Category Archives: Poultry

Bollywood and black skies

Today we had Bollywood dancing, chickens and black storm clouds, just to name a few things. And pom-poms. They are becoming the bane of my life. Julia says we need 20 per wreath and as everyone will want to make a wreath that’s 140 pom-poms. While Julia and some of the team were out measuring climate data (our penultimate session) I was left in charge of the pom-pom squad. I made six. The other three broke the plastic rings several times, failed to achieve pom-pomness in  a number of different ways and, finally, managed to break the only one they actually made.

Yes, they broke a pom-pom. Not the plastic ring, an actual woolly pom-pom.

That sound you can hear is my spirit breaking.

In the afternoon, with a squad of three, Julia managed four pom-poms.

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Proper free range chickens

The chickens are looking good – we finally have a distinct farmyard flock – feathered in a variety of blacks (from their Minorca fathers) and with a selection of head feathering from their Polish ancestors. They are looking quite distinctive, though they could probably do with a bit of new blood in the coming year as they are all the offspring of one hen and (possibly) two cockerels.

Weather has been iffy, as you can see from the photos, though it hasn’t broken yet, there are still a few autumnal leaves about and our Albanian taxi driver brought us some lemons picked from his father’s orchard when he visited last week. They always look much nicer than shop lemons, which I suspect are selected for thick skin and travelling qualities.  The Albanian lemons always seem thinner skinned and better-flavoured.

Finally, dancing. The whole group is practising for the dance at the Christmas Party. They are full of determination and have been watching instructional videos to get more moves. You have to admire their perseverance and work ethic. Originally just two of them were going to dance, after doing some belly-dancing at a project they attend on Fridays, but it has now spread so we have five dancers.

What with dancing and our rendition of I’ve got a lovely bunch of Coconuts this is going to be a party to remember, even before we get to the song about the coat of many colours.

As you look at the dance photos hum the tune of Jai Ho.

Now try to get it out of your head.

I think my work here is done…

While I remember…

My father-in-law, who reinvented himself as a humorous poet after 25 years in the Royal Navy and many more working as a physio in the NHS, wrote a poem about memory loss and senior moments. I wish I could remember it…

I forgot to mention in my last post that I scored another pointless answer whilst watching “Pointless” on Saturday. The subject was “Wimbledon” and the answer was Minuetto Allegretto.

UK readers of a certain age are now  humming a variety of Wombles songs. The rest of you have no need to worry – you really aren’t missing anything.

I’m not sure whether to be pleased at getting a pointless answer or ashamed of the knowledge that produced it.

I had another one last night with korfball, which I feel is slightly more respectable.

I also forgot to give you the answer to my Doctor Who question from some time ago. The question was along the lines of what have Doctor Who and Wakefield Trinity got in common (apart from the fact that they both used to be better when I was younger).

The answer is contained in the film This Sporting Life, where William Hartnell first came to the attention of Verity Lambert. When she was casting for Doctor Who, she remembered him. Last time I was there his picture was still in one of the film stills on the stairway in the main stand.

The photograph shows one of the cockerels in the yard. Most of the poultry is being rounded up and sent to market next Monday. They cost money to feed and they make the place look untidy. Those, according to the way the place is now being run, are undesirable qualities.

Don’t get me started on this subject.

Incubator Diaries (Part 7)

This is the final report.

We hatched seven chicks from fifteen eggs and, although I’m very pleased with the seven chicks that hatched,  I’m not very happy about the overall result.

Of the eight that didn’t hatch, three (the two brown eggs and one bantam egg) were infertile. The brown egg layers are all old birds, which might be a factor, but they share a cockerel with the hen that laid the green eggs (all three of them hatched) and were collected clean and fresh so I had expected better.

The other five were all  bantam eggs and come from just one hen. The infertile egg may well have been caused by the fact we had to store the eggs for two weeks to get enough to hatch. I should have marked that laying dates on the eggs so I could check the correlation with hatchability.

The ones that didn’t hatch were a mixture of mid to late term fatalities and were rather black inside.

Looking at all the possible causes I think we can ignore temperature, humidity, power failure and poor turning as they are all taken care of automatically (though I will test the temperature next time I set it up to check the accuracy of the built-in thermometer). They are on a good ration so I’m going to ignore poor nutrition for now.

That leaves inbreeding, poor ventilation, diseased or infected eggs and lethal genes.

I know what a lethal gene is, but I haven’t a clue how it would show itself.

I can’t vouch for ventilation – I will probably ventilate more in the next attempt and see what happens.

However, as the weight loss from evaporation was what we expected I’m assuming that humidity  and ventilation were about right.

In truth, I can’t remember the parentage of the breeding stock, as they were passed on to us without much detail. The  bird that laid and hatched the clutches of 11 and 8 on top of the coop is a half sister to the bird that laid these eggs but the “half” may make a difference.

That leaves diseased/infected eggs, which was my fear from the beginning. Our nest boxes aren’t brilliant so there is often dirt on the shells, which can allow germs into the egg via pores in the shell. That, plus the length of time we had to keep the eggs, is probably the cause.

I’m going to do some calculations now and see what I can do to improve.

 

 

 

 

 

Seven healthy chicks!

Subtitle: The Incubator Diaries Part 6

I don’t think there will be any more. It’s two days since the last one hatched and time to call it a day. I will break open the remaining eggs later today and see if there’s a pattern to the hatching failures. A hatch rate of 45% is very disappointing but I suspect the fault is with the eggs rather than the incubation. It’s a lesson to build on for the future, whatever happens.

In the meantime we have seven healthy chicks.

They are now going to have a hectic three days of being the centre of attention as we have people in until Wednesday. There’s something about chicks and children that go well together.

 

 

Incubator Diaries (part 5)

I didn’t post a picture last night after all, but this is one from this morning. It’s not the world’s greatest picture but I don’t want to keep the top off too long or the humidity drops and this might make it more difficult for other chicks to hatch.

It’s just fallen awkwardly as far as the timing goes as they may be hatching over the weekend while I’m not here. Looks like I might have to change my plans.

In theory you can leave a chick for 72 hours before it needs food and water (it still has reserved from the yolk sac until that time). I like to give them access to food and water as soon as practical, which in this case means as soon as they are dry and fluffy.

When I worked for a hatchery (have I mentioned that before?) we used to fly day old breeding stock all over the world and they always arrived OK thanks to the yolk sac. There are very few places in the world you can’t reach within 48 hours.We did inject chicks with saline solution a couple of times just to be sure, but it wasn’t a common thing.

At the moment we have two dry chicks and that is still drying out. There are two more eggs that are pipped and so far that is it.

In breed terms we have two from the blue eggs and one Polish bantam.

Everybody likes blue eggs. I upset someone when we were collecting hatching eggs by refusing to sell them a blue egg to eat (I still only had three to hatch) and someone has already asked to buy the chicks from the blue eggs. I might have to upset them, as I want them for the farm so we can continue producing blue eggs.

That’s all for now – some success but not as much as I’d hoped.

Stop Press: Just had another hatch out. Tried to get better photos but they keep moving and the black and yellow of the chicks merges with the  black and yellow of the incubator.

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Phew! (Incubator Diaries part 4)

I’m in the centre, preparing to close up and pick Julia up from work. It’s been a quiet day and I  have done a reasonable amount of work, albeit of an unpaid nature.

The main part fo the day has been spent in researching historic bread recipes, and after five hours of reading the internet I’m left with the impression that although a few things may have changed (such as better yeast, electric ovens and more refined flour) bread is basically the same as it was 1,000 years ago. White bread, brown bread, rye bread. I suppose we don’t have to eat peas, beans and acorns but apart from that I’m not sure there’s much difference.

If I want to bake some historic breads I’m going to have to turn to spices rather than making plain loaves, or maybe run up the outdoor oven. It probably isn’t worth the effort as you can get that outdoor oven finish by baking it at high temperature and throwing some ash at it as a finishing touch.

Meanwhile, when I haven’t been thinking of bread I’ve been looking into the incubator.

Three of the eggs have now pipped and there’s a weedy chirping sound emerging from the machine.

This is a long way from the end result I’m hoping for, but it’s a start. At least I know some of them have developed properly.

I’m resisting the temptation to help nature along by peeling some shell off as I’m sure it’s better for chicks to do it themselves.

I’ll take a picture or two before I go and load them when I get home.

Fingers crossed!

Six more chicks!

The group was walking across the yard for a final look at the bantams tonight when Alasdair spotted a mouse. He’s not fond of mice and he’s very good at spotting small scurrying things.

However, it wasn’t a mouse, it was a chick. There were six of them altogether, four black, one yellow and one stripy.

They took some counting because Mother Hen wasn’t happy at the idea of us having a look. She was protective to the point of being aggressive and a number of the photos show a black blur attacking the photographer.

Amazing. I’m still waiting for the first signs of hatching but another hen, with no electronics, has just hatched six. That’s Hens 25 – Incubator Nil at the moment.

 

 

The Incubator Diaries (Part 3)

I haven’t done a lot with the eggs, because I thought it was probably better to leave them alone and not be always fiddling. It’s better to leave the lid on, as this preserves the heat and humidity.

Does that sound plausible?

In truth I just didn’t get on with it because I had other things to do. That’s the story of my life – “other things to do”.  That’s on my list of things to do – improve my time management.

Fortunately when I weighed them and checked the weight loss they are just about on target. The blue eggs are spot on – weighing 153 g against a target of 152.9 g. The Polish eggs are out by 0.2 g per egg, which isn’t significant. The brown ones are a bit out – 2 g per egg. However, they are bigger and they are from older birds so the shells will be more porous and the expected loss will be higher as a consequence. We will just have to see what happens. In an ideal world we wouldn’t mix such a diverse selection, but they needed to go in when they did to hatch on a Wednesday when we could see them.

That’s the trouble with keeping a small number of birds, you end up keeping the eggs until you have enough and as they age the hatchability declines. I just checked the exact figures – keep them for 7 days and you are OK, after that they start to decline both in terms of hatchability and the health of the chicks you hatch.

It also says (which was something I once knew, but had forgotten) that they will take a little longer to hatch.

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Ready to hatch – I hope!

I am now hoping my calculations are right, because if they don’t hatch on Wednesday my life won’t be worth living.

We should have candled them by now too, but I didn’t get on with ordering the right light and I don’t have a powerful enough torch to do the job. Candling is shining a light through the egg to see if it has a developing embryo inside.  For now it will have to remain a mystery.

The turning gear is now removed and the humidity turned up to 65% (as you need to keep the egg membranes moist to help the chick get out of the egg).

By Wednesday all will be revealed!

Confession

You may remember me telling you about the rescue of 11 guinea fowl keets a few months back.

They were scruffy-looking things in various shades of grey., we found them where the guinea fowl roost and they were hatched from small white eggs. Bound to be guinea fowl keets weren’t they?

Only one person disagreed, and suggested they were actually chicks.

Well, as time progressed they started to look a little more like chicks, but it didn’t really register as I was convinced they were keets, and because I really wanted more guinea fowl.

A couple of them started growing feathers on their legs, a trait of one of our farmyard cockerels.

“Well,” I thought, “it looks like we have a mixed batch of chicks and keets.”

It took another few weeks, and a move to an outdoor coop, before I had a good look at them in good light.

They are all chicks.

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The chicks that used to be keets

I’m embarrassed. I remember handling chicks before my sister was born – so I was 2 or 3 years old. In those days my dad worked for Thornbers Hatchery. I really should have known…

The mother, we think, is the black Polish bantam pullet that escaped last year and has continued living in the yard. One of the fathers is the black cockerel with feathers on its legs. He might be the father of all of them, but let’s face it, chickens aren’t too fussy about that sort of thing. When you look at the research, neither are most birds. If this is the case, she’s working hard, and she’s going against the trend as Polish are well known for being poor sitters.

Meanwhile, we’ve just been given a selection of bantams, including Pekins,  Minorcas and some alleged Barnevelders. All six weeks plus and all looking bright and healthy.

Though, as we’ve seen, my ID skills aren’t great. They could be ducks for all I know…

 

 

 

 

The Incubator Diaries (Part 2)

As you may have seen in the earlier post today, we have had seven chicks hatched by a broody hen without the use of artificial heating or humidity, and with definitely no input from electronics or from me. Nature is indeed a wondrous thing.

However, back at the incubator, where science meets eggs, it was time to weigh the eggs.

The theory is that an egg should lose 13% of its weight during incubation due to evaporation. According to the manual that comes with the incubator this occurs in a straight line, though I’m dubious about that. Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum. In my experience it doesn’t care for straight lines either. We will see.

According to the weighing I did today the eggs have lost around 3% of their weight. The Polish eggs have lost 3.3%, the green eggs have lost 2.9% and the two brown eggs I shoved in to fill the space have lost 3.8%. They are larger than the rest and come from older birds so it may be that the shells are more porous. Taking the totals for the three lots of eggs it comes out at 3.33%.

According to my calculation 13% overall loss works out as 0.6% per day. The eggs have now been in the incubator for 5 days so 5 x 0.6% is 3%.

Looks like we’re about right.

Bearing in mind that I’m weighing small numbers of eggs on a kitchen scale I’m happy with this level of accuracy.

Looks like things may be going right!