Tag Archives: eggs

day-in-the-life

Dark Times: A Hen’s New Outlook on Life

I should be updating my blog a lot these days, because I have fewer obligations – but I seem to be filling my time with other on-grid things.  I need to remedy that.  But this time, I’ll again share a guest post from new notes that I found scratched in my chicken coop:


Day 437

I won’t lie.  I’m glad the chicks are gone.  They were really annoying, and sometimes they’d try to eat their own food.  I’m bigger, so of course I should have first dibs on anything they would want to eat or drink.  Anyhow, they disappeared – one by one.  I’d go to my perch for the night, and I’d wake up with one less annoying cheep cheep rattling between my ears.  Eventually, there was only one, and Farmer thought it would be a good idea to put it in here with us.

We showed Farmer who’s boss.  We’ll never tell him what really happened to it.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 440

RooTwo disappeared last night.  No notes, no calls.  I think he was the father of all those chicks, so either he was afraid of everyone finding out how much of a deadbeat dad he was, or maybe he went out looking for them.  Either way, more food for me.  He wasn’t nearly as nice as Roo was.  RooThree has some really cute tailfeathers.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

Hmmm....

Hmmm….


Day 452

Farmer put a big perch out in front of our coop today.  At first he was riding around on it, cutting up all of the green stuff growing in our playground, but then it stopped tossing the green stuff around.  I don’t know why he does that to begin with – the green stuff tastes better without cutting it.  And every time he cuts it, it’s harder to find bugs.  Farmer is really selfish.

He stopped it, and kept reaching under it.  He was really insistent on trying to get something underneath, even with big metal sticks – maybe there was a big worm under it or something?  Eventually, he sat back down on it, but it never made the loud noise that it used to make.  He covered it up with a HUGE blanket that doesn’t let water through.  I checked it out, underneath the blanket – it’s pretty comfortable.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

Lawn mower still won't run. Don't tell my dad - he would be ashamed of me.

Lawn mower still won’t run. Don’t tell my dad – he would be ashamed of me.


Day 457

I love the new perch!  I always try to sleep there, but for some reason, Farmer comes out every night with a glowing stick and grabs me.  He puts me back in the coop.  I don’t think he understands that I WANT to sleep on the new perch.  I’ve made it my own – I’ve been laying eggs there, and pooping in it a bit just to show that it’s mine.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 464

Farmer keeps dumping big buckets of food right by our coop.  Well, I say food, but I mean old crusty, soggy food.  But – it’s still food!  There’s so much I don’t even have to worry about sharing!

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

In retrospect, I think I was just attracting other animals with these scraps...

In retrospect, I think I was just attracting other animals with these scraps…


Day 482

RooTwo was definitely the father of all those chicks.  RooThree has been here by himself, and we’ve been sitting on eggs for a LONG time.  None of them are hatching.  In fact, after we’ve laid on them longer than we needed to, Farmer took them out and threw them in a bag.  Some of them exploded when they fell into the bag and smelled TERRIBLE!  

Looks like RooThree is not very good at his job.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

It smelled like it looks

It smelled like it looks


Day 485

RooThree is strutting around like he’s the cock of the walk, but none of us really eggspect him to pick up where RooTwo left off anymore.  He used to have some gorgeous tail feathers, but it seems like he loses one a day.  Is premature tail baldness a thing?

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 490

I don’t like where this is going.  RooThree is gone.  Is everyone being invited to some bawking party without telling me?

I’m in charge now, and even Farmer can’t change that.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

They were aggressive with me, but they'd stay by my side - even staying near the window when they could see me inside!

The new head chicken (Peepnelopeep) was aggressive with me, but they’d all stay by my side – even staying near the window when they could see me inside!


Day 493

Ummm…  Bruuke, one of the other girls, disappeared yesterday.  Not sure what happened – we all left the coop for our daily buffet when Farmer opened the door.  I didn’t see her last night, and when we woke up today we found that she never came home.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 496

Things are getting weird.  The hairy white one is gone.  It’s definitely not a party, because SHE wouldn’t have been invited before me and Henrietta.  Honestly – nobody liked her.  None of us even knew her name.  I’d be glad that she’s gone, except that I’m not sure what’s happening.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 499

It’s down to me and Henrietta…  The other girl, Rebeaka, was acting paranoid yesterday, but I didn’t think anything of it.  Kept saying “they’re coming back” and “I just know it’s my turn.”  I don’t know what that means, but apparently she knew.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 505

Farmer doesn’t open the door anymore.  We just sit here and scratch tic-tac-talon into the ground.  Henrietta is always scratches and I’m always eggs.  I want to be scratches.  Why won’t Farmer let us out?

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

Unexpected Chicks! Part One: The Good


Taking eggs from chickens is a little strange when you think about it.

Obviously, an egg forming in a chicken’s body and then ending up on our plate is magical or whatever, but I’m talking about the actual experience of getting the egg.

My small coop has three nesting boxes, so anytime I swing by, I lift the little roof I made over the boxes to see if there are any presents for me.  There’s always a lot of poop, often some eggs, and usually a chicken screaming at me.

Think about it…  It’s as if you’re minding your own business, sitting in a public restroom, when the entire ceiling lifts up and a giant peers in each of the stalls.  I’d scream, too.  Creep.  But the screams don’t seem to deter him – he awkwardly keeps looking, completely disregarding your personal space.

Even weirder, the giant grabs something that others have left in the stalls.  And you know that he’ll come back for what you leave as well.

Sorry – this is simply where my mind goes.

I’ve had a number of chickens go broody over the summer, which I did not anticipate.  If I haven’t already said it, a broody chicken is one that simply wants to sit on eggs for the purpose of hatching them.  They’re quite determined to stay there once they start – you can pick them up and move them (as long as you’re not deterred by their screams) and they’ll go right back to the nest.  They will forego eating and drinking for the sake of sitting on the eggs.

At first, I only had one broody chicken.  For a week or two, she sat there by herself, staring at the wall.  I looked up how to ‘break’ a broody chicken and found that it’s difficult, because it’s a hormonal stage.  Basically, the underside of hen heats up, and when she’s not sitting on eggs she wants to be.  In one video I found, a family dunks the belly of a broody hen under chilly water for a few minutes, lowering her body temperature.  Apparently, when the temperature of her belly is lowered, she just forgets that she was broody.

No such luck for me.  After sincerely freaking my hen out (she got me as wet as I got her), and finally getting her mostly under water for five minutes or so, she makes a bee line right back to her nest.  I tried this multiple times, and it never broke her.

Not long after that, other hens went broody.  I only have three nesting boxes, but I’d sometimes peek in to see two or even three hens in one box – totaling four or five broody hens at a time.  Though I don’t know if all of them were truly broody, or if a couple of them were faking to be part of the ‘in’ crowd.  Apparently – like sneezing – broodiness begets broodiness.  Some farmers put curtains over their nesting boxes to prevent non-broody hens from seeing their broody sisters – that way they’re not tempted to join in.

Anywho, eggs need to incubate for twenty-one days before they hatch, and as I was strolling by the coop one day, I heard a few tweets from the coop.  And since they don’t have access to my wifi (#TwitterYolk!), I opened up the nesting boxes to find a cute chick tucked under a hen’s feathers.  The hen was even more scream-y than she was before the hatching.

new-chick

Right before a chick hatches it eats the yolk, so it doesn’t need food or water for a couple of days.  Because of this, and because I figured the hen knew what to do better than I did, I just left it alone.  One hatched chick can encourage the other unhatched chicks just by moving around and tweeting.  Well – as long as the other chicks are following its tweets.  (#AnotherTwitterYolk!)

The next day, I found this!

two-chicks

The order of events is fuzzy at this point because it was a few months ago, but another hen hatched two more eggs right within the next couple of days.  Around the same time, I started putting chick feed in the broody boxes, because there was really no other way to get them to eat.  (Side note – the other hen had apparently stopped eating while broody, because its beak was elongated and pointed down.  I put food right in front of her and she had a hard time eating, but the next day her beak was back to normal size.)

The chicks started jumping out of the broody boxes, which caused the hens to also jump down to protect them.  Because there were four chicks and two hens (and one “aunt” – a hen who stopped going broody and was basically trying to act like the mother of the first two chicks), there were some fights.  At one point, I noticed that one of the chicks was bleeding, most likely because the rival hen wanted to show it who was boss.  Because of this, and because I was hoping that the hens could show them how to scratch and eat from the ground, I put them all outside.

chicks-outside

They did pretty well – they were always close to their respective hen, and it was really interesting to watch the hen act out what she wanted the chicks to do over and over.  (By the way, I keep simply saying “hen” rather than mother because the hen who hatched them isn’t necessarily their biological mom.  Whoever is sitting on the egg when it hatches is identified as its mom.  So I might use “mom” from here on out to make things easier.)

All of the truly broody hens had completely abandoned the unhatched eggs because they had to take care of the chicks, so I put the rest of the eggs in my incubator, just in case some were on the brink of hatching.

Because I had to put them back in the coop each night (the chicks specifically – the hens would follow), and then put them outside again the next morning, it wasn’t necessarily the best situation.  There was a little bit of chick feed in the coop, but the adults kept eating that quicker than their own feed, so the chicks were having to fend for themselves.

On top of that, because they’d be awake in the morning well before I let them out, there were still some rivalries and fights that I couldn’t stop.  I ended up putting the chicks in a little brooder box so that I could keep them safe and fed.  And not long after that, two more chicks hatched in the incubator!

brooder

Over the next week or two, three more chicks hatched in the incubator, totaling nine chicks!  I definitely didn’t anticipate having that many…  Heck – I didn’t anticipate even one hatching, because I still only have the one chicken tractor.  I’ve been planning on building a stationary coop for a while, but just haven’t had the time or motivation.

So – I figured as these nine chicks started growing, I’d quickly need to find the time and motivation.  And you’ll have to wait until the next blog post to see if that happened!

easter-eggs

Eggcellence: Just in Time for Easter!

I’ve got eggs!

A lot has been going on, and I probably should have posted this almost two months ago, when I actually started getting eggs, because I was super pumped then.  Now, it’s kind of normal…  I’ll try to muster up some eggcitement for the purposes of this blog, though.  Or, at least I’ll crack some bad yolks.

icicles

 

It was quite cold outside – well below freezing for days on end, and I decided to give my chickens a little warmth so that they wouldn’t hate me.  As far as I know, they’re much better egguipped to deal with cold temperatures than you or me are (well, unless you’re actually a chicken), because they basically have the egguivalent of a down comforter on all the time.  As they metabolize their food, they generate heat that is trapped in their puffed up feathers.  At least, that’s what a guy on the internet said.  Because he’s on the internet, I can trust him.  But I still added my heat lamp from when they first hatched.

red-light-coop

Put on the red light

Hens don’t lay nearly as many eggs in the winter because the days are short, but I think when I put the heat lamp in there I kind of faked them out.  I can’t really be sure, though, because they were definitely at the age where the should be laying, and since the heat lamp is red, I’m not sure that that did anything as far as eggstending the daylight hours.  I’ll bet they were simply annoyed at the red light keeping them awake at night, but none of them got too eggravated about it.

eggs-n-golf-balls

Anyhow, I occasionally would check the nesting boxes for eggs, just because I wanted to be ready if they did actually start laying.  I’d gotten used to seeing nothing, so I was incredibly surprised to see two eggs sitting there one Sunday afternoon!  It had to be Henrietta and Peepnelopeep, as they were the oldest.  Not that I actually call them that.

Those two eggs were delicious.

frying-eggs

Omelet-you finish, but frying is the best cooking method of all time.

I was getting two eggs on an average day (sometimes just one).  I’d been putting a lot of pine wood shavings in the coop floor and at the bottom of the nesting boxes, but they usually shuffle (or soufflé) that around, which would leave the nesting box with a fairly bare wood floor.  So, one day I came out to one of these.

broken-egg

When she laid the egg, it dropped to the bare wood and cracked.  I just tossed the broken egg (well – actually I crushed it an gave it back to them, because there are tons of nutrients in an egg, and almost all of it is specifically there for a chicken to eat in order to survive for a few days), and filled up the nesting box with wood shavings again.  But, alas, I lost every 5th egg or so to the same situation, so I decided my hens needed an upgrade.

chicken-carpet

We have some eggstra carpet from our earlier renovation, so I just cut some pieces to size and put them at the bottom of the nesting boxes, then covered them with wood shavings.  They still knock most of the wood shaving out pretty quickly, but I haven’t lost any more eggs due to collision since then.

I have seen a few more cracked eggs, though…

frozen-egg

At first, I assume the above egg cracked because she had let it drop farther when laying it.  However, it was probably about 10° outside at the time, and when I picked it up I realized that the thing burst because it froze solid.  Carpet won’t fix that.  I had to bring it inside to let it thaw in order to crush it to give it back to them.

Some time has passed, and now I’m generally getting 3-5 eggs a day!  There for a while I started eating three eggs a day for lunch, because, well, that’s about as cheap (cheep) a meal as I could do right now.  And I was often frying them in some lard that my buddy Walter gave me, so it’s as organic as it could be, too.  Then I started realizing I’d probably burn myself out too quickly, so I only do that a few days a week now.

As you can see from the image at the top of the post, my eggs come “Easter Ready” – so I didn’t have to dye any eggs in order my wife and me to have an Easter Egg Hunt in our yard.  You’ll probably notice that there are some “blemishes” on my eggs, and that’s because I don’t wash them until right before I cook them.  They naturally come out with a protective coating that keeps them fresh for six months or more, and washing them can take that coating off.  (Commercial egg farms tend to wash their eggs in a bleach solution, which can actually seep through the shell.  I think I’d rather have a bit of chicken poop to wash off the shell than bleach inside the egg white)

I also have a variety of sizes!

egg-sizes

It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the far left one is quite a bit bigger than the far right one.  The one on the right is from my silkie bantam, and I’m pretty sure that’s as big as her eggs are going to get.

A lot more has happened in the last couple of months (spoiler alert: I have honey!!), but I won’t make this the Neverending Story in a sing post…  I’ll try to update soon!

rooster1

Wake Up! Wake Up! (A Rooster Comes of Age)

One of our roosters has discovered the sun.

For most of my life, I’ve been given the gift of sleeping through just about anything.  When growing up, I would often hear stories about crazy things that happened in the night (lightning striking trees within 10 feet of our house, loud wild animals that sound like women screaming, etc) that I slept right on through.

Except for twice when I tried to convince my parents that I chased after a squirrel in our house with a pot from the kitchen cabinet at two o’clock in the morning.  They both told me I must have been sleep walking (in their defense, I sleep walk and sleep talk more than the average person).  They found out that they were mistaken when a flying squirrel ran across my dad’s chest while he was watching TV late one night.  He caught it.  I named it Petey and took it to college with me.  We fed it a diet of salted peanuts. It soon became lethargic, so we eventually set it free after it bit a few folks.

But I digress.

I don’t sleep as deeply as I used to, now waking up constantly through the night – afraid that the walls are caving in (a fun recurring dream during renovation), or that the room is full of bugs that are trying to kill me.  But I often hang out in the state between dream and reality.

Recently, my wife asked me “did you hear the chickens this morning?,” to which I said “no.”  Then I realized that I had stressful dreams of a really strange sounding dog that was right outside our bedroom window.  Apparently, every morning when the sun is now peaking over the Tennessee trees, at least one of our four roosters is so excited about it that he wants everyone in a half-mile radius to see it too.

Wait – four roosters?

Yes.  Out of the five eggs that hatched, I’m pretty dang sure that four of them are roosters.  I’m not positive – because they don’t give the normal tell-tale signs of gender – but my big plan to gather eggs and survive off omelets and huevos rancheros seems to be slipping away.

roosters2

The other three roosters, in addition to the one at the top of the post

The sad thing about a bunch of roosters and one hen is that I’m basically raising them as pets.  Sure – tasty pets – but until they end up in the frying pan, all they do is eat my food and offer their services as off-grid alarm clocks.  (Have I mentioned that I don’t like waking up early?)

The whole reason I love the idea of chickens so much is that they are so productive.  A hen lays around an egg a day – and once she stops doing that, she’ll grace our plates with a final provisionary sacrifice.

The lonely hen

The lonely hen, hiding from her suitors

Roosters have a different job, though.  (Mark Turner told that me I’m the perfect person to talk about the birds and the bees, so…)  When you need more baby chicks, a stud just needs one short romantic jaunt with a hen to fertilize her eggs for two weeks or so.  Meaning – every egg she lays after that union can be incubated to lay another chick for 14 days (or longer).  You can’t have your egg and eat it too.  So, if I only have one hen, and I’m needing eggs to raise more chicks, the carton in my fridge remains empty.  Of course, that’s when she starts laying, which is probably still a month away.

Another problem is that roosters are good at their job.  I read on a blog recently that if you have multiple roosters, it’s good to have about 10 hens per rooster, so that they don’t get too competitive.  So, something tells me that a 4 to 1 ratio will spawn the greatest cockfight in history.

And on top of that, it’s very likely that they’ll kill the lone hen, or at least injure her.

I’m hoping I’m wrong, though…  The two brown ones are a little questionable.  I’d love to be wrong.

But if I’m right, I’m planning on eating one of them soon.  They’re nearing 12 weeks, so they should be in prime condition for frying.  I’ve got a few friends who want to be there when I ‘dispatch’ and clean the first one, so maybe we’ll just make a strange party of it.  (Let me know in the comments if you want to be on the guest list)

My brother also said he’d swap out the rooster that might be a full-fledged Delaware for one of his hens, since all of his Delaware roosters died.  We’ve already talked of me getting more chickens from him, but I need to finish the long-term coop and run before I take them on.  And that hasn’t been moving forward as fast as I planned.  For some reason, the trees that I chopped down haven’t cut themselves into neat stacks of firewood.

In other news, I also found out last week that my well is working very… well…  (smirk)

I decided to start poking around at the components, plugging some stuff in, and flipping breakers that had not yet been flipped.  Within 5 seconds of flipping one breaker and hearing a click, I heard an explosion in my back yard, and all the power to my house was out.  When the power guy came out to look at it, he said that the power for a number of houses around me was also out.  I tried to act as innocent as possible and simply told him I was trying to figure out what the breakers went to, and didn’t know if that was related.  But – luckily, it was not my fault.  A squirrel committed suicide on the transformer at the exact same moment as I flipped the breaker.  (I just hope it wasn’t Petey.)  After the power was back on, I flipped the breakers again, and water gushed out within 10 seconds.  I’ve still got a lot of work to do to make it usable, but I’m extremely excited about that.

Oh – and on another note.  If you are the guy who has decided that my property is a good alternative to the dump…  Stop.  The actual dump (or “convenience station,” as it’s called) is literally 3 miles away.  And it’s free.  So, I’m looking at it as some sort of challenge – because I figure it took you longer to find my property than it would have to simply google “where to dump trash.”

Photo Sep 12, 1 24 49 PM

Sheesh.

Bee Aggression, Chicken Detective

A lot has happened since my last post – here’s a quick list:

  • I was away from the real world at Camp Loucon for a week
  • My band shot a video (we’re actually not appearing in it, and I was just the guy holding a sweat rag for between takes)
  • We realized out that our construction loan was expiring in August, so we scrambled to get everything in order to refinance the loan to a normal mortgage.  (Don’t worry, Dave Ramsey – it’s a 15 year, and we have more than 20% equity in it!)
  • Part of what we had to get in order was the house.  So, we quickly tallied up what we had to get done to have an appraiser come by.  Another list!
    • We had to pour the concrete for our front porch and sidewalk
    • We had to fix the septic tank cover that broke when the concrete truck drove over it while pouring front porch and sidewalk (which involved me pouring a literal ton of concrete – yes, over 2,000 pounds – after my uncle helped me form a new tank lid)
    • Putting all the hardware on the kitchen cabinets
    • An immense amount of painting, staining, and polyurethaning
    • Lots and lots and lots (and lots) of general fixes around the house
    • Cleaning
    • Anything else not mentioned above that might make a big difference in an appraisal
  • Multiple trips to various county government buildings to pull or file forms needed for closing, requested from my bank AFTER they needed them, which has resulted in pushing back our closing date twice.

On Friday we got our final inspection from the county, and the day before we had an appraiser come out.  So – barring anymore stupid requests from our bank (we’ve not had great experiences with them, so I won’t link them or give their name – ask me if you want to know who to avoid), we’re DONE!

Back to what I know all of you have come to see…

My Bees are Trying to Kill Me

I guess it’s only fair that my bees are ramping up their venomous attacks on me, considering I kill a few of them each time I move their homes…  When I first got stung, I had fairly minor swelling (not to mention a fever and convulsive shaking), so I assumed that future stings would give me less of a reaction.  On the contrary – I’ve been swelling way more.

First – how I got stung:

A few weeks ago, I was inspecting my hives like any normal computer programmer does.  It’s been a surprisingly cool summer in middle Tennessee, but that’s not to say it’s cold, but rather low 90’s.  When I do my hive inspections, I wear long sleeves, long pants, long gloves and a bee veil.  As such, I get very hot.  And I sweat.

There have been a number of times that I have mistaken sweat slowly dripping down my leg as a bee, and had to calm myself down at the thought of a tiny stinger zeroing in on my nether regions.  “That’s sweat moving down, David,” the inner dialogue usually goes, “bees would start at the bottom of the pant leg and move up.”

But this time…  This time the sweat was moving up.  Wait – not sweat.

I honestly didn’t know what to do.  At first, I just thought I’d leave it alone – it crawled in, so maybe it will crawl out.  When it got to my inner thigh, however, I knew it was time for action.

I swatted my leg out of sheer terror.  No plan, just swat.  It’s obvious what the outcome of that would be (though I didn’t think of that at the time), but I’d much rather she sting me on the thigh while waltzing up my leg than pretty much anywhere north of there.

After I had sat the box full of bees down, I ran through the woods trying to get far enough away to…

…take off my pants.

Well, not all the way, but enough to get the stinger out of my inner thigh and allow the dead bee to roll out onto my sock.  It had to be a funny sight – a guy completely covered from head to toe except for the exposed underwear.  Or creepy, at least.  Good thing my neighbors aren’t too close.

I finished the rest of the inspection after tucking my pant legs into my shoes.  I’ve heard other beekeepers suggest wrapping duct tape around your pant legs, but I was always under the impression that it was to prevent ticks.  I will soon add duct tape to my beekeeping equipment.

Immediately, the sting was just annoying, but not too swollen.  The next morning, however, it took up my entire thigh.  I drew a sharpie line around it to keep an eye on the swelling.  I popped benadryl and used a topical antihistamine cream for the next few days – and eventually it went away.

So, on my next trip out to the hives, I started out by tucking my pants into my shoes.  (Still need to get that duct tape)  All went perfectly during the inspection, but when I was taking off my gloves I didn’t realize I had a bee in my elbow pit.  When I bent my arm, it knew of its impending doom and went out in a blaze of glory.

Day One:

beesting1

“Arm Selfies” are a thing, right?

 

Day Two:

beesting2

Sheesh – looking at them back to back makes me think I might have actually had a bad reaction.  I haven’t learned my lesson, though – luckily.  At least it takes a day to swell, and not a few minutes.  That’ll give me enough time to drive to the hospital if needed.

Again, benadryl and antihistamine cream, and I’m right as rain.  Though I have discovered that non-drowsy benadryl causes me to sleep for a very, very long time in the middle of the day.

CHICKS!

teenage-chicks

Er – wait…  Not really chicks anymore.  These are like…  Chickens.  Or at least fowl teenagers.

They’re not full grown yet – they hatched about a month ago, and it could be a couple of months before the hens start laying – but I’m amazed at how fast they have grown.  Before I left for camp, they definitely had grown since the furballs hatched – but when I got back, it seemed like someone replaced them with larger, feathered creatures.  I wish I got a better picture – but hopefully you can see just how huge they’ve gotten compared to the feeder.

I had to give them a bigger box and put a bit of chicken wire on top because they would flap their wings anytime they’re nervous.  A couple of days ago, I went out to the garage (where they’re staying now), and one of them was standing on top of the box.  Luckily, I think it was scared of its newfound freedom, and was just walking around above the other chickens, not wanting to let them out of its sight.  There was a fairly small opening on one side of the box where the chicken wire was too short, so I had to cover it.

I’m not a Murderer!  …I think…
[***Warning – pictures of dead chicks ahead***]

After the remaining eggs sat in the incubator a day or two after they should have hatched, I decided to play detective to see if I could find out why they didn’t hatch.  What I found was a fairly interesting progression of chicken development.

dead-chick1

Ok…  So – I might have killed this one.

It’s pretty much fully developed, and I think it died just before eating the yoke (which busted when I cracked it open).  Heck – the picture looks like it’s ready to chirp.  But it won’t chirp.  It will never chirp.  I blame myself for opening the incubator too much.

After that, in the order I opened them, they get smaller and less developed.

dead-chick2

dead-chick3

dead-chick4

dead-chick5

They might have died for any number of reasons, but one reason could be that the temperature wasn’t perfect, and that I didn’t have anything circulating the air in the incubator.  But this is speculation, which I’m probably not even close on.  Some detective…

It’s probably good that only five hatched, though – because I’m definitely running out of space in the current brood box.  I started building a chicken tractor on Saturday, and I’m fairly close to finishing it.  (I wanted to finish this post before adding anything about the chicken tractor, so that I have two blogs rather than one at 5000 words)

Because of everything that’s been going on my world, I probably wouldn’t have been able to build the chicken tractor sooner, which means they’d all be sitting on top of each other right now.  Currently, they’re merely sitting very, very  close to each other.

[Actually, I’ve already moved them into the run on the chicken tractor, which is unfinished, because it’s taken me almost a week to finish this post…]

So – next time you tune in, I’ll have a bunch of fun pictures of building a chicken tractor.  I promise, no pictures of dead chicks.  Well – unless one of my chickens dies and I feel like it’s worth posting a picture.  But even then – not a chick.

But I’ll leave you with a teaser on the chicken tractor production:

wood

chick-banner

I’m Officially a Farmer

It took every ounce of willpower in me not to make a title like “I’m Surrounded by Hot Chicks” or the like.  I mean, that would probably get more hits from search engines…  I’ve already warned my wife that I’ll be using puns like that often from here on out.

I’ve got chickens!

Late Friday night, I thought I started hearing chirping sounds from my incubator – which I found a little strange, because none of the eggs had hatched…  I checked and rechecked, and each time I stood silently by the incubator I heard nothing.  As soon as I left the room, though, the little high pitched sounds drifted around me.

I thought I might be crazy, because hearing chirping from inside an egg would be a lot like hearing a baby crying while still in the mother’s womb.  Maybe that’s happened before, but I’m not aware.  And it would be very weird.

Around 3am, I was still awake, and checked on the eggs one last time before going to bed, and I did indeed hear the chirping coming from the incubator while my ear was right beside it.  I’m not crazy.  *whew*

I then woke up at 6am to the lively chirping of a definitely hatched chick!  (I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that the incubator has been in my dining room, much to my wife’s chagrin)  I tiptoed out of my bedroom and found this little guy (or girl) wondering what in the world was going on…

first-chick

My brother had told me not to open the incubator once they started hatching because any drastic change to the temperature or humidity could kill the unhatched chicks (either drowning them because the air bubble inside gets too small, or shrink wrapping them with the shell membrane), and I had confirmed it from websites that I’d been reading.  But in that moment, my excitement trumped any logical thought I had in my head.

I started freaking out because the humidity gauge was reading a little high, and I was scared that the open egg was – well I don’t know why I was scared of the open egg.  I opened the incubator without thinking, and put him in my temporary brooder and grabbed the broken eggshell.  I then had a thought that the egg might need to stay with him (because before they hatch, they eat the rest of the yoke, and I had the thought that maybe they continue to nibble on it), so I googled it.  I would be lost all the time if not for Google.

Google shamed me for opening the incubator, and reminded me that I needed to leave all chicks in the incubator until they were dry and fluffy.  As you can see from the above photo, it was definitely not dry and fluffy.  So I again opened the incubator and put it back inside.  Surely I learned my lesson, right?

I stared at the little guy (girl?) for a while, and then realized it was barely after 6am, and I went to bed at 3am, so if I didn’t go back to bed I would probably collapse soon.  I could survive on three hours of sleep in college – and did often, sometimes resulting in the best test scores of my college career – but I can’t do that anymore at 31.  I’m getting old.

So after a few more hours of shut-eye, I bolted out to the dining room to see what else had occurred.

Not much.

I did see a few eggs with some tiny cracks, which my brother informed me to be called “pipping.”   Basically, the chick inside is pecking at the shell and makes a tiny little hole, and they could hatch anywhere from immediately to 48 hours later.  So, I did what any rational person would do: I stared at the eggs for a very, very long time.

The day before, I had decided that I was going to get a lot done on this day, so I motivated myself to get on with my pre-determined projects.  Literally every 20 minutes or so, I’d hover over the incubator to see if anything else had happened.  Around noon, the second one emerged, and the first knew it was time to establish the pecking order – which I now know to be a very literal phrase.  Kind of the oldest-child syndrome to the violent extreme.

In no time, both of these little dudes were dancing around and climbing all over the other eggs, rolling them around like they were playing a game.  I’d probably be freaking out again, but I’d read that that’s ok, and it, along with chirping, actually inspires the other chicks to hatch.  It took a while longer (while I was busying myself with other projects), but a total of four eggs hatched that day.

I won’t lie.  I opened the incubator a few more times.  I was still freaking out about the humidity, and was terrified that the unhatched chicks were going to die because it was 1% off.  I also got impatient, because one little guy worked on breaking out for hours and hours, and I helped him along a bit.  At first I thought that I hurt him, because when he got completely out he was still connected to the egg by his bum.  I did some more googling, and found out that his umbilical cord was still connected – which happens occasionally – and it would fall off soon enough.  I couldn’t help but think that it was because I tried to step in…

After a lot more checking and rechecking, I went to bed that night.  This morning, I woke up to another chick!

Nothing else really happened – we went to church and when we got back they were all pretty much fighting as siblings do.  Except day old human siblings don’t peck at each others’ faces.  Maybe they would if they had beaks, but luckily they don’t.

Yesterday evening, I moved all five (yes, I know…  I opened the incubator again!) to the temporary brooder because they were all fluffy and dry at this point.  I quickly saw that my brooder is going to be too small if any other eggs hatched.  I’m very afraid that no others will hatch, though, because of my constant overbearingness.  And if they don’t hatch, I’m confident it’s because I killed them.

I started with fifteen, and I’ve still got five eggs left in the incubator, but I feel like hatching five of them is an accomplishment.  And next time, I’ll keep the incubator closed.

Ok, I probably won’t.

candled-egg-banner

You Win Some, You Lose Some

A lot has happened over the last three weeks!

First – The Bees

At the risk of sounding confident, I’m actually getting a hang of this whole beekeeping thing…  I guess about two weeks ago, I decided to remove the top feeders in both my hives, because both hives had a decent amount of “honey” stored up.  (I put quotes around honey, because a lot of the honey was made from my sugar syrup rather than nectar)  I figured that, while flowers were blooming, it would be better for them to go out and gather rather than lazily assume that food will always be raining down over their heads like manna.  That way, when I put my first medium honey super on, I’ll get pure honey rather than sugar water.

I put my second deep brood boxes on both hives about three weeks ago, before removing the top feeder.  The last time I poked my head in, they hadn’t drawn much of the new frames out – just starting on the center frames – but there were a good amount of bees exploring it.  I’m going to be checking in today – so it probably would have been better for me to wait to post with a fresh update, but I just wanted to post everything that has happened lately.  (Or I won’t – because it started raining as I was writing this)

Two deeps deep!

Two deeps deep!

I also removed the entrance reducers for both hives, which are used to simply reduce the size of the entrance so that a small hive can defend itself.  If they have a wide entrance, then robbers (bees from other hives that are low on honey stores) could come in and steal honey without encountering a lot of bees.  The first hive (the one with only one mark on the entrance, and the one that I thought had no queen for a while) pretty much immediately covered the entire entrance board, which proved that the reducer was getting in their way.  Later that day, the second hive, however, only had a few bees around where the entrance used to be, and seemed even less active than when I took the reducer off.  I put it back in, but somewhat awkwardly diagonal, so that bees could get in almost half of the whole entrance.  I checked on them a couple of days ago, though, and removed the entrance reducer at that point, and they’re defending like champs.

Strong defense of second hive entrance

Strong defense of first hive entrance

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer on the second hive

The picture is above is fairly late in the day, so there are a lot more bees hanging out than mid-day.  I saw both hives bearding the other evening, and I thought I took a picture, but apparently I didn’t.  “Bearding” is basically when all the bees are home for the night, and a whole bunch of them cover the front of the hive because it’s hot inside – way more than the picture above.  If they’re bearding mid-day, then you’re probably about to have a swarm (half of your bees will leave, if not all) – or at least that’s how I understand it.  If I’d seen a hive of bees bearding before I learned all of this stuff, I probably would have assumed they were plotting to kill me.

Here’s a little zen bee moment for you…  Their buzzing is actually calming to me these days, because I’m continually in awe of them, and of the design that they are following perfectly (that results in honey for me!).  Around 1:40-2:00 you can see the queen (bottom right at the beginning, then bottom center when I turn the frame around.

Second – The Chickens

Two weeks ago Holly and I went up to Kentucky to see my family for Father’s Day, as well as go to Hasting Plants (my aunt’s greenhouse) for her annual season-end blowout.  (If you’re in the southern Indiana/Illinois area, you should check them out.  But – next year.  Season’s over!)  My brother was originally planning on giving me some eggs from his meticulously bred Delaware chickens, but the roosters up and died not too long before he started breeding them, so I got a mix of 15 Delaware, Ameraucana, and Black Copper Marans eggs.  I promptly put them in my incubator upon getting back home, and they’ve been sitting there for almost the entire time since.  I’ve opened it a few times to add water to keep the humidity up, but I’ve been trying to simply leave them alone.  For the first day or two, I constantly looked in on them – as if my eyes would make the process any faster…  I’ve calmed down since.

Chicken Incubator

I candled the eggs a few days ago, which is taking them in a dark location, and putting a light behind them to illuminate the inside of the egg.  A few of the eggs are blue-green, and I couldn’t see through those shells at all, and I think I need a few flashlight because the others still didn’t give me a great look.  The image at the top of this post is what a candled egg looks like – though that is not my image because I could barely see inside even when I wasn’t trying to get my camera ready.

I candled them again today, because there were a few that looked to me like they weren’t developing.  I didn’t take them out of the incubator early in the week, because I didn’t want to make an assumption and throw away good eggs.  When I did it today, though, 5 eggs still looked completely undeveloped, so I pulled them.  I cracked them open to confirm, and four of them looked like they never started developing, most likely because they were jostled too much during travel (all of those yolks were broken).  The last one started developing, but died probably on day 7, based on how the embryo looked.  I couldn’t tell at first, because the eggs had a large shadow ring inside it, which I thought might be a big crack in the shell messing with the light.  I called my brother and he told me it was probably a blood ring, which basically is a sure sign that the embryo died – and that was confirmed when I cracked it open.

I’ve still got about a week before they start hatching, which means I need to get on the ball in terms of preparation.  The first living arrangement won’t be too difficult, but building their long term home will take some time.  I figured if I actually got the eggs first, I would have some hard deadlines to make sure these things happen!

NewBee Mistake: She’s Alive!

Last time on our program, our hero discovered no signs of a queen in one of his hives, so he took measures into his own hands.

Whelp, I checked the frame of brood that I transferred into the “queenless” hive a few days after I placed it, expecting to see a queen cell.  No luck.

I checked again a few days later, and still no queen cell – but I magically saw a bunch of eggs!  And upon further inspection, I found my queen!  I don’t know why I was having so much trouble finding eggs or the queen previously, but she seems to be doing her job.  There I go trying to be in control, and they let me know that they were just fine on their own, thank-you-very-much.  I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that they know about what they’re doing a lot more than I do…

I was planning on opening up my hives today to get a picture, but it started raining just as I went outside.  I’m going to have to actually start paying attention to the weather, since it directly affects the things I do now.

In other news, though, I’m ready for chickens!

incubator

 

Well – maybe not completely ready – but I’m ready for eggs.  (At least in this case, the eggs are coming first)

My father-in-law’s college roommate gave the above incubator to my mother-in-law to give to me, and I picked up an egg turner from some folks on Craigslist last night.  Also got another heat lamp while I was there.  (I asked them why they were getting rid of all their hatching gear, and they said they went vegan.  Yup – it would make sense to get out of the chicken game if you won’t eat meat or eggs…)  I thought about doing without the egg turner, but my brother wisely encouraged me to get one – otherwise I’d have to turn them manually at least twice daily.  I told myself it wasn’t a very big commitment, but he shed light on the fact that for three weeks I would not be allowed to be gone for a day or two.  Plenty of people have friends feed their dogs/cats while they’re on vacation, but I’m not sure folks would understand the need if I said “Hey – can you swing by on Saturday morning to turn all the eggs, and then come by in the evening and put them back to how they were originally?  And Sunday, too?”

I’m hoping that I’ll be getting my eggs this weekend from my brother (some from him, and some from another farm that he orders from).  I’ll then have 21 days to figure out exactly what I’ll be doing for their different stages of life after that.  The immediate need of a space for the chicks is not a concern – there are a hundred options for that.  The thing that will keep me working is building a coop and run.  I’m also considering trying to build a chicken tractor (small movable coop/run), that would both buy me a little time on the big coop, and could act as a quarantine if I’ve got some sick birds.  And it would also allow them to eat some of the goodies in my yard.

I’ll have some land flowing with eggs and honey soon enough!  Though, I’m not sure I really want to see eggs flowing through my land…