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Baby Bunnies and the Chicks

Moonstone, the new angora rabbit doe I acquired last month, gave birth on 10/13 to a litter of three babies.  They are healthy, well fed little guys.  Mama bunny made a nice warm nest for her fawns with hay and fiber she pulled from her tummy.  I  supplemented the nest with fiber from a supply I keep just for the purpose.

Here is mama bunny Moonstone, shortly after she arrived at the farm.  And below is a shot of the proud father, Marble, my albino angora buck.  I’m not sure why this litter is so small.  Rabbits usually have 5-9 babies at a time.  The doe was maiden and not too thrilled by the mating process.  The pair only mated a few times that I observed, so perhaps that’s why she had only a few fawns.  I’m very happy with what I got!  At least one of the babies is showing signs of developing darker hair than white, so fingers crossed I get a nice sable or chocolate doe to keep.

Proud daddy Marble

In other news, the September hatch of Ameraucana chicks is now four weeks old.  The chicks are well feathered.  The oldest chicks (one day ahead of the youngest) are starting to sprout feathers on their heads.  These babies are very active.  They spend the day alternating between filling up at their feeder and running off to free range in the hedges and over the lawns.  I think they will be well ready to face the cold weather once winter arrives.  To date we have had less than ten frosty nights.  The temperature has not gone below about 30F.  The days and nights continue unseasonably mild.  That’s fine with me and my barn full of babies!

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Fall Chicks

Usually people think of chicks hatching in the spring.  There is no reason why chicks can’t be hatched right through September here in Maine.  By the time real cold weather arrives the young ones will be two months old, fully feathered and ready for frost.

I acquired a lovely new silver Ameraucana rooster in August.  There were still eight laying hens active in the coop, so I decided to collect eggs and try to get some offspring as soon as possible.  The babies hatched out yesterday through early this morning.  Seventeen new chicks have arrived here at Phoenix Farm.  They are so cute and very robust birds already.  They do not seem to require as much heat in the brooder as some of my hatches.

Four of the babies are black and the others have the chipmunk markings typical of the silver Ameraucana variety.  Some of the photos have a slightly more yellow tint than real life due to the light bulb in the brooder.  The little ones are mostly fluff at this point.  The thick down helps keep tiny bodies warm.  They typically sleep cuddled up to each other.  If they spread far apart to sleep, they are too warm.  If they try to sleep standing up, the temperature in the brooder is too cool.  The chicks resting in the above photo feel just right.

I have read that it is possible to tell the gender of silver chicks by their markings.  The females are said to have sharp, well defined caps on their heads while the males have more blurred, indistinct marks.  Using this information, in the photo below, the baby in the center on the feeder would be female and the one right behind her would be male.  I’m going to count how many of each I have based on the markings.  It will be interesting to see if this is an accurate method of differentiation.  Right now I can’t reliably tell the sex of a chicken until they are about 2 months old.  At that age the little roosters tend to show larger combs and brighter feather patterns.  Even at two months, I get fooled at least 10% of the time. It would be very convenient if the silver chicks have sexual dimorphism.

In a week the chicks will be old enough to go out in the barn.  I’m hoping the very mild weather we’ve been experiencing for the last few days holds through the end of September.

Baby Eggs

Here are some of the first eggs laid by my silver splash Ameraucana pullets from the Jan hatch.  The baby eggs are always the best color.  Some of the eggs look big, but this is just a trick of the camera.  They are all small to medium grade sized eggs.

I knew the young hens were ready to lay and have been trying to keep them in the pen during the morning to encourage laying in the nest boxes.  So far they have deposited 4 or 5 on the floor.  For the past few days I’ve been placing hens in nest boxes to show them where to lay.  One hen in particular has found a way to escape the pen.  She is always hanging around waiting to be let back in when I go out to do morning chores.  Today I started to get suspicious about her early morning activities.

Sure enough, after a long search through the hedges and bushes, I found her stolen nest.  There were about two dozen baby eggs deposited there.  I suspect she and her sisters have been using the nest.  So today I will put a new net over the chicken pen to stop the birds from flying out and hiding their eggs.  The pullet in the front of the photo below is the main culprit.  Such naughty little birds!  

 

Baby Chicks Learning to Free Range

The baby Ameraucana chicks are three weeks old now.  This past week they have been learning to go out on their own into the big world and free range.  Seeing such small babies on their own can give a mother hen like me heart palpitations, but I can’t hold my little ones back.  They need to understand how to find food, hunt for insects, avoid danger and return to the safety of the shelter at night.  Although they are quite tiny, these chicks are old enough to be on their own.

The babies love freedom.  They run together in a little flock.  All twenty-three of the original hatch are still with us, hale and hearty.  On a sunny spring day they sprawl in the sunshine lighting the barn doorway and spread their wings to collect the warmth.  As a group, they move from place to place finding adventure and keeping in constant contact with a steady stream of peeps and chirps.

Thursday was the first time the little birds ventured from inside the barn out on the grass.  Once this wonder was discovered, there was no stopping those chicks.  They found the grass and greens delicious and also teeming with juicy bugs.  I am teaching them to drink from a pan by sinking their plastic waterer in the center of a rubber dish full of water.  The chicks have quickly caught on.

It is amazing how fast baby chickens grow.  The tiny roosters already test their strength in mock fights.  In no time the birds will be fully feathered and starting to fly.  A baby chicken is actually quite a good flyer because its body is small and light in comparison to the size of the wings.  This tends to give the small birds an advantage against predators.  They are very good at escaping.  Although they appear delicate, millions of years of evolution have made these small creatures tough and capable of caring for themselves.

Good Hatch

These chicks are the first to hatch from my new Brinsea incubator.  The hatch was a great success, 96% hatch rate!  The best rate I ever got was around 70% using styrofoam incubators.  I’ve started the second clutch, a total of 28 eggs.

I was amazed by the difference in the hatching process between the solid plastic, double walled Brinsea Ovation Eco 28 and the styrofoam incubator, a Hova-Bator circulated air model.

In the Brinsea, the chicks all hatched within 20 hours, compared to a three-day process for the styrofoam.  In the Hova-Bator, it was always evident when the eggs were hatching because the chicks made so much noise.  They often peeped very loudly.  In the Brinsea the chicks are quiet.  The double plastic walls do insulate sound, but there is no loud, endless crying.

The chicks in the styrofoam tended to move all over the inside of the incubator, peeping and scrabbling around, disturbing the eggs still hatching.  In the plastic model, the chicks all gather in the middle of the incubator and fall asleep.

The Brinsea incubator also seems to dry the chick fluff more quickly than the styrofoam incubator.  They fluffed up hours before chicks that hatched in the Hova-Bator.  At the same time, the humidity level was well maintained.  The chicks stayed moist inside the eggs and easily broke out of the shells.

The most telling thing for me was the cleanliness of the new incubator after the hatch.  The inside contained just broken shells and loose fluff.  No nasty smells or egg insides stuck to components.

With the styrofoam incubator there was always a smelly mess.  The inside was always smeared with meconium.  There was none in the Brinsea incubator.  Early expulsion of meconium, the contents of the intestines that formed during the development of the embryo, can be a sign of stress in any newborn.  With this first hatch from the plastic incubator, none of the chicks passed meconium until they were placed in the brooding box.

I think this fact and the quiet, calm demeanor of the chicks during and after the hatch are testimony to the greatly reduced stress achieved by the Brinsea incubator.  Even now, several days after the hatch, the chicks are more calm compared to past hatches.

The only complaint I have about the Brinsea is that the well holding the water for humidity is too shallow.  There are two wells, the second is to be filled only at the time of hatch.  Using just the one well requires adding water about every other day.  This can be annoying.  Filling both wells during incubation would probably raise the humidity too high due to an excessive water surface area.  However, overall, I would say this new incubator is a great addition to my operation.

I look forward to watching these babies mature and to the results of the other hatches I have planned this year.

Also, let me state that I have not received any remuneration from any incubator seller.  This comparison is based solely on my personal experiences with two incubators I chose to use.

Rough Life For A Chicken

Chicken society can be brutal.  Ameraucana chickens are known to be less aggressive and more tolerant of other birds than many breeds.  That does not preclude them from becoming vicious at times.

This hen is part of the flock, hatched at the same time as the rest, raised as a sister.  Yet, one morning in the middle of the winter when I did chores, I found this hen with her head all bloody.  I thought the weasel who attacked my flock in December had a relative trying to prey on my birds.  I locked them up tight at night for awhile.  The hen began to heal.

Then one morning, again, her head was all bloody.  She was also acting afraid of the primary rooster and trying to stay away from him.  I closed her away in her own smaller pen and her head healed.  Just about the time she was starting to look good again, she escaped from her pen and went in with the others.  Everything seemed fine that day.  She went to roost with the rest of the flock.  The next morning, there she was again, her head pecked into a bloody mess.

This time I ensured her enclosure was completely escape proof.  I gave her a nest to use and after a few days she began laying.  She was separated from the other birds by wire so they could still see each other and interact.  When her head was well healed I tried once again to introduce her to the flock.  Within minutes, as I watched, the rooster went after her, attacking her head.  Quickly, I scooped her up.

I don’t know why the rooster took such a strong dislike to this hen.  She looks like everyone else.  She lays an egg a day.  She is docile and submits to the rooster.  Perhaps she said something to insult his male pride and he won’t forgive.  Who knows?  Chickens are ruthless.

So, to keep her company and fertilize her eggs, I placed the auxiliary rooster in her pen.  He is the back-up in case the main rooster dies.  The birds hit it off immediately.  He is a perfect mate, considerate and gentle, always finding little tidbits to entice her affection.  She cuddles up close to him at night on the roost.  They are so happy together.

Every day the main flock goes out to free-range in the afternoon and returns to the roost about an hour before sunset.  When the coast is clear, I lock the main flock up and let the hen and auxiliary rooster out to roam.  Their happiness is complete.  I’m hoping the poor hen will grow feathers on her head again.  With all the trauma the skin has endured, she may remain a bald bird.

 

New Incubator

The new incubator is up and running with the first set of eggs.  It’s a Brinsea Ovation Eco 28, a new design for Brinsea.  The incubator has automated egg turning and digital temperature control.  The humidity control is done manually although you can purchase a separate attachment to automate humidity.

So far the incubator has been running great.  It maintains a temperature of 99.6F, with no fluctuation I have noticed.  There is a warning alarm if the temperature goes above or below a pre-set level.  This incubator is a big step up for me, function-wise and price-wise.  For many years I’ve used styrofoam body incubators.  The first one did not have automatic turning so I had to turn the eggs by hand twice a day for 19 days.  Then I got one with egg turning racks and a blower fan.  It was around $175, a Hovabator.

The hatch rate for the styrofoam incubators was always disappointing for me.  It rarely got over 70%.  Some hatches were dismal with only 40% or so.  The poor performance was most likely due to difficulty with maintaining correct warmth and humidity.  A chicken breeder said try a better quality incubator, so this year I finally sprung for the $380 Brinsea.  It has a hard plastic case.  The digital temperature control is much easier to use than the old manual control on the Hovabator.

The Brinsea only holds 28 hen eggs as opposed to 42 for the Hovabator.  In the past I was lucky to get 18-20 chicks in a hatch.  Most of the time there were less. But with Brinsea users attesting to 90% plus hatch rates, I may end up with more chicks than ever before!  I’ll just have to wait another 20 days to find out!