Monday, April 27, 2009

Egging Us On

Today, the eggs go in. Now, that may sound like a reversal of the natural order of things, but we're giving nature a little, um, assistance.

Our Old English Game Bantams are fine little chickens. They're great for comic relief, insect patrol, and the occasional adorably-wee pale brown eggs. Nobody keeps bantams specifically for egg or meat production unless they have a very, very small appetite. What bantam hens are best at is brooding.

When a hen goes broody, her mind and body tell her it's time to hatch some eggs. She will sit and sit and sit on her clutch of eggs--or any other hen's clutch of eggs--or a bunch of wooden eggs--or perhaps even a few egg-shaped rocks. Bantams are famous for their brooding abilities. Many farmers and poultry fanciers will keep a few bantam hens on hand to hatch the eggs of other species, such as guinea fowl, that go broody only rarely or poorly if at all.

Once the chicks--or, in the case of guinea fowl, keets--are hatched out, bantam hens tend to be fairly reliable at mothering. They'll protect and fuss over the baby birds, teach them basic survival skills, even keep them out of wet grass and distract potential predators. (I say FAIRLY reliable because one of our bantams led her entire brood repeatedly into wet grass last year, and we lost four chicks. Now we've learned to keep the chicks and broody hens in the barn for a few more days after hatching.

Well, the bantams will be getting broody soon, but they're not broody yet, and we have folks asking if we'll have chicks for sale. Last night, we went into the Black Hole--I mean, the storage room--and brought out the egg incubator. With a soft brush and a bleach-water sponge, I dusted it off and cleaned it inside and out. Tonight we'll plug it in and check the thermometer a few times until the temperature seems stable. Then it will be time to add the eggs.

Now, some incubators are fancy. They have automatic turners and forced-air fans and all manner of special gear to create the ultimate hatching environment. All those extras cost money, so we have a basic "still-air" model without the turners. That means that we have to be the mama hens, turning the eggs a few times a day so that the yolks don't get stuck in one position and prevent the chicks from developing correctly. Each egg will be marked with a faintly-penciled "x" on one side. Each time we open the incubator and turn the eggs, they will gently be rotated: x-side up, then x-side down. As you can imagine, it's a pretty x-siding process.

This morning I dispatched two more meat birds. Tomorrow morning we start incubating eggs. I'm having homegrown ham and carrot soup (from the freezer) for lunch. This afternoon, I aim to get the first batch of this year's carrot and beet seeds into the ground. Yep, must be Spring on the farm!


Songbird said...

I feel spectacularly non-industrious after reading this!

MaineCelt said...

Would it help if I told you I'm lounging with my feet up next to the woodstove right now, taking a mid-morning tea break? And you're SUPPOSED to be non-industrious. It's your day off!!!

mompriest said...

I went to college to learn how to manage a self sufficient farm...but lost interest when I realized that that college was interested in big business farming and well...I think it was artificially inseminating a cow that sent me off in a new direction...LOL

But your day sounds lovely, except for dispatching meat chickens?

Mama Pea said...

What is it about animals? I could watch them all day. Thanks for the video.

MaineCelt said...

Mama Pea: Glad you enjoyed it! The video was made in May 2008 in the 18'x 20' barn that currently houses our laying hens. As you can see towards the end of the footage, there's a stall next to the birds that we use for our piglets each Spring. We get them from another farm, keep them in the barn for a few weeks until frost warnings are over, then move them to an outdoor pen. I love those few weeks when the barn is filled with gentle sunlight, tiny peeping sounds from the newly-hatched chicks, motherly chuckles from the bantam hens, and happy little piglet grunts!

karlajean said...

i love the piglet that was so curious about the camera!