Thursday, April 28, 2011

Goatherders and Incubation

Hello all, tug out a chair and I`ll fill the sugar bowl since this is going to be a long post and we`ll need the java to keep us going!

First things first, thank you, each and every one of you, for your comforting words. They really did help greatly. We have not given up on hoping that Lucius returns to us some day, safe and sound and with a wondrous tale to tell. If he does not though we know that we gave him the very best life we could while he shared our home with us.

So now, onto other things shall we? I feel the sun glowing through the kitchen windows and Lu-Lu is sleeping on my left arm. Must be time to write! Oh! Lest I forget and I do that with frightening frequency anymore, a big hearty yodel of welcome goes to Debbi and Dreamer Lady! Welcome to the hillside farm. Knowledge of yodeling is not required in any way but if you know how to clog dance that`s always a plus!

I promised y`all I would show you the results of my spring hatching. And I will. Eventually. I know, I`m a terrible tease aren`t I? Before we get to the video, and yes Feral now has her own YouTube channel and is posting video on it, I thought I`d show and tell how we do our incubating here. We`ve been incubating birds here on the farm since the first year we lived here. We`ve hatched everything from chickens to ring-neck pheasant in our magic boxes. Magic Box you ask? Indeed! Simply insert eggs and three or four weeks later birds appear magically!

Over the years we`ve developed a pretty good knowledge and so I feel rather confident to pass along our ways. Do bear in mind that as with all farm related things how we do it may not be how others do it. All I can do is pass along what works for us and whatever tips we`ve stumbled-bumbled into. Alrighty then, let`s get moving shall we?

Before we even tug the incubator out of the closet we begin to gather hatching eggs. For my chickens fertility isn`t usually a huge consideration *Frowns at rooster shoving hens beak into dirt outside window* and I begin to gather chicken eggs as soon as the days begin to grow a tad bit longer. My ducks and geese on the other hand are seasonal breeders, and so I generally wait until I think the ganders and drakes are potent enough to fertilize the eggs. For us here in the hills of PA when I get my first duck/goose egg I add about a month before I gather hatching eggs.

Always try to get the cleanest eggs you can. I don`t ever wash my hatching eggs, ever. I read that washing them takes the bloom off; although there are cleansers you can buy for just such a job. Personally I shy away from that sort of thing and simply try to keep the nests as clean and dry as possible. That is a tall order when you have the soggy spring we had but it`s not impossible.

As I gather my hatching eggs I store them in egg cartons small end down or large end up if you prefer. Examine each egg for any cracks or imperfections. If you find any fry it for dinner, don`t keep it for a hatching egg. Keep your eggs in a cool, humid area 55 degrees F and 75 % humidity is recommended. Turn the eggs daily using an X and O system. You can mark your eggs with a pencil for this but don`t use a magic marker. I think I read somewhere the ink in a marker soaks through the shell. Now for goose eggs I use large mixing bowls since they won`t fit into an egg box. There ain`t no jumbo chicken egg box that can begin to hold goose eggs!

Okay, so Feral now has all the eggs she wanted. I started out with ten duck and ten goose eggs this year. Finally it`s time to set those buggers! Both of our incubators are Little Giant forced air incubators. We have had them for years and they are wonderfully consistent in terms of reliability and temperature control. Since they are forced air they run at 99. 5 degrees F whereas still air should be run at 102 F. Domestic goose and ducks eggs take twenty-eight days to hatch, a week longer than a chicken does. Here is what I have laid out when I decide the time to set the eggs is nigh-

Incubator of course because yeah, I ain`t sitting on them for a month! Also in this picture you`ll see a plastic tray that has wells in it. This did not come with the incubator but if you can buy one do so! They make clean up a breeze and really prolong the life of that expensive incubator. You`ll see my thermometer and a couple strips of purple sponge. Those sponge strips we cut from a regular sponge and I place them under the wire grid that lies at the bottom of the incubator. For waterfowl you`re supposed to keep your humidity around 50-55 %. I don`t bother with a hygrometer, I just make sure the wells are full of warm water and that the sponge`s are well soaked. If you wish to purchase a hygrometer please do!

Now we`ll place everything together.

Sponges under wire grid, plastic tray settled nicely into base of incubator and fan and thermostat running well.

A tip here for y`all, run your incubator for 3 -4 days before you place those valuable hatching eggs into it. They can be a touch tricky and it`s better to get the kinks worked out before you set eggs than after. We usually place our incubators on our dressers in the master bedroom. During incubation I draw my drapery to make sure the sun doesn`t beat on the incubator. That could jack up the temperature and we surely don`t want that!

Now that all is situated and the incubator has been humming along for a few days we can put our eggs in.

You`ll note I don`t have the egg turners in for this hatching. Our turners will hold chicken and duck but not goose eggs. You can buy cups for your turner and also an extension to fit into your incubator to give you added room for those huge eggs. I simply skip that and turn the eggs by hand twice daily. Call me Mother Feral Goose…or Feral Mother Goose. Whatever, just don`t call me late for dinner as my granny used to say.

Turning the eggs is crucial. Don`t forget or your hatch will simply not hatch. I place a piece of notebook paper beside the incubator and every time I turn I mark it down. Since my brain is forgetful having that big X or O to glance at really helps, and it also shows me that I`ve turned them that day. An added bonus to having a journal ready is that you know when to candle and when to stop turning. We`ll get to candling right directly. Keep the reservoirs filled, the sponges damp and the sun off the magic box and begin to wait.

*Start theme song from Jeopardy*

Wow, two weeks have just flown past haven`t they?! We yodeling goatherders candle at two and three weeks for waterfowl. This here is our homemade candler that Mister made many, many years ago.

It consists of a coffee can with a quarter-sized hole cut into the bottom of the can, some felt glued or taped now since the glue long ago dried up, a wooden base for stability and to hold the light fixture inside. It ain`t fancy but we have literally candled hundreds of eggs over this baby and it works great! I should imagine you can find plans for making your own candler on the web.

These are pictures of our duck/goose eggs at two weeks of incubation. I do apologize for the picture quality but you can see what a good egg and a dud look like from the images. In one you can even see the blood vessels that run from the embryo to the yolk.

Good egg-

Any duds, like this here one below, should be discarded since they`re infertile and can begin to make a very serious stink.

Rotten eggs are a bad, bad thing. Not only do they smell to high hell but they can explode and contaminate your entire hatch. So candling is a very important thing and also it`s enjoyable for the whole family! Now we`ll see some pictures from the third week.

Notice how little light we now see? That`s because the goose/duck is so large it`s filling up almost the entire egg. This hatch we started out with twenty total eggs and removed six that were infertile along the way which left me with fourteen viable eggs. Job well done ganders and drakes….and you ducks and geese as well! And now we begin to wait once more.

*Cue up that Jeopardy them music again*

Viola!! Time sure flies doesn`t it? On day twenty-five I stop turning the eggs. If you have your eggs in an automatic turner take them out three days before your scheduled hatch. Don`t leave the eggs in the turner during a hatch! Baby peeps could get caught in the gears and yeah, that would be really sad. I up the humidity also at this time for all birds, just to make sure they have enough moisture once they pip. Pipping the egg is when the chick/duckling/gosling breaks through the shell for the first time. From that starting point they will then begin to work around the egg, breaking off small bits of shell, until they have encircled the egg completely and can break free.

If your humidity is too low due to not having enough water or opening the lid frequently, the chick/duck/gosling may get stuck and not be able to finish their hatching. If they get stuck they usually die so please, please and please don`t lift that lid! I know how hard it is when you can hear them inside that box and the darn viewing windows are all foggy but don`t do it! Resist that temptation and your hatch will be a better one I guarantee it!

Now here is where I may differ from some others. If a chick/duck/goose does get stuck or seems to be making little progress compared to his hatchmates, I do not aid that bird. Some folks will assist the hatchling in breaking free from their egg. This is a tough lesson that Mister and I have learned over many, many hatches. It seems to us that every bird we ever assisted did not thrive well at all. Most actually die a day or two later. Also, do you really want that gene to be passed along to the next generation if that bird does manage to survive? Me either. I know it sounds very cruel but we as farmers and stewards of these animals want only the strongest and healthiest to grow and breed. But if you wish to help a stuck bird please be very careful when doing so. If you see blood stop instantly!

So now where are we? Oh yeah, the hatchlings are here! The hatchlings are here! I only remove the dried birds once a day and as quickly as possible, to cut down on losing moisture for the one`s still working to get out. Every one of the fourteen eggs hatched!!

We take them to wherever it is we`re going to brood them, this year it`s in our stove room. We use dry chaff from the goat barn for bedding but you all can use whatever you wish, although I don`t think cedar is recommended. May have to read up on that again but that seems to be sticking in my head. Someone correct me if I`m wrong. Make sure the sides are high enough that the little devils can`t get out of the brooding area.

Since our stove room is so warm I generally turn the heat-lamp off during the day for my ducklings and goslings. Chickens and turkey poults seem to need it warmer than the waterfowl do, but that may just be my observations. At night a lamp is left over them just to make sure they`re all comfy cozy. Every bird I place into the brooder I dip their bills/beaks to make sure they know where the water is. Also for my waterfowl I use crumbles that contain no coccidiostat. Again this is an old school way I think since I recall reading somewhere that the new medicated feed doesn`t harm waterfowl, but I shy away from it just the same. Chicks and poults get the medicated starter but not my waterfowl.

After the little fluffy butts are big enough to start escaping their first brooding area we move them to an empty coop until they`re done with the heat-lamp which is around 6 weeks. As they grow I change feed, you can ask your local feed mill what they recommend for whatever wee birds you`re growing. With waterfowl I`ll continue to feed them the crumbles, which have 20 % protein, until they reach about eighteen weeks and then I move them to laying pellets which have 16 % protein. My grown ducks and geese seem to prefer pellets as opposed to mash, but given how much feed costs anymore everyone gets mash. I think I spend more on critter feed than I do people feed some weeks!

There is some debate about when to let your web-footed babes into a swimming pool. The way Feral does is that I usually wait until they`re a couple weeks old. It has to be a very warm sunny day of course and I don`t use anything too deep. Also I place rocks in the pool and a ramp so that they can exit with ease and dry off. I figure that mama goose/duck has her brood in the water within a day or two of hatching so my allowing them their swim time at two weeks isn`t a bad thing. I`ve yet to have any trouble with my system but if you don`t want to allow it until they are feathered out then play the game by your rules. Feral is real easy to get along with!

And I think that about covers how we hatch, candle and raise our birds here on the hillside farm. Now, finally, you guys can see the hatchlings. The first video is us taking them from the incubator. The second is them getting their temporary brood spot and just being downright adorable! Ha! Downright! See because they`re ducks and geese and….yeah, that was bad although I thought it might quack you up. Okay, I`ll stop now honestly. *Giggles at lame jokes like a fool*

First peek at new hatchlings

Getting the hatchlings settled

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and the info and also the video, it`s been a real hoot for me to have some babies to play with. I do so love my waterfowl!

So how do y`all go about your incubation and brooding??


phylliso said...

Thank-you for your very informative & detailed instructions.We had thought about raising chickens,maybe someday.We did raise quail one year,then turned them loose.I don`t know if a hawk got them or not.That was a long time ago,& I didn`t know much about hawks & the way of the woods.I can`t wait to see the little ones.phyllis

Nancy said...

Awesome and informative post -- there is alot to keep in mind when hatching via incubator. You did a fantastic job of explaining the finer points. :)

Melodie said...

I have an incubator full of chicken eggs right now!I have never tried candling...I might now after seeing you do it!

Feral Female said...

Glad to hear it was informative. Sometimes I worry that my typing/speech pattern isn`t clear to follow, but sounds as if y`all didn`t have any trouble. For anyone that wishes to see the new ducks and geese, simply click on the links. I`m working on learning to how embed but links I got down pat! Mostly.

C and C Antiques and Animals - What a Life! said...

Very informative post and I really enjoyed the journey! I haven't ever used an incubator and let the hens do the work. Sounds like alot of work. Rewarding work but alot. Thumbs up to you.

Homemade Alaska said...

Thanks for the detailed post. We just hatched our first chicks and have a second group in the incubator now. I am glad to read that we followed basically the same procedure as you. I did use a hygrometer, but it probably wasn't that necessary. It was helpful in the last few days when we wanted the humidity higher. Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer said...

Good Luck on your hatch.