It IS easy, however, being blue.

Hatching the Marans was my first foray into the genetics of blue colouration, but not my last. Ten of my fifteen heritage turkeys are to be in the blue spectrum, and one dozen of the hatching eggs I’m expecting are for Blue/Black/Splash (or BBS, as it’s known) Orpingtons. It’s turning out to be my thing.

There are differences between the genetic laws of blue colouration in chickens and in turkeys, and I’m learning those as I go (as I do), but there are also similarities.

Here’s what I know from my very first hatch of a BBS chicken breed: it pays to be blue. Of the twelve Marans that hatched, eight were blue, three were black, and only one was splash. Two black chicks and the splash chick needed help hatching. None of the blue chicks needed any help at all.

Of the four blue chicks of C3.0, all are healthy, active and growing, two of them prodigiously so. Big Blue is just so…big. And it’s not just her size. She is feathering out at a fantastic rate. She is also fearless; she was the first to jump onto my knee, and the first to fly up to the (rather high) roost I placed in the coop brooder.

The first black chick I helped is the only chicks of the five I helped who has required no further assistance, and is doing just great. S/he is, however, considerably smaller than his/her blue siblings. The difference is remarkable.

I look forward to observing the poults. I won’t have any blacks, but I will have slates (the turkey equivalent of blue) and self blue (the turkey equivalent of splash). Just to make things interesting, there is a divide amongst breeders of Blue Slate turkeys: some refer to the colours as Black, Blue and Lavender; others refer to them as Black, Slate, and Self-Blue.

As my foundation stock is coming from Kevin Porter, I will be using his terminology: Black, Slate, and Self Blue. You can read about Kevin’s thoughts on blue colouration in turkeys here.

When the Orps eggs arrive, it will be back to the drawing board again. I’ll need to study this. I never was very good at science.

The upside? Both the Orp eggs and the Rock eggs will be light, and easy to candle!!

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:

chick_embryo_development1

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:

f996bd1d_chickencollage

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:

LL

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

DSCF4259a

…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.

Please disregard previous post.

There have been times in my life when I have made things much more complicated than they needed to be. If I’m being honest, there have been many, many such times. My mother will back me up on this one. Candling my first eggs has proved to be just such a time.

You see, after all I went through to MacGyver a homemade candler, all the youtube research, the scavenging, the cutting of high-gauge wire…a simpler and much more effective tool was right around the corner.

The Man came home yesterday with this, two for $25 off at amazon:

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Now, I didn’t think anything of it, until he pulled me aside to a dark corner (not like that, perv) and showed me how well it lit up one of our girls’ eggs. My first reaction was, well, yeah, but that’s a light Alexia egg, but it was not, It was an egg from Hermione, who lays our darkest egg, lit up like a lightbulb. Not only that, but the rubber end of the flashlight was exactly the right size to provide a light seal; no light at all leaked out to obscure the view.

I rushed to the room with the incubator, calling Stepdaughter the Elder in for an assist. I had her call out to me, from our records, a number of an egg in which we had been unable to see anything the night before. Miraculously (it seemed to me), the egg was completely lit up, like an x-ray.

I candled only enough eggs to learn this was not a fluke; overcandling disturbs embryo development.

Ladies and gentlechickens, it gives me great pleasure to report…3.0 is looking much better than previously thought!

Helloooo? Anybody Home?

It’s Day Eight for 3.0; time to candle and see what we have so far. I tried candling with two different flashlights last night, to no avail. Between the writing on the eggs, the bumps and freckles on the eggs, and the shit on the eggs, I had no idea what I was looking at. I gave up after about six of them.

Clearly, more intensive methods were required. When in doubt…youtube.

I saw this video last night, and this one this morning, and what I am creating is an amalgam of the two. Pretty freaking brill, though I say it myself, who shouldn’t.

I began by stealing a large (10″) clay flower pot from the garden, and giving it a good scrub in the tub. What could be better?! It doesn’t leak light, contains heat, is fireproof, and comes with a ready-made viewing hole, to boot, almost the perfect size! (The diameter of the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot is 1 1/4″; the recommended size for viewing chicken eggs is 1 1/2″.)

My first move was to sand down all the rough edges around the drainage hole. Our precious eggs were going on there, and it needed to be smoooooth. This was surprisingly easy; the clay gave way without much of a fight. I could have enlarged the hole, had I been so inclined. I was not.

I then went back to the first video and stole his idea of lining the pot with aluminum foil, to increase the power of the light.

I was going to need a light source, one that was short enough to fit under the 9.5″ high pot. Failing that (and I did), I’d need to modify (read: destroy) one to suit the purpose. This was not as hard as one might think; we have all manner of baby girl table lamps around here, and destroying one of them could only enrich my soul.

Oh, stop. You try living with little Peter Rabbit lamps everywhere, and see how you like it.

Only one problem: the lamp was about 6″ too tall. It seemed perfect for modification (sounds nicer than “destruction”, don’t you think?), as the center rod is metal, and a wire runs through it:

photo

As you can see in the photo above, I took a pipe cutter to the top of the rod. I tired to do the same at the bottom, but the stand was just too inhibiting. I wanted to keep the stand as part of the light mechanism. Something was going to have to hold the light upright.

I did what I always do…I adapted. It was much more MacGyvery than I had hoped, but the end result is this:

photo 1

What with all the cutting pipe surrounding around the wire, I thought it prudent to see if it still worked…

I lined the pot with aluminum foil, only to learn that little, if anything, sticks to a damp, clay pot. So, I stuck the foil to itself, and wrapped a large elastic band around the lip of the pot. Hey, I didn’t say it was going to be pretty.

photo 3

This, inverted over the lamp, looks as though it will do the job. I say “looks as though” because I won’t be able to really tell until I can try it out in a dark room, tonight. Stepdaughter the Elder has been called into service to take notes as I candle each egg.

But I did see this:

photo 4

Right? I mean, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but…that’s an embryo, right?! Go #17! Get on with your bad self!