Fertilised Eggs – Day Eighteen!

Well it’s day 18 now for our fertilised eggs. If all goes according to plan we should get some little chickies hatching in the incubator in the next few days.

Of course my experience with chickens of late has shown me that rarely do things go to plan and it really is “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” because the chances of all twelve eggs hatching are very slim. Not that I’ve got twelve eggs – seven are in the incubator while the other five are under Kathy’s broody hen.

Not sure what happens once the ones at Kathy’s hatch. Do we leave them with her broody? Bring chicks here after they hatch and put them all together? Leave the broody with one chick? Or just leave them with Kathy and I’ll get some fertilised eggs off her later? Guess we’d better sort it out pretty soon.

Tim and I tried candling the eggs last night, but obviously we have absolutely no idea as it was a complete failure. I’ll have to look it up for the next time we do it so we know how to do it. But what I did do was take the eggs out of the turny thingy and place them on a tea towel on the tray and refill the water so the humidity is high for the next few days.

Apparently I should hear pipping from the eggs on about day twenty, although the incubator is quite noisy so maybe we won’t… I’m just hoping we get a decent hatch rate and I didn’t waste my money. Guess I’ll know in a few days.

The Fertilised Eggs Drama!

Scales went broody again, so after umming and ahhing for a while I ordered some fertilised eggs. This time of year finding eggs is a little tricky as all chooks everywhere are going into moult and their laying drops right off. So my order of Araucana and Light Sussex eggs arrive on the same day I notice that Scales doesn’t seem quite so broody!

Sure enough, after letting the eggs rest for 24 hours (important to do after receiving eggs via the post) Scales is most definitely NOT broody! To be sure I locked her in the nesting box with a couple of unfertilised eggs. She was hanging to get out the next day. Needless to say her lack of said broodiness sent me into a bit of a tail spin. I’d paid $50 for these eggs and now I was without nature’s perfect chick raising machine, meaning I was going to have to do it myself. Problem, I don’t have an incubator! Aaaah!!!

I’ve heard tales of people incubating eggs in an electric frying pan, but when push came to shove it was very hard to find reliable information out there as to how to do it, yet an awful lot of people believed it to be possible or had heard of someone doing it. In fact one of my friends hatched some guinea fowl eggs in one, although they only had three days to go and just needed some extra help. Anyways, it’s got me more than a little curious, I’m so curious I’m going to try it later, but with some less expensive eggs! When I do I’ll blog about my experiences.

After checking out the frying pan option I finally remembered there were people I could call who are a wealth of information when it comes to chooks. Only took me a couple of days to remember, and the first one I called had a broody hen! I went over the next day (which happened to be a Saturday) with my precious eggs and Xav. Upon arrival I was told there was someone else with another broody hen or duck and an incubator! So after a cuppa and some very yummy Anzac slice (the biscuits had all run together) we went off to meet my potential saviour.

They had ducks, chooks, geese and turkeys, two dogs, a cat (with which Xav was extremely taken) and numerous other animals including a cow and some sheep. Anyway, after much talking and getting to know each other I was presented with an incubator and shown how to use it. It’s now sitting on the fooseball table lid merrily humming away with four Araucana eggs and three Light Sussex. The other five I left for the broody. Sixteen days later the broody is still sitting and the machine is still humming away. It is well and truly time to candle the eggs to see if any of them are fertile. Not that I’ve ever done it before and I have to admit that I’ve been putting it off – I’m a teensy bit scared that I may have wasted my money. Maybe tomorrow…

Chicks & Chooks, together at last

D-day has arrived – it’s time for my six surviving chickies to go in with the big chooks. Six chicks out of twelve, a 50% success rate. I was hoping for higher, but at least I got that. Half of them are roosters. I knew that I had at least one – the crowing was a bit of a give away. But I know for sure now – Tony, the chook man, showed me how to tell the difference.

Roosters feathers are different to hens on the rump region, they become long and thin just before the tail and are called ‘saddle feathers’. In the same area hens feathers remain fat and rounded. So my only Barnevelder, only Rhode Island Red and one of the Gold Laced Wyandottes are boys. Well, that’s two, maybe three for the table – might keep one for breeding – and I got three girls to replace the three I lost last year, so that’s good.

It was just after dusk when I grabbed the chickies and put them on the roost in the henhouse with the big chooks. Interestingly not a single one of them stayed on the roost, they all jumped down and huddled in the corner together. Not surprising really when you consider that’s what they’ve been doing all their lives, except when they decided to roost on their house and in the creeper instead of going to bed in the cute little house Tim built where they’d be nice and safe! Xav and I spent many nights searching for missing chickies, until I trimmed back the creeper cave and it no longer seemed so dark and appealing.

Anyway, everybody was still alive in the morning when I let them out, so that was nice. I left them all locked in the run that first day to give the youngsters a chance to adapt to their new home. The first lock up was interesting – none of the young ones wanted to go in, and when I physically put them in they ran back out the door! So that was a bit tricky! However, after many exclamations about their inability to stay in the house or let me catch them, I finally got them all in, and again they roosted upon the floor beneath the roosts.

Day two and I opened the run. The big chooks roamed free while the chickies stayed close to their new home. On the third day Sprinter (my only surviving Ancona named for her incredible short bursts of speed) decided to give roosting a go, and after about a week they were all roosting quite happily, well mostly anyway. I think it’s going to work, and most importantly, all fourteen chooks are doing well.

Run Timeshare

With temperatures pushing 40 degrees celsius I have come to the realisation that Minnie and the chicks cannot stay in the chook shed during the day. It gets way too hot in there.

My solution has been to line the bunny run with cardboard so little chickies can’t fit through the gaps (at the moment they are so small they can just pop through the chicken wire like it’s not even there) and put them in there once the temperature hits 30 degrees, coz that’s when I bring the bunnies in.

So Cloud and BlackOut have the run for a few hours in the morning (without the cardboard because they eat it) and Minnie and the chickies have it in the afternoon. It’s a fair bit of fiddling on my part, so I’ll have to come up with a better solution…I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Chooks – The Agony and The Ecstacy

Okay…this chook journey has not quite been what I was expecting it to be…On Friday 13th December, Bella, one of the Ancona girls started getting sick and continued to go down hill. She ended up with severe diarrhoea and a slight rattle in her chest. By Monday she was really bad, I’d changed her diet and done everything I could except worm her. That day I also found that Minnie had hatched two of her ten eggs. By Tuesday we had four little chickadees. I’d written on the bottom of the eggs and according to my notes we had one Blue Barnevelder and three Gold Laced Wyandottes. So Tim and I finally got round to building our two small pens on the inside of the chook pen for our broodies and their chicks. It was pretty hot, but we got it done.

Bella came in, sat in the nest box and stayed for a while before leaving. She really wasn’t looking good and smelt worse. I was recommended some drops to give her, so I did. But on Tuesday morning she was dead. By the time I’d removed Bella’s body and stuck it in the freezer (Capital YUK, but it had to be done – weather was hot, dirt was cement like and we decided it was better to freeze her than have her decomposing on the back step waiting for burial. Needless to say I put her in the freezer outside, the one I don’t use all that much) and fed them, Myrtle, one of the big black Croad Langshans started neck stretching, honking like a goose, shaking her head and struggling to breathe. At first I thought she might have something stuck in her throat, but it was not to be.

That day I also bought ten more fertilised eggs to put under Scales who’d finally gone broody. I put them under her and checked on Myrtle who was getting steadily worse. I was concerned that the girls had something contagious and it was going to go through the entire flock, so I took her to the vet.

I was given three options: 1. have her chest radiographed 2. give her anti inflammatry drugs and antibiotics or 3. euthanise her and let the vet do an autopsy

I wasn’t going to spend $$$ to have a radiograph done – I like Myrtle, she’s a good layer, but she’s not a well loved family pet, she’s a ‘production’ animal. I didn’t much like option 3 either, so went for option 2. In hindsight, I should have gone for option 3 because she is a production animal and it was better to have one put down and autopsied for the benefit of the flock. Another reason I should have gone with option 3 was she died 15mins after the two injections!

The autopsy didn’t show up anything to be worried about and neither did the one test I had done. There was another test we could have done, but with the dollars mounting up and at $200+ a test we chose to only have one of them done. The only thing the vet could conclude that it was a viral condition and we just had to wait and see. With cost of the vet bills I could have easily replaced the girls I’d lost and got a few more!

In the course of all this I made an interesting observation – both Myrtle and Bella had been among the handful of chooks to get sick in the first couple of weeks after getting them. Ara the Araucana had died, but the others, Myrtle, Bella, Minnie and Welzy had all recovered. But now, in mid December, Myrtle and Bella were also dead. Is it a coincidence or is it somehow connected. Whatever, it was one of those things that make you go mmmm. The rest of them are now on antibiotics and the vet says we can’t eat the eggs for 28 days!!!

So we in the space of 24 hours we had the ecstasy of new life and the agony of death, and can’t eat our organic, free range eggs – the reason we have chooks in the first place! Talk about a rollercoaster ride.  I miss Bella and Myrtle and their eggs, but the chickies are so cute, little puffs of fluff on legs and they make me smile, a lot.

Chookie News

Well, I got my wish, I have a broody hen, just not the one I was expecting. Instead of Scales, our Gold Laced Wyandotte going broody (bought especially for the task), Minnie, the Minorca has instead. From all my research, the Minorcas were amongst the last of my assorted breeds that I’d have thought would go broody.

A week later and Minnie is still insisting on sitting on eggs so I lashed out and bought half a dozen fertilised eggs of Blue Barnevelders, Barnevelders and Gold Laced Wyandottes and placed them underneath her after removing an egg laid by Welzy. I’ve closed her box off from the others so no-one else can get in there to lay eggs and we’ll see if we get some little chickies in the next 3 weeks.

Tim was wondering if there’d be any for Christmas Dinner or his birthday in Feb 🙂 I laughed and told him that they’re not commercial meat chooks and will take about 6 months before they’re ready for the table instead of 6 weeks. If all 10 eggs hatched (which is doubtful) then at least half of them will be male and end up on the table. Hens, well we’ll see, but I’d really love a couple of Barnevelder hens that’ll hopefully lay nice chocolate brown eggs.

On another note, my chook supplier said he’d replace the Araucana who died, so in the next 3 or 4 weeks we’ll get another Araucana, and as I won’t introduce her to the flock alone, I’ve requested a Blue Andalusian too, so it’s all fun in the Chicken Coop at our place.

Introducing our new Chooks

It took an extra month, but our chooks have arrived. We have 11 beautiful ladies made up of 2 Croad Langshans, 2 Anconas, 2 Minorcas, 2 Araucanas, 1 Gold Laced Wyandotte, 1 WelsummerXBuff Sussex & 1 bantam bitzer. The WelsummerX & bantam bitzer were last minute additions as the 2 Barnevelders I’d ordered doubled in price from $35 to $75 per bird! Oh well, when we have a girl go broody (hopefully the Wyandotte) I’ll make sure some of the fertilised eggs we get we’ll be Barnevelders.

Here's a flock shot, although it is only half the flock.

Here’s a flock shot, although it is only half the flock.

It’s been 2 ½ weeks and all but two of our ladies have names. Brydon and I have been busy. We’re still waiting for inspiration to strike concerning the other Minorca and Langshan, so far there’s been zilch.

Introducing our girls. Miss Ruby is the Langshan who does have a name. She is black all over except for one small red feather on her left wing. I’m hoping it never falls out! Although she has revealed herself to be quite forward, and is always at the front of the group, pecking at everything, including fingers, in the hope it’ll be something yummy.

Is that you Miss Ruby? The little red feather is on the other wing, of course!

Is that you Miss Ruby? The little red feather is on the other wing, of course!

Originally Brydon named the Anconas Dal & Mation because their colour is often referred to as ‘Reverse Dalmation’, but we weren’t overly happy with it. Inspired by ‘Dal’ I said, ‘What about Della & Bella?’ We were both happy with that. Della has more spots on her back, but I can only tell who’s who when I see their backs. Della and Bella are definitely amongst the shyer of our flock. It’s hard to see the spots in this photo, but they are there.

Della or Bella? I can't see the spots on her back!

Della or Bella? I can’t see the spots on her back!

Minnie Myna is our most talkative chook. She’s a Minorca who chats away almost constantly. She’d lost a few feathers on her rump when we got her, but they’re slowly growing back. She’s a little shy, but certainly braver than her sister.

I can tell that this isn't Minnie Myna, but her sister

I can tell that this isn’t Minnie Myna, but her sister

The Araucanas are Ara & Carna, which worked much better than Dal & Mation. Both are a soft blue grey colour, but Ara is more petite with a dark grey face, while Carna is bigger, her wattles more distinct, and she has a magnificent fan like tail. One lays a blue egg, while the other lays a blue green one, we don’t know which one lays which egg though.

Ara looking very pretty and demure.

Ara looking very pretty and demure.

Carna of the magnificent tail.

Carna of the magnificent tail.

Scales is the name of the Gold Laced Wyandotte due to the pattern on her feathers. ‘Dragon’ was the Brydon’s first option, but as she’s so shy and at the bottom of the pecking order we decided that a magnificent and fiercesome name like ‘Dragon’ just didn’t suit her.

She's so shy this is the best photo I've go so far. She's the one at the back, showing off her fluffy bloomers.

She’s so shy this is the best photo I’ve go so far. She’s the one at the back, showing off her fluffy bloomers.

The WelsummerXBuff Sussex we’ve called Welzy. My great grandmother was Nana Wells, fondly referred to by others as Welsie, so it appealed to me.

Welzy looking quite beautiful.

Welzy looking quite beautiful.

And lastly we’ve named the bantam bitzer Pretty. I call her ‘Miss Pretty’ when she’s being cheeky, which is most of the time! She’s the cheekiest member of the flock, what she lacks in size she makes up for in spunk.

Pretty grazing amongst the grasses

Pretty grazing amongst the grasses

I couldn't decide which photo showed her off better, so here's the other one.

I couldn’t decide which photo showed her off better, so here’s the other one.

Chookie Delay

No Chooks today, so sad 🙁

I had a phone call from my chook supplier last night telling me that he wasn’t happy with the quality of some of the birds he was sourcing for me, so could I wait another month? He didn’t want to sell me chooks that were poor quality. I’m very, very grateful for that.

I’m disappointed though. Was soooo looking forward to picking up our girls today, but I’d prefer to wait than get substandard chooks. Not all of them were substandard. I could have got half my flock, but then I’d have to deal with introducing new birds to an established flock. Something I’m trying to avoid in the beginning of my chook keeping career.

On the upside, I’m really glad I’m getting my chooks through this guy – he’s looking after me and not out to rip me off. He knew I’d be disappointed (I’ve been talking to him for the last four months about which chooks I should get) but he said he’d much prefer me to be disappointed now than disappointed in the long term with poor quality chooks. Besides, it would make him look bad and I’d probably never buy from him again!

He did say that if he’s able to source those other breeds I’m after before next market day, he’ll deliver them sooner. The delay gives me the chance to finish one or two small things in the coop that are bugging me, especially setting up the enclosed space for our broody chook and future chickens.

It also give me time to research the geodesic dome chicken tractor and put one together, maybe even before the girls arrive. We’ll be using it as a day run. That way the girls can help me turn the weedy mess that calls itself a lawn, into beautiful, productive (eventually) circle gardens.

 

 

Still more about Chooks

Chooks! Chooks! Chooks! Whoever knew that choosing a breed of chook was going to be so hard!!!

In researching chooks, the only thing I haven’t been swayed on was the fact that I didn’t want commercial hybrids. Right from the beginning I’ve said I don’t want Isa Browns or Hylines, even though they lay lots and lots. Although, only for about 18 months, maybe 24. That’s why commercial egg producers get rid of them after a year. I still don’t want them!

Looking back over my notes I realise that actually, it’s two things that I haven’t been swayed upon. The other was colour. I wanted some pretty chooks, something with a bit of colour.

My research has led me through so many different possibilities over the last couple of months, that I thought we’d do this and I thought we’d do that, and I’ve uhmmed and ahhed about which breed so many times too. I’ve wavered between ‘Dual Purpose’ birds and ‘Layers’ on a regular basis. The primary purpose of chooks was eggs, but we also wanted to eat our chooks too! And originally my thinking was such that we would get  only one breed, so which one to choose?

Barnevelders or Wyandottes? Light Sussex or Plymouth Rock? Australorp? Ancona? Faverolle? Welsummer? Adulusian, Leghorn or Minorca? Dorking or Orpington? Hamburg or Houdan? Langshan? Naked Neck? Araucana? New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red?

In the end, I couldn’t decide upon only one breed, so now we are getting a variety 🙂 It wasn’t such an anguishing issue for anybody else – I’d had only one request, and that was for the Araucana, because Brydon wanted blue eggs. Of all the different breeds out there, the Araucana, Barnevelder, Wyandotte and Ancona, have been serious contenders from the beginning. But I oscillated quite a lot between the breeds.

Also In the beginning, I was liking the idea of getting some fertile eggs and hatching our own, but after much research I decided against it. Too complicated and time involving for me and my special needs family! Then I was liking the idea of getting 4 week old chicks already sexed – 1 rooster and 12 girls – so we could handle them and get them used to us and get the boys used to them…

What I eventually decided upon was getting at least one chook from a breed known to go broody and also be good sitters and good mothers. When she does go broody I can get a clutch of fertilised eggs from a local breeder and stick them underneath her. She can do all the hard work – it also removes us a few steps so that when the chicks are old enough for us to know the difference between the girls and the boys, it won’t be so hard to kill and eat the boys.

We decided that at this stage we won’t be breeding them, so we don’t need a rooster. I’ve located three local suppliers from whom I can get fertilised eggs of a variety of different breeds, so I am definitely not in too much of a rush. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to breed with a mixed flock, but I’ve since found out you just have to take the girls out of the flock and isolate them for a while with their rooster. After about two weeks, the eggs they are producing will be the purebred variety. Sounds easy enough for when the time comes.

Okay, I’ve ordered our chooks, nine in total. One from a broody line and the rest, decent layers. We’ll get them at the end of this month, so now I have to make sure the coop is ready!

Below is my revised and shortlisted table of birds I was seriously considering, ones that would probably do well in our climate zone, sorted in eggs per year (a rough estimation) because the primary aim of our first flock is to produce eggs for the eating. Breeds with Egg under the Bird or Fertile Egg category means I want these breeds and hope to get them by putting fertilised eggs under the broody hen.

Any roosters we get from the hatching of fertilised eggs will be used for the table, although it’s been suggested that as I will be using purebreeds, to get an expert in to check the roos over, because there may be one or two roos worth saving for breeding purposes. The girls will be kept on as layers or we’ll sell them if we have too many.

 

Breed Purpose Eggs p/year (Av) Buy Bird or Fertile Egg
Ancona Layer 225 Y Bird
Leghorn Layer & Show 225
Andalusian  Layer 210
Hamburg Light 210 Y Egg
Langshan Dual purpose 205 Y Bird
Minorca Dual Purpose 200 Y Egg
Sussex  Dual Purpose 195 Y Egg
Araucana  Layer & Novelty 185 Y Bird
Rhode Island Red Dual Purpose 180
Barnevelder  Dual Purpose 175 Y Bird
Welsummer Dual Purpose 175 Y Egg
Australorp Dual Purpose 170
Campine Dual Purpose 170 Y Egg
Faverolle Dual Purpose & Show 170 Y Egg
New Hampshire Dual Purpose 170
Wyandotte Dual Purpose 165 Bird
Plymouth Rock Dual Purpose 160 Y Egg
Dorking Dual Purpose 130

In the end I chose the Ancona because, even though a little flighty, it is a good forager, good layer, does well in the heat and is a striking looking bird with a reverse dalmation affect. The Langshan is another good laying breed, good forager and does well in the heat and cold. The Araucana was chosen for its blue coloured eggs and good foraging skills. The Barnevelder because it’s adaptable and does well in most climates, is a decent layer and forager and a good looking bird. And the Wyandotte was chosen because I always wanted one – they are the prettiest of the lot (I’ve ordered a gold laced one) – and they go broody easily, so are not recommended if you want lots of eggs. She will, hopefully, be the one we use to hatch our fertilised eggs. All these breeds are being sourced locally, less than 2 hours drive away, so they should be okay with our climate – I hope.

More on Chooks

I was liking the idea of getting some fertile eggs and hatching our own, but after all the reading I’ve done I’m thinking we’ll give that a miss. Very complicated for first timers methinks!

Now I’m thinking that we’ll get 4 week old chicks that have already been sexed – 1 rooster and 12 girls. The advantage of this is we can handle them while they are young and get them used to us, which in turn will give the boys enough confidence to collect the eggs.

I have to say, at this stage, I am leaning towards either Barnevelders or Wyandottes as good dual purpose, pretty birds. Dual purpose is definitely a goer with Tim reckoning he could kill a bird after watching Matthew Evans do it on ‘Gourmet Farmer’. ‘As long as the knife is sharp,’ he said.

However, if I’m not so concerned about pretty, perhaps a good dual purpose would be the Light Sussex or Australorp. But, if we are just going for egg production, then maybe the Ancona. Of course, I could just get a mixed flock, but that would make breeding difficult. Hmmm…decisions, decisions, decisions.

After a few more days of research and talking to people and thought processing time, this is what I’m now thinking. Maybe to begin with we don’t get any roosters, but have a mixed flock of the different breeds that I am particularly interested in, maybe two of each of my top 5 or 6 breeds…or even one of each.

I’m pretty definite about having the Ancona. They are good layers with striking feathering, although they can be a little flighty, however once they’re used to you they settle in nicely. I like the Australorp which is a good dual purpose breed and bred for Aussie conditions. I love the Wyandotte, they are so pretty and reasonable layers. I’m also pretty definite about the Barnevelder, which is striking and a really good dual purpose breed.

Also in the mix we’d like an Araucana for the blue green coloured eggs it lays – that was a special request from Brydon (blue is his favourite colour). Also under consideration from my reading so far are the Light Sussex, Faverolle, Welsummer, Adulusian, Minorca, and maybe some bantams, especially the Silky.

I think having a variety of birds to begin with will be fun and will help us decide which breeds work best for us and if there are any breeds we’d like to specialise in at a later date, and it will definitely help us work out which breeds cope best in our environment. If we do breed, we’ll be working on keeping the breed pure and if necessary, learning how to breed back to good utility birds that deliver on their promise, not just look good for the show ring. However, if I could manage to have both – good utility birds that are good enough for showing – then that would also be really good. The biggest issue I think I’m gonna have is making sure I get utility birds and not show stock.

Just read a timely article in the ‘Australasian Poultry’ magazine called ‘Best Breeds for Climate Change’ by Megg Miller (who also publishes ‘Grass Roots’ magazine) which addressed some of the issues I’ve been having in regards to what breeds to get, especially in the heat. I’ve also been given the number of a local chicken lady who may be able to help me as far as that goes too.