The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Category: Chickens (page 1 of 4)

Spring Ahead

Spring has arrived about 6 weeks early in Minnesota this year. That’s not to say winter won’t stop by again, but today is the 3rd day in a row of 60+ temps and will be the last day snow can be seen on our property. Even the grass is starting to green up!

Spring is always welcome here. However, Spring on a Hobby Farm means lots of work! And I’m not fully ready to come out of hibernation yet.

The seedlings are planted and growing well: tomatoes, broccoli (which Becca says she wants every week of the summer), lettuce, and a variety of flowers.

tomato seedlings

The chickens are laying abundantly, after about a 5-month hiatus during the coldest months.

Chickens enjoying the warm weather

All the maple trees are tapped and flowing a full 3 weeks ahead of season. I just hauled in 5 more gallons of sap after taking this picture. 30 gallons collected so far, waiting to be evaporated.

Collecting maple sap in buckets

Tapping maple trees started early this year

Since the sap is flowing, it is also the best time of year to graft trees. I made my first attempt, grafting a branch from a HoneyGold apple tree onto the MacIntosh nearby. The yellow HoneyGold was one of a few trees we planted without ever knowing how the fruit would taste. It turned out be delicious! Like a cross between a pear and an apple, but the texture of a HoneyCrisp. Needless to say, we want more HoneyGold and a simple way to expand the supply is to graft onto another tree.

Graft of apple tree

If successful, the MacIntosh will be bearing both red and yellow apples!

 


Baby chicks growing fast

Cocoa and Clove close-up

Our baby chicks, Cocoa and Clove, were born 2 weeks ago and are growing fast! In fact they are quickly outgrowing their brooder and we’re now looking for a bigger box.

Baby chicks in their new brooder

We try to give them time each day outside the box to stretch their legs and flap their tiny wings.

Boy watches baby chicks

Ivar holding baby chicks

It will probably be another month indoors. The other chickens will be properly introduced after the snow melts and there’s plenty of space for everyone.

Elsie feeds the chickens outside

Spring is coming, though! Temps reached about 50 degrees today and everyone was outdoors to enjoy it.

 


Baby chicks hatching! (video)

Two baby chicks hatched in our homemade incubator

It’s been an exciting few days here at the Grovestead! Our flock has grown with the healthy hatches of two new baby chicks. If you haven’t been following along, be sure to read part 1 (egg incubator) and part 2 (candling eggs) to catch up.

After building a homemade egg incubator, we set four eggs laid by our own chickens. A week later we were able to see growth inside two of the eggs, meaning they were fertile. So we kept these in the incubator for another two weeks and watched them very closely! The eggs had to be turned three times a day, the temperature had to be just right, I had to increase the humidity the last three days using wet sponges…  I’m pretty sure I stressed out more over these chickens hatching than I did either of our children being born. Don’t tell Becca I said that.

But the day FINALLY came. After being 24 hours overdue, I noticed slight movement in one of the eggs. I set up a camera on a tripod to catch all the action. This animation comprises several hours leading up to the first hatch:

Egg started to move just before hatching

The last frame was about 5:30AM. And let me tell you I was totally disheartened that my birds weren’t hatching. I came back at 7:00AM and saw this:

First egg broke open, chick begins to emerge

New baby chicks first few steps

The first baby chick emerges and takes his first few steps.

The reason baby chicks can go days without food or water is because they literally suck the egg’s yoke into their abdomen in the final hours before hatching. This is why its so important not to disrupt the process or intervene. Everything that happens in the final hours is essential to the chick’s ability to survive outside the shell.

It took an entire 24 hours before the second chick began to hatch (again inspiring much anxiety). Its sibling stayed close by the whole time:

Chick stays close to other egg

The first piercing of the outer shell is known as a “pip”. It occurs on the same end of the egg as the air sac that forms during incubation. Once the shell is pipped, the chicken can start breathing air and working its way out of the egg.

Second egg pips (chick breaks open outer shell)

The baby chick doesn’t just peck a hole and try to crawl out. It pierces in a complete circle (known as “zipping”) so the whole end of the egg falls off. Then the chick simply pushes the shell off and rolls out. The whole process took about 30 minutes.

Sibling watches the hatching closely

Loyal from birth, the sibling stayed close by and watched, even assisting during the hatch as you’ll see in the video.

 

 


Candling eggs

Candling eggs showing unfertilized egg

We are now two weeks into our little egg-hatching experiment. It’s mostly uneventful, other than turning the eggs three times a day and occasionally checking the temperature in the middle of the night. Becca tells me I am a good mother hen.

People have asked me, where did we get our eggs? We keep chickens of course, and a rooster.

Our rooster

So we are using eggs from our own flock. But that doesn’t mean all the eggs will hatch. In fact, it’s impossible to know which eggs are fertilized until after they have been incubated for several days.

There are three possible outcomes:

  1. The egg is unfertilized.
  2. The egg is fertilized but stopped growing.
  3. The egg is fertilized and the embryo is growing!

After incubating the eggs for about 1 week, you can “candle” them to distinguish between the various stages. Candling simply involves shining a flashlight through the egg to see what’s inside. Apparently this was done by candlelight back in the day, hence the name. Being the nerd that I am, I built a little contraption to hold the flashlight and egg in place so I could take pictures.

The box I used to hold the flashlight and egg

Initially, I was quite disappointed that the first two eggs I candled did not appear to have anything growing in them. But the next two did have growing embryos, and it was thrilling to see them moving around inside! I couldn’t believe that two new chickens were actually growing inside this rinky-dink contraption I threw together.

Here are more pictures from candling:

Another unfertilized egg

This is second unfertilized egg from the first batch.

Unfertilized egg, showing yolk

This is an unfertilized egg from a batch I started a few days later. Notice the egg yolk (dark spot) towards the top of the egg, and otherwise transparent color all the way through.

Now compare the above unfertilized eggs with these:

Candling egg showing developing embryo with blood vessels

The sure sign of a developing chick is blood vessels spreading out from the embryo. The opaque part towards the top of the egg is the actual chick.

Air sack is formed at the bottom of a developing egg

Same egg, turned upside down. Here you are seeing the air sac that forms on one end of the egg, also an initial sign of healthy embryos. The air sac contains the oxygen the baby chicks will need while they’re hatching.

Different egg developing, air sack is visible

This is the other developing egg. You can see all the components: blood vessels, embryo (dark spot), and air sac.

It’s exciting, but I haven’t named them yet. The hardest part is yet to come. A lot can go wrong in the final few days of incubation. If the temperature or humidity is off by just a few degrees, the chicks won’t be able to hatch. We’ll just have to wait and see.

 


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