Monday, 27 March 2017

How many baby chickens?

It was Mr J's birthday this weekend and I had set some eggs in the incubator with the hope that they would hatch on his birthday. Well, nature has a mind of its own and from late in the afternoon of day 19 in the incubator, we could clearly hear cheeping and peeping of little chicks.

On day 20 I got up to be greeted by two little chicks and throughout the day they seemed to arrive in a gentle but steady stream. As we went to bed there were eleven little fluffy chicks stumbling their way around the incubator.

As so often happens during hatching, I was unable to sleep very much as I get so excited about the new little lives that are presenting themselves in the incubator and so, at 3am or thereabouts, I was sitting in the kitchen blearily staring into the incubator and fifteen little pairs of eyes looked back at me!

On the day of Mr J's birthday, we moved eight of the chicks to the nursery run to snuggle under the brooder (the electric mummy) so that there was more space in the incubator for the more recently hatched birds. By the end of his birthday, there were twenty baby chickens. I had put twenty-seven eggs into the incubator, three were not fertile so were removed at day five, which left us with twenty-four fertile eggs. Twenty hatched chicks from twenty-four eggs is a very good hatch rate and I was delighted.

The day after Mr J's birthday yet another little chick hatched, giving us a total of twenty-one!
I think that we have two hybrids that are Big Red crossed with Diesel, they are very black with a smidgen of brown on their necks, seven Australorp, four Cream Legbars and eight Jersey Giants.

All these eggs were laid here on the smallholding, they are all the off-spring of birds we have here (or have had here as Squeaky and Big Red are no longer with us).

To make space for these little newly hatched chickens, the four week olds (all eighteen of them) have been moved into nursery houses in the chicken field, actually they are just outside the chicken field where I have easy access to them and can attend to them regularly throughout the day without disturbing the other chickens.

Split between two nursery houses, the eighteen chicks are now in groups of nine Jersey Giants and a mixed group of Australorps, Silver Laced Wyandottes and a couple of Jersery Giants (that we know we won't be breeding from as they have the wrong colour legs to be true to the breed standard). They are all doing well, they are feathered and off heat and seem very pleased to have grass to run around on and eat. 

The seven chicks that were in one of the nursery houses have also moved. They have graduated to the shed with the mixed flock and after just two nights in with the older girls, they seem settled and are running around the field very happily. They have learnt that their food and water is inside under cover and also seem to have grown tremendously in confidence and agility,

There have been some other new additions to our flocks. We have a lovely White Sussex girl who has spent most of her time with the young seven, Mr J and I have decided to call her Auntie Mabel. She's a very friendly although somewhat timid, chicken who no doubt will find her feet and settle into the mixed flock very well.

Two new thirteen week old pullets (young female chickens who haven't started to lay), these are a cross between a deep brown egg layer and a very dark brown egg layer and they should (fingers crossed) give us deep to dark brown eggs when they start laying. There are also two more of this cross-breed chicken that are now six weeks old and they will remain in a nursery house for a couple more weeks.

Yesterday four laying girls arrived, three that will also lay dark-ish brown eggs and one that is a Leghorn cross and she lays white eggs. 

Between the new arrivals and our existing flock, we should be able to offer a nice selection of colour of eggs in our egg boxes.

All the newly hatched chicks, the four week olds, the six week olds, the eight week olds and the thirteen week olds cost a pretty penny to feed, so thankfully we are now selling the eggs of the layers to help pay for the feed costs.

I've also sold some of the Jersey Giant eggs for hatching and as long as we continue to see hatching eggs and eating eggs, the girls will pay for their own food. At least during the summer. When autumn returns and throughout the winter, feed costs go up as there is less grass to eat and fewer bugs in the garden and of course, if there is a lockdown again this year, the feed costs will soar as the birds are restricted to being inside.

Not all of the chicks will be laying birds, obviously some will be males and they will either be kept as breeding stock or will feed us throughout the latter part of the year. So today we have fifty chicks that over the next few months will start laying or be moved to a separate area. And that should keep us in eggs for a while!
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