Here's what I wrote to a friend when she asked how everything was going with the hobby farm, and what my plans were for hatching chicks, etc. Be warned - it's a "book"!
I'd like to hatch chicks for BackYardChicken's 6th Annual Easter Hatch-A-Long, which sets eggs March 14th.
I don't have a set number right now, except that I usually operate a full incubator, which holds 42 eggs; though last year one of the hatched, I added a "few" extra to allow for non-fertile, quitters, etc. Like last year, I plan on doing several consecutive hatches, and if I get orders, then I will increase accordingly. That's the reason why I'm starting the website, to get "pre-orders" and so I know how many people are interested in, so I know how many hatches to have.
Part of what I'm planning to do is build a hatch-er out of an old cooler, so that I can move the eggs on day 18 of incubation out of the incubator, so I can set more! (Hatching requires higher humidity & is messy; plus I have to remove the automatic turner, so I can't continue incubating eggs if they're at different stages.) I have most of the supplies, I just have to get working it. I'd love to have a large capacity incubator, but unless I get the demand, that would be way too dangerous, as I'd want to fill it! I've heard this is a classic symptom of Morehens disease, which has no known cure, and is common among "hatch-a-holics".
But, first I need to separate the chickens into their "breeding groups".
The coop for the Bielefelders is almost ready, just needs litter, timer for the light & electricity.
The coop for the Swedish Flower Hens, however, needs to be finished being "built"; I have to put hardware cloth on the south side "gap" & for the windows, and board up the north side "gap"; add roosts, nesting boxes, lights & electricity. And finish the fencing - for under the coop & latches for the gates. Oh, and I almost forgot the aviary netting, which was just delivered - to keep the eagle and hawks from grabbing a meal from the chicken yard!
The last two years I only had the breeding groups separated for two weeks before the first hatch. That's because a hen can store a rooster's sperm for 2-4 weeks after she's been mated, and just because she's with a new rooster doesn't mean she'll lay eggs fertilized by him. With the "Swedes" and "Germans", I want the hens & rooster to be separated for 1 month before they're officially "pure". So, if I do end up hatching any eggs from them for Easter, it'll be more likely a "test hatch". (To set eggs March 14th (after collecting eggs for 7 days) they'd have to be separated by Feb 6th = doesn't look like that's not going to happen!
But, seeing that winter doesn't show any signs of ending early this year, I think it'll work out ok, even if chicks don't start hatching until later in April.
It's just the waiting period that's hard - It's what I call "chick withdrawal syndrome", which only gets worse when I see other people's chicks hatching via photos online! Or, when I start going through and organizing all my thousands of photos I took last year!
But, regardless of whether I will be able to hatch from the rare breeds, I'll will most likely set eggs from my "Catskill Homesteader" chickens, since they don't qualify as being "pure bred" anyways. Technically, I could start hatching them sooner, but practically, that would depend on if someone wanted to buy them as young chicks or I had a place to brood them all set up (or a broody hen ).
As far as if there's a particular cross or breed that I'm looking forward to - that's hard to say. I think the Bielefelder would be the top, as I haven't hatched any from them before, and I want to see their "auto-sexing" trait in real form, not just in photos. But, I also have some new young Catskill Homesteader roosters that I haven't hatched from either, and they are gorgeous. I'm also excited about the Swedish Flower Hens, because I have a non-crested rooster, and I'm hoping with more # of eggs set, I'll get a greater variety of chicks. The crested rooster I used last year produced 4 out of 5 chicks that looked the same, though the 3 made it to adulthood are slightly different. I've seen photos of "Swedes" that vary greatly in their coloration, so I hope to raise out quite a few for myself & choose the most unique ones to keep. The hard part is that as juveniles, they don't look like they will be as adults, so for that part it's a "wait and see" game.
Later on, when I was about to go outside to “put everyone to bed”, I realized that I can separate the roosters and hens, as they are now, at least temporarily. They’ll also have to stay inside on Sat, since we’ll be home way after dark, since we’re going to a wedding in CT, which starts at 5pm.
I can put the Bielefelders in Dad’s coop, and the Swedish Flower Hens in the PA coop. It won’t matter if those roosters aren’t in with the other roosters, since I’ll most likely keep them separated by breeds all the time once I get their coops set up. If I have a chance to get things ready, so the Bielefelders can move into their breeding coop by this Sat or Sun, that would be great. Then, I can still let the “main flock” girls out during the day, and just keep the Swedish Flower Hen roosters (I think I’ll do the two oldest ones, at least until they’re separated with fewer hens.) The only “drawback” is that the Catskill Homesteader chickens will be also bred by the SFH roos. Actually, I plan on putting some of the CH hens in with the SFH flock, as I’d like to see what SFH/CH crosses will look like. And to tell the difference who’s eggs are whose, I’ll make sure the CH hen(s) lay green eggs. The one SFHx pullet I have from last year, she’ll be added to the CH breeding flock, as she is now laying a light brown egg, too easy to mistake for a pure SFH, if I put her in with them. Even though she has many of their characteristics, she is missing her “spots”, hence why I believe she’s a cross.
The aviary netting is up over the area where the chickens are now, what I call the "main flock" and part of the rooster & duck's area.
So, right now, we don't have to worry about any bird of prey snatching one of the chickens. That's why when we first moved here, the hens didn't go outside until the aviary netting us all installed.
Yes, it was just a project to get the first section of 100' x 50' aviary netting up, because it was re-used from the other place. When it was being rolled up there, it collected twigs, hay & other things that snagged it, so just figuring out the ends was interested. Then, we erected a metal "frame" using 10' electrical conduit (vertical) attached to T-posts and the metal side rails of those cheap metal sheds (horizontal). That way, we humans can easily walk through and even pull the truck & trailer in the area covered with aviary netting. Because of the unique lay-out of the yard, we had to cut and re-connect the netting, but we had just the right amount to do all that was needed to get us through the winter.
But, I bought another 100' x 50' aviary netting for the rest of the area where the Bielefelders and SFHs will be, but aren't currently. The area yet to be done has evergreen trees on (house) side with two rows of 4' fencing attached on the outside. So, the aviary netting can be attached up high on the fence, provided we can reach it, since it's on a side hill! The other side is the 4' fence bordering the neighbor's property. I may have to add additional supports in the middle to prevent it from sagging, but I already used up all the electrical conduits & metal shed side rails! The area for the SFHs goes right up to the house near the back deck where the bird feeder & suit are. But once signs of springs start popping up, we'll take the feeders down. Since we're surrounded by woods and mountains, we don't want to attract any bear - especially since we saw one last year less than a mile away! Mom would like to see a bear, but I don't want to see one in our backyard, that close to the house and the chicken yard!
Whoops! I got side-tracked again!
I meant to tell you that after sending you the last e-mail, I realized that there is a way I can separate the "Swedes" and "Germans" this week!
Since we're going away Thurs & Fri, everyone will be closed up in their coops. So, I can put those roosters in the hens. When we come back, I can then put the Bielefelders in their coop, and the Swede roosters can hang out with the SFH & Catskill Homesteader girls until I get their coop finished! Problem solved, and it'll give me a little time to work while the roosters are starting to do their job! The Lord is so awesome - He gives us the wisdom when we ask Him. And the great thing about that is, then we know His blessing is upon it, because He's the one who gave us the solution.