Thursday, 26 January 2017

Hatchwatch 2017, first chicks of the season


As the temperature is dropping outside I am less keen to spend a lot of time in the garden and I now have the perfect reason to stay inside and keep warm. The chicks are about to hatch!

At the tail end of last year I chose which breeds I would hatch for the first batch to add to our ever-changing flock (read about my choices here) and the next forty-eight hours should see the arrival of our first chicks for 2017.

I will update my blog as the hatch progresses, but I'll post more regular updates on Twitter, so if you want to see the news as it happens, please follow me on Twitter @Liz_Zorab or search for my hashtag #hatchwatch2017. The link on the right hand column of this blog should work (but with all things technical, I can't guarantee that I've set it up correctly!).

I wasn't expecting to see any progress today, they aren't due to begin hatching until tomorrow, but as so often happens one little chick seems extra-keen to enter the world and has already pipped. As I understand it, chicks need to break a hole in the membrane that is inside the egg, they then have a little air to breathe while they break a small hole in the shell. Often this appears as just a crack, but it seems to be enough to allow air into the egg for it to breathe (this is what is called pipping). Then over the next day or so it makes more and more holes in the shell in a line that eventually splits the eggshell into two and with some shoving and heaving it manages to push the two sections of shell apart and ta-da, it has hatched.

Sitting in the kitchen over a cuppa and slice of cake with Alison (from Alison's Animals) I could hear faint cheeping noises, so I knew that at least one chick was making a bid for freedom. If I'd thought more carefully about it, I could have invited Alison to come for a cuppa tomorrow so that she could watch them hatching too. For anyone who isn't familiar with the name, Alison is a well-known animal cartoon artist, you will probably have seen her work on placemats, calendars, cards and mugs. I am very impressed by folks who can draw as my hand/eye coordination is dreadful and so I appreciate what a great talent it is to have (and Alison is certainly very talented).

I'm sure that the temperature has dropped again this afternoon. As I was giving the birds some corn (I was wrapped up like a Michelin Man yet again) and the tree surgeon arrived with another trailer load of well composted wood chippings. Hopefully the weather will be warmer in after the weekend and I will be able to move some of the compost to the raised beds. In the meantime, I plan to spend as little time as possible outside and as much as possible sitting in the kitchen watching new life emerge from little eggshells. And to that end, I think it's time to put the kettle on and make a cuppa!


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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Choosing chickens and ducks for 2017

 

Hatching season is upon us, well sort of. We certainly know that our first clutch of eggs will hatch by the end of the week, but it's a little early to expect to see the girls going broody and sitting on eggs in the nesting boxes. But I have no doubt that it won't be too long before I have to find ways to entice a couple of the girls off the nest or decide to put eggs underneath them to hatch.

Last week I popped a few eggs into the incubator, they are the little eggs laid by the young Australorp, Jersey Giant and Cream Legbar girls to test for fertility. This means starting them to incubate and then candling them after a few days. Candling is the process of shining a light through the egg shell so that you can see what's going on inside the egg. Nowadays people don't usually use a candle, they use a bright torch light in a darkened room. Neither the Jersey Giant nor Australorp eggs were fertile and only one of the two Cream Legbar were fertile. I will test again in a couple of weeks and then, once we know that the eggs are fertile I start incubating them to hatch.

I have loose orders for some Cream Legbar chicks, but before I hatch any chicks I will confirm the order and take a small deposit because the last thing we need is to raise more Legbar chicks and then be stuck with them if they aren't bought. Over the course of the year we will be reducing our Cream Legbar flock to just two girls so we may well offer two of the girls to the person who's placed the order and then she has the choice of chicks or girls who are laying.

Several people have also expressed in interest in having Australorps and again, I will confirm the orders before hatching too many Australorp eggs. Having said that, our preferred meat birds are Australorps and Jersey Giants and to supply us with a regular source of meat, we will need to raise quite a few birds. This year we were effectively experimenting, finding out how long it took to raise a bird to a size that gave us more than one meal, whether I could dispatch and prepare birds for the table and whether we thought it was worth the time, cost and effort to produce our own meat.

We have decided that it is indeed worth the effort, that we are prepared to wait for the months that it takes for an organically raised bird to get to a good size and in comparison to a shop bought bird, the cost is similar (see my blog post about the price of raising meat birds).

Our hope for this year is to raise enough meat birds to provide at least one bird per fortnight, this should give us ample meat for a varied diet.

In addition to the Jersey Giant and Australorp chickens, I am keen to raise some La Bresse Gauloise chickens, which are white birds that grow rapidly and produce meat that is considered to be of the best taste.

As we also have duck eggs to hatch and the ducks are ready for the table much sooner than chickens, I think we will probably hatch as many ducks as chickens to give us an even wider variety in our diet. 

 Yesterday I put a duck egg into the incubator so that we can also check the duck eggs for fertility. Frederickson, the young drake is certainly enthusiastic in his attention towards the three girls, but as yet I am unconvinced that he has perfected his technique, so we will test fertility on a regular basis until we are sure that the eggs are fertile and then I can set up the incubator to hatch a batch of duck eggs.

I am very happy with the breed of duck that we have, the commercial Aylesburys are pretty to look at, grow fairly quickly and although they flap their wings each morning and night, they are too large in the body to be able to lift themselves off the ground and fly away. The three girls are from completely different flocks with no known connection, which should allow us to build a healthy flock and the young drakes will provide us with a good source of meat.

In December I dispatched five of the drakes, three of which were given to friends and family for Christmas. Once again this year, we intend to give duck as gifts, but we can also take orders if people would like a duck. 

The couple who owned our smallholding before we did have asked for three female ducks to join them at their new smallholding and so, once we have hatched some ducklings and confirmed their gender, we can let them have the girls that they'd like.

In the incubator at the moment are a mixture of Light Sussex, Appenzeller Spitxhauben, Silver Laced Wyandotte and some of our own hybrid eggs (for pictures of these breeds see this blog post). I am hatching these because I'd like to have more variety of colour in our laying flock and our own hybrid birds should be olive egg layers which will add a new colour egg to the mix of egg colours that we have now.

If you'd like to pre-order hatching eggs from our smallholding, please get in touch.

I'm still having fun making vlogs about our day to day life and here is yesterday's offering - Chickens, carpentry and compost.





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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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Monday, 23 January 2017

Completing the chicken walkway




























Finishing the chicken walkway had become a priority during the week and I had ordered some more debris netting to cover the roof and it arrived on Friday. So having signed for the parcel, I hot-footed it straight to the walkway and wrestled with the 20m length of material to get it up and spread out over the roof. I trimmed away the excess length leaving enough at each end to be able to fold it down at each end and secure it to the stable wall at one end and the walkway framework at the other.

Mr J fitted the door at the end of the walkway that opens out onto the chicken field and I fixed the last section of chicken wire to the end and secure it onto the chicken shed. I treated the ground with a disinfectant as a precaution in case any infected wild bird poop was lurking on the ground.

Hooray! We have completed the chicken walkway and the birds are ecstatic. It is marvellous to be able to give them an outdoor space after six weeks of them being shut away in the stable. The stable had plenty of natural daylight in it, but it didn't have the fresh air flowing through it in the same way and it certainly didn't have direct sunlight to warm their backs.
As if to serve as a reminder that the rest of the chickens have a somewhat cobbled together space outdoors (although they do at least have some outside space) Diesellette, the daughter of Diesel, managed to squeeze out of the hitherto secure fencing and flew up onto the chicken shed roof. One quick shake of a corn-filled bucket brought her back down again and I returned her to her enclosure and used yet another cane to peg down the chicken wire that she had wriggled underneath. Perhaps she was envious of the nice new chicken walkway that the other flocks are enjoying.

It feels as though as fast as we resolve one issue another one arrives and so at some point in the next week or so, I will tackle the makeshift outdoor space that the Jersey Giants, Australorps and Diesellette have and create something more permanent for them.

As I anticipate that lockdown will become a regular event, I am keen to create more permanent spaces that the chickens can be in when their movement around the smallholding is restricted by law. But, if we never have another lockdown, we will have created some very useful spaces that we can separate the different flocks to live in when we want to isolate them into breeding groups. And should we ever decide not to keep chickens any more, we will have fabulous fruit cages in which to grow crops of soft fruit. Win - win!

If you haven't discovered my latest project yet, you can find my vlogs (videos) on my YouTube channel. Today I hope to make a video about sorting out the cobbled together chicken run, but to get myself ready to tackle the task, I think I'd better put the kettle on and make a cuppa!
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