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!!

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Paging Doctor Chickeneer…

Now that the last weak chick is out of the NICU, and it seems unlikely that there will be any more hatching, I can pause to reflect on my very first hatching experience, which was much more operatic than I had anticipated…

This hatching chicks thing is way harder than anyone let on. I certainly set myself up for success when I chose the Hovabator Genesis 1588. This thing truly is plug and go. What impresses me the most is how it is holding its heat and humidity as I open the ‘bator during lockdown over and over. I mean, it’s been busier than a Dunkin Donuts drive-through window in there. I know, I know. Das ist verboten!! And yet, the ‘bator has held its temperature and humidity remarkably well. Miraculously well.

No one told me that, as the chicks began to hatch, the incubator would quickly become filled with shell debris, and rowdy, fluffy chicks (and how ’bout that smell, folks?!). Well, they did, but they didn’t say the situation would quickly become untenable as the stronger first-hatchers pecked at the still-hatching and sat on the heads of the more newly-hatched. I can not imagine leaving them in there undisturbed for 72 or even 48 hours. It would have been Escape From New York in there.

And no one told me I was going to need to help. In fact, I was told quite the opposite, that I should, under no circumstances, help. Emerging chicks need the fight; the fight makes them strong. If you take away the fight in a misguided desire to help, you take away the workout that sets them up for a healthy, strong chickhood.

CAVEAT: Unless they won’t make it to chickhood. That’s the criteria: help only if the chick will die if you do not. It’s not an easy call, especially for this virgin hatcher. (Virgin no longer!)

Fortunately, I was not alone; Justine of Les Farms has been my constant mentor, my Mr. Miyagi, my Ova Wan Kenobi, if you will, available pretty much day or night via email, to guide me, to encourage me, to give her opinion on the photos and video I sent in panic. This is as much her hatch as it is mine.

Thursday morning, technically still Day 20, I awoke to three chicks, just like that. BAM. Here’s yer chicks. Easy peasey. The rest of the day was equally smooth. I went to bed Thursday night knowing there were two Marans on the move, one halfway zipped and another pipped, working since that afternoon.

I was not happy to find them in exactly the same condition early Friday morning. The chicks inside were alive; I could see their beaks gaping with breath. I sent Justine this pic of the zipped chick:

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I was unprepared for Justine’s reply: “If it were me, I’d help.”

Following her instructions to the letter, I placed the egg in the lap of Stepdaughter the Elder and carefully (terrified, mind) moistened the dried membrane at the zip site with warm sterile water and a Q-tip, ensuring there was no dried membrane glued to the chick, preventing hatch.

It was a multi-tiered process, and, in the end, I zipped the shell all the way around and put the chick back in the ‘bator to pull itself out of the shell. S/he had a little help from early-hatching siblings (if torment can be called help) and was up and padding about in short order. (This whole process if well documented on video on the Dúagwyn Facebook Page.) I was thrilled to see s/he is a splash, the only one of the entire hatch, and here’s what s/he looks like now, only 48 hours later:

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We decided to give the other Maran a few more hours, as its progress was much less advanced:

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S/he turned out to be a Cesarean, as well, in the end, and our first Black Copper Marans emerged, safe and well.

There were two zipping Lavender Ameraucanas through all this, and I was thrilled. Only two had hatched the day before, and I had been concerned that was all we’d get. As the day passed, I became re-concerned, as the zipping hadn’t progressed. At all.

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This was the shell of #4, aka Light Preemie, who did not look good when s/he got out:

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Dark preemie had zipped even less, and seemed even more listless upon exit. It was a long, silly story, involving, but not limited to, me bathing both preemies when it became apparent that they were encased in an armour of dried egg. Both chicks fared much better (and certainly looked better) after they’d had a bath:

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Light preemie was off to the races, after a power nap. I never worried about him/her again. Dark preemie was experiencing balance issue severe enough that s/he needed help to stand. For an hour and a half on Saturday, I held him/her to my chest, doing some form of rudimentary, improvised chicken physiotherapy.

And s/he strengthened rapidly. By dinner time Saturday, s/he was standing and walking with confidence, if still a little wobbly at times, and both preemies entered gen pop in the brooder for the night. Here they are today, just 24 hours later:

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Quite the little success story.

In less happy news, a Blue Copper Marans chick hatched (without assistance) that could not get upright. I tries shoes, I tried hobbling, but nothing helped. Here is the chick having shoes installed, to keep the toes spread and the feet flat during a critical period where the bones harden:

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Even with the shoes, the chick was only able to push itself along with floor using its feet and wings as paddles; with the hobble it couldn’t even do that. In the end, I was forced to accept that the issues were not fixable; the hips were badly malformed. And so, I experienced my first cull. It was a brutal experience.

Nietsche said what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger, but I beg to differ. If culling will be easier next time (and I’m pretty sure it will), then what doesn’t destroy me doesn’t make me stronger, it just snips the connections to empathy. What doesn’t destroy me makes me harder. And that sucks.

As if all that weren’t enough, there was a late-hatching BlackCopper Marans Saturday evening, and it needed help, and it has issues, too. (This doctoring stuff gets old fast. I’m being honest with you, here.) When I took Little Black Copper Marans out of the incubator this morning, it became immediately apparent that there were foot and leg issues. This is probably why s/he was unable to get out of the shell independently, even with a great deal of help.

Darwinism would suggest that all these chicks should have been left to die. I can see both sides of the issue. Certainly, these weaker, problematic chicks should not be used for breeding, even though it’s entirely possible their problems may not be genetic. Because…they might be. Had they been born in a hatchery, they would never have seen the light of day.

I put shoes on LBCM this morning, but I knew there was an issue with the ankle as well; the left ankle was turning inward. Chicken Debbie to the rescue! She concurred that shoes were in order, as well as a brace for the left leg to hold the foot straight. All of that looks like this:

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Poor little guy/girl. What a rough way to start life! It remains to be seen if this chick will be sufficiently independent to grow to full chickhood; I really, really hope I don’t have another “call” to make.

All this to say, in the past 48 hours, I have performed one euthanisation, and five egg surgeries. Four of those have happy endings, and one is too soon to tell, but looks promising. I have performed orthopaedic services, preemie care and physiotherapy.

I am exhausted.

My huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

I love writing this blog, I really do. Well…most of the time. I don’t love writing the ones announcing deaths, but they are cathartic, all the same. Out with the bad air; in with the good air.

One of my favourite parts of the writing process is bringing in little bits of classical and popular culture. When I make a connection in my mind, I get a little frisson of pleasure in my nucleus accumbens, and a little voice in my head says, “Well, now. Aren’t you a clever one.”

This blog has seen references to Wagner, Hammerstein, Gertrude Stein, the Beatles, Eugene O’Neill, Stephen Colbert, and Charles Dickens, to name a few. This week, I added Dr. Suess, and now, The New Colossus. I am quite pleased with myself.

Anyway.

I have 27 eggs in the ‘bator, 25 of which have a very good chance of being alive and viable. I can only see into a few of these, however, so it is those I will be candling for internal pips, as a bellwether for the rest.

What’s an internal pip? When a developing chick reaches the end of it’s maturation, it reaches a point where it prepares to leave the shell by becoming an air breather. You know how when you crack open a hard-boiled egg (regardless of fertility), and you tap the fat end of the egg on a hard surface, there’s a space of no-egg inside? That is the air cell.

The air cell sits at the fat end of every egg, fertilised or no, and waits for the incubating chick to need it. As time passes, the shell, which is highly porous, releases moisture from inside the egg, and the size of the air cell increases. (This is why a very old egg floats when placed in water.)

As a fertilised egg passes through the incubation cycle, the air cell becomes larger (at a slower or faster rate, depending on the porousness of the shell). Many hatchers trace, in pencil, the air cell increases on the shell of an incubating egg, to note its progress.

Around Day 18, a chick embryo has consumed the contents of the egg, and prepares to leave the shell. And that looks a little something like this:

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But, before it can break the shell, it must learn to breathe. The space to the right of the chick, at the fat end of the egg? That’s the air cell, waiting for the chick to call upon it. The chick will break through the membrane that separates it from the air cell, and then rest, before pipping the egg externally.

But how do you know?! Candling often revels an internal pip, when the shadow of a beak or bill can be seen inside the air cell space. This is the moment for which I am still waiting. And waiting. And candling. And waiting.

Why is this moment so important? Because the ideal conditions for hatching are quite different than the ideal conditions for incubation. The chicks require much higher humidity to get themselves out of their shells, and must no longer be turned. Some experienced hatchers will also reduce temps in these final days. This is the time when Mama Broody Hen would glue herself to the nest and refuse to leave. This is lockdown.

Lockdown means removing a turner (if you’ve had the eggs in one) and laying the eggs on their sides on the floor of the incubator. It means humidity goes from around 30-40% up to 55-70%. It means no opening the ‘bator, dude! Babies are coming!

I want lockdown. I want it NOW.

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.

How to lose 13% of your body weight in only 21 days!

In this morning’s post, I intimated that I was going to attempt to monitor the progress of the hatching eggs using a weighing technique. I have found a less-intimidating equation, and thought I would share.

It comes to this: chicken eggs should, ideally, lose 13% of their weight between Day 1 and Day 21. I am prepared to take their word on this one. I am nothing if not trusting.

Take the total weight of your eggs on Day 1: 80.4 oz.

Multiplied by 0.87 to get weight your eggs should be on Day 21: 69.95 oz

Multiplied by 0.13 to get weight your eggs should lose over 21 days: 10.45 oz.

Divided by 21 to get desired weight loss per day: 0.5 oz/day

So, if I weigh again on Day 7, that will be six days, so my eggs should, ideally, have lost a total of 3.0 oz. If they have lost less, humidity is too high. If they have lost more, humidity is too low.

Your thoughts, please!

Not dead.

Hi. Long time no blog. Sorry. I finally have something to blog today, however, and, holy moly, it’s even chicken related!

I have just ordered my first-ever hatching eggs, to do my first-ever hatch. As I have mentioned before, I am going to hatch Lavender Amercaunas (true blue eggs and du a gwyn) and Blue/Black/Splash Copper Marans eggs (chocolate brown eggs, and…du a gwyn). I am consistent, if nothing else.

The Lavender Amercaunas will look like this:

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Which, frankly, was what I was hoping Mae would look like. Amercaunas should, unlike Easter Eggers, lay truly blue eggs, without any hint of green. The Blue/Black/Splash Copper Marans, which lay a dark, chocolate-brown egg will look like this:

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And this:

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And even this:

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Just like Blue Slate turkeys, there are three colours tied up in one breed, and they all look good to me.

I am hoping to have a good hatch rate, but braced for the reality that these things are an adventure and a crap shoot. In the end, I’d like to have one rooster and 2-3 hens from each breed. And they will be (say it with me)…3.0!

From whence am I getting these beautiful birds? From the Garrys of The Garry Farm in Georgia. You can learn more about The Garry Farm here, or at their Facebook page.

What’s that you say? You thought I was going to wait for Abby to go broody so I wouldn’t have to brood them myself or worry about integration? I did say that, didn’t I? Here’s the thing: I got me some baby fever.

The turkeys are coming! The turkeys are coming!

This is not a drill, people!

Tricia of Tricott Dairy is having contractions, which is to say, the turkeys are coming, the turkeys are coming!!! Today is the 28th day of incubation, which means my poults are ready to be born!

Not all the news is good. The first poult to pip (to break the shell) did not survive the night, and was found dead by Tricia this morning. Breeding endangered breeds like the Blue Slate has more than its share of hazards.

But there were 29 eggs in the ‘bator, and another pipped this morning. Even amid her crazy schedule, (seriously, check out this farm!), Tricia is keeping me posted, because she likes my enthusiasm and is likely concerned that I’m not emotionally stable. Don’t mess with the crazy turkey lady!!!

This morning, she sent me a pic of the second pip:

It’s going to be a very busy, difficult day for these babies; I’ll do what I can to keep you posted!

Late breaking bulletin: Here s/he comes!