You guys! Things are going swimmingly well with our duck incubation. Out of 7 eggs that made it to lockdown, we now have 6 happy, healthy ducklings making a mess in the brooder. I love them already.
That’s a pretty fantastic hatch rate, especially considering it’s my first time hatching ducks (in a styrofoam incubator, in a dry climate). And I’m not giving up on egg #7 yet! Runner ducks can take a while, and when I candled it a couple hours ago I saw an internal pip (through the membrane) that I don’t think was there before.
And that’s not all.
Remember those orphaned eggs from my good friend that we added to the incubator just after the first pip? After I got the last duckling out of the incubator I candled the eggs, and all but one of them are still alive! I saw internal pips in 3 of her eggs as well, so they’re grouped with egg #7 in plain view where we can watch for pips. I can’t even express how happy this makes me. Some of her eggs are due around the 8th, and others are a couple weeks behind. I’ll be keeping an eye on them and will get the hatch cam rolling again as soon as there’s some action.
Finally, if I may say a few words about the Eco-Glo brooder that the chicks are sleeping under, made by Brinsea*: This thing is fantastic. I bought it back when I hatched chicks a couple years ago, and have used it multiple times and loaned it out to friends (the parents of these ducklings slept under it too!). It is basically an adjustable table that keeps its underside heated at just the right temperature, and both chicks and ducks love to huddle under it as they do a mother hen. Chicks also like to roost on it, so fortunately it’s very easy to clean. But here’s the best part: it totally removes the heat lamp from the equation, which eliminates a big fire hazard and saves quite a bit of energy. You don’t have to raise the heat lamp every few days and worry if your hatchlings are too hot or too cold. And if you happen to be brooding ducks in the height of summer, it’ll save your sanity too. No more heat lamps here!
*This post is in no way sponsored by Brinsea, my opinions are my own.
The runner duck eggs are due tomorrow, and we already have our first two pips in the incubator! You can view their progress on the hatch cam here.*
We also had some last-minute additions to the duck incubator this morning. We got the first eggs from friends in our old neighborhood after their duck hen went missing, and then they found the missing duck sitting on a huge clutch of eggs. Soon they had both of their duck hens sitting, so we made plans to build a duck shelter and keep a few of the hopeful hatchlings here.
Sadly, this morning my friends woke up to find both their duck hens were killed by a predator overnight. With no way of knowing exactly how long the eggs were without their mother, we figured we had to at least try to save the ducklings inside. So she nestled them in a big basket filled with pine shavings and immediately drove them up here to join the other ducklings in the incubator.
In my 5 years of keeping chickens, the predator losses have been the hardest part. There’s a lot of guilt that comes with not having been able to prevent the attack, but the fact is that protecting your animals from predators and keeping them happy can sometimes be mutually exclusive. Sometimes foxes happen by later than usual. But does that mean you should keep your chickens in the coop all day? Both are devastating. But I’d rather my birds have one free day than a lifetime of captivity.
The good news is that where there’s pain, there’s usually a silver lining.
The day I lost my first flock to the fox, that silver lining was getting to know my wonderful neighbors. I went over to give them a heads up about the late-morning predator attack, and later that day I opened my door to find their sweet daughter holding a plate of lemon bars and a vase of sweet peas. We became fast friends, and in the years since I’ve learned so much about life, death, joy, and generosity. These are the people who taught us how to butcher chickens and press apple cider on crisp fall afternoons. They helped save our birds when the coop flooded, despite the flooding on their own farm.
I’m so sad at the loss of their ducks, but it gives me a measure of joy that we were in a position to put the eggs right in the incubator. Some are due on the 8th, and others are a couple weeks behind, so we’ll know pretty soon if any survived.
On a similar note, we also have an incubator full of chicken eggs growing for another friend that lost her whole flock overnight (the predators in that neighborhood are motivated, to say the least). So the hatch cam might be pretty busy during the month of July! Stay tuned.
*I haven’t hatched ducks before, and apparently runner duck eggs take a LONG time to hatch (24-36 hours from the time they pip), so we might be waiting a while. The first pip happened about 10 AM today (Friday) so we’re expecting to see hatching starting tomorrow. You can also search for “HatchCam” on the Ustream app for iOS and Android if you want to check in on the ducks from your BBQ. Happy Independence Day!!
I’ve been on a long hiatus from hatching (and blogging, sorry about that). The move from the old flood-damaged farm quite literally put a damper on things, and it’s been a long process of getting back to where we were. But this summer the chickens have a proper coop AND a fence to keep them out of the veggie and flower gardens, which are finally planted. There’s still a lot of work to do here, but so much potential. I’m excited to share the process here on the blog, and finally start getting back to the recipe and chicken posts too!
And I can’t think of a better way to revitalize the old blog than the way we started. A couple weeks ago, our sweet little hen Rotisserie, one from the August 2013 hatch, forced the issue by going broody. She settled on a nest full of eggs and refused to budge, even at night. So we moved her into an old doghouse overnight, to keep the other hens away from her nest (and also make sure she was really on board). She stuck with her nest of unfertilized eggs and golf balls, signaling that we were either in for chicks or weeks of trying to convince her otherwise.
My sister and I decided to go the easiest (and cutest) route, by picking up some fertile eggs for Rotisserie to sit on. The eggs came from my friend’s flock, including a few hens that were fathered by Rotisserie’s late brother Pecker — so she’s even got a chance to keep the family lineage going. Only problem is, the eggs wouldn’t all fit under her. I put the rest in the incubator, so we can all have some fun watching them hatch. Chicks are due around Sunday, June 14th (though they’re sometimes a bit early!) and the live stream will start once the eggs start pipping. Check back soon, and follow me on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates and behind-the-scenes photos.
My good friends (and former neighbors) have an old cider press and a big apple orchard, and during the fall they often invite friends who also have a lot of apples over when they’ve got the press out. A few weekends ago, my sister and I grabbed a couple of boxes of apples from the big old tree in the front yard and headed over for the afternoon.
Tradition at the farm is to mix all the different types of apples (and crabapples too!) so you get a little of the flavor from each. Our two boxes of bug-bitten apples paled in comparison to the 10 or so bushels of huge, unblemished apples that greeted us when we arrived, but I like to think that our tart little Macintosh-type apples added a special flavor to the mix.
We worked outside on picnic tables, first mixing and washing the apples. Then they were cut into big chunks, cutting out any blemishes but leaving the cores. I got to be the “mix master,” plucking apples from each basket and throwing them into the washtubs, then carrying big bowls of clean apples over to the cutting table. I happily volunteered for some apple washing, having already processed way too many apples from our trees (but we’ll leave that for another post).
When we cut enough apples to fill the press, the real fun started. One person turned the wheel on the grinder as another threw apples into its maw. The smashed apples dropped into a cloth bag inside the press, and when it was full we turned the big screw on the press until it could turn no more, as the rich brown cider poured out into a pitcher at its base.
When all the apples were finally pressed into cider, we delivered the scraps to some very excited cows.
And then we reminisced about the last time I was here for a cider pressing, and one of the cows (impatiently waiting for apples by the gate) bumped the electrical pole and sent a shower of sparks raining down from the power lines above. In a split second I was all the way across the yard, still clutching my butcher knife. “Oh good,” my neighbor laughed, still calmly seated at the picnic table. “You’ll be able to call 911 if we need it.”
This time, the cows left the power lines alone and we had an uneventful cider pressing (unless you count waving off a few dozen hungry hornets, and the bite I received from a large wolf spider that was lurking in one of the bushel baskets). Afterward, we spent some time hanging out at the farm and visiting all the animals.
The highlight of my day was seeing one of the hens I hatched for my friends back in February, who is now raising chicks of her own. This hen is the granddaughter of Kung Pao and General Tso, and she’s an excellent mother.
She led her five chicks all around the barnyard while we were there, pointing out good things to eat and giving a reproachful side-eye to the “feral” barn cat (actually friendlier than most house cats). The cat kept her distance, casually licking a paw whenever the hen looked at her. Clearly, she’s already learned a lesson or two from Mother Hen about messing with the chicks.
The not-so-feral barn cat, affectionately known as Mama Kitty
We headed home that afternoon with three big jugs of cider (more than our fair share, to be sure). Apple cider still contains all the sediment that’s normally filtered out of apple juice, so it’s dark and rich and cloudy. I’ve been drinking it cold, hot, and sometimes spiked with a bit of rum — just the thing for a crisp fall night.
It’s happening! After 20 days of waiting, we got our first pip at about 10 this morning, and I’m starting to hear a lot of muffled peeping from the incubator as I type this. It could be another 24 hours before this chick hatches, or things could progress fairly quickly like they did last time.
The first chick from the April hatch, who popped out much faster than expected
If you’re on Facebook, like The Homegrown Gourmet to receive the latest updates as they happen. If not, you can still read our recent posts in the column to your right. And of course, you can watch the live video stream from the incubator here!*
*To view on mobile devices, download the (free) Ustream app and search for “fall chicken hatch due 8-21-13”
This is a developing Easter Egger, the green pigment in the shell makes it difficult to see inside.
A Welsummer egg, also very hard to see through but definitely developing.
White eggs are very easy to candle.
By day 14 the claws are forming, and the chick is moving into position for hatch. It’s also taking up so much space in the shell that it’s difficult to see anything inside, much less photograph it.
I pulled 5 eggs that weren’t developing, including the Welsummer egg I tried to patch with wax. No big surprise there. But interestingly enough, they were all from the same flock — so it probably has more to do with their diet or the age of the hens than the incubation.
Wax patch gone wrong
Another Welsummer egg that didn’t make it.
A dead Leghorn egg (we’d be seeing a lot more veins otherwise)
The other 13 looked really good, and we could see a lot of movement in some of the eggs. I also weighed each egg (ideally they should lose about 13% of their weight by the end of incubation) and most were right on track, at around 11%. In a few more days we’ll increase humidity, so the weight loss will slow down a bit then.
The chicks are due to hatch in about a week, and I’ll be starting a live video stream from the incubator once the eggs start rocking and rolling – so check back often! I’ll also be posting frequent updates to the Facebook page as we get closer to hatch day.
It’s hard to believe the eggs are 8 days along already (they turn 9 this evening)! By now the embryos are far enough along that they’re starting to look like birds, and they’ll be sprouting feathers in the next few days.
After all the fun we had with the hatch last spring, I’ve been itching to get the incubator out again. And now, it’s finally time to get started on the fall hatch. So last night, I set the eggs. It’ll be barnyard mixes again this time, but I got my eggs from different sources.
I have six lovely dark brown Welsummer eggs, from a lady that I met on an incubation forum when I was planning my last hatch. I’m really excited about these — I’ve been wanting dark brown eggs for a long time, but Kung Pao rejected the first ones I tried, and I got 0/2 from the dark eggs in my last hatch.
So to up my chances, I got another four Welsummer eggs (with speckles!) from a local farm, plus a few Leghorns (white) and Easter Eggers (green). That flock includes a Cochin rooster, so most of the chicks should have feathered feet — which I find really cute, until it rains.
One of the pretty speckled eggs was cracked a bit, and I decided to take a chance and put it in anyway because there’s plenty of room (I’m splitting the eggs into two incubators this time, so that the chicks have more room to hatch and also so there’s a backup in case one fails).
I sealed the egg by lighting an unscented candle and dripping a bit of melted wax onto the crack to seal it. And then I accidentally poured wax halfway down the side of the egg and had to pick some off, probably ruining any chance that egg had of hatching.
I also put in 4 eggs from my neighbor, who has mostly red sex-links (which do not produce more sex-links, unfortunately). And because I saw Cordon Bleu attempting to molest Cutlet the other day, I put a few eggs from our flock in as well.
Finally, I filled in the balance with some eggs I got from a lady on Craigslist, which (I think) are from Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Red hens crossed with a rumpless Araucana (or is it Easter Egger?) rooster. So we’ll have some interesting genetics this time around.
There are more eggs in the mix than last time (55 versus 41) because there are quite a few that probably won’t hatch, and I’m not sure of the fertility rate for others. It’ll be an interesting experiment for sure, and like last time I’m planning to broadcast the hatch on Ustream starting around August 20th. Details (and candling photos!) coming in the next few weeks.
The chicks started hatching Wednesday morning, and we got our last one on Saturday evening. All in all, we ended up with 19 chicks out of the 41 eggs we started with, a pretty disappointing hatch rate. But look how cute they are!
The hatch went smoothly for most of the chicks, but four of them required a little assistance. The first rapidly got the top cut off of her shell (known as “zipping”), and was just about to push herself out when the other chicks in the incubator came running by and flipped her egg over. We left her alone, figuring she’d get in the right position again, but hours later she was still struggling to get out. Talk about bad timing. The poor thing was right next to a vent, and was starting to dry out and visibly sticking to the shell.
I pulled her egg out of the incubator and carefully chipped away some of the shell and membrane around her beak, until she could get her head free. Then I wrapped her in a wet paper towel and quickly put her back into the incubator to hatch. She successfully kicked the bottom shell off a little while later, but some trailing pieces of membrane kept it attached to her back. I woke up later that night to find the poor chick still wearing the shell on her back like a turtle, exhausted and unable to stand or get comfortable. I reached in and gently removed it, leaving her with just a couple small pieces of shell and membrane stuck to her down.
After being untangled, the chick quickly settled down and fluffed up, and despite her rough hatch was soon keeping up with the others. And so her resilience earned her the honor of a non-edible name, a first for our flock: Shelly.
The next chick to require help was so eager that she came busting through the opening in the shell before she fully pipped, and ended up with a wing and part of her head stuck in the opening. We waited for hours and she didn’t make any progress, so I carefully broke off the tiny piece of shell that was blocking her head, and she finished hatching a few minutes later.
The third chick I helped had a particularly rough time, ending up “shrink-wrapped” in the egg as she tried to hatch. This was probably my fault, since this one started to unzip while I was helping Shelly and the loss of humidity might have dried out the membrane and made it tough to break through. (This is why they tell you not to open the incubator, even if a chick is in trouble. Easier said than done, that one.) I think she was also a bit sideways in the shell, which couldn’t have helped matters.
So I had to chip away a little shell and wrap this one in a wet paper towel too, and after several agonizingly slow hours she worked her way out of the shell. My mom was visiting for this part of the hatch, and got to name this chick: Crispy Chicken.
Crispy had trouble walking, with her toes crossing over one another and one leg sliding out to the side, probably a consequence of being trapped in the egg for so long. This is known as “spraddle leg,” and can keep the chick from getting to food and water if not corrected. The idea is to hobble the legs so that they can’t move too far apart, and then the chick is able to start learning to walk and quickly builds enough muscle to keep the legs in place. We used a Band-Aid cut in half horizontally to do this — Crispy didn’t like it one bit, but within a few hours she was able to stand up and take a few steps, and her toes stopped crossing. By the time the bandage falls off in about a week, she should be able to walk normally.
Saturday evening, more than 48 hours after the other chicks hatched, we still had 3 eggs in the incubator that started to zip and then stopped at least a full day before. The only chick that appeared to be alive was hopelessly stuck — from the look of things its yolk sack ruptured, and the chick was completely cemented into its shell and in distress. The poor thing couldn’t be helped and I had to make the hard decision to cull it rather than letting it die from exhaustion.
And that’s the bittersweet reality of life, in a nutshell. There’s so much joy in helping new life sprout and grow, but the flip side is inevitable and it never gets any easier.
But incredibly, just then I heard chirping from one of the other eggs that I thought was dead — it zipped but hadn’t progressed in at least 24 hours. But as I stared through the incubator window, I saw a chick turn inside of it — it was having a hard time punching through the membrane, but was still able to move around in there.
I gingerly picked up the egg and started carefully picking off pieces of shell, thinking to myself I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m only making it worse for the poor little guy. And then I lifted back a stiff piece of membrane and a head popped up and looked at me, peeping furiously. I quickly put it back in the incubator, and within 10 seconds a little Easter Egger chick kicked free of its shell and lay exhausted on the incubator floor.
And that was our last chick to hatch. We named her Sesame (actually, Sesame II — after a special chicken from our first flock, who was always a bit behind the others.)
In total, we now have 23 chicks running around: 4 still in the “halfway house” in my office, and the rest already moved out to their room in the coop with the big chickens.
Amazingly, all the chicks that required assistance seem to be doing great — hopefully they continue to thrive.
And if you’re wondering how we ended up with 23 chicks when only 19 hatched, well, that’s chicken math for you. We were at the feed store and some chicks followed us home (2 Light Brahmas and 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes.)