster, or vice versa. A good ratio to ensure fertile eggs is 1 rooster to about 7 hens, give or take.  Select the best looking eggs, and the cleanest. Never wash the eggs, as they are porous, and washing can force bacteria inside the egg which will kill the embryo, and possibly cause the egg to explode.

If you don’t have eggs to hatch, you’ll need to buy some. I have bought from many sources. Locally, through Craigslist, BackyardChickens.com, and Ebay. I sort of prefer Ebay. Backyard Chickens is a great site, but some of the eggs are quite expensive. They are typically from enthusiasts specializing in certain breeds. If this is what you’re after, then by all means do it! Ebay sells run of the mill chicken eggs. And the feedback system makes it much safer to purchase from the sellers.

There are many breeds to choose from, its an individual choice. Once you decide what you want, check the seller’s feedback. Steer clear of too many negatives from broken eggs and delayed shipping. I don’t pay much attention to negatives due to low hatches or claims of unfertilized eggs. Make sure the seller does not wash the eggs under any circumstances. If you get some with a little poop, no big deal. Don’t even mess with trying to pick it off, you’ll probably just break the egg.

If your eggs come on time and in one piece, leave the seller positive feedback. That’s what you bid on. It won’t be their fault if your eggs don’t hatch more than likely.

Egg Storage

Once you receive your eggs in the mail, there is an important step to take. Don’t skip it, it will affect your hatch rate considerably. Take the eggs out and carefully put them in an egg carton POINTY SIDE DOWN.

Pointy side down, this is how the egg will go into the carton.

Pointy side down, this is how the egg will go into the carton.

It may take a little practice to tell which end is which, and sometimes there really are rounded eggs that you just have to give it your best guess. Store the eggs like this for 24 hours. The purpose of this is to allow the air sac time to rise back into place at the fullest part of the egg in case it was disturbed during shipping. The air sac doesn’t come into play until really the last 24 hours the chick is in the egg, and it would really stink to get that far only to have the chick suffocate in the shell because the air sac was in the wrong place.

During these 24 hours, keep the eggs in a cool spot, approximately 50-60 degrees. I put them on top of my freezer in my basement.

Eggs waiting to be incubated.

Eggs waiting to be incubated.

By the way, the eggs can be stored for longer than 24 hours before you begin your hatch. If you choose to wait, simply prop up one end of the carton on one side one day, then switch to the other the next day. Repeat until you’re ready to hatch. This is simply turning the eggs to keep them viable while waiting, replicating mama hen in nature. She lays only one egg per day, for about 2-3 weeks before she actually begins to incubate. After this time period, hatchability declines.

In my next post, I will discuss “setting” the eggs, record keeping, and how long it will take for each phase of incubation. If you have any questions please ask!

Chickens…From Egg to Life Part 1: Preparing/Choosing your Incubator

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This was the title of my 6th grade science project. It was about hatching chicken eggs, something I’ve always been fascinated with. I’ve picked this hobby back up the past few years, and have gained a lot of knowledge and experience along the way. Currently I hatch about 200 chicks per year, as well as a dozen or two heritage turkey poults, and a myriad of ducklings and goslings.

Hours hold Light Brahma chicks.

Hours old Light Brahma chicks.

I will be finishing up a hatch by Wednesday, and have ordered more eggs to set Friday. I decided now would be a great opportunity to introduce you to the ins and outs of hatching your own poultry, a valuable skill for any homesteader, poultry enthusiast, or home educator.

I will try to be as detailed as possible. We’ll begin with the topics of preparing your incubator, selecting your eggs, and proper egg handling/storage.

Incubator Preparation

If you’re lucky, you have a willing, waiting hen (or other fowl mother) to slide your eggs under.

Mama hen and her foster babes

Mama hen and her foster babes

If not, you’re going to need an incubator. I know styrofoam incubators are cheap. This is one of those instances where you get what you pay for. I tried the styrofoam. They are difficult to clean, for starters. And cleaning between hatches is crucial to subsequent hatching success, due to bacteria. Additionally, the styrofoam bator off the shelf doesn’t come with the necessary fan to circulate heat, and it doesn’t come with the super handy egg turner. These components turn a $40 incubator into a $120 incubator. Not so cheap now… and not very reusable even if you make the additional investments. I personally use and highly recommend Brinsea incubators.

Eggs in Brinsea on lockdown

Eggs in Brinsea on lockdown

For about $200, I got this Brinsea eco. It hatches 24 eggs at a time (they offer larger and smaller incubators). It is very easy to clean between hatches. No, they aren’t paying me!! I just love this thing. I know it is pricey, but I have more than made my money back on it through selling chicks, and custom hatching jobs.

So, preparing the incubator, regardless of what you use. I will give instructions mostly for a circulated air type incubator, but if you have questions about still air, ask. I have used them extensively although I don’t like them.

A couple days before you plan to start, or set, your eggs, you need to turn it on and get it warmed up. Getting the temp just right can take a little time. It needs to be as close as possible to 99.5 degrees. I never like to see it at 99 or 100. Try to keep it right in the middle.

Once the temp is set and steady for several hours, go ahead and add some water to it. You can use a hygrometer to measure the humidity. I did until I was quite familiar with the process. Now I just add water as needed based on the ambient temperature and the relative humidity. I do not like excessive humidity. Go a little dry, it won’t hurt things, and may keep them from drowning in their shells.

Okay, this one is getting a little long, I will make a separate entry for egg selection, as that is a whole nother can of worms…please don’t hesitate to ask any questions about incubators!