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Monday, February 11, 2013

Spring chickens

Our chickens are currently providing us with a dozen or so eggs each day.  This is ideal since we are soon planning to start the incubator.  We can take half or more each day for hatching and keep the other half or less for sale or consumption.  Nothing fancy, our incubator was purchased at Tractor Supply (I think) and cost around $25.00.  It doesn't have a fan nor an automatic egg turner; however, it has served us well for the past several years.  We started with a plan to hatch about fifteen new laying hens.  33 eggs were placed into the incubator and we diligently turned them morning and night for eighteen days.  The last three days you don't turn the eggs so that the chicks can get their bearings and plan their escape.  About half of the eggs hatched and only one didn't make it due to a genetic anomaly or other such problem.  This first batch was a successful rooster breeding venture and of the fourteen chicks, I think nine were male.  They tasted pretty good.

For the past two years we have run out of eggs during the summer for farmers market sale.  Last year I thought I had planned accordingly and started our incubation early, by my standards, in March.  At the same time as I had planned for extra egg laying birds, we had a lot of interest from friends and neighbors to purchase pullets for their own home flocks.  Three batches of eggs went through the incubator and none of those birds remained on the farm to augment our flock.  Seeing that I wasn't going to have laying hens would still be laying for mid-summer 2013, in July I ordered 25 birds from a hatchery, thirteen hens and twelve straight run (a mix of males and females).  Those were not sold and after predators and one with a broken leg, we ended up with thirteen laying hens.  They are currently producing the majority of our eggs.  I put one last group of eggs through the incubator in mid-September and those birds, nine or ten hens and two or three roosters (one of them is confused I am sure of it) remain in the garage in a makeshift coop.

Chicken eggs take 21 - 23 days to hatch when properly incubated at 99.9 degrees and proper humidity.  Counting back from a March 15th hatch date, as opposed to a March 15th start of incubation date, we will be firing up the incubator over the weekend of the 23rd.  We will plan on running at least four batches through the incubator with our last planned hatch date being June 15th.  Assuming that we plan ahead and if our roosters are doing their jobs properly, we will have enough hens ahead to provide us with some stewing chickens for the freezer.

Our flock started with a mixture of Orpingtons and Rocks.  We had a couple of Leghorns added to the mix and then were blessed with two Red Laced Blue Wyandotte roosters.  These boys have the most wonderful heft, gorgeous coloring and appear to be very effective at doing what they are supposed to do.  The roosters that resulted from their breeding last year were fantastic roasting chickens.   We have only a few Rocks, no Leghorns, and only one Orpington left; the girls I ordered this past summer are Wyandottes making them the primary breed in our flock.  Roosters resulting from our incubation this year will be added to traditional Cornish cross meat birds, which I will have delivered, both for sale and for family consumption.

Plans for a second brooder box and two more chicken tractors have been completed and will be constructed once the snow has melted.  The tractors will travel between the Christmas trees adding not only wonderful nitrogen rich fertilizer but having the added benefit of decreasing the amount of mowing required between the trees.  The forecast for this week predicts an early start to the sugaring season and incubation will start before sugaring is complete.  Spring looks like it will arrive early on the farm this year.

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