Tag Archives: chickens

Farm to Table (and one less alarm clock)

I’ve been talking about it for months, but I finally had a chicken killing party.

The party was lightly attended, though – just me and the roo. It was hard to get the interested individuals rallied on a day when we were all free, so I figured I’d butcher the first one alone.

But I’m glad I did, because it took me almost two hours…

In preparation, I realized a week or so before that I actually needed tools to do the job. I found a kitchen knife (that I thought was sharp), and bought a small propane burner at a yard sale.  This is really just my temporary solution – my true self-sustained off-grid plan is to just use wood, but for the time being this will make it easy.

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I tied some simple slip knots and threw the thin rope over a branch, so that tiny tree is now dubbed the Killing Tree.  I took a picture, but it’s not great – you can’t tell the rope from the twigs around it – so you’ll have to use your imagination.  It’s far less menacing than you think.

After I got the pot of water over a propane fire, I grabbed the lucky chicken – the one that has been crowing for three hours around sunrise and three hours around sunset.  Can’t say that it was an emotional moment.

Once you flip them upside down, they’re surprisingly calm.  I’m sure there’s some science behind it, but I just assume it’s because all of the blood rushes to their heads and…  I guess that is relaxing?  If you flipped me upside and started walking towards sharp objects, I’d thrash as much as humanly possible.

Not much, man - just hanging out. What are you up to?

Not much, man – just hanging out. What are you up to?

Unfortunately, the knife I used to “dispatch” my little friend was not nearly as sharp as I thought, so it took me more than one try.

Swipe.  Uh-oh.  Swipe-swipe-swipe.  Aw crap, I’m sorry bud.  Swipe-swipe-swipe-swipe-swipe-swipe.

He was a good sport, though, and didn’t mind at all what I was doing to him.  Come to think of it it, he was the most calm he’s ever been, because for the last couple of months he was either squawking at me or maintaining his spot in the pecking order by bullying the other chickens.

After a brief wing-flap near the end of his experience, I removed the head (I threw it in the woods and the cats soon thought I’d thrown a treat specifically for them) and dunked the body into the not-quite-hot-enough water in the not-quite-tall-enough pot.  I didn’t have a thermometer to know what the actual temperature was, so I was just hoping it was around the optimal 145-150° range.  I knew I didn’t want it to be boiling, but also didn’t want to stick my fingers in to see if it was scalding.

As I tried to dunk the body while holding the legs, pretty much the entire lower half was still dry.  I straightened up the legs and tried to force it under water, overflowing probably a gallon of water, with some luck.  I bobbed him like a bag of tea for about ten seconds.  What is supposed to happen, when you dunk a chicken in the hot water, is that the feathers practically fall off.  You pretty much just pet the feathers off.  What happened for me, though, was a lot of tugging and ripping.

At the time, I assumed that was going to be the longest part for me, because it was incredibly tedious to rip a handful of feathers out and then try to pluck out the individual quills that were only sticking out by about an inch after the rest of the attached feather came off in my hands.  I’d dip it in the water again, hoping the next go-round would be easier.  It never was.

I also had to flip it over and try to hold it’s neck to dunk the legs, which was awkward.  And in looking back, I think the “hot” water did so little that I probably would’ve been better off not to have worried about it at all.  Oh well.  As the great Canadian poet, Alanis Morissette, said, “You live, you learn.”

After that, I realized I had no idea what I was doing.  So I did what any homesteader would do – I pulled out my phone and searched on YouTube.  Play a video for 10 seconds, press pause, then try to make the same cut on the carcass.  Second guess cut, because that didn’t look like the same thing that happened for the guy  on the phone.  Rewind the video, watch the same 10 seconds again, realize what I did wrong, but also realize it was too late to fix it.

My wife came out to take some pictures at this point, because it finally "looked like a chicken" to her.

My wife came out to take some pictures at this point, because it finally “looked like a chicken” to her.

I committed the cardinal sin…  I accidentally cut open the intestine while trying to pull the innards out, so after attempting to empty them out on the ground, the rest of the time was spent trying to avoid getting the contents in contact with anything that I was planning on eating.  Due to having to watch YouTube ever 60 seconds, and avoiding getting poop everywhere, I was incredibly slow to say the least.

After a while, though, I was successful.  The guts were out, the poop was gone, and my wife said it would be ok if I finished in the kitchen (because I don’t yet have a surface outside to butcher them on).  At that point, it was much easier.

As I cut each piece – still watching YouTube videos – I decided to remove the skin completely, because there were still tiny quills throughout, and also tiny hairs all over it.  Most people I’ve seen use a small torch to burn the hairs off, but that won’t help with the quills!

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I should have taken a better picture of the meat right after I butchered it, but I forgot until after I’d already let the chicken soak in salt water for a day.  As such, it’s not arranged well whatsoever…  I think that’s part of the back on top (which technically shouldn’t even be a ‘cut’), and it’s pretty much just a meat pile.

That next day, I decided I needed to know how my chicken farming was really going.  I mean – I’d raised this thing from an egg, so I was going to be devastated if it didn’t taste at least, well, edible.  I pulled the legs out of the meat pile, and lightly fried them and warmed up some leftovers as sides – fried apples from my dad’s trees, and couscous with zucchini also from my dad’s garden (the zucchini – not the couscous).

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The finished product is at the top of this post

The first couple of bites were amazing.  It tasted like chicken!

The third or fourth bites on each leg, though, let me know that I didn’t cook them long enough…  It was just a bit too juicy and pink near the bone, so I had to throw them in the microwave to feel safe enough to eat the rest.  Perhaps I ruined it by doing so, but it still tasted great!

A few days later, my wife cooked the rest of him for some enchiladas that we shared with some friends, though unfortunately we had to add a store-bought breast to have enough meat.  If I hadn’t eaten the legs, we probably would’ve had enough for the recipe – but I wouldn’t change it!

The other chickens have not crowed since.

This all actually happened a couple of weeks ago, and not much else has happened over the last couple of months or so that has pertained to getting off the grid… I went hunting once and even though I saw three deer I didn’t take a shot (though I now wish I had), went “deepish” sea fishing with my brothers in law (we were just off the coast – no keepers), and talked about homesteading a lot – but most of my time was spent working. (I’ve got a new gig – more on that later!)

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.

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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.

Coop d’etat: How to Build a Chicken Tractor. Sort of.

My chicks were starting to not be chick-ish anymore, and were long overdue for a home renovation. And I know all about home renovations.

wood

I have a good amount of scrap wood leftover from our house, but not a lot of good clean 2×4’s (or studs, as those of us in the know call them; my constant joke when trying to find a stud is to simply say “I’m right here.” Always a crowd pleaser, amiright?), so I picked up a handful from Lowe’s. I also picked up some 2×3’s because I thought it would be more efficient to make the run out of those to keep it light. Looking back, I should have gotten only one or the other – not both.

Getting Started

I kind of drew up a plan – to the point that I could figure out about how many studs I would need.  I didn’t follow that plan very long, because of the following reasons:

  • I was not building a house, so I didn’t need to have studs every 16 inches
  • My plan was not very good, and I left out just about everything I actually needed

One thing I thought I knew for sure is that I needed 4 square feet per chicken in the coop, and 8 square feet per chicken in the run.  (My brother informed me that I actually needed 10 sq ft in the run, but I was close!)  I decided to go a little tight on those numbers, though, because I want to build a stationary coop and run big enough for 20 or more feathered friends – so this is simply another step along the way.  The main reason for keeping it tight is because since I was building a chicken tractor – meaning I would move it around as they eat everything in the patch of grass it contained – I didn’t want it to be huge and hard to move.  It’s still pretty huge and hard to move even at its current measurements.

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Probably not the right way to add a roof – but again, these are chickens, people.  I decided on a run at 8’x4′, and a coop that would sit on top of half that – that way I could keep it fairly compact while not sacrificing the space on the ground.  You might or might not be able to see the differences in the 2×4’s and 2×3’s, but I started getting nervous when I got to joints that were made with the two types of wood.  It ended up being fine, but I had to finagle them a bit.

Hopefully you won’t see from the pictures that it’s definitely not squared up.  Almost none of the angles.  But I blame it on working on an uneven surface.  And also on the fact of never checking to make sure my angles were square.  Lesson learned.

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There’s a better picture of the ramp, which is braced by a couple 2×4’s nailed into the coop floor and the corner board.  It’s mostly made from scrap, but they don’t seem to mind.

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I pretty quickly realized that even though I planned on having nesting boxes that were accessible from the outside, I hadn’t planned on it.  I had to add the braces because they were sagging pretty badly – and I figured that adding the weight of birds and eggs and bedding would not somehow lighten the load.  I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, though, after calling my brother a couple times and doing some research on the interwebs.

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Some of the “finishing touches.”  Kind of looks like a fort – like the ones that my brothers and I used to build in my parents’ basement when we would launch empty plastic bottles at each other.  If I had this fort, I would’ve been unstoppable.  Which is not to say I wasn’t unstoppable without it.  (Ok, I was not unstoppable.)

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It’s really ugly and probably dangerous, but I have a lot of metal flashing leftover, and wanted to make sure my nesting boxes were super weatherproof.  Just don’t touch the edges.  Or if you do, make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.  It took a long time, because most of these pieces were cut off after they were formed together, so I had to pretty much unform the edges to form them again.  And because I’d never done this before.

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I added some 6 inch lawnmower wheels to be able to move it around.  However (spoiler alert), I ended up replacing them with 7 inchers, because the smaller ones weren’t easy to work with on uneven ground.  The larger ones lifted everything off the ground just enough to keep me moving, but not enough to worry about leaving enough space to let them shimmy out.

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Here ’tis with all the chicken wire on the run – which was a very tedious and laborious process.  I had to cut each individual wire, and then staple almost every individual wire.  If someone knows of a better way to do this, please let me know in the comments – because I feel like the way I did it can’t be the most efficient way.  This is also a peek at the new waterer and feeder, because…

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I just couldn’t let my birds sit in a cramped box when I basically had a finished run for them.  I screwed a piece of wood over the coop entrance and put them inside.  After a time of obvious confusion (they had only ever seen a roof above them and sand/paper towel below them – never the sky nor grass), they were super excited to run around.  As were my cats.

I was nervous that the cats would get aggressive with them (one of my cats, while pregnant, chased down a squirrel and ate it), but they seemed to simply be curious.  I kept my eyes on them for a while, but they apparently like to watch the fowls just as much as I do.

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Almost done!  Added a door, walls, and a roof.  I also added a few more 2×4’s to brace those things (but did it after I had much of the plywood on, so they’re not included in the ‘skeleton’ pictures.  I sealed up the roof pretty well with caulk (the contractor’s version of duct tape), but later added some roofing paper to make sure and keep the leaks out.

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There’s another thing I forgot – roosts!  It’s a chicken’s natural instinct to sleep off the ground to keep away form predators, so this was another thing that I was planning on, but didn’t include in my plans.  I ended up adding some more 2×4 braces – which is much more difficult when all of the walls are on.  Then I just cut some 45° angles on some roost-ish wood I had and drove some awkward nails.

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I added some bedding, and voila!  One by one, they started figuring out that their home had doubled in size.  The first to find it (a rooster, I think) wanted to see just how high he could get.  Luckily, as soon as he got to the highest point of the coop, he pooped.  Thanks for the commentary on the craftsmanship, big guy.

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I also added some chains to the waterer and feeder so that I wouldn’t have to take them out to move the tractor, and also to try to get them to stop pooping in both.  Because they do that constantly.  That can’t be healthy.

Funny story about the bedding: I went to Tractor Supply for the waterer and feeder, and told the checkout guy that I wanted to buy some pine shavings (which were outside the entrance).  He asked me if I wanted flake or fine shavings, and I just randomly said fine.  A guy who walked in, but had paused to watch me check out (creepy…) said “You want the flake.”

I simply said “Oh?” with a surprised look on my face.  “For chickens?”

“Yes,” he said.  “The fine stuff will fall out of every crack in your coop, and you’ll have to add more all the time.  The flakes will last longer.  I noticed your feeder, so I figured I’d help you out.  This is my third year.”

Ah – not so creepy now.  I said thanks and told the checkout guy “Flakes, please.”  I definitely see how flakes are better now – especially because I’m still losing a lot of it through the hole by the ramp.  I think I’m going to build a small ‘fence’ around it so that it won’t fall out so easily.

Now that I’m a farmer I feel like I’m in a club.  A club where, when I’m at Tractor Supply, random people – who are passionate about some of the same stuff – will gladly look awkward for a moment to help a brother out.  Same for bee keepers…  Every single one that I’ve talked to has been super excited to help out and show me anything I want to know.  Reminds me of a simpler time, growing up in Cairo, Ky, when everybody considered you to be a neighbor even if you were a 20 minute bike ride away.  Hopefully, I’ll have some awkward wisdom to give to someone at Tractor Supply before too long.

Here’s a mini tour of the Coop d’etat:

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:

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“Arm Selfies” are a thing, right?

 

Day Two:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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…