Tag Archive | hatching chicks

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.

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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!

Winter Chicks

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The chicks I was forced to hatch in January due to the loss of my best rooster are a month old now.  There are nineteen babies.  One died at day three, a common time for newly hatched chicks to perish if they have an internal birth defect.  The rest of the flock seem to be doing well.

The first month of their lives was spent in cardboard boxes in our house.  Their lives began in a bathroom in two joined boxes with a 60W light bulb for warmth.  At two weeks they outgrew that space.  I moved them to two larger conjoined boxes in our unheated woodshed.  With foam board insulation around the boxes and a 100W bulb they kept warm.  When the temperatures dipped below 30F in the woodshed I ran an electric space heater.  The babies thrived and grew quickly.b

Two days ago we moved them outside to an insulated hen house.  I’ve sealed all the windows and doors with plastic sheeting, used plywood to create a space with a ceiling about three feet high, and installed a 250W heat lamp.  At night I close off the heated area with plastic burlap to a space about 3 ft x 5 ft under the lamp.  Their water and food are inside with them.  So far they have stayed warm and their water hasn’t iced up.  We are lucky to be in a thaw period with temperatures in the 40sF during the day and no colder than 15F at night.a

The little guys are growing fast, making more insulating feathers by the minute.  They love the freedom of forty square feet of floor during the day.  I can hear them chirping away as they romp and flutter about in the hen house.

Chickens love apples and these babies are no exception.  They will peck a whole apple away in a day.  They also quickly learned to drink from a pan.  I teach all my baby chicks to drink from a pan by placing the beginner waterer they first learned to use inside the pan.  In no time everyone drinks from the new water source.  They eat chick mash like little feathered piggies.

These winter necessity chicks were a real burden to raise in the house, but I think the effort will be worthwhile.  At least four of the babies appear to be little roosters that look very much like the father we lost to a weasel back in December.  They are silver splash in color with lots of white on their breasts and body feathers.  I am hoping to produce some laced chicks from the splash color.  Although splash and laced are not accepted purebred Ameraucana chicken colors, I find the laced coloration very beautiful.  Each white feather has a band of black around the outside edge.d

So, if I’m lucky, breeding the splash color may result in laced babies one day.  Hopefully on a nice warm spring day and not in the depths of winter!

January Chicks

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The first Ameraucana chicks of 2017 finished hatching overnight.  Currently there are twenty babies, an excellent hatch rate any time.  The hatch is particularly impressive for eggs that were collected when the temperatures were at or below 0 degrees F and the majority of eggs set had been stored in the refrigerator for several days.  When the best breeding rooster for the next generation is killed by a weasel, any possibly viable eggs that could contain his DNA should be set.  Of the 42 eggs I placed in the incubator, 37 grew embryos.  Of those, 22 pipped and 20 hatched.  Had I owned a better incubator, I believe the hatch rate would have been higher.c3

In the photo above, the last two chicks to hatch are in the lower area.  They appear less fluffy than the rest because their down has still not shed all the albumen residue that keeps them wet and lubricated so they can escape from the egg shell.  In a few hours they will be as fluffed as the others.

I’m saving my pennies to purchase a Brinsea incubator to replace the styrofoam Hova-bator currently in use.  Had I known that such an early hatch was necessary, I would have begun saving sooner.  The usual hatching season begins in March for me.  By then all the hens are laying well, the days are long enough to assure good fertility and when the babies hatch, the weather is warm enough to keep the chicks in the barn.

Now I am faced with twenty chicks that must live in the house until they are old enough to go outdoors.  They will need to stay in with us for at least three weeks!  Anyone who has raised chicks knows they can get smelly.  They usually go in the barn after one week.  I will need to provide a large brooding area and consistent attention to bedding to keep the odor of chicken at an acceptable level.  The cats are another concern.  One of our cats, Chloe, killed some newly hatched chicks the first year she lived with us.  Since then she has mellowed, but we now have two one-year-old males who consider themselves mighty hunters.  The baby chicks will need to be enclosed in a cat-proof system.

Still, my hopes are high for a good outcome with these babies.  I’m certain many of them were fathered by my best rooster since he was the dominant male in the chicken house.  So far they are a beautiful hatch of silver Ameraucanas.  I look forward to seeing their adult plumage and the color of the eggs they produce.c2

 

Chick Hatch Tribulations

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The second hatch of Ameraucana chicks is safely in the brood boxes.  This time we got 14 healthy babies, a good hatch for me.

Sadly, so many of the 42 eggs in the incubator did not hatch.  Seventeen babies made it from the eggs, 3 died in the first day or so.  Many other eggs pipped or partially hatched then the chicks died.  Some of the babies that do escape the eggs are crippled and I must dispatch them.  I hate culling chicks!

I have been researching why the hatch rate is so poor when the fertility rate is near 100% and have come up with an answer.  It is the incubator.  I’ve been using a Hova-Bator styrofoam unit I purchased new several years ago.  It has a fan to circulate the air and help even warming of the eggs.  It also has an automatic turner.  I bought that one to replace an older still air model by the same manufacturer.  The styrofoam incubators are fairly affordable at around $200 for my current model.  Think I paid $189 about 4 years ago or so.

Last year and this year I sold hatching eggs locally, the same eggs I hatch myself.  Other people using more expensive models achieve 100% hatch rates or close to it with my eggs.  My hatchability is 70% at best, closer to 40% usually.  Technically, I’m only out a couple dozen eggs when the babies die, but it is still heartbreaking to see so many perfectly good chicks going to waste due to poor equipment.

I’m not sure what is going wrong with the incubator to cause this problem right at hatch time.  The chicks that die before completely hatching, I cannot explain.  I believe the crippled chicks become irreparably harmed trying to get loose from the shell.  They injure themselves and have nerve damage.  This is said to occur when conditions are too dry in the hatcher.  That is hard for me to believe since there is the correct amount of water in the  reservoirs and the inside of the view windows are nearly obscured by condensation.  I’ve been able to rule out faulty genetics or other factors that cause crippled chicks due to the success rate of people using better incubators to hatch my eggs.

For the last hatch, I even took the precaution of not opening the incubator at all during the first 24 hours that the chicks are breaking from the eggs.  No heat or moisture escaped.

Sometimes I have wondered if the hatched chicks moving about and knocking into their siblings who haven’t hatched, causing the eggs to roll, are somehow disturbing the process.  But, the year I partitioned the incubator with cardboard to limit movement, the results weren’t better.

So, I’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in a better incubator.  The next step up is in the $500 range.  These models are made of solid plastic and metal and are easily cleaned as opposed to styrofoam with all the pores that can hold bacteria and viruses and requires aggressive sanitation after every hatch.

The more expensive incubators have advanced heating units and better humidity control.  The viewing windows are also much better and they can hold up to 48 eggs as opposed to my current 42 egg capacity.  When you reach the $700 level, the incubators are cabinet models that can accommodate 200 eggs and have separate drawers for incubating and hatching so both these processes can go on at once.  This shortens the time between hatches and increases potential chick yield.

Investing in a better incubator should actually pay for itself in a couple years with increased sales of chicks.

Although I haven’t made a decision yet, I’m leaning toward the Brinsea 40.  This unit can hold 48 chicken eggs and gets very good reviews from users.  There are other choices and I’m still looking.  For certain, the styrofoam incubator has seen its last year of service on our farm.

 

First Chick Hatch

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This year’s first Ameraucana chick hatch here at Phoenix Farm was on April 19-20.  There was a problem with the incubator and only nine babies survived.  A rather dismal result.  These nine little ones are strong to have made it out of the eggs.  At least a dozen, probably more, were lost.  Such is life (and death) on the farm.

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Silver rooster, black hens, silver hen

The babies are from either the pen with a silver rooster and silver or black hens or the pen with wheaten and blue wheaten roosters and hens.  The ones that lived are healthy and active chicks.  Once they make it past day three, they usually survive to old chicken age.  chick2

Today I will set up forty-two more eggs to start the second clutch.  We will probably have a third hatch as well since the first was so poor.  I like to have forty to fifty young ones to choose among for the best quality breeding stock for next year.

Just couldn’t resist sharing this picture with a baby stretching its wings.  So cute!chick3

 

Chick Hatch Results

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The chick hatch is completed and there are twenty-three Ameraucana babies.  Three are not doing too well and may not survive.  Still, I’m very pleased with the result, a great hatch for me.  Many more would be too much at once!

The little ones are now one to two days old.  The photo was taken this morning.  All are bright-eyed and active.  They are starting to eat and spend lots of time sleeping under the brooder light.  Before too long they will be running around in the barnyard.

Today I set the eggs for the second hatch.  If all goes well, more babies will be popping out in twenty-one days!

Update 5/9/15:  I miscounted, there were actually 24 hatchlings.  Unfortunately 2 or 3 were not very strong and one has passed away.  The others are holding their own at the moment.  It is normal for some newborn chicks to not survive.  The rest are all very healthy right now and eating like tiny horses.

Here are their parents, silvers, black, wheatens and blue wheatens.

Silver rooster with silver and black hens

Silver rooster with silver hens

Wheaten and blue wheaten roosters with wheaten hens

Wheaten and blue wheaten roosters with wheaten hens