Baby chicks hatched on December 25th! We had a very low success because the temperature shifts froze a lot of the eggs before they were gathered for the incubator. It’s a big winter moral booster to have chicks in the house at the darkest time of year. The sound of peeping and chirping brings smiles and a warm feeling of joy. The little flit and flight of young life scratching around brings a liveliness into the home when most needed. It’s also the best time of year to hatch out chicks for a layer flock. What?!? Yes, by the time these birds reach maturity in mid-summer, they will start laying before the fall. If you let chicks hatch out in the warmer months with a broody hen, your chicks will start laying as winter sets in, and birds slow production in line with the darker times. This means your egg production will not really expand for yet another year.
Though our farm does not work to force maximization for profit, we do find our birds have better success and development if we hatch them at this time. We’re currently incubating a second round, and have a much higher success in fertility this time. Ironically, in a way, we also received a flock of 10 birds needing a re-home. Current flock is at 30. This next hatch out will grow us to 40, and that’s a few too many, so we’ll cull and/or sell some adult birds this Spring. We also donate a few birds to a wilderness survival class at the local nature school nearby each February. EEC Forest Stewardship supports nature education, hands on learning, and slow food. Happy to supply healthy animals providing healthy food to our community.
Our in house setup is modest. We’ve been using Brinsea products, and can’t say enough about how great they are. The brooder has eliminated fire hazard caused by heat lamps- trust me, the heat lamps are serious fire hazards- we experienced this first hand. Out Brinsea brooder remains effective and safe. The incubator is great too, though I will say newer design options have improved. When we’re ready for our next investment, we’re sticking with Brinsea, as it’s worth the price for durability and reliability. Why do we not use hens to brood naturally? Sometimes we do, but to enjoy winter chicks, we use the mechanical devices to improve hatch rate and have the most control over when. This summer, 2022, we did not have a hen raised clutch. It was most likely related to the hot temperatures and smoke. The birds are sensitive to environmental change, and smoke this summer darkened our skies, changing the birds’ rhythms in subtle, but noticeable ways. Egg production this summer was a little below normal rates. I’m purposing the smoke dampening natural light played a role, but I can’t find any studies to back this statement. General stress from hindered breathing would also effect the birds.
Right now, there is no smoke to hinder our flock, and the chicks are developing nicely. The next clutch to hatch will be much larger, and time in the blue bin will be limited by quick development. The three pictured below are still in the bin at this age, only because it’s only 3, and there’s enough room. In a few days, they will be moved to a larger pen in the pole barn to continue growing. At 2 1/2 weeks, they are fully feathered and have enough body mass to keep warm without the brooder. We’ll continue daily monitoring- including feeding and water refresh as they continue to develop. Moving these older chicks out makes room for the new babes to come. Different aged chicks don’t mix well, the older ones will bully and even kill younger birds, which is the nature of survival. By six weeks, the chicks are teenagers- big enough to go in with the adult birds, as long as there’s a good number of them to flock together for safety. A single young bird would be attacked if alone. This trio should be enough ‘bulk” to muster against the older gals once they reach teen hood. By then, the other clutch will need the pole barn enclosure. I’m not particularly happy about having a double clutch happening. Timing is not ideal, as the new chicks will need a lot of space and these three current babes are such a small flock to have the whole barn, but we’ll solve for that when we get there. If we need to make multiple enclosures, we will.