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!!

This is different.

I think I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that I need to cull Splash. I wanted a Splash rooster so badly when all this began, but I can no longer ignore his problems, or his distress.

He’s thirteen days old, and still can’t poop properly. His feather development is way behind, but that might just be boyness. His bum is distended and hangs lower than the other chicks. There is a semi-hard disc in the bottom of the other chicks’ bums (yes, I’ve felt for them); this appears to be normal. Splash’s is way off to the left, and seems not to be normalising.

He spends most of his time under the Brinsea, blinking and breathing heavily.

So…what happened?

Splash was the first of five chicks I helped out of the shell. Three are thriving, one died (from smothering, I suspect), and then there’s Splash. It seems to me one of the following happened:

  • he has a genetic defect
  • he has no genetic defect, but was harmed either struggling to get out of the shell or by being helped out of it
  • he was fine when he was born, and his case of severe pasty butt is to blame

I feel responsible, of course, because…have you met me?! But, what to do now? Do I:

  • continue to intervene as I have been
  • leave him be and let Nature have her way
  • cull him

I don’t want him to suffer, but I don’t want to kill a chick that might grow to be a perfectly healthy animal. But can I ever breed from him?

The last chick I culled was my first, and it was a brutal experience. But I knew it had to be done, that there was no road to recovery.

This is different.

It’s time to play “Hen..or..ROO??!!”

It’s that game we all like to play, folks, and even though we can’t win until 3-6 weeks of age, we still like to play.

Is it the thickness of the legs? Is it the speed of the feathering? Is it the comb development? Everyone has his own ideas. I’ve been watching 3.0 closely and can’t resist making predictions any longer. I just did a comb/wing photo session, so you can play along at home!

We have to compare apples to apples here, so I’ll do the Marans first. We have four Blue Copper Marans, two Black, and one Splash. Here are the Blues:

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Now, does one of those stick out for you? I thought so. How ’bout that last one, huh? Only 10-11 days old, and I think we can call that one as a boy. The first one is Big Blue. Although the comb is pretty big, so is s/he. It’s not nearly as orange or as…juicy…as this last one, though. The second and third look like pullets to my inexperienced eye. I’m committing myself here, now, so I can see just how wrong I was in a few weeks.

Now, the two blacks. Both were helped from the shell, but the first immediately thrived, and LBCM needed a lot of help, both in terms of legs and digestive system.

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We seem to be out of the woods, I’m pleased to say, but this chick is tiny and underdeveloped. They both look like pullets to me, but what do I know?!

And then there’s Splash, who I really, really want to be a roo. He’s had such a hard time these first 10 days of his life, and his feather development is behind many of the  others. The comb says “hen”, but the wings say “roo”:

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I’m hoping he’s a late bloomer. I’d LOVE a Splash rooster.

If I am right (and I find that highly unlikely), I ended up with an unusually high percentage of hens. Which is great. But I would like some rooster options…

Then there are the Lavender Ameraucanas. I have three, two of which hatched on their own on Day One. They are both 11 days old, and yet very different in terms of their feather development. I think I can draw a few safe conclusions. I’ve been calling them Luigi and Luisa as their temporary names; here are Luisa’s wing feathers, followed by Luigi’s:

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And here is an overhead shot of the two of them:

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I’m sure I don’t need to say which is which. Luigi, top, is smaller, with less feather development and only a tiny puff of a tail compared to Luisa. Luisa is also getting her epaulets.

But what of Light Preemie/Zippy, I hear you ask? S/he declined to pose for pics. It’s a miracle I got the pics I did, frankly. At this age, these babies are a blur most of the time. If I had to guess, I’d call Zippy female, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

So…there you have it. Do you agree with my guesses? Do you think I’m silly to even try? Let’s hear it!

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.

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.

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!

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.