Back at this post about incubating eggs, I referred to a story that was way too long to share about how we ended up with a bunch of “bad eggs” and an unplanned trial-hatch in the incubator. Well, that long story suddenly became pertinent last night, so I am going to share it.
It is pretty long, so if you are uninterested in something so long I will sum up the moral of the story for you – backyard farming is a learning adventure, and you never know what to expect.
First, let me give you the cast of characters for the story so it is easier to tell and understand. Pictured below are Salt and Captain Cook. Salt is the white chicken in the front left of the picture. She was hatched last July and came to us as part of the Ragamuffin Hen group. She is a cross that we believe is half-bantam. Captain Cook is our cockerel from the January hatchery chicks we ordered. He is the barred bird in the right top of the picture, side-stepping Salt.
And below is Pepper, our rooster. He was in the same hatch as Salt last July, and came to us via the Ragamuffin Hens last fall. He was one of the ragamuffin hens…until he started crowing. There is potential that Salt and Pepper are half or full brother and sister, but we are guessing that at most they are half, since Salt seems to be half-bantam and Pepper clearly has a barred parent. The farm where we got them had two roosters, a Barred Rock and a Bantam something-or-other. Which lends itself to the fact that they would be half-brother/sister at most.
If you recall, Pepper had to go to isolation back in April because with only two hens in his pen he was tearing up Salt’s back too much. He stayed there until the flock integration at which point he was put in the breeding pen. At flock integration Salt moved out of the breeding pen and up to the big coop because we don’t want her in the breeding program. The reasons being that she doesn’t have the qualities we are selecting for, except being a good layer, and because she is potentially too closely related to Pepper, our breeding roo for this season.
A little bit after the flock integration Salt began showing signs of being broody. Because we want to do our breeding program using broody hens as much as possible as opposed to an incubator, we were very excited and wanted to encourage her along. So we started putting a golf ball in the nest each time we took an egg out, hoping to save the eggs, since they were infertile anyway, but give her something to sit on. Well, she was having none of that and would lay her eggs in the same nest as the golf balls, but had them in a separate pile from the balls. So we decided to quit the golf-ball idea and just let her keep her eggs until we decided what hatching eggs to put under her. I gave her back the two I had already taken.
Meanwhile, we were on the hunt for hatching eggs to put under her. Since our breeding pullets aren’t laying yet, we weren’t ready with our own eggs, but we wanted to encourage her behavior so we decided we better come up with something for her to hatch. I contacted our friends who want to be somewhat a part of our breeding program to see what they had. Unfortunately, since the bear broke into their coop, their chickens hadn’t been laying well. In addition, they hadn’t separated out their breeders yet so they had 1 roo covering 20 hens, which likely meant low fertility. She said she would start saving hatching eggs anyway, just in case.
We really wanted Salt to have a good hatching experience, so she would go broody again (I have no idea if successful hatching effects repeated broodiness, but in my mind it makes sense). And with the probable low fertility of our friends’ eggs we thought maybe we better buy some hatching eggs. We began contemplating what breed(s) we would like to add to our breeding program before we officially started breeding our own birds and stopped adding new breeds. We decided on Dark Brahmas because of their cold hardiness, size, and temperament. We felt they would be a good complement to what we already had and help us towards our goal of what we want in the end. Plus, we feel like getting eggs from a breeder, instead of a hatchery, would theoretically add better laying conformation to our mix of birds, which is something we are selecting for and is very lacking in hatchery birds.
Since Salt is little, and we wanted to be sure she could cover all the eggs, we ordered 7 Brahma hatching eggs. Meanwhile, our friends stopped saving hatching eggs for us since she couldn’t set more than that.
Last Saturday, the same day the eggs shipped, Salt gave up on being broody. 😦 Ironic.
So we were trying to decide what to do. Just trash our hatching eggs when they came? That seemed very wasteful. But we weren’t planning on incubating at this point and thus didn’t have an incubator. Ultimately we decided that it was too wasteful to not incubate the eggs so on Sunday we bought the incubator. I also called our friends again and said that plans had changed, we now were incubating and had plenty of space if they wanted to throw any eggs in the mix. They were bummed because they had used up all the eggs they were saving, and they desperately wanted to hatch some eggs since the bear had decreased their flock. Had any of us known we were going to incubate eggs in an incubator they would have not only saved up eggs, but would have bought hatching eggs of their own. But now it was too late because our hatching eggs would be going in the bator on Tuesday afternoon. They decided to save up what they could from their eggs though and hope for some fertility despite their current situation.
Sunday evening I set up the incubator to get the temperature and humidity stabilized before putting the eggs in Tuesday. I wanted to be sure the egg turner was working and since it is a rolling egg turner it is hard to tell so I decided to put some eggs in there. I went to the fridge and then thought “this is wasteful, I’ll go out to the barn and get those eggs Salt has been sitting on since they are probably ruined anyway and aren’t fertile.” I had left them out there just in case she might decide to start setting again. So I got them and put them in there (there was also one store-bought egg in the mix). I put an x on one side of each egg so I could tell if they were turning. They were.
Monday the hatching eggs arrived and we left them to settle for 24 hours. Tuesday I put the hatching eggs in the bator, including 5 our friends were able to gather from their chickens. We decided to go ahead and leave the infertile eggs from Salt in there (calling them “dummy eggs”) so that if we needed to take out any eggs that were rotting later we would have extras to put in their spot to keep the heat and make sure that the hatching eggs were getting turned properly. In our bator each triangle needs to be full to properly turn the eggs.
I had planned to candle at 4 days for fertility (which would have been Saturday afternoon/evening). But Friday night I couldn’t wait and decided I needed to see if I could see anything. I took out one of the Brahma eggs and candled it…hmmm…didn’t see much of anything but a yolk, but it could be too soon to tell. I decided to look at an infertile egg to see if I could see any difference between them and the Brahma egg. So I grabbed the store-bought white one. It seemed like the yolk was a bit smaller than the Brahma one, could that mean something? I wasn’t sure so I grabbed one of Salt’s eggs and candled it.
SHOCK! There was a chick in the egg. A for-sure, growing and living, 5-day old chick in the egg. WHAT!? How was this possible!? I grabbed another one of her eggs…nothing..then another…nothing…then another…A CHICK! Out of 6 of her eggs two of them are fertile and growing. I checked the calendar. She hadn’t been with Pepper for 16 days before she layed the eggs I had in the incubator. That seems WAY to long. But wait a minute…Captain Cook. The cockerel was 15 weeks of age when the eggs were layed. Could he have been fertile that young? It seems like the only viable option. He had started making attempts at crowing that week. They were pathetic dying-cat sounds, but they were crowing attempts. So I guess that means he was fertile by then. It seems the only option, even though we have never seen him breed her. But it seems more viable than Pepper being the sire after 16 days of being apart from Salt.
My mind was reeling with the surprise of it all. But then it occurred to me – these eggs are two days older than our other eggs. Will this even work to incubate them all together? At 18 days of incubation you are supposed to stop turning the eggs and increase the humidity until they hatch around 21 days. We can’t do that for two different sets of eggs in the same incubator. We’re not going to risk the large group of purchased hatching eggs for two hatching eggs from an un-planned breeding. But we also aren’t going to just throw these eggs out right now and not even give them a chance to survive.
So the plan is that we are going to leave them and see what happens. We will probably put those two in their own triangle all alone at day 18 for them, that will decrease how much turning they get, though it wont stop it completely. And then we will just see what happens. Maybe they will hatch. Maybe they wont. But it’s worth a try right?
So we have learned a lot from this experience including the fact that cockerels mature early and one should never consider an egg infertile unless there isn’t a male chicken on the property at all. And by the end of this we are going to learn whether or not incubating eggs that are 36 hours apart in age will work successfully. Always an adventure around here!