The Chickens Cometh

Happy New Year for those who celebrate January 1 as a new calendar year! While we don’t necessarily subscribe to New Year’s Resolutions, I do find this time of year good for planning and starting some new projects. It’s been no secret to those close to me that I’ve been researching everything I can about backyard chickens. I was pretty sure I was going to get them summer 2015 but something kept holding me back (I’m pretty sure it was straight up fear). It was during a trip to a local farm in October 2015 where I witnessed D’s absolute love of birds and bovine that it convinced me I would have to get the boy some chickens.

Keeping backyard chickens is becoming an ever-popular hobby. There’s a wealth of information online about starting up your own flock, general care and even butchering. I’m not entirely sure I’ll be pursuing raising chickens for meat but I’m fairly certain I have enough resolve to raise chickens for eggs. Of course, during my research I also came across backyard quail and ducks; they’re on my short list of additions to our family as well 😉

But, I digress… back to the chickens!

Lots of research helped me to narrow down some cold hardy chickens. Of course, simply being “cold hardy” wasn’t enough for me. I was on the hunt for beautiful and rare or endangered breeds. Luckily, I was able to find a fantastic breeder just outside of Ontario that was willing to ship me hatching eggs in January of all months! This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but we’re having an unusually warm winter and the eggs were shipped during days that the temperature was +4. From what I’ve read, and now experienced, chickens laying habits change with the colder weather and so the breeds that were ultimately shipped to me were Jubilee Orpingtons (4), White Chanteclers (2), Ameraucana (3) and Silkies (3) because of availability of eggs at the time. I would love to add some Silver Laced Wyandottes and Buff Orpingtons to the flock one day because I think they’re absolutely beautiful, but I’ll focus on the 12 eggs I have at the moment 🙂

As soon as the hatching eggs arrived they were carefully unpacked and examined for any signs of cracking; this would indicate that harmful bacteria could get in and damage the embryo. Thus, cracked eggs would usually be destroyed instead of incubated. We were lucky though and all of the eggs appeared perfectly intact. Being a newbie, I did candle the eggs after they arrived hoping to see this air bubble I’ve read so much about. Apparently, if the air bubble detaches or is in the wrong spot after shipping, this would indicate an unviable egg as well. I don’t know… I saw lots of shadows through the shells but couldn’t determine what the air bubble was. So, I assumed all eggs were fine and I let them ‘rest’ for 12 hours prior to placing them in the incubator.

When it was time to put the eggs into the incubator I ran into some issues:

  1. The eggs were too big to all fit into the automatic turner. This meant I would just have to hand-turn all eggs. Not a big deal commitment-wise but it could very well negatively impact hatching rates;
  2. The incubator bottom was uneven. Since the eggs weren’t in the egg turner they could and did roll around every time I even slightly touched the incubator (e.g. replacing the lid). I ended up using divider pieces from the egg turner to hold the eggs in place on the platform;
  3. I didn’t calibrate the incubator temperature with an independent thermometer. While I couldn’t measure it independently, my sense was that the incubator was running somewhat hot. After purchasing a thermometer I did find that while the incubator was showing 38 degrees Celsius the separate thermometer was showing 38.4 to 38.6. Again, another issue that could very well negatively impact hatching rates. My reading has shown that, while the incubator should stay consistently at 37.9 or 38 degrees Celsius, it would have been better for it to be running cooler than too hot.

So, I’m totally guilty of making some newbie mistakes with incubating the hatching eggs but I’m hopeful they aren’t too far outside of the range of what might be experienced if a broody hen was hatching the eggs. I would think there would be differences in temperatures from time to time and that a hen wouldn’t always delicately get off her eggs so it’s possible they could be jostled around a little. The proof with be in the hatch, however.

Chicken eggs typically go through a 21-day incubation period. I put the eggs in the incubator at 8:30pm Thursday, January 7, 2016. That means that as I’m writing this post we’re coming to a close on day 4 of incubation. I’ve been turning the eggs 3-4 times each day and even attempted candling again last night. The blue Ameraucana shells are really difficult to see through but the Silkie shells are pretty easy. I still don’t really know what I’m looking at but I think I started to see some of the intricate blood vessel system starting to form in the Silkie eggs. There’s no scent of any ‘bad’ eggs yet but it may still be too early to tell. Most of my research says to candle on Day 4, 7, 16 but I may skip it tonight since the eggs were handled for candling last night.

Currently, the incubator is in a small closet in our bathroom. The closet is warm and the bathroom provides some pretty decent humidity so I haven’t really needed to add much water to the incubator. When it’s time for lockdown (Day 18), I’ll move the incubator to a more central location in the house, while still being out of reach of D&K’s curious hands, so that, if we’re really lucky, we may get a chance to view our little babies hatching. Originally, I assumed I would be buying chicks instead of incubating but, after researching even more about incubation, I thought it might be a good learning experience for our family. Time will tell! 🙂

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