And the wind….cried….Ernie….

I’m not exactly sure when I became the Crazy Chicken Lady.  Probably about the same time that I began to decipher the chicken language.  I could tell what a chicken was doing just by the sound it made.  Found a bug?  Excited peeping noise.  Rooster found a bug?  Excited clucking to get the ladies to come around.  Frantic peeps?  Obviously a lost chick looking for mama.  Growling sound? Chicken unsure of what’s going on.  The list goes on.

But I knew I’d really lost it when I started getting telepathic chicken messages.  Allow me to explain….

Last year, we had a little bout of Arctic air blow through in late November.  The winds whipped at the pines mercilessly, and temps dropped rapidly when the sun disappeared.  As the night wore on, the lights flickered on and off frequently.

I had hatched out a late batch of chicks a few days prior.  Not really the best idea to hatch out anything so vulnerable that late in the year, but that’s what happened.

About 3am, after a very fitful attempt at sleep, my eyes flew open.  Our ceiling fan wasn’t moving.  It was pitch black. There was something…something…something pecking at my brain.  My mothering instinct was on overdrive, but it wasn’t something with the kids….I was forgetting something….what is it, what IS it……..OH MY GOD, THE BABY CHICKS!  No electricity meant no heat lamp, which meant no heat for 14 tiny 2 day old chicks in a barn.  I jumped out of the bed and ran to our barn, fully expecting to find 14 frozen bite-sized chicken nuggets in the brooder.  Miraculously, they were piled in a fuzzy little heap, all very much alive although pretty disgruntled.  I gathered them all into a plastic tote and hauled them into the house by our woodstove.  Putting a towel on my lap, I took the 14 little fuzzies and wrapped them up until I felt that they wouldn’t keel over from hypothermia and then put them back into the bin.  Listening to 14 peeping chicks for the remainder of the night wasn’t exactly what I’d describe as peaceful.  Fortunately, the wind ended with daybreak and electricity was turned back on.  No baby chicks were lost.

Was it just my mothering instinct?  Or did the chicks send out a “Hey moron, we’re freezing out here” psychic message?  Another example:

It was almost midnight, and I was in bed about to fall asleep.  Suddenly, I heard a tiny, muffled sound of a rooster crowing, or at least I thought I did. Not any rooster, but Ernie specifically (trust me, once you’ve been around chickens long enough, you can distinguish their voices).  How odd, I thought.  Ernie never, ever crows at night….

THE DOOR! I forgot to shut the stupid coop door!  I ran out to the coop as fast as a half-asleep person can and sure enough, the coop door was still very much wide-open with my very favorite hen sitting completely unprotected in front of it.  Naturally.  Did Ernie really crow? He’s certainly not revealing anything.  Or am I slowly turning into a chicken myself?

One thing that is sure to get my attention is the sound of a baby chick in trouble.  They tend to make an extremely annoying, loud pitched ‘PEEEEEP PEEP PEEEEEP’ to try and solicit some sympathy from Mama Hen.  One day, right at dusk, I kept hearing a noise.  A very familiar and annoying noise.

“Do you hear that?” I asked Jason.

“Yeah, just a bird,” he said, as he went back to reading.

I sat and listened for a few more seconds.  My chicken senses were awakening.

“No. No it’s not, either,” I said.

I walked out to the front yard to find (surprise, surprise) a newly hatched 1 day old baby chicken who was very much lost and twice as confused.  How it ended up all the way from the coop to the front yard, I’ll never really know.  Regardless, “Big Mama Hen” came to the rescue that day.  I swear, they seek me out, they really do.  Oh well.

There’s probably not much need for a chicken psychic.  Then again, maybe I could start the Psychic Chicken Network Hotline for chicken owners.  (“Mrs. Jones, the reason Doris is acting so depressed is that she’s really wanting some vegetable scraps. Wait, hold on….can you hold Doris up to the phone again, please?  Mmmhmmm….She is also telling me that you’re buying the cheap pellets again.  Is that true, Mrs. Jones?”)

Until next time, keep on cluckin’.

What’s up, my peeps?

This was my first official attempt at hatching chicken eggs.  I used a Little Giant incubator, with no fan, but with an auto egg turner.  Temperature was kept at 99.5 degrees as much as possible, and humidity was kept rather low (called a dry hatch) at about 35-40 percent.  After 21 days, here’s what happened:

This tiny break in the shell is called a ‘pip’ (above pic).  The baby chick has broken through the inner membranes to make a tiny hole, and to put a tiny crack in the shell.  Baby chicks will remain in this phase for as long as a day.  You have to remember that the chick has been scratching non-stop for hours with the tiny ‘egg tooth’ on their beak to get to this point.  They need some rest!

 Here’s the next phase.  The chick has now opened up the pip and is enlarging the hole.  He’s getting ready to…..

ZIP!  This is my favorite part of the hatching process.  You can see that his sibling is eagerly awaiting his arrival.  The ‘zip’ stage is where the chick literally zips all the way around the egg.  This part goes fairly quickly.  That baby chick is READY to get outta there now.

 

 The chick shoves the zipped eggshell as hard as he can, and:

He’s out of there!  Now it’s just time to dry off, which takes several hours.

My hatching percentage wasn’t great at all…likely due to the fact I was inexperienced with hatching bird eggs (I have hatched reptile eggs 100% in the past).  This time around, I am trying a higher humidity level since I went and checked humidity with a hygrometer under a brooding hen and found it to be around 60%.  I’m currently setting more eggs at 99.5 to 100 degrees with the humidity around 50-52% and at the 2 week check, which was yesterday, I only had 2 eggs not develop further after my Week 1 check, so I’m excited!  Right now I have 11 ‘Easter egger’ eggs and 4 Silkie cross eggs. 

Here are more post-hatch images:

Here is the shell after a good hatch.  There are 2 inner membranes in the shell.  The first one closest to the chick contains the blood vessels which have sustained the chick in utero, if you will.  It is a very thin, clear membrane.  The next membrane is a tough, whitish membrane.  If the chick takes too long to hatch, this membrane will dry out too much, causing the chick to suffocate/die in the shell.  This is another reason why correct humidity is so critical.  You’ll see that there is a little pink…this is just where the vessels were.  The chick absorbs the blood which was in them during the hatching process.  This is why you CANNOT just peel a chick who is almost ready to hatch out of the shell.  Doing so will cause massive hemorrhaging and death to the chick.  I have ‘helped’ some chicks hatch, but it is an extremely slow, delicate procedure that must be done in gradual phases, over the course of many hours.

Now here’s some cute and fluffy pics of the chicks at a few days old.  The black chicks, which are Barred Plymouth Rocks, are not the ones I hatched myself.

And, how do YOU do?

A very special thanks to the Swanson family for allowing me to hatch their eggs!

Take five, they’re small…

“We can see a thousand miracles around us every day. What is more supernatural than an egg yolk turning into a chicken?” – S. Parkes Cadman

The other night we came home just after dark, and drove up to the chicken coop to lock up the chickens.  I noticed that there were only 3 chickens in the coop, which was really unusual, since chickens always return to their roost at night. So, I went into the pen and they were all crammed into the corner closest to their little doorway into their coop.  The little door was closed, so they couldn’t get int0 their coop.  Chickens, not being the absolute brightest sometimes, will all huddle together in a big ball when they are scared or, as in our situation, they wanted to roost and had nowhere to go.  Unfortuately, in both situations, it is not uncommon for them to crush one another (think: people crushing one another in those soccer matches overseas.  I guess people aren’t too bright, either)  Well, after I dispersed the pile, I found Dot, my daughter’s absolute favorite Bantam hen lifeless on the ground.  I attempted a feeble try at chicken resuscitation, no mouth to mouth, mind you, but she was already gone.  I did not tell our daughter that the turkeys likely crushed little Dot for fear that she would hate the turkeys, so the next day she assumed (as she does with all the animals that are not seen again) that ‘the coyotes’ had nabbed Dot.  So, of course, Dot had to be replaced by another ‘banty’.

We went to Atwood’s and, lo and behold, all of the baby chicks are now on clearance.  My daughter immediately picked out the chick that I had my eye on, which was a tan and black spotted little number, with fully feathered legs.  But, the most eye-catching thing about his appearance was that his bottom beak was at a 45 degree angle to his top beak.  The chicks were already a couple of weeks old, so it was apparent to me after checking out “Stanley’s” body condition, that even though he was a disabled chicken, he was doing just fine.  Yes, a disabled chicken.  So, as we were looking at the other chicks, another family (and I use that term loosely here) came by with about 3 kids and another on the way, and the smallest girl, who looked about two, wanted to touch the tiniest Bantam, whereupon her mother’s boyfriend/new husband/whatever told her, “No, you don’t want the runt.”  First of all, it isn’t as though they were buying chicks, they were just looking.  Second of all, it isn’t like being a runt is contagious, and thirdly, they were Bantam chicks, anyway! (that means miniature chicken, essentially) 

Naturally, I picked up the “runt” and I bought it, too, to save it from being the target of some other redneck’s comments.   Then, I picked up a baby chick for the little girl, who I was pitying at that moment, having to deal with a mother that was running around with an angry-looking redneck boyfriend who took every chance he got to make snappy comments at her, and she pet the chick ever so gently. (That woman really needs to listen to Dr. Laura)  So, then I picked out 3 more chicks that I am almost certain are Frizzles, and we left. 

My husband came home singing a song (we are always singing dumb, made-up songs) with some lyrics about, “Well, we went to get two, and we came home with five…”.  Oh, well. 

In farm life, we worked on the brick path yesterday, despite being 90 degrees with 400% humidity.  The weather has been so wacky lately, I’m surprised we haven’t yet been slammed with a tornado yet.  Today is hot, tonight will be cooler, tomorrow will be hotter, but then the next day we’re having a major cold front.  Go figure.  Anyway, we have completed enough of the path that it is now coming around the front of the house and we have gotten rid of two pallets of bricks that have been sitting in my front yard for about a year.  Yippee!  When Jason moved the last pallet, he found a snake for me, so of course I had to go outside and pick it up!  It looked like a Rough Earth snake to me, but I am not 100% sure on that.  But what I am positive about is that it wasn’t poisonous.  I don’t ‘do’ poisonous snakes.