Archives

Chicks, man!

So the plan was to hatch a few chicks while we had the extra eggs and prepare to replace our layers next spring.  Hatching them now means they should start laying in very early spring.  We had a broody hen, but she stopped when I tried to move her from the top nest box to a more chick-friendly lower nest box.  So time to break out the incubator.

 We have a styrofoam hova-bator incubator.  It is a still air model.  Past hatches have been horrible (both chicken and quail eggs) at less than 50% and an average about 30% have lead me to make changes.  First we bought an egg turner since it appeared that opening and closing the incubator to turn eggs three times a day was causing great fluxuations in both temperature and humidity.  While it was less work, hatch rates remained dismal.  Next it seemed the incubators with a fan were preferred as it insured the heat and humidity were more evenly dispersed.  Since our model didn’t have a fan, we could have bought a fan kit.  Since I am a computer geek, the many computer case fans I had laying around looked exactly like the ones in the kit.  I rigged one up and presto circulated air incubator, but again no real change in hatches.  

This time I did yet another internet search for ways to improve hatch rates with piss-poor incubators.  This is when I found a forum post about the “dry incubation method“.  It was worth a try since fully formed I hatched chicks described our problem.  Hoping for at least 10-15 chicks (allows for 50/50 pullets to cockerels) we collected 36 eggs over the course of seven days.  One other thing we learned was that the eggs need to be turned during this time of waiting to set in the incubator.

We removed the two red plugs per the article and used a room humidifier from when the kids were young which kept the humidity inside the incubator around 35% without adding any water inside.   In the past with water inside it stayed above  60%.  Fast forward 18 days, the turner was removed and a small amount of water added to boost humidity to around 70%.  The next day I heard chirping and saw a little egg movement.  Day 20 we added back one of the red plugs and waited.  By the end of the day at least two had hatched.  Then on the morning of the 21st day. The windows were fogged over, the humidity was at 90% and there were definitely more than two chicks.  The article said DONT open the incubator, okay we couldn’t take it any more.  30 out of 36 hatched right on schedule!!!!  What are we gonna do with 30 chickens???  

That is our best hatch ever!  Could be luck, could be the dry hatch method.  If the Beautiful Wife ever allows me to hatch chicks again, we will see if the method made the difference.

What are your hatch rates?  What things have you found help increase hatch rates?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Solar cooker project!

Solar Oven

Solar oven full of eggs for the chickens to eat.


For a while now I have wanted to get into solar cooking. Why? Two reasons, I like to experiment while cooking and I am lazy! By lazy I mean I really like recipes that say place in slow cooker for 4-6 hours. Solar ovens had these same directions. Things get cooked low and slow, like good BBQ.

I bought a solar oven like this one on eBay – . It came with two pots and a thermometer. I have tried it a couple of times empty on sunny days, but due to cool spring weather it has not gotten above 200 degrees, which is pretty good considering.

First experiment: hard boiled eggs. We found a post about cooking eggs in the shell, heaven forbid, even in the carton. Occasionally we get behind on eating eggs or the girls get ahead, not sure which and we boil up the extras and feed them back to the birds. So these two things came together at the same time and you have the above picture. The post said to cook them in the carton for 2.5 hours. I preheated the oven for 15 minutes, per the instructions. The temp showed 250 degrees, so I placed three dozen eggs straight from the fridge into the oven.

Results: at 2 hours and 15 minutes I did a check. The oven never got above 205 degrees with the cartons blocking some of the black background. The egg I checked was mostly done meaning the white and yellow of the eggs was no longer runny, but still not 100% cooked. I closed the oven back up for a half hour (15 minutes to heat back up and 15 to finish cooking) and the eggs were then done except for a couple in the one container. The instructions say it is impossible to burn the food due to the low and indirect heat, so I think next time I will give them three hours to make sure they are all done. That is unless I see it heating up past 250 degrees.

For now I am happy with the performance and the chickens are happy with the results of this solar cooking project.

solar oven hard boiled egg

Solar cooked egg after 2 hours 15 minutes at 200 degrees

Egg hunting – not just for Easter

When we built the chicken coop last winter, one feature we added was a loft for storage. We had a couple of random things up there at first, but a couple of weeks ago I bought 4 bales of hay to feed the rabbits. The loft was the perfect place to store them and keep them dry. I knew the chickens would eventually figure this out, but I stacked them in the loft so that it made it difficult to access. Earlier this week I noticed a missing hen and when I went looking realized she was in the loft. I chased her out and found 2 eggs. So I reshuffled things to try and keep them out and told me wife we need to build some sort of door or something to keep them out.

At this same time I have noticed a change to less and less day light and the expected drop in egg production. As the days get shorter the chickens naturally slow down laying eggs as nature intended. So much so that over the weekend we were actually out of eggs at the house, we only had whatever the girls had laid that day. Turned out to be a good day, 8 eggs from 12 layers. Side note here, there is an argument for either letting nature take its course and give the chickens a rest period from laying over the winter months. The other side is the by providing 12-16 hours of artificial light they can continue to lay through the winter. I have done both at our old house, but since we are here and in this for the long term we will let them rest this winter. There are breeds that are better winter layers than others like the Buff Orpingtons and Leghorns. I have also read that most breeds will continue to lay well the first year, but will molt and lay less the second winter. The fix to this is to stagger the age of your flock so you always have new layers going into each winter.

That leads us to this morning. I went to let the girls out and offered up some scratch. Then I proceeded to use one of the roost as a ladder to check the loft for any more random eggs. At first there were a couple near the edge, so I decided to rearrange the hay bales again to try and keep them out. This is when I discovered the mother-load on top of a hay bale. Ugh! There ended up being 27 eggs in the loft (that I found, might be more if I do a through cleaning). Good news is the egg shortage is over, but this does move up the schedule to build an access door to the loft.

Happy Egg Hunting!

Chicken Coop Build

As promised, here is the post on our chicken coop build. To start with let me give credit where credit is due. I am NOT a carpenter and don’t play one of TV, so I found these barn shed plans and winged it from there. My lovely wife helped and when a problem arose we sketched it out and made a decision and went with it. We chose this design as our house has gambrel ends and we wanted the coop to match in style.

So first problem we encountered was the area we chose looked almost level, but wasn’t even kind of. So the downhill side was raised almost 30 inches on pressure treated posts. Along with that we live at Stone Hill Ridge, with an emphasis on the “stone”, so digging holes for concrete supports was out. We decided to use concrete deck blocks like this one.

Concrete Deck Block

Concrete Deck Block

.

After that was settled, we build the floor deck and walls on our house deck which was flat and level. Really the whole build was done our deck and moved up the hill to the build site for assembly. Here are some picks of the deck and walls going up.
[wppa type=”thumbs” album=”4″][/wppa]

Then the siding, roof, and sliding barn door went on. The trick we used to get the gambrel roof trusses to match was that after we cut the 2X4’s to the correct angles, we laid one on the deck and used scrap 2X4’s to create a jig. Then we built them by placing 2X4’s into the jig, gluing and screwing the gussets at each joint. The barn door was made from a 2X4 that I routed out the back of to make a lip dep enough to hold the siding. It has casters mounted top and bottom that slide in a 2X4 frame attached to the front wall.
[wppa type=”thumbs” album=”5″][/wppa]

On the inside we added flooring, roost (made from fencing with some spindles removed), and a nest box. The flooring didnt go down well, it was cold and rainy, but we wanted to get it done. We used vinyl flooring which we will cover with wood shavings for easy cleanup. This worked well in our tiny city coop, so why not here. We built the feeder from scrap lumber. It sits in the corner and is gravity feed. It will easily hold 300 lbs of feed, which I have to watch or I will have a 300lb mouse to show for it. The nest boxes were ordered from eBay. The seller recommended a box for each 3-4 hens. I went with four because the size and shape fit well with the coop and I don’t plan to have more than 16 laying hens. The funny part was the hens started by laying eggs on top of the feeder, but the would roll off an break. I finally took a cardboard box with some straw and placed it on top of the feeder. They are slowly transitioning to “real” nest boxes, but I have one or two that still prefer the cardboard box.
[wppa type=”thumbs” album=”7″][/wppa]

The final view of the outside. It is 8X10 foot and about 15 ft high at the roof peak. If I do the math right that is 80 sq ft and if you subscribe to having 4 sq ft per chicken I could have up to 20 birds. My birds free range some (see post on Chicken Lock Down) so could go more than 20. We currently have 11 layers, 1 rooster, and 2 guinea fowl. Short term as we raise meat birds we could add birds to the coop, but long term we cant even eat the eggs fast enough as it is with just 11 layers.
[wppa type=”thumbs” album=”6″][/wppa]

Jen the hen

So in a follow up to the post on Kazooster the rooster finding his maturity, this post is about the hens becoming of age.

So lets start with terminology. Young male chickens, under a year old, are refereed to as cockerels. After a year they are called roosters. So technically it is “Kasooster the cockerel”, but that doesn’t have any zing! Female chickens, under a year old, are referred to as pullets. After a year they are called hens. So again technically it is “Jen the pullet” and again, no zing!

Next lets talk about naming the animals. There are different opinions and I believe you shouldn’t name anything you intend to eat, but with that being said – I give you Kazooster and Jen. 🙂 I dont see us eating the rooster any time soon since we only have the one, so he got a name after a horrible first week of attempt to crow. Jen is another story. While we will eventually rotate out these hens for new ones after a couple of years I have affectionately named them ALL Jen. This started when one bird seemed to always be at my feet when I was around the coop and as I would talk to her about why she was always bothering me, I decided she would get a name. I tried to determine which one it was so I could pick her out in a crowd, but apparently I am not that good Since they are all Plymouth Barred Rocks they tend to look a lot a like. There are slight variations in darkness of feathers or size of combs, but really in a group they tend to blend together. So I have just started calling them all Jen when I am speaking (or yelling if they are in the landscaping) directly to a specific bird, except Kazooster of course.

That leads me to real reason for this post, one of my 11 Jen’s has matured enough to start laying. This name thing has worked out since I don’t know which one actually laid the egg, I can just say “Jen started laying!” The chickens are a little over 4 months old, so getting started this early is awesome. At the old house we had Leghorns, since the city didn’t allow roosters we went for an all egg breed. It took them over six months to start laying. The first eggs are a little small, but I have found that to be normal and the increase in size as the birds mature. Here they are verses store bought grade A large.

Fresh eggs

Fresh brown eggs

The other thing I find exciting/interesting is free range eggs verse store bought. You can read the internets about free range organic is better for your health, but you can tell just by looking at them. The one on the left is the free range egg, look at the beautiful deep orange color.

Free range vs Store bought

Free range vs Store bought

And what would a post about fresh eggs be with out a picture that shows one good reason we raise chickens?

Eggs, biscuits and gravy

Eggs, biscuits and gravy