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.

Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Old Limoges Plate

I found this old Haviland dinner plate at an antiques mall for $3.  The plate dates to the early 20th century.  It was made in France and imported to the USA by Mellen & Hewes of Hartford CT.  I listed the plate in my eBay store on auction.  The sale ended tonight with some feverish last minute bidding that reached $42.

Such a beautiful piece, I’m not surprised that several people wanted to add it to their collection.  The plate is very lightly used, in excellent shape for such old porcelain dinnerware.  The transfer floral pattern has been embellished with hand applied porcelain paste to give depth.  The rim is encrusted in gold.

There are a very few light utensil scratches and some wear to the gold along the tops of the beads.  Otherwise the plate looks much as it did almost one hundred years ago when it left France.  The back stamp indicates the piece was made by GDA (Gerard, Dufraisseix, Abbot,) the company that bought a portion of the Haviland porcelain works.  The piece was made in Limoges, an area of France famous for porcelain production.  The import company who brought the tableware into the US was active in the early 1900s.  Mellen and Hewes was a successful and influential company in their day in Hartford.

I very much enjoy the sport of hunting for hidden treasures.  Little bits of history such as this plate are often overlooked and sold for a pittance.  When the piece is identified and brought to the correct market, its true value is recognized.   The excitement for me is discovering how much my find is really worth.

 

Hazelnuts In Bloom

The three young hazelnut trees I’ve planted in the orchard all survived the winter and are in bloom.  Each plant has male and female flowers.  The males are long catkins filled with pollen.  The females are tiny, round, bud-like forms with projecting bright red styles.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinators, which explains why such copious amounts of pollen are produced.  The plants must cross-pollinate to produce nuts, they are not self-pollinating.  The woods are full of wild hazelnuts in bloom; some of their pollen could also easily reach my little trees.

The largest hazelnut bush grows in leaps and bounds every year.  This spring I trimmed out some of the oldest, least productive limbs.  I gave the trimming to my rabbits.  Bunnies love hazelnut wood!  This largest plant has produced a crop of nuts for the past 3 years or so.  This year it is covered in blooms, so if all goes well I will have hazelnuts to eat in September.

The other two trees are smaller.  One, the same age as the the largest bush, is only starting to thrive after its transplant a few years ago.  The other hazelnut survived the second winter.  The white bags on this tree are an experiment I conducted over the winter.  Last year, the poor sapling was nibbled by deer.  The original leader was nipped off and a side branch has become the new leader.  I had heard of placing human hair in cloth bags and tying them to the branches to deter deer.  When my husband got a haircut last fall, I collected the hair and tucked it in some small muslin bags I had on hand.  To my surprise, the tree was not touched by the deer last winter, although they had plenty of opportunity.  So perhaps this strategy actually works!  I’m glad, since this was an expensive little hazelnut, purchased from Stark Bros. nursery.  The other two were quite inexpensive and came from The Arbor Day Foundation.  I bought the Stark tree because it is supposed to produce large nuts.  Hazelnuts are my favorite for eating, so I’m rooting for these trees to do well.

 

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 Pup Max

We found a puppy!  Picked him up yesterday, an early birthday present for me!  Max is a 4.5 month old male German Shepherd from very good bloodlines.  His grandfather was imported from Germany.  His parents had their hips and elbows certified and were genetically tested for the major inherited breed conditions.  Such a sweet, calm and smart boy.  He already loves his new people, and new best buddy Otto.

Max and Otto

Max was not house or leash trained, but is picking both up very quickly.  He knows his name after one day!  He loves his new farm home and acts like he was born here.  The cats aren’t quite sure what to make of him, but I think they will come around.  They lost a lot of trust in strange dogs after the recent episode with Becky.  When the pup barks at them, the cats scatter.  They come back sooner each time and Max is trying very hard to learn not to bark or whine at cats.  Yesterday was the first time he ever saw a cat.

Although he was never crate trained, he did perfectly last night in his crate.  No whining, and he slept all night with no accidents.  He was ready to go out in the morning!  Luckily, Tim wakes up early and took him to do his duty before 5 am.  Nine-thirty pm to five am is a long time for such a young pup to hold it, but he had no accidents.  So Max is learning and experiencing all sorts of new things.  He is a bit afraid of chickens, the flapping and squawking disorients him.  The horses must look like giants.  He maintains a respectful distance.

Max should grow into his ears one day, his dad weighs over 100 lbs.  He will be black and tan with lots of silver, a very nice color.  Right now the pup is in the middle of teething.  His gums are sore and his eyes run occasionally from the trauma of erupting teeth.  Although I did not want to get another German Shepherd after we lost Holly, I realized after looking at many breeds of dogs that this breed is my favorite.  The massive amount of shedding is a pain to deal with.  I’m devising strategies to better handle the hair including more frequent brushing and also periodic application of the high power air dog blower.

It is really fun to have a puppy again.  Almost like having another kid!

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!