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Candling Chicken Eggs.

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This is the third in a four-post series about hatching eggs from our 5 deceased laying hens who fell victim to a predator, along with nearly all of their temporary flock-mates, during their transitional stay at Harmonious Homestead. For more, read The Absence of Chickens and Incubating Chicken Eggs. IMG_9972 There are varying opinions about the importance, and risk, of candling eggs while hatching them via an incubator. Some feel it is unnecessary exposure to bacteria, which could result in a greater number of developing embryo losses. Others feel it is an essential source of information about how the incubation is progressing and what might be going right or wrong in the incubator. During my first try incubating eggs, I found myself somewhere in the middle, hoping to minimize the risk of contamination while still checking the eggs in order to remove any non-developing eggs and avoid a messy situation. On day 7, I candled each egg for the first time. Previous reading led me to believe that it may be difficult to see the tiny embryos, but i found it to be fairly easy to tell which eggs were developing. Even the blue eggs, with two layers of pigmentation, were fairly easy for me to see through using no special equipment, just the flashlight on my iPhone. I invited Rachel and Lil of Harmonious Homestead over to take a look and assist me with photos. We crowded into the bathroom, our only room without a window. I held my phone in one hand and the egg in the other, sealing the light of the the flashlight as well as I could so that it would shine only through the shell of the egg. The light revealed a spiderweb of veins and a sizable air sac in the developing eggs and just a indistinct cloud of yolk in the duds. IMG_0010 (Viable, developing egg, you can see the embryo as a dark spot just to the left of the corner of the phone.) After candling each egg, I recorded whether or not the egg was developing on a chart. I decided to keep those that did not appear to be developing in the incubator for a few more days before checking them again and discarding them if they were, indeed, lacking embryos. IMG_9986 (Another developing egg. Note the spiderweb of veins, slightly difficult to make out in this photo, and the visible air sac at the top of the egg.)   IMG_9975 While it was a little disheartening to find that many of the eggs from Rachel’s rooster Shackleton II weren’t developing, we knew the experiment was a long-shot from the beginning. Many of the eggs from her next door neighbor were viable and developing, though. So I knew my clutch would hatch quite a few purebred Ameraucana chicks in just two more weeks. IMG_0027 (This egg had a clear blood ring around the yolk. We decided to crack it open and investigate as part of this homesteading/homeschooling activity. The head, body and eye were easy to make out.)

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Incubating chicken eggs.

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This is the second in a four-post series about hatching eggs from our 5 deceased laying hens who fell victim to a predator, along with nearly all of their temporary flock-mates, during their transitional stay at Harmonious Homestead. For more, read The Absence of Chickens.

Introducing another partner in our quest to raise a new generation of chickens, the HovaBator incubator from City Folk’s Farm Shop.

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The HovaBator 1588 is a Styrofoam picture-window incubator with digital electronic controls and temperature and humidity sensors. It has a few optional add-ons, including the automatic egg-turner that we brought home with us.

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Right out of the box, the entire operation is intuitive and easy to assemble. The bottom tray goes down first, then the water reservoir, the hardware cloth hatching surface and then the lid. Our automatic egg-turner sits on top of the hardware cloth grate, its power cord exiting through a small, specifically-manufactured channel.

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The digital controls and sensor reading displays are all on the lid of the incubator, along with the large plexiglass window.

To get the eggs started, I searched the internet and found quite a few informative sites about hatching chicken eggs. Instead of giving you a step-by-step myself, since this is my first time endeavoring to hatch eggs, I’ll point you to some resources in the next post of this series.

The absence of chickens.

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This is the first in a four-post series about hatching eggs from our 5 deceased laying hens who fell victim to a predator, along with nearly all of their temporary flock-mates, during their transitional stay at Harmonious Homestead. For more, read Incubating chicken eggs.

When we moved into our new house a few weeks ago, we anticipated that one of our first priorities while getting settled in would be building housing for our hens. Last fall, our friends at Harmonious Homestead graciously offered to take the five girls in when our landlord needed to take down the coop and run to address moisture issues in the house we had been renting. Our girls enjoyed life in their more rural setting, but we were happy to be having them back soon.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck in the form of an efficient predator. All of our hens and all of their temporary flock mates, except one hen hiding out in the nest box, were killed in one short moment of one morning. I felt helpless as I received the word from Rachel while I was at work. By the time I was finished with my day of baking, the burial was taken care of and there wasn’t much left for me to do. So I plotted the possibilities.

A few days before, I had arranged to supplement our flock of five with five additional unsexed chicks hatched by another local homesteader a few weeks prior. The hope was to build our laying flock to 7 or 8 hens so that we would be able to share eggs with friends during surplus times. But with the Harmonious Homestead fencing and coop already in place, and no concrete plans of our own, we had a lot of options to toss around.

We had access to five additional unsexed chicks from the same homesteader, so we had a bit of a start on rebuilding the two laying flocks. However, Rachel particularly mourned the loss of their rooster, Shackleton II; he was not aggressive toward people, didn’t crow excessively and was good with the ladies. Also,our five hens laid particularly large eggs and the whole flock was robust, healthy and fairly friendly. Eyeing the uneaten eggs we each had stored on our countertops, it seemed like a wasted opportunity to enjoy one last omelette when we could chance their fertility and try to incubate and hatch a new generation of our combined flocks.

Enter our trustworthy local shop-keep and homesteading friend, Shawn. City Folk’s Farm Shop has become more that just our go-to place for any homesteading-related purchase over the last few years, it’s become the hub of a rich community of like-minded folks. And in the face of this chicken loss tragedy, it became a resource that didn’t let us down.

Among other homesteading tools for rent, City Folk’s now has an incubator, holding up to 41 chicken eggs, and its maiden voyage is happening right in my very own living room.

Today is day 13 of 21, so we’re just over halfway there. If you promise to stay tuned, I’ll promise to provide plenty of photos of fluffy newly-hatched chicks in about two weeks.

This may be the most exciting of the possible paths toward rebuilding our flock, and I’m happy to share the journey with you here.

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The homesteading backslide

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Through a series of unfortunate events, upon which I don’t care to expound, we have come to a point of urban homesteading that I have feared reaching – the backslide. As renters, I have always known we were at the mercy of our landlord when it came to our homesteading exploits. When our permission to keep backyard chickens was recently revoked in order for our landlords to address a property issue, I felt a bit deflated. Ok, more than a bit.

Fortunately, we have a close community of like-minded folks, so our options were numerous when considering a new home (or a swift end of life) for our trusty hens, procured just seven months ago from one of our favorite places – City Folk’s. Betty, Batgirl, Austra, Beyoncé and Pippin are now efficiently tilling the earth for our friends over at Harmonious Homestead, helping them prepare for expanded planting in 2014.

This experience has focused me even acutely on saving money to buy a modest homestead of our own as soon as possible. I would love to have our girls back in our own yard, doing work for us, turning scraps to nutrient-rich fertilizer and healthy eggs and entertaining us with their chicken ways. It was a moment of homesteading bliss cut too short.

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(These photos and links seem glitchy, so I’ll likely be back to fix them tomorrow.)

Chick update, week 2 of urban chicken raising.

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It’s been eight days since our five little ladies have moved in, and we’ve learned quite a bit already!

First of all, chicks are incredibly fun. My sister and one of my nieces were visiting this past weekend, and my niece kept finding herself sitting in the room with the chicks and losing track of the time.

Secondly, chicks grow insanely fast. It’s almost as if you can see them growing. I should have taken daily photos, but time escaped me. They’re at least four times the size they were when they came home.

The personality differences are absolutely entertaining. Our two Barred Rock girls are more adventurous and more likely to jump up on my hand. Betty (the barred rock pictured in the series below) was the first to jump up, beginning her ascent onto their (then shorter) food container the first night we had them home! The Rhode Island Reds are more timid but more likely to fall sleep while being held. They are a bit smaller, too, with Austra at about two-thirds of the size of Batgirl.

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So far, chicken raising is fitting into our lives quite well. They delight us, and we can’t wait for their first eggs.

Oh, and the final two chicks have been named Beyonce and Pippin.

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Raising chicks! Another step in urban homesteading.

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We’ve been busily preparing for the arrival of three new additions (plus two next door), and we finally got to meet them today.

Here they are.

Austra and Batgirl.

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And these three, yet to be named. (The top photos are two different shots of the same two chicks.)

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Austra and her match are two Barred Plymouth Rock chicks. The other three are Rhode Island Reds. If the hatchery is correct, they will all be backyard layers, no Roos, in a coop that is shared between our house and the house next door. We feel extremely grateful that the owners of both houses moved to Franklinton with urban homesteading in mind and have encouraged us, their tenants, to follow the same path if our hearts’ desire. Especially grateful because, yes, we absolutely desire just that.

Darren is excited about the chicks. He and I have checked on them and given them attention at least once an hour today. All five chicks are spirited and inquisitive. At just 18 hours olds, they have already begun to respond to my rough attempt at clucking, demonstrated to me by Denise Beno Anderson who was on hand to give pointers when we picked the chicks up from City Folk’s Farm Shop today.

If you’re thinking about chicks, check out the wealth of collective knowledge at Backyardchickens.com. And if you’re in the Columbus area, consider ordering your chicks through City Folk’s here. They have four more batches of chicks coming, all different breeds, including the heritage Buckeye, developed by a woman in Ohio.

Here’s to backyard eggs!

(Check out City Folk this week for their one-year anniversary festivities running until Saturday, March 23.)