The Brinsea Goes Into Lockdown

If you have any experience with incubators, you know that about three days before the due hatch date, you put it into lockdown. This means you raise the humidity, stop the automatic turning if you have it, lay the eggs on their sides if they were upright, and firmly close the incubator up, not to open it back up until the hatch is finished. Opening the incubator during hatch lets the humidity escape, which can cause chick deaths.

Here is my routine for putting my Brinsea Octagon 20 ECO Incubator into lockdown. (sorry for the bad lighting. The incubator is in a dark spot in the room).

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Here it is on day 18, just before lockdown. I have removed it from the turning cradle. You can see the dry sponge I use as a spacer when there are not enough eggs to complete a row. This keeps them from unnecessary rolling and bumping when the incubator tilts on the cradle.


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STEP 1: I have removed the rails.


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STEP 2: I carefully transfer the eggs to cartons for safe-keeping while I finish getting the incubator ready.


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STEP 3: I fill the wells to the top with warm water and then use a rail to hold wet sponges upright against the back wall. The sponges will help provide extra humidity.


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STEP 4: I then add a second rail about 1/4″ to 1/2″ from the first one. This keeps the eggs from resting against the wet sponges.


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STEP 5: Hatching is a messy business. I line the tray with paper towels.


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STEP 6: I carefully place the eggs in on their sides.


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STEP 7: I have placed the top firmly back in place. It will not be removed until a day or so after the hatch has finished.


Broiler Project

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It all started when I wanted the perfect self-perpetuating homestead meat chickens.

CornishX were out. They eat too much, and they die too easily. They go down on their legs too easily. The livibility problems are multiplied if you live in a very hot region like I do, because they can’t take the heat! And although CornishX are good foragers if you limit their feed, it’s not their first choice.

I heard about Freedom Rangers and researched them a bit, and they sounded like what I was looking for: better livability, fewer leg problems, and good foragers. They grow a little slower than CornishX, which is largely the reason for fewer problems, since their skeletal growth is able to keep up with their muscle growth.

I got a shipment of Freedom Ranger chicks, and was pleased with their active natures and good growth rate. But I ran into problems once they were past several months old. Now and again one would go down on it’s legs. Now and again one would have a heart attack and die. Oh yes, those were heart attacks- a seemingly healthy bird would flip on it’s back or side, exhibit a brief seizure or convulsive wing flapping, and expire. Those are classic heart attack symptoms in chickens.

Occasionally, I would find a dead bird under the roost in the morning, where it had died during the night, even though it had seemed healthy the day before. This is also characteristic of a heart attack.

I had a number of other breeds and crosses at the same time running with the Freedom Rangers, and none of them were having heart attacks.

That wasn’t the only drawback with Freedom Rangers. The roosters are BRUTAL with the hens. I don’t mean just during the horny teenage stage- even two year old roosters were mean to the hens. They never wooed them, they just raped them. And I would frequently witness gang rapes when the roosters teamed up together. The hens did their best to avoid the roosters, but they were too often ambushed.

Ok, so it was looking like I was back to square one. I needed to come up with a new plan, or find a breed that would work better for my purposes.

Then I had an unexpected breakthrough leading to a new plan.

I had tried to get started in Marans as far back as 2005. I spent a tremendous amount of money on hatching eggs, and got a pretty good start in several colors. Then two disasters struck. First, raccoons moved into the neighborhood and killed almost all my chickens. If that wasn’t bad enough, in the summer of 2007 we had some unprecedented flooding, and what the raccoons didn’t kill, the floods did.

That kind of flooding is a once-in-a-century event around here, but predators are abundant, so I knew before I could get going again, I needed to make sure everything was predator proof, and I needed good sturdy, protected pens. I wasn’t going to try to get into the “chicken business” again until I had a proper setup. This was an expensive proposition, and due to a small budget, it was a long slow process, but I finally got it all done.

But at last I was ready to get going with Marans again. I carefully researched sources, and bought both eggs and chicks from a number of different reputable breeders. This resulted in a wide variety of strains, and as I grew out these various chicks, I received a bit of a surprise. *Some* strains exhibited a phenomenal growth rate for the first several weeks. They were growing almost as fast as the Freedom Rangers for the first 3 months or so!

The following picture is an example of two strains of Marans.

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These two chicks were only 3 days apart in age and raised in the same brooder box. The fast growth strain quickly outstripped the others in size, and looked like giants walking around in the brooder box amongst the normal growth chicks!

Upon further research, I’ve learned that in Europe, two kinds of Marans have been developed- meat strains and egg strains. Both kinds have been imported into the US. And of course some people have crossed Marans with other breeds, and various strains have been crossed together. That’s why you’ll see the growth rates of Marans all over the scale- ranging from normal growth, like ordinary dual purpose breeds, to the other extreme: very fast early growth.

This was my breakthrough- I got the idea of crossing the fast growing Marans with the Freedom Rangers, and working with that cross to develop the perfect self-perpetuating meat chickens which would not have the heart and leg problems common to broilers.

Here’s my idea of the perfect broiler:
Fast early growth, but not so fast that their skeleton can’t keep up with muscle growth
Good egg production
They should go broody often enough to keep the flock replenished.
The roosters need to be gentle with and protective of the hens.
Livability needs to be very good. I want two year olds to be as healthy as 6 month old birds. I don’t want heart and leg problems.

Let’s see how the following 3 breeds stack up (Cornish X, Freedom Rangers, and select strains of Marans).

TRAIT RANGERS MARANS CORNISH X
Early Growth Rate Very Fast Fast Extremely Fast
Egg Production Very Good Fair to Good Good
Broodiness Yes Yes unknown
Gentle, Protective Roos No Yes unknown
Livability Good Excellent Poor

What I decided to do was to cross Freedom Rangers and Marans and select for all the traits I want in the perfect homestead broiler, but I also decided to throw in some CornishX for genetic diversity and also for the dominant white plumage color.

I’m now three generations into my project. For the first time, in this current generation, I eliminated all the pure Ranger males. I have:

Roosters that are 1/2 Marans 1/4 Ranger 1/4 CornishX
Roosters that are 1/2 Marans and 1/2 Ranger

Hens and pullets are as follows:
Pure Freedom Ranger
1/2 Marans / 1/2 Ranger
1/2 Marans / 1/2 CornishX
1/2 CornishX / 1/2 Ranger
1/2 Marans / 1/4 Ranger / 1/4 CornishX

In a few generations I hope to have exactly what I’m going for, by selecting for all the best traits.

The picture at the top of the page shows part of my broiler flock (ignore the red sexlink and the dark brown Leghorn, they aren’t part of the project).

The pictures below show various individuals. The birds showing the red and white color combination are my goal for the final color. In future generations, I’m going to keep only the red and white males, and eventually the entire strain will be colored like that.

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Chick Embryo Development

Here’s a fascinating time lapse video in graphic form showing the development of a chick.

Fall is Almost Here!

I’m busy getting my Marans breeding groups together so I can produce hatching eggs for fall. Some varieties will not be ready yet, due to small numbers and/or too young. But I will have the following varieties producing hatching eggs for fall 2014:

Black Coppers
Wheaten
Black Tailed Buff
White
Black split for white

And also Olive Eggers

I might let some eggs from experimental groups go. If I do, I’ll tell more about those later.

Serama Drama!

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If you want animals or children, you have to be prepared to take the bad with the good. Seramas have been bred for personality as much as for size and type, and those personalities take some interesting turns!

This first batch of Seramas are just over a month old. Goldie has been the calmest, sweetest and most loveable of the 5.

A short while ago I heard a terrible ruckus coming from their brooder. I went and checked and Goldie was viciously attacking Tommy. I picked Goldie up to see if I could calm him down and he had a temper tantrum! He had fits and chirped loudly wanting me to put him down.

Oh my. I guess as with children, it’s best not to cater to a tantrum. I put Goldie back and things have been calm since. So far…

Coming Up!

I’ve been busy at work establishing new breeds and varieties, and some are very long term projects. Some breeds I plan on getting eventually, but don’t have yet.

I’ve increased my numbers of the very dark egg Black Copper Marans, and the Wheatens. I’m also setting up new matings to produce Olive Eggers. These will all be available this coming fall, but I have more I’m working on, some of which will be available this fall, some not until Spring 2015, and a few I may not release for sale for a year or more, depending on how well I can get them established.

Here’s what I have on hand that I’m working on:

MARANS

In addition to the aforementioned, I have:
Black (self black, not black copper)
White
Black-Tailed Buff (yes, I already had some, but I have dark egg ones now)
Cuckoo

And also the following project varieties:
Columbian
Salmon
Blue Salmon
Blue-Tailed Red
Blue Wheaten
Blue Cuckoo
Blue Copper

OTHER BREEDS

Seramas
A self-sustaining broiler project (hoping for the ideal homestead broiler that can be kept and bred without depending on hatchery purchases every year).

PLANNING TO HAVE SOONER THAN LATER

Tolbunt Polish
Porcelain Silkies
Isabel Silkies
English Orpingtons
Show Quality Speckled Sussex

New Seramas

Yes, I have more than just Marans.

After spending a few years reading about Seramas, viewing hundreds of pics, and watching YouTube videos about Seramas, I finally took the plunge.

First I bought a dozen Serama eggs, and received 15. 5 of those hatched July 24, which is an acceptable hatch out of 15 shipped eggs.

I ordered more eggs, which are in the incubator and due to hatch Aug 20. And I have more eggs booked to reach me later this month and should hatch in September.

The eggs are so tiny! I’ve been hatching Sebright eggs for a niece, and those eggs are very small. But the Serama eggs are even smaller! They aren’t a great deal larger than quail eggs.

Here is a Serama one day old with a Coke bottle cap. You can see how tiny!

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And here is a 4 day old Serama with a 1 day old Sebright. Look at the size difference:

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I have been having a lot of fun with my 5 new Seramas, which are 22 days old now. I gave them nicknames initially, because I didn’t want to give them permanent names until I could tell their gender, and see what they are going to look like. I want to give them fairy tale names, because they are little fairy chickens.

I’d read about how friendly Seramas are, and I’ve found that’s no lie! They beg for attention, and do funny things to get me to pick them up. Each one has a very distinct personality. I think they have more personality than most chickens I’ve had. What little characters they are! Their personalities began emerging when they were only a few days old.

Here are all 5 at 22 days old in a 6″ wide box.

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Meet my little Serama family!

Tom Thumb, male

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Tom Thumb is the first one with a permanent name. Until today I was calling him thumb pecker. My mother thought of the name Tom Thumb, and it’s perfect!

Tommy got his name because when he wants me to pick him up, he pecks my thumb. He never pecks a finger or another part of my hand; it has to be a thumb! If my thumb is a little out of his reach, he will try to jump to reach it.

Once I pick him up, he doesn’t want to snuggle in the palm of my hand like his siblings do. He wants to perch on the edge of my hand or on a finger. I can walk around while he’s perched on my hand, and he shows a very great deal of curiosity, looking all around, examining everything. He’s fascinated by the TV, and will stretch his neck out to avidly watch it as long as I will stand there in front of it.

Goldie, male (nickname)

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Goldie (due to his gold colored head), is the sweetest of the 5, and also the funniest. He cracks me up with some of the stunts he does to get into my hand. One time he started running and then LEAPED into my hand. Another time he sidled up until he was touching me, then he belly crawled up into my palm (I didn’t even know chickens could belly crawl!). His antics usually aren’t quite so dramatic, but he usually does something a little different that makes me giggle.

Once he’s in my hand, he just kind of melts, and promptly falls asleep.

When I’m not holding him, but I’m in his sight, he has a very comical way of tilting his head to watch me.

Frizzy (nickname), probable male

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Frizzy has untidy silkied plumage. He’s almost as sweet as Goldie, but not so comical. He’s just calm and lovable. He loves to snuggle in the palm of my hand. He’s very laid back, and likes to look around at everything when I’m holding him. He’s very quick to approach when he sees me coming.

The Twins (nicknamed), possible girls – I hope!

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Except for a slight difference in color, these two are clones! They are the same size (smaller than the other 3), they hang out together… you know, kind of joined at the wing, and their personalities are very similar.

They are both a bit shy, and not inclined to approach me, although once I pick them up they enjoy it and relax into my hand. They do prefer that I pick them up and hold them together. They don’t like being separated.

I think they are girls, so I need to think of the names of two fairy tale sisters.

I can hardly wait for the rest of my Serama eggs to hatch!

One of the strangest packages I ever got

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I love online ordering. Since I’m so far from town, sometimes I need something NOW and not a couple of weeks from now.

This “tube” was delivered by FedEx. It’s got some weight to it and it’s somewhat flexible. It’s over 5 feet long. It’s wrapped in layers of tyvek shipping plastic, and feeling it through the plastic, it feels a little… strange. You can’t tell what it is.

I can only imagine what the FedEx guy was wondering about it.

It’s a roll of chicken wire.