Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Week in My Life with Chickens

Day 3, Rescued Orpie and its buddy Pennie

Last week I had an incubator of eggs ready to hatch, with the Orpington buffs due late Wednesday and the Penedescencas due Thursday.  Our son Russ had 'candled' the Pennies three days earlier and only 4 of the expensive 10 eggs showed any development. The Orpingtons all showed some, but no movement. Chickens hatch in 21 days on average.  

Hatch Day 1:  This is the day scheduled for the  Orpington Buff  hatch.   The first one pipped, early, the term for when a chick begins to break out of the egg by making a small crack, and he was way ahead of schedule.  A second one pipped soon after.  That turned out to be a problem.  By evening I had 4  live Orpington chicks in the incubator and a fifth one who was trying futilely to unzip (cut around  the top of the shell ) and who appeared to be dead or dying.  For a batch of 8 mailed eggs, a 50% yield is anticipated.  During the night, one of the Penedesencas began to pip. Except for the one failed hatching, I was pleased.

Four Orpington buff chicks (shown on day three, out of incubator)
Day 2:  (From notes dated 11/20 7pm)

Today was a most unusual day. Late today I elected to intervene to save  the life of the  Orpington chicken who was dying in his shell.  I wrote: 'He is presently in ICU and his condition remains Improved but Guarded.'  I wish I'd taken a picture of what I faced when I removed him from the incubator. I had to take him out because I saw some occasional movement at a spot where the hatched chicks (which by then included 4 Orpingtons and one 'Pennie') were attacking  the hole (too big to call a pip--more of an unsuccessful zip) where something that looked  like the tip of a beak was still moving). I had wanted to try to remove the trapped chick earlier, but there are issues in opening an incubator during a hatch which is why I waited until the Pennie had unzipped his shell. By then there was no further sign of life from any of the remaining eggs but I inserted a wet warm towel into the incubator to keep the humidity up just in case and quickly removed the problem egg.  Obviously I made the right decision, because when I examined the unhatched eggs, none of them were viable.

What I held in my hand looked nothing like a chick. The mass inside was laminated to the outside of the shell and the membrane was thick and dry.  I spent a half hour opening its shell and another 20 minutes peeling off the pieces that would come off without causing the chick to bleed. The only encouraging sign was my patient chirped almost the entire time. I wrote 'He is stuck together in a ball and looks like a peeled lemon or lime, with a beak peeping out. Nevertheless, however the episode ends I learned something important:  Life indeed is precious and worth fighting for. He chirped intermittently for almost 24 hours in his shell with only his beak showing through the pip.'

I further wrote  :'Contemplating universal truths of cosmic proportion re life and death is not how I planned to spend my day.  I planned to spend it writing and instead I saved a life, or tried, and however it ends, it was a worthwhile endeavor.  He cannot stand up but he has two feet. I only see one wing and his head is stuck to his chest.'

As for the very disappointing result with the Penedesencas, I wrote: 'This was also hatching day for the Penedesencas.  Out of 10 expensive eggs, only one hatched. None of the other 3 showng any sign of embryonic mass pipped. This is going to be one expensive little chick.'

Note: Subsequent events make me wonder if the one healthy Pennie hatched for a reason.

Day 3:  Here are my notes from the third day of the Orpington hatch. 'Today I made a decision.  I gave the failing chick a bath and a blow dry. I saw that he was not missing a wing as I had thought.  It was only stuck to him .  After his bath I tried to separate his wings from his body and his neck from his shoulders so he could hold his head straight.  His legs seem strong'  It was not his legs but his ill-distributed body mass that kept him from walking.

Day 4:  'Chris and I gave the sad little guy another bath and blow dry this morning.  He was so scared he started to convulse.  Then I  read something on the Backyard Chicken page and some other sites that made me decide to give my damaged chick a buddy, so I  put a healthy Orpie in the ICU  brooder and my patient attacked it.  On a whim I replaced the healthy Orpie with the solitary Pennie which by then was dry enough to leave the incubator. The Pennie showed the Orpie how to eat. They are inseparable.'

Day 5.  Picture of Pennie and Orpie  Best Buds (taken yesterday). The other Orpington chicks are growing wing feathers.  During the middle of the night I began to worry so I moved them into a brooder with higher sides just in case.  No sleep for me.

Day 6:  The hatchings are in two separate brooders and are doing fine, including the one who was at risk.  It is smaller than its batch mates and still has some pasty spots  but otherwise it is doing well. It does whatever its buddy does.

Day 7: Time for an update of the eggs my husband  ordered in late September when he decided raising chickens would assure us a supply of fresh cage free brown eggs.  Since he has health issues and is bed-bound and I am his care-giver, you can guess which of us is caring for the  chickens.

My first group of hatchings (October 18th)  are  Partridge Penedesencas and will be six weeks old on Saturday. They are a relatively rare new breed which originates in Spain.  They are noted for their chocolate colored eggs. Ours  are no longer really chicks.  It's time for a coop.

My second group (Hatch date: October 25) were silkies and only one of  them hatched. They were mostly buff but the one which hatched is black. Yields from mail order eggs are iffy. However, None of the other eggs showed signs of embryonic development and my guess is they were infertile.

My one lonely little silkie (shown below after he escaped from his brooder yesterday) will be five weeks old Saturday. It  thinks it's an eagle and wants to fly. It is so very pretty. Pictures do not do him justice.
I cannot be sure, but  I fear that 2 out of the 3 older pennies are Roos. I can only keep 2 roosters on my 1.4 acre lot  I have decided no matter, if the little guy I saved is a Roo, he gets to live here for as long as I do.  If the silkie is a roo I have someone who wants one to breed with silkie hens.

Statistically with 10 chickens I should have 5 hens and 5 roos. But when only one out of a batch hatches (like the silky and the last pennie) some experienced backyard breeders say they are likely roos. That means I probably have 4 hens and 6 roosters, a problem I must face. I can always build a rooster hotel on land I own in Joshua Tree. If I get lucky and have 5 hens, we'll have enough eggs.

Isn't this fascinating? 
Not what you expected from a retired prosecutor of major crimes who writes historical fiction, you say?
Take heart. During the month of November when I wasn't incubating, feeding, watering and cleaning up after chicks, I wrote an entire book in the National Novel Writing Month event!  It's a sequel to my Scottish Fantasy The Green Woman, written under the pseudonym J.D. Root. Look for it in final form in March.

I am  finished with incubating eggs until I sex the chicks I already have. Since breeders do not ship live hens in winter, I will likely order 1or 2 female Silkies and an assortment of brown egg layers in late spring to bring my total hens to 10.

Have I gone crazy?  Ya think?

1 comment:

  1. Linda, I had no idea you were doing this. How wonderful, and a very good idea as to getting a fresh supply of eggs. My sister keeps chickens and is very successful, even having surplus to sell. I think she also has silkies. The eggs are the best I have ever had. Some are blue. How clever you are. Wonderful post. LOL