Monday, January 24, 2011

Chicks are hatching.....

In the end, our new incubator has not lived up to expectations, with only 3 chicks hatched out of 48 eggs.  We suspect a combination of old roosters/hens, wet and not so fresh eggs and getting used to the new incubator (the instructions are in badly translated Chinese-English, so some parts we had to guess!).  Anyway, we will be putting in another batch of eggs in the next couple of weeks to try again, so rather than dwell on our lack of success, I’d like to share some observations of the chicks so far.   

eight acres: hatching chicks
First chick out!
The chicks were each moved from the incubator and into the brooder box about a day after they hatched, so that they could start eating and drinking.  The brooder box is a wooden box with a light bulb in it to keep the temperature around 38°C (unfortunately we can’t buy the old-style light bulbs any more and will have to buy a proper heat bulb soon when our supply of the old ones runs out).  In the box we put a small feeder full of “chicken raiser” crumbles and a small water dispenser.  We don’t know yet if they are hens of roosters, that should be apparent in a couple of weeks when they have more feathers (we’ve never mastered the method of looking at their behinds, but here's how you can work it out when they're older).
First chick into the brooder box and eating already.
It always amazes me how feisty and bold the chicks are when they first hatch, considering how tiny they are, they are certainly not helpless babies.  They are very attentive and quick to learn when we show them how to eat by tapping on crumbles on the floor of their box.  You can see them looking at your finger and copying the action.  One chick hatched a few days before the others and I was worried about putting the smaller chicks in the box in case they were picked on.  In fact the opposite was the case, with the larger chick scared in the corner of the box and the smaller two pecking him at first until they settled down and are now getting on ok.   The most alarming aspect of the chicks is their habit of falling asleep anywhere in their box and looking as if they have dropped dead!    

Sleeping chicks often look like they've just dropped dead!
We had a power cut for 10 minutes while the chicks were hatching and my husband and I ran around putting blankets on the incubator to try to keep them warm.  This has made us realise how important electricity is to keeping all our systems running and we will be looking at securing our electricity independence as we frequently have cuts for several hours during the summer storm season.  This will start with a generator and one day extend to something more sophisticated. 

I’ll keep updating the progress of the chicks.  We hope to have some roosters so that we can have roast chicken again (we hate buying the supermarket ones, just don’t trust the conditions they’ve been raised/processed in) and I’ll do a blog on how to dress a rooster.  And maybe also some decent pullets to replace some of our older hens.   Any advice/thoughts about chicks, hatching and incubating?   

Read more about what we've learnt about incubating chicken eggs here.


By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Monday, January 10, 2011

Choosing an incubator

We have had an incubator for a while now, with mixed success.  At first we did well, but more recently we only managed to hatch one little chick from 24 eggs, and he didn't survive (they find it hard if there's only one), so we decided it was time to upgrade.


The two problems with the old incubator was that it was manual turn, so we had to remember to turn the eggs and even though you're supposed to turn them several times a day, when we're at work it would only get done twice a day (if we remembered).  The other problem was the humidity.  Correct humidity levels are critical for successful hatching, but we didn't have any method of measuring humidity, so we were only guessing at how much water was required to maintain the humidity.


As we want to raise some more chickens, we decided to buy a new incubator.  This one has automatic turn AND has a humidity sensor, so we hope this will help us hatch more successfully.  We've loaded it up with all the eggs from the chickens while we were away for Christmas and will share with you the progress of the hatching and rearing process.

New incubator with humidity sensor and auto-turn
For those not familiar with the incubation process, all we do is collect fertile eggs and keep them in an egg carton until we have enough to fill the incubator (in this case its 48 eggs) as its best if they all hatch together.  As we collect the eggs we mark them with the date and the rooster so we can start to find out which roosters are fertile.  When we have enough eggs we load up the incubator, put some water in the tray at the bottom (to create humidity) and turn it on.  This incubator does the rest for us.  With our previous incubator we had to make sure that the temperature was set at 38 degC and turn the eggs 2-3 times a day.  After 21 days or so, we should start to see the chicks hatching, then we can move them into a brooder box with a light bulb to keep them warm enough.

Eggs in the incubator (the turner is at the back)
Read more about what we've learnt about incubating chicken eggs here.  Do you have any tips to share?



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


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