Picture day. C3.0 on Day 26. Is he or isn’t she?

Here’s an addendum to the Lavender Ameraucana pics. Here is Cordelia from the side:

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And Angel:

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They have been dramatically different, feather-wise, since Day One. Here’s Cordelia’s wing feathering at about 6 days:

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And Angel’s, the same day:

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Fred’s feathering looks just like Cordelia’s, only scaled down.

Now, all that remains is for me to be proved wrong, but I’m feeling pretty right. She said.

Bad egg! BAD EGG!!!!

This morning, Steve asked me an excellent question on the Dúagwyn Facebook Page. How do you know when an incubating egg is nonviable? The simple answer is: I don’t, but I’m surrounded by generous, experienced people who do.

The incubation period for chicken eggs is only 21 days, a very short time to go from zygote to fully-functional, independent being, although it doesn’t seem so to me at the moment. This remarkable transformation goes a little something like this:

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As you can see, there’s a whole lot of growing that needs to happen each and every day. We can’t see the development as it’s happening inside a shell as graphically as above, of course, but we can see a shadow puppet show of it, in slow motion, through candling. Candling is the shining of a bright light through the developing egg, revealing silhouettes of growth, like this:

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Candling is made much, much more difficult when one of two kinds of eggs are hatched:

  1. Very dark brown eggs, because the depth of colour of the bloom can make light penetration meager. Eggs such as these are laid by Marans and Welsummers
  2. Blue-shelled eggs, because, unlike all brown eggs, no matter how dark, the shells are blue all the way through; it’s not just dark bloom painted onto a white shell. These eggs are laid by Easter Eggers, Araucanas and Ameraucanas.

I am hatching Marans and Ameraucanas. Getting the picture? Because I’m not. There are special, high-intensity candlers for these kinds of eggs. I do not possess one. I will be in the market for one for next spring when 4.0 comes into the world, which presumes there will be a 3.0.

But…I grow maudlin.

What’s a freshman hatcher to do, when she can’t even see into her eggs properly? She guesses, she asks questions, and she waits. A lot. Especially when the eggs being evaluated were purchased at considerable cost and shipped considerable distance, and they’re not all hers.

Why not wait until hatch day, then, and just see what happens? As it turns out, very, very bad things can happen. A nonviable egg, dead, essentially, kept at a steady 100-degree heat over the course of three weeks might well explode, contaminating the other (live) inhabitants of the incubator, and, according to all reports, rendering your home inhabitable for quite some time. This is to be avoided.

To toss or not to toss? A difficult question, at the best of times; a damnable question when a virgin hatcher with failing eyesight is looking into dark, murky eggs. There is a time, however, when dark realities can no longer be avoided. On Day 18 (where 3.0 is today), a viable, incubating egg should be nearly full with chick, the yolk almost completely consumed. Save the air cell, there should be almost no light going through the shell when candled, thusly:

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So, if on Day 18, one should see this while candling…

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…one would need to assume that the embryo, once viable, has “quit” for one reason or another decreed by Mother Nature in her ineffable wisdom. I removed ten such eggs last night after candling. It was painful.

I have two eggs in the ‘bator still which I am 90% sure are nonviable; they look much more like Day 14 eggs than Day 18 eggs (which is to say half full), but I haven’t the heart or the stones to toss them.

We are in the final hours of Day 18 as I write, and still no internal pips that would signal the beginning of lockdown, all of which I will go into in more detail when it happens.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have to go candle.

Meet 3.0. Some assembly required.

At last, some hopeful news. I know I haven’t blogged Trixie’s death yet. I’ll do it as soon as I can bear it. Same for the obituaries.

This morning, our long-awaited hatching eggs arrived from The Garry Farm, our first hatch ever. The new Genesis 1588 has been assembled and sterilised, the brooder is even set up (not too optimistic, am I?). I went to the post office in my jammies, because I just don’t care.

Shipped eggs are notoriously difficult to hatch, as the shipping often renders them nonviable; it doesn’t take much jostling for air sacs to detach, or for eggs to be scrambled, frozen, or overheated. That said, The Garry Farm is pretty famous for the care it takes sending shipped eggs. I was hopeful.

The reviews do not exaggerate, gentle reader; each dozen arrived in a medium-sized USPS Priority Mail shipping box. Each box was lined with heavy-duty large bubble wrap, and, within, a smaller USPS Priority Mail shipping box, the 7x7x6 size. Included in the large box were detailed instructions for the handling and hatching of the eggs…and a prayer for their delivery and, well…delivery.

Now, I am not anyone’s idea of a praying woman, but, let me tell you: with all we’ve been through lately, I am very moved. I am all the more moved because I have a very strong feeling that the Garries have God’s ear. They’re the real thing, y’all.

The Stepdaughters and I each brought one of the smaller boxes up to the room set aside for incubation and brooding, as though we were carrying The Hope Diamond. Upon opening, each smaller box was lined with more bubble wrap, and the eggs were within, each egg bubble wrapped again, individually:

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To unwrap these eggs is to get a masterclass in shipping hatching eggs. I hope to ship Dúagwýn’s eggs someday in the not-too-distant future, and my customers will be the benefactors of the Garries’ instruction. All 37 eggs arrived intact, shipped from Georgia to Albany-ish, over the course of three days. (Yes, 37. There was an extra Lavender Ameraucana egg. Because that’s how the Garries roll.)

That sounds like a lot, I know, but they’re not all for us. I bought 24 eggs (it was 12, but The Man and I decided to add another dozen after our first three losses, and I’m so glad we did), and the other dozen bought by NotHeedleyWendy, who will be living and dying with this hatch along with me. How well I do will determine if she has new chicks this year. No pressure.

I did not candle. I really don’t know what to look for at this stage, and 24 of my eggs are very dark. I will take a look tonight when the room is dark, but I seriously don’t think I’ll see much. I did weigh.

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There is an extremely complex method of tracking the weight loss of a developing egg. I will be tracking just to see that they are losing weight at comparable rates. Again, I don’t know how successful candling will be for the Marans eggs.

After weighing and numbering, each egg went into the turner, inside the incubator:

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They will sit there for a few hours, coming up to room temperature, then the incubator will be closed up and turned on. The egg turner, however, will not. I have been advised to leave the eggs unturned for at least two days, to allow any detached air sacs to reattach. I am relying on the experience of those who have gone before me.

You may notice two coloured plastic straws at the bottom of the photo above. The canals for water are in a plastic tray beneath the turner, covered by 1/4″ hardware cloth. I was wondering how on earth I was going to fill them, should the need arise, without disturbing the egg turner. So, I cut two bendy straws, fed them through the hardware cloth into the canals. There they wait, easily accessible for me to add water via syringe, should the need arise.

And, there you have it, ladies and gentlechickens…3.0. Fingers crossed, please.

I have a good incubator. I have a basic understanding and good advice. I am going to try to fuss as little as possible and not deviate from the plan. I hope it goes well. I really need this. We all do.

Gaps kill. And then there were nine.

Yes, nine. For the first time ever, the population of Heedley’s Hens has dropped down to a single digit.

The weasel came back last night, and I opened the coop door this morning to find Coraline’s body by the spilled water dish, her neck chewed to the bone, as Buffy’s had been. A quick visual sweep saw Haley in the right nesting box, motionless.

We believe we found the point of entrance. The Man found Barred Rock feathers outside the coop, by the nesting boxes. When he pried up at the corner of the nesting box lid (and I mean hard) he was able to squeeze two fingers through the gap. That has to be it. Oh, please God, let it be it.

The Man screwed the lids shut, and we will be setting traps tonight.

It’s funny; yesterday was a day of bad weather, too: dangerously high winds. I am definitely seeing a pattern. We had planned to set the traps last night, but we were making beer and had guests over and it got late…I’ll add that to my very long list of self recriminations.

We’ll need to bury Coraline and Haley today. I’ve asked The Man to dig the graves, as I don’t think I can face the task so soon after digging the last three. I dread telling the Stepdaughters; upon hearing of the death of the first three a few days ago, Stepdaughter the Younger was upset, but deeply relieved that her precious Coraline had survived. And now…

Beyond the emotional toll, which I’m finding crippling, there is the practical cost. Of the five hens killed, the weasel managed to kill my four best layers. He may have killed a third of our hens, but he has cut egg production in half. I’m glad The Man and I decided to add another twelve hatching eggs to our order from The Garry Farm, but it will be a lean summer, egg-wise.

The count is now devastating. 1.0 now counts 2,1,1. That’s it. All our Plymouth Barred Rocks are gone. I feel like hatching some, to be honest. In my limited experience, they are the best layers I have found, and Abby was broody, and I hear they make good meat birds. I will have to see how the Ameraucana/Maran hatch goes. I don’t think either breed is famous for its egg output, pretty as the eggs may be.

I have obituaries to write, on their five pages. I’d been putting off moving Abby, Maisie and Dorothy over to the “In memoriam” section, waiting until the wound had healed a little. And now, there are two more. It may take me a while to bring myself to do it.

In the meantime, here are pics of our lost girls in happier days. Abby checks out Tallulah’s molting butt…one of my faves:

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Maisie, in the chicken hospital for a badly-ripped nail:

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Dorothy, checking out the Nest on Pooh Corner:

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Coraline, in the chicken hospital for bumblefoot (with Buffy):

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And Haley, all shiny in her new, post-molt feathers (Abby, at left):

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Oh, my poor girls; I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I failed you. You were all so good to us. Thank you.