Thursday, July 13, 2006

Babies!

You may recall that I put two dozen eggs under a white rock and a buff orpington. That was about three weeks ago.



Well, the blessed event has occurred!

I was beginning to wonder about our eggs after the total failure of the incubator to produce chicks. Most likely, the temperature was off or something like that. Incubators are a fine thing, but it's hard to beat the good 'ol mark 1 broody cluck when it comes to hatching eggs. After all, she and her ancestors have been at it for thousands of years. With 24 eggs under the hens, we can reasonably expect twenty chicks, ten of which should be pullets (baby hens).

The mother hens will set on the eggs for a couple days until all that are going to hatch are hatched. Then, they will lead the little ones out to get food and water. Woe be unto anyone who tries to bother the babies. I have seen a mother hen chase away a full-grown cat who's normally a very good mouser, and who has feasted on baby chicks (much to my sorrow -- but that's another story).

So, no brooder fortified with chicken wire, no heat lamps, no careful attention to temperature, no stirring and replacing of litter. Just two mother hens and a gaggle of chicks.

My boys can't resist temptation. They like to reach under the momma hen and hold the chicks. They're fortunate that our chickens are quite tolerant of humans messing with the babies. They generally won't peck humans.

Paul brought a chick right into the house (even though he wasn't supposed to). Later, he helped me take some pictures. The first batch didn't turn out. The flash was too bright, and the ones I took without a flash were too dark. The lesson learned here is to buy digital cameras from companies that are used to making cameras. Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and the like have lots of experience dealing with difficult exposures, focus issues, and things like that. Electronics companies can make a camera that does a good job in ideal situations, but the camera companies have years of experience dealing with the more difficult shots.

Anyhow, not being one to give up easily, I tried a few tricks. I backed up a bit to make less contrast between the outside light and the flash-lit interior. That worked only marginally. I put the camera right in the shelter with the hens to encourage the camera to open the lens a bit, and got decent results. A little manipulation in the photo editor made possible the pictures that you see here.



(I still like my SLR better)

I'll be able to get some better shots after the mothers bring the babies out.

Baby chicks don't need to be fed or watered for about three days. They live off of their yolk sack until then. Meanwhile, the mother stays on the nest to hatch the rest of the eggs.

If I remember (or get reminded), I'll get more pictures once the hens bring their babies out into the world. Meanwhile, I need to make a ramp to the box so that the chicks can get back in.

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In other news, some of the broiler chicks are big enough to process. I would generally let them grow a bit more, but they are eating food at a ferocious rate, and we are really short on money (serious financial melt-down -- any prayers in that direction are much appreciated).

So, they have a date with the freezer this coming Saturday. I'll be doing the job myself (with some help from my beautiful assistant) to save the two bucks a bird we would normally spend. We're using the easiest method, though. I'll just skin the bird (after dispatching it, of course) and remove the breast, legs, thighs, and wings. I had saved backs and necks from previous birds, but recent experimentation has proven to us that there is little usable meat on them. The dogs will enjoy those parts much more than we will.

We're probably going to do about a dozen chickens -- just the biggest ones. The smaller ones will grow some more and be done in a couple weeks. The youngest broilers will take another month or more to get up to size.



There are some leghorns included in the picture. They are considerably smaller.

So, does anyone want me to take pictures of the processing? (Actually, I'll have to have someone else take the pictures because my hands will be goopy.)

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