Tag Archive | raising chickens

Last Chick Hatch for the Year

Breeding season is winding down here for the Silver Ameraucanas.  The third hatch finished four days ago.  This year I had an excellent fertility and hatch rate, 99%-100%.  Currently there are eighty-one chicks on the farm.  They sure do go through the bags of chick feed!  They grow so fast.

By this weekend I hope to move the last hatch out to the barn.  Then our upstairs bathroom will be chick-free.  I’ve had an incubator going in there since mid-April.  It will be nice to have the room back to normal.

The first two hatches are doing well.  They have started free ranging during the day.  Such adventures those babies have in the wide world!  They have discovered that grass is delicious, as are bugs, the rock walls near the barn are good for exploring and naps and the lilac hedges are a prefect playground for birds that evolved in the jungle.

The first two hatches have formed one large flock.  When the last hatch is introduced, they will be afraid of each other for a day or so, then quickly become friends.  I construct a pen from wire that allows only the smallest to enter so the youngest birds can escape any bullying from the older ones.  In general Ameraucanas are very social and easily accept new birds to the flock.

The first hatch is now 6.5 weeks old and they have finished growing all their baby feathers.  The little pullets look much like miniature adults, but the cockerels will change a lot with their subsequent moltings.   The pullets will also grow red feathers on their breasts.  The birds on the left are pullets, the right is a cockerel.

Chicks and May Snow

It is supposed to be May, unless you live in Maine where winter lingers, sending chill and 2″ of wet snow today.  Yesterday was Spring, warm, sunny, birds singing, horses grazing on new grass, today–Winter.  Tomorrow promises more spring with sun and temperatures in the 50sF.

My poor spring bulbs are not happy.  The daffodils, hyacinths and narcissus all got flattened by the weight of snow on the large flowers.  I’m hoping once the snow melts and the plants soak up the water, they will be able to straighten up.

After losing my first set one week along due to a 14-hour power outage (from a storm that brought 12″ of wet snow in early April) my first hatch occurred 5/3-4.  The babies are one day old in the above photo.  The hatch was spectacular, 100% fertility and hatch rate, all 28 eggs set hatched.  I am so grateful!

The babies are large fowl silver and silver x black Ameraucana chickens.  They are now 5-6 days old and growing fast.  So far all the hatch have survived.  Tomorrow they will leave the cardboard box in the house and go out to the barn.Chicks grow so fast!  They start to develop feathers almost immediately.  By 3 days old the beginnings of wing feathers are showing.  Nature grows the wings first so the babies can fly to escape predators.  Even though these little birds look quite similar, they all are individuals with their own personalities.  I think this little one is particularly adorable.  Looks like a little hen to me. She is very curious.

 

Early Eggs!

Here are the first eggs from my Silver Ameraucana pullets hatched 4/22/19.  The birds were 21 weeks old when they began laying.  Because there is a variation in the shell color between the eggs, I believe they were laid by two different birds.

Seeing these eggs in September is very exciting for me.  The silver color of Ameraucana chickens is notoriously slow to develop.  Last year the baby hens didn’t start laying until December.  They were 8 months old.  That is a long time to wait for new eggs, especially when you are paying to put the lights on in the coop at 4 am every day.  Hens need at least 12 hours of light to lay.  Here in Maine we get a lot less than that during the cold months.

Here are photos of some of the young hens.  I suspected the pullets might lay earlier than their mothers because their little brothers matured earlier than my past generations of Silvers.  Some baby cockerels started crowing at 3 months, well ahead of schedule.  When I found these eggs yesterday I was over the moon.  Finally, hens that start laying when they are supposed to.  Yay!

Ameraucana Chick Hatches

The second clutch of silver and silver x black Ameraucana chicks hatched on 5/16 with the same results as the first hatch:  24 babies.  The ones with the dark chipmunk stripes are pure for the silver color.  The rest have black color genes mixed in.  I’m working toward breeding the black out.  I’m quite pleased with this year’s babies so far.  The hatch rate is good, the chicks are vigorous and there are many pure silvers.  Finian the kitten is very interested in what’s in the brooding box!

The first hatch is now about 3.5 weeks old.  They are enjoying the new-found liberty of an outdoor run.  After days and days of rain, the sun finally came out and the chicks have been going out in the run during the day.  They are busy, curious animals.  But, they still run for the cover of their house if a large creature like a human, horse or dog comes close.  Before long I will allow them to free-range during the day.  They will learn to return to their house every evening, a big lesson for little chickens.

New Chicks

The newest baby chickens have arrived at Phoenix Farm!  They hatched out on 4/21-22, the first for 2019.  There are twenty-four babies, most are silver standard Ameraucana, some are silver crossed with black Ameraucana.  The pure silver ones look like chipmunks with the stripes running down their backs.

The new incubator is doing a great job.  The hatch rate for this first batch was 96%.  Only one egg didn’t open.  The babies are very calm, quiet and curious.  They watch everything with serious, studious expressions on their fluffy faces.  Even being stared at by a four-year-old and two large kittens didn’t fluster these chicks.  They are mellow, taking everything in stride.  I credit the new incubator for the birds’ temperament.  A stress-free beginning in a comfortable environment creates laid back chickens.  The investment in a Brinsea incubator was well worthwhile.

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.

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!

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