Chickens Have Hatched

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Today is day 21, and my chicken eggs have mostly all hatched. I got a 100% hatch rate from my Welsummer eggs, which is great as they were the most expensive. I also got three little black OEG banties, and eight Cochin/Light Brahma crosses. The Cochin crosses are very hefty chicks and they’re so cute with their little fluffy feathered legs and feet.

I just returned home and set them all up with food and water in their brooder. So far they are pretty much just resting and continuing to fluff up. The Welsummers can be sexed by color, and I bought some leg bands today to mark the suspected roos and see how they turn out. The Cochin crosses I will attempt to feather sex after they’re a couple of days old.

So, out of 42 eggs we have 23 live chicks. Everyone looks healthy with straight feet and they all hatched right on time, so I think the incubator conditions were pretty much bang on. Always good to know.

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Day 13: Candling Eggs

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Today is day 13 of my chicken egg incubation, and I decided to take a few minutes to candle and check fertility. I do this by turning off the lights and using a high-powered LED flashlight held up against the eggs to check for a large dark mass and veins, which is the developing chick inside.

I’m happy to report that all 12 of my expensive Welsummer eggs seem to be fertile and developing well. They’re harder to see into because the shells are so dark, so hopefully I’m right about that.

I did find that six of the Old English Game eggs and seven of the Cochin/Light Brahma were duds. I had been wondering if the OEG eggs with the mottling that looked a little bit like wet paper or moisture seepage through the shell would develop, and it turns out they did not. I’ll be careful not to incubate eggs showing this mottling from now on.

Above you can see the rejects that came out of the incubator and are destined to be dog food. We’re now down to 29 eggs due to hatch in eight more days. Stay tuned!

Part 1: First Big Chicken Hatch – Day 1

 

 

First Raised Bed Filled

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I took a couple of hours today in the sunshine to fill up the first raised bed I built. I need this bed filled before I can start on the other beds, because there are a few things that need transplanting when I clear the area, like my leeks.

The entire top half of this bed was filled with earth taken from my chicken pen floor. A little over a year ago my lovely boyfriend dug out the pen about a foot deep and we filled it in with wood chips. These did a really good job of keeping the mud down and providing the chickens a loose surface to scratch. It also mixed with the droppings and broke down over time into beautiful, rich black earth.

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It’s time to dig it out again and put in another load of wood chips, and luckily I had the bed ready to be filled. I probably transferred about 20 wheelbarrow loads out of there, and there’s easily another 20 to go which is good because I’ll have another two huge beds to fill soon.  The chickens were beside themselves with joy at the layer of worms and fresh earth I uncovered for them.

I loaded it right to the brim as it will settle with time. I also plan to top dress it with some finished fish compost that I have left over from last spring. I can’t wait to get planting!

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First Big Chicken Hatch – Day 1

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Last year I incubated a dozen blue-green eggs I bought from the poultry swap. I had to turn them manually because my turner couldn’t accommodate both quail and chicken egg sized racks at the same time (boo!). Only three hatched, two were roos, and I was left with a single Ameraucana hen who is now the White Chicken.

This time we are doing things properly and using the egg turner. Somehow, I have coordinated three types of fertile eggs for this hatch, and we have a completely full tray of 42 eggs.

First I have black Old English Game bantams which are the small white eggs. There are ten of these and they were from the same person who I got Tiny Chicken from. They were free, but there will be trades happening in return for them later on. Considering the size of the birds these eggs came from, they’re pretty big! We all know how much I love Tiny Chicken and I wouldn’t mind a couple more like her. She is small enough to be allowed to free range without damaging plants,  and she has an awesome personality.

Then we have the light brown eggs, which are from a mixed flock of Cochin and Light Brahma that I met at the farm I was getting my new Standard Rex breeders from. They were $10 per dozen and I’m only setting 20 of them because of space constraints. They are a beautiful mix of colors and should be interesting birds. Cochins are the large breed from China that spurred “Hen Fever”, the chicken fad that swept across America and Britain in the 1850’s, inspired by Queen Victoria’s own aviaries.

The gorgeous dark brown eggs in the middle are Welsummer or Welsumer eggs. They were purchased from a nearby breeder and cost $30 per dozen. Yes I know. The eggs are rather small and from young birds, so that may be an issue. When I was picking them up the seller also mentioned that her birds are quite small, and I’m not sure if that’s standard for the breed. The Welsummers that I had last year seemed around the same size as my other large fowl, so we’ll see how it turns out. I do like those dark brown eggs!

Of course, there’s no way I can keep all these chickens. My plan is to sell or trade off almost all of them and only keep a few of the nicest hens to refresh my stock. The Welsummers can be sexed by color and I’m hoping to successfully feather sex the Cochins at hatch. The females should have longer wing and tail feathers than the males. This may work with the bantams too, I’m not sure. I’m also not sure what I’ll do with all the males. I’ll have to keep some for at least a little while to know if my feather-sexing technique has worked. Nobody will want to buy them, that’s for sure. And if they start to crow, they have to go.

I did try to find more Ameraucana hatching eggs, but the only person who responded to my ad was selling them for $40 per dozen. For that, I can buy a pair of ready to lay Ameraucana pullets at the poultry swap. No thanks.

 

 

 

 

Controlling Rats in the Chicken Coop with a Weasel Box

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Eventually, unless your chicken pen/coop is built like a fortress, you will have rats. Especially in an urban setting like mine, where rats already exist due to human presence, the lure of eggs, chicken feed and sometimes even young chicks is too much for them to resist. A desperate rat will even munch on feathers and chicken poop.

The best rat control of course is always a good cat or dog, but some rats are too tough for the average farm cat or too wily for the average dog. My cat Parsley is usually the RCO around here (Rat Control Officer), but she will often come home very beat up from a rat fight, with scratches on her little face, neck and ears from the battle.

My dog will kill a rat if she can catch one, but she comes inside at night and that’s when they’re most active. Between them we’ve kept our minor rat issue under control until now, but now we have a special rat who refuses to be caught.

This extra intelligent rodent has decided to dig a maze of burrows underneath my chicken pen. It knows that the cat and dog can’t get at it if it comes out only inside the chicken pen at night, which is fully enclosed but does not have a wire mesh floor. It stays cozy and snug in its burrow by day, and raids the chicken and duck feed at night. The area around the pen looks like swiss cheese, and I never know when the ground beneath my boot will sink into a rat hole. Parsley has come home more than once with torn ears from battling this menace.

Now this particular rat has also developed the audacity to begin stealing eggs. Even though there is always an abundance of feed and grain inside the coop, this rat has cultivated more refined tastes. I have a basket hanging on the outside of my coop that I use to collect quail eggs. I usually bring them inside but some nights I forget. Just the other day, I noticed two quail egg shells laying on the ground that looked peculiarly like they had been nibbled open. He had climbed up, stolen two eggs out of the basket and eaten them at his leisure. Time to get serious!

The issue with catching rats inside a coop full of birds or in a yard with a lot of small pets around, is that you don’t want one of your cats or chickens getting injured by mistake. Rat traps are serious business and they could easily crush a delicate paw or feathered neck. I won’t even get into using poisons, as that can be even more dangerous for pets or wildlife who may later consume a poisoned mouse or rat. No, I want to use a good old fashioned Victor rat trap, but it needs to be used safely.

After doing a little research I came across the idea of the weasel box. A weasel box is a little wooden box about the size of a large birdhouse, that is used with bait and a trap inside to catch weasels. It has a hole at one end for the weasel to enter, and a smaller hole at the back covered with wire mesh, so air can flow through the trap, wafting the scent of the bait out and also reassuring the weasel that there is an escape route.

 

Now I’m lucky enough to not to have weasels where I am, but one day I plan to get a larger and more rural piece of property where they will no doubt be an issue. Until then, this seemed like a perfect solution for my rat problem. I built it in one evening, purchased my rat trap and set it up near the base of the coop, baited with two fresh quail eggs.

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I made mine with scraps left over from my fence construction, but you can easily build one with a single 1″ by 6″ wide , 6 foot long cedar fence board. Simply cut 3, 12″ pieces for the bottom and sides, one 17″ piece for the lid, and two 6.25″ pieces for the front and back. (Mine needed to be 7″ as my lumber was actually a full inch thick and 6″ wide instead of 3/4″ by 5.5″ like most dimensional lumber.)

The front piece should have a 2″ hole drilled slightly above center, and the back should have a 1.5″ hole drilled in the center, and covered with a square of 1/4″ wire mesh. I attached mine with a heavy duty staple gun.

It’s the perfect size to fit one of the large Victor rat traps. Put your bait next the mesh end of the box, and set your trap so the yellow or copper bait pad is next to it. This is so the rat doesn’t jump over the pad when entering the box, and also to keep the dangerous part of the trap as far away as possible from curious cat paws. If you have the kind of cats who like to stick their hands into hidey holes, you may have to attach an extender to the front entrance hole so they can’t injure themselves.

 

The rear of the lid should be attached with hinges, and the front can be fastened with a hook and loop type closure. I don’t have these parts ready yet, so for now my lid is held closed with a bungee cord. The trap is set up tonight for the first time, and hopefully I’ll be able to report its success very soon.

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Chickens in the Rain

DSC_0006While I was examining the latest rabbit litter, I decided to allow the chickens out for a brief adventure in the drizzling rain. They made quick work of grass snipping and worm removal from my now nearly-naked tomato bed.

Since these big girls can do a lot of damage in a short time, they aren’t often allowed to free range in the yard and instead I bring garden treats to them. This time they were only out for about an hour and managed to till the entire exposed bed and hopefully disturb any weed seeds that were getting too comfortable.

I’m planning to put a cover crop in this bed for the winter to keep the weeds down, but I haven’t decided on what yet. Since this bed is composed almost entirely of rabbit manure and coffee grounds from Starbucks, it doesn’t need a lot more nitrogen, but a big empty fertile bed like that is asking for trouble if left bare.

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Bantam Turkey Vulture

DSC_0006In honor of the Vulture Awareness Day Celebration that will be occurring next weekend, September 5th and 6th at the Raptor Centre in Duncan, BC; I have procured a tiny but fierce bantam Turkey Vulture! No glove required.

Vultures are actually the most threatened bird group in the world right now, despite once being considered one of the most abundant large birds of prey.

In southern Asia they are functionally extinct, as there are not enough members left to sustain the population. This is primarily due to the use of the cattle anti-inflammatory medication called diclofenac. Dead cattle with this product in their bodies are eaten by vultures who later experience kidney failure and death.

In Africa, population decline is due mostly to poisoning of nuisance animals such as jackals and wild dogs, which subsequently poisons the vultures who clean up their carcasses. Another reason for low populations is that many vultures take up to 5 years to reach breeding age and most will only lay one egg per year.

The Latin name for turkey vultures translates to Golden Purifier, as their super acidic stomach acids can destroy pathogens and parasites such as rabies, botulism and anthrax. This stops the life cycle of disease unlike with many other scavengers such as feral dogs who carry and spread them.

The Centre will be fundraising in order to support vulture research and conservation, so come one come all! You can get your picture taken with a vulture, have some tasty BBQ, and bid on a great selection of donated items in the silent auction. I’ll be there volunteering for both days.

(Full disclosure: The bird above is not actually a bantam Turkey Vulture, although I think she looks like one. She’s a 4 month Old English Game Hen that I received a couple of weeks ago. My intentions were to use her to hatch out pheasant eggs for me when I finally have some. Plus she’s just the cutest little thing. Loves to chat and hang out with me and instantly the queen of the coop. Nobody messes with her. For such a tiny chicken, she has a very big attitude!)

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Hanging out in the kitchen

In case you’re curious, here’s what a black OEG roo looks like, although he’s supposed to be all black without the red hackles. If you want a pet chicken, these guys are the best.

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New Hen Intake Procedure

DSC_0021A friend of mine who is moving had a few hens that he needed to relocate. He was honest with me and said that a few of them seemed to have scaly leg mites, and they could probably all use a good dusting for other parasites. I told him I’d take a look at them and worse case scenario I would send them to freezer camp.

I used to accept a lot more unwanted birds which I converted into food, but I began to see some very heavy parasite infestations and maintaining the health of my own flock was more important. It was also pretty horrifying to have hundreds of chicken lice crawling up your arms just from handling one bird. Not worth it.

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The older girls

When these girls arrived, they were in much better shape than I was expecting. Three of the girls were old and laying soft eggs or none at all, so they were destined for the soup pot. Five of the remaining girls were still laying, according to him, and were in pretty decent shape. There were two ISA Browns, one Buff Orpington, an Australorp and a Welsummer/Ameraucana mix. Supposedly the mix hen wasn’t laying super well but was a good broody mom. She was also very pretty and quite small so I decided to give her a chance.

Of course, I couldn’t just add these chickens right to my own flock. Some of them had visible mite damage to their legs and the Buff at least did seem to have some small yellow parasites despite her overall decent condition. So I got out my new hen procedure kit. A container of diatomaceous earth and a jar of olive oil and turmeric.

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The keepers enjoying some fermented grains, awaiting their treatments

First I turned each hen on her back until she relaxed and gave her a good dusting with the earth, making sure it penetrated deep down into the underwing and vent areas. If your chicken has a bad infestation, the vent area is where it will usually be most obvious.

Then I flipped each girl over and dipped her one leg at a time into the oil jar, leaving each foot in for a few seconds. The oil sticks nicely to the legs and suffocates the mites. I’ll repeat this procedure every week until the damaged scales slough off and their legs look clean and smooth again. I also coated the pen floor with more diatomaceous earth and let the girls go to work dusting themselves.

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Chicken leg dip

I’ll keep a close eye on my own healthy birds to see if they develop any issues, if so they will get an oil dip as well. If you can catch scaly leg mites before they get too serious this is a very easy and effective way to eliminate them.

Poultry Update

DSC_0021Yesterday I drove out to the Quennel Lake Livestock Conservatory and picked up these two beautiful ladies. They are a pair of Welsumer (or Welsummer) hens.

Since lately I’ve been selling a lot of eggs to my neighbors, I needed to increase the production around here. Although these girls are in their third year, they are reported to still be laying well and were only $5 each. They are in lovely shape and will be laying eggs the color of wet terracotta. I was also told that they may go broody, so in that case I’ll probably find some fertilized eggs to put under them and see how they do.

DSC_0013Poor white chicken is going through a hard molt, the first hard molt I’ve ever seen here. She looks pathetic and her egg production has slacked a bit. Since she was at the bottom of the pecking order, she was delighted to have the two Welsumer girls show up so she could give them a few good pecks and move up the ranks. Other than that there seems to be no real squabbling amongst the hens. The new girls are sticking together and respectfully keeping their distance for now. The duck and the pheasant seem particularly interested in them.

DSC_0015The pheasant cock is still doing very well. He is a very calm and happy bird and makes delightfully musical little chirping noises. I have read that he will probably go through a molt this summer and that’s when his adult plumage will really come in. I’ve also read that it’s common for their tail feathers to get wet and freeze in the winter and get stepped on by other birds, causing them to break. I’m hoping that since he is now being kept in a covered run, that this will prevent further breakage. The tails are very impressive so it would be a shame for him to break it again. I’ve also hopefully lined up a lady pheasant for him this summer, from the same breeder that he originates from. Very exciting!

The Trick to Easy-Peel Quail Eggs

DSC_0025Anybody who has ever tried peeling a hard-boiled quail egg knows that it’s a tedious chore, at best. Anybody who raises their own quail knows that fresh quail eggs are next to impossible to peel cleanly.

The solution? Never boil another quail egg. Steam them.

Simply use a vegetable steamer in a pot with about an inch of water and a tight fitting lid. Turn the heat up to maximum and when the steam starts coming, set a timer for six minutes.

After that, rinse your eggs well in cold water and let them sit in the water for a few minutes.

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This egg is so fresh it was actually laid today, not bad huh?

Then peel. Quail eggs have a thin shell and a thick membrane, so pinch through the membrane at the fat end of the egg, where there is an air pocket, to make sure you get a clean removal.

Of course, this method also works for fresh chicken eggs. Steam them for about 12-15 minutes. You’ll be amazed!