hatching chicks

A Turkey Walking on Pasture is Poultry in Motion

2013 was a year of novelty for MacCurdy Farm.  2014 has brought it’s own new additions to the farm grounds.  The school year is winding down with assessments, school trips, and other educational activities each with it’s own stresses.  Meanwhile, our diversifying farm continues to provide it’s own busy work.  We are ready for the arrival of our 200 meat king chicks this saturday.  I completely overhauled the roof of each triple p.  The tin had to be removed, new rafters installed, and gussets nailed to reinforce the load bearing capacity of the roofs during our heavy snowfall winters.  I’m confident that the improvement in the design will withstand next winter.  However, i’m keeping my fingers crossed.  We don’t house anything in the triple p’s past the first snowfall, which means we only have to worry about structural damage.

Newly renovated portable chicken housing

Newly renovated portable chicken housing

Our egg wagon is coming along nicely.  The frame is up, the rafters are on, windows and doors are framed, and the nesting box is nearly complete.  The board siding is complete, the tin roof has been installed.  We just have to construct and install a door and it’s ready for pasture.  I’ve found, given the limited amount of time I have to devote to growing the farm infrastructure, that starting a project immediately after another project has been completed, greatly improves productivity.  Perhaps, I’m feeding off of my natural propensity to always be working but I find that when one takes the time to get another project off the ground as the other finishes, one can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  An egg wagon, for those of you who may have not heard the term before, is a chicken coop on wheels.  The egg wagon is constructed from wood and bolted to an old wagon frame at the farm.  It will house 30 – 50 hens the first summer on pasture, and 50 – 75 hens the second summer.  Weight is an issue as the wagon has to be physically lifted at this time to be hitched to the tractor.  We constructed all walls and rafters with 2 x 2 lumber and the window openings will only have hardware cloth over them, no windows, to minimize weight for the time being.  We have scrap tin that we’ve used for the roof, as well.  The name of the game is minimal weight.  Eventually, we’ll mount a trailer jack to the wagon frame.

Pastured Egg Layer Palache for the Summer

Pastured Egg Layer Palache for the Summer

Egg Wagon nearing completion

Egg Wagon nearing completion

In terms of our pastured egg production, there are two issues we have to solve.  (1) We need a B100 solar energizer to charge our electric poultry netting and (2) we are waiting on our heritage breed chicks to come to laying maturity so we can provide more eggs at the Restigouche Farmer’s market.  In our first year of breeding chickens, we currently have 40 chicks that we are raising to be layers.  All roosters will go to table.  I have one last hatch planned to start within the next two weeks to produce additional Black australorp hens and then the incubator goes into storage for the Fall and Winter until next Spring.  Patience is necessary as we continue to develop our flock.  Patience on the part of the farmer who has to wait 22 – 26 weeks for the hens to reach laying age and patience on the part of the consumer in understanding what is involved in producing hen fruit (aka. eggs).  We apologize for any shortage of eggs at the Restigouche Farmer’s market this Spring and Summer and look forward to bringing more of our eggs into your kitchens this fall.

I am also putting out a call to anyone with  a portable chicken processing unit (scalder, de-featherer, processing cones, processing table, etc.) to contact us at the farm about processing our heritage breed roosters, and potentially our turkeys later in the year.  We’d be willing to talk price and dates.  We’ve collectively decided that it’s time to butcher our roosters that we will not be keeping for breeding purposes.  In the process we’ll eliminate the noise commotion on the farm.  It’s hard to make the decision but to prepare your roosters for the table but it’s something that has to be done once they’ve reached the desirable weight.  Most importantly to us, it has to be done ethically.  We don’t want some gunslinger with zero respect for life processing our chickens.

In other news, our pastured meatking chickens and turkeys have adjusted nicely to their daily salad bar on pasture.  Thankfully, we’ve had very few issues with lameness, limping, an leg problems.  Our hospital pen has a few in it for the time being and I pray that they’ll rehabilitate and regain their strength.  Water and feed will be the key for the next few days and Lord willing they will survive.  Our goal at the beginning of the year was not to lose a single bird to sickness, injury, or predation.  They’ve been going through alot of feed (25 – 35 kg /day) and water given the recent spike in the heat.  Thankfully, with our fourwheeler and wagon addition to the farm, it has become alot easier to fill up the waterers as we leave a 55 gallon drum of water next to the PPPs on pasture.  Once we purchase bulk feed, I’ll be leaving a 55 gallon drum of bulk feed in the pasture to further lessen the impact on the body.  One really needs to develop means of minimizing the amount of physical exertion on individual activities so energy can be put towards multiple tasks.  I sometimes cringe at the working methods of the older generation.  I look at them with great admiration and profound respect for the sacrifices they make, but on the other hand I’m always looking for ways to minimize the impact on the body so that we can further diversify our farm operations.  The old adage says, “Many hands make light work.”  In my circumstances, only my hands do the work when it comes to the chickens and turkeys (sometimes with the gracious help of my wife or father), so the many hands option is out the window.  If I didn’t minimize the amount of physical exertion on my body, I’d be burnt out, without accomplishing my goal of providing healthy food to people in our foodshed.  Don’t get me wrong, I love work and in farming the work never ends but sacrificing healthier working alternatives for pride and a “that’s the way it’s always been done” mentality is bad for business.  Writing metaphorically, would someone rather stare at a stagnant mud puddle or a moving brook? One is teeming with life and forever changing it’s composition, while the other dries up, is sometimes restored, and has no life in it.  The key in all this, is help.  A successful family farm needs help, from every member, young and old.

The key word in this post is motion.  Everything must be kept moving on the farm.  From the locomotion involved in daily farm chores, to moving the pastured poultry pens, to exchanging advice, caveats, and reminders.  A farm without motion, is not a farm at all.  Hayseason is just around the corner so look for another blogpost on haymaking on MacCurdy Farm in the very near future. Finally, I am taking orders for chicken and turkey on our facebook farm page (MacCurdy Farm), on our blog website, at the Restigouche Farmer’s market, and by phone at 506-684-2297.

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Categories: Bay of Chaleur, farming, hatching chicks, mobile chicken coop, raspberries, small fruit, Solar power, turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Multi-purpose MacCurdy Farm Brooder

Incubation, hatching, and brooding season is upon us.  Every Spring poultry enthusiasts, hobbyists, and farmers start to set eggs to grow their flocks.  Provincial regulations, say what you will about the quota system, currently allow farmers without quota to have 199 laying hen and 199 meat birds on farm without a quota.  I’ll blog about the quota system a couple of months down the road but for now I’d like to focus on the infrastructural changes currently happening at the farm.  As we seek to grow our farm flock, we must continually build buildings (small-scale) that are multi-purpose to enable us to properly house birds at the different stages of development. for different purposes such as breeding, and to house them if they become ill, injured, or require confinement.  Brooders, such as the one below, allow us to do all of the above.

New multi-purpose home for MacCurdy Farm chickens.

New multi-purpose home for MacCurdy Farm chickens.

MacCurdy Farm Brooder:

You will need 6 sheets of 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood.

I ripped rough sawn 2 x 6 lumber into 2 x 3 lumber for all studs, bottom plates, top plates, rafters, angle braces, etc.

2 1/2″ screws, 3″ spiral nails.

Staples, and either chicken wire or hardware cloth for the end walls.

Front and Back Wall

Bottom plate: 8′ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

Top plate: 8′ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

Studs: 15″ x 2″ x 3″ (8).  I placed them at 32″ on centre.

Plywood sheet: 19″ x 8′ (2)

Side Wall

Bottom plate: 7’5″ x 2 x 3″ (2)

Top plate: 7’5″ x 2 x 3″ (2)

Studs: 15″ x 2″ x 3″ (8).

Plywood sheet: 19″ x 8′ (2)

Roof

Rafters: 8′ x 2″ x 3″ (3)

Plywood sheet: 8′ x 23″

End Wall pieces:

27″ x 2″ x 3″ (4)

25″ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

21″ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

17″ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

Hinged Roof

47″ x 2″ x 3″ pieces (2).  I used a framing square to cut the proper angle on both ends.

4′ x 8′ x 1/2″ (2)

3″ hinges (4)

Roost

8′ x 2″ x 3″ (1)

End wall side view

End wall side view

The brooder will need to be equipped with different feeders, waterers, and bedding depending on what you plan on housing in them.  At the moment, I am housing my breeding Roosters so I have straw and cedar sawdust as bedding.  I’ll continue to fork it around and add sawdust, wood ashes, straw, and water as necessary as I build up the compost inside of it.  I’m building an identical brooder to house my meatking chicks and turkey poults.  We’ll be purchasing them at the age of 3 weeks when their feather development is nearing completion.  The turkeys will be mixed in with them at the age of 5 weeks.  Chicks will require a different bedding (pine shavings) and chick sized feeders and waterers.

We’re making good time in our preparations for our second year of pastured poultry production.  The chicks and poults have a planned arrival for May 10 and May 31, 2014 on the farm.  It’ll be our first year trying turkeys, but we believe the demand from our farm supporters necessitates growing turkeys and we hope to have our turkeys on your dinner table for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We have some renovations to do on our pastured poultry pens and one more to complete to accommodate our chicks and poults this Spring.  After our meat birds make it to pasture, we’ll begin to break land for our foray into small fruit (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and my favorite, raspberries) production in the community of Point La Nim through a partnership with Natures Estate Farm.  We have an exciting summer ahead.  Look for future installments on our small fruit production and pumpkin patch plans to meet one of our farm goals of making it more family friendly.

MacCurdy Farm – Responsibly Stewarded, Naturally Balanced

 

 

Categories: brooder, farming, future generations, hatching chicks, MacCurdy Farm, multi-purpose housing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Hatching chicks on MacCurdy Farm

It’s been a year long wait, but we’ve finally purchased an incubator to hatch eggs on the farm.  We purchased the hovabator genesis 1588 incubator at the recommendation of another poultry enthusiast/farmer.  Unfortunately, one part was broken but Incubator Warehouse mailed a replacement part free of charge with free shipping and without fuss, which was a relief.  I’ll definitely consider them again when we purchase a larger incubator down the road.  If anyone is interested in purchasing an incubator, I would recommend the following two websites: (1) http://incubatorwarehouse.com/ and (2) http://www.berryhill.ca/.  Incubator warehouse is American and Berry Hill Farm is Canadian.  I’ve purchased from both and have been equally satisfied.  Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t go with a larger size Sportsman incubator that can handle up to 200 chicken eggs.  I’ve decided to be frugal and principled.  We’ll continue to think big and grow our business slowly and without haste so that we handle our business properly.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, there is no room for error when dealing with life.  This inaugural hatch, requires attention to detail and a step-by-step procedure to follow to insure a high hatch rate.

This past year, as someone new to poultry husbandry, we purchased 7 different breeds from breeders in NB.  We went with New Hampshires, Black Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Delawares, Speckled Sussex, and Silver-laced Wyandotte.  After nearly a year of observation I’ve decided to forgo any attempts to breed the silver-laced wyandotte, delaware, and speckled sussex.  These breeds lay smaller eggs, which our local market doesn’t support, and are not as cold hardy as their coop mates.  However, I have a soft spot for the Delaware (my favorite breed) and the Speckled Sussex.  Both breeds are extremely  docile and child-friendly, which has the ol’ hamster wheel turning about possible farm education potential with both these breeds down the road.  Speckled Sussex make excellent pets and Delawares are one of the top dual purpose breeds (eggs and meat).  Time will tell.  However, at this point of time, I want to focus on four main breeds: New Hampshires, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, and Black Australorps.  Three breeds originating out of New England and a heat hardy/excellent egg layer Black Australorp, which originated in Australia.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire

Barred Plymouth Rock

Barred Plymouth Rock

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red

Black Australorp

Black Australorp

These four breeds will allow us to run our pastured poultry egg laying operation with the appropriate numbers for breeding flocks (minimum size approx. 50) and keep us under the current restriction of no more than 199 laying hens on NB farms without quota.  All in all, we’re moving closer and closer to our organic certification by upholding beyond organic principles, building infrastructure, and treating our animals with an ethic of care.  Slowly and surely.

For our first hatch, I’ve decided to purchased hatching eggs from a farmer south of the province, which afforded my wife and I the opportunity to buy our new Merrell barefoot running shoes.  Spring, a time for growth and a time for healing but, i’ll save my excitement about running for another blogpost.  For our first hatch, we purchased 24 Plymouth barred rock eggs and 12 Easter Eggers.  Our breeding loft is in the works, so we had to go off farm to get hatching eggs.  The eggs for the next hatch will come from the farm, which further increases our self-sustainability.  For those of you who do not know what Easter Eggers are, they are chickens that carry a blue or green egg laying gene.  What better way to get kids interested in farming and eating healthily, than piquing their visual curiosity in chicken eggs?  At MacCurdy Farm, educating youth about where food comes from is a priority.  Building connections from consumer to producer allows us to do that.  Look for the odd blue or green egg in your egg purchases this coming fall!

Blue/Green eggs anyone?

Blue/Green eggs anyone?

Incubation, as far as the literature dictates, is a science so I thought I would compile some important information for those of you to access should you feel compelled to incubate and hatch eggs.  Below, you will find some important how-to information if and when you become a poultry enthusiast or a homesteader or a small farmer or a person with a newfound passion for food made in your backyard.

Setting eggs

Eggs need to be set (incubated) after being stored for no more than 7 – 10 days and should be allowed to warm to room temperature before being placed in the incubator.  Eggs must be placed in the hatching trays with the small point downwards.  The air sac will be on the round part of the egg.

Hovabator Genesis 1588

Hovabator Genesis 1588

humidity

Keep the humidity inside in the incubator between 25 – 60% up until the 18th day when humidity needs to be between 70 – 80% for the hatch.  However, I’ve recently been made aware of an approach to hatching called the dry hatch when you keep humidity to a level between 30 to 40% for the entire hatch.  If humidity is kept too high during incubation, it can lead to chick drowning inside the egg due to a high level of moisture inside the egg that the chick reaches when it begins to pip. By the point of pipping, the air sac needs to be 1/3 of the size of the egg.   By this point, the egg white will have completely evaporated.  This way, the chick can pip and not have egg white and water clog it’s nostrils and suffocate it.  Adding water to the water tray increases the humidity and should be checked daily to make sure it does not fall below 25%, which can lead to defects and deformities in the chicks.  Use a hygrometer to assess the relative humidity.

Turning eggs

I strongly recommend purchasing an egg turner to save yourself the time it takes to turn eggs three times daily from x side to o side (traditionally eggs are marked with x’s and o’s to track their turns).  Remember a hen would naturally do this when setting on the eggs.  Eggs are turned up until the last three days of hatching (Day 19, 20, 21) when they are removed from the hatching trays and place on the mesh floor to allow the embryos to move into the hatching position.

Temperature

The optimal temperature to incubate eggs is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit according to the experts.  The hovabator genesis 1588 is preset to 100 degrees Fahrenheit so we had to make a slight adjustment to our temperature setting.  Remember, lower temperatures lengthen the hatching period and higher temperatures shorten it.

Candling

We purchased a candler aka. “glorified flashlight” to test for vein growth and embryonic growth inside the egg.  While inside a darkened room place the egg on the candler.  This can first be done after the 5th day of incubation.  Candling allows you to check for viability.  Infertile eggs are clear or will show a dark ring, if they have died.  Make sure to remove dead or infertile eggs to avoid contaminating the rest of the eggs.  If the entire egg glows and no veins are apparent, the egg is infertile and must be removed.  Infertility checks should be made around 10 days.  The first signs of growth will be in the form of veins and towards the 18th day the air sac should have enlarged considerablye (approx. 1/3 of the egg will show an air pocket) with the appropriate humidity.

Lock-Down Period

Bring the humidity to the required level for the 19th to 21st day and then lock it down until the hatch has completed or you intervene on the 22nd day.  Do not remove chicks until they are fluffy as they may get a chill.  It is important to have your brooder kit set-up before the hatch completes so they can be moved to a comfortable home outside of the incubator.

Chick Brooder with heritage breed chicks

Chick Brooder with heritage breed chicks

We’ll treat this article as a living document and edit it as experience dictates.  There will be more pictures to follow of the hatch.  Here’s to a great hatch in 21 days!

Day 1 to Day 5:  Humidity kept between 40 to 60%.  Eggs are turning nicely on the automatic turner although the gearbox for the turner seems to be an impediment to turning one of the eggs in the tray nearest to it.

Day 6:  Candled my first egg and although the egg appeared to be a bit porous in places (specs of light shine through the egg shell) I was uber excited to see veins forming inside the shell.  Only tested one egg.  I’ll candle 2 eggs from each tray on the 8th day.

Day 8:  Tonight, I meticulously candled 6 trays of eggs from the incubator and made notes on the apparent fertility of each egg.  It took approximately 45 minutes as I took extensive notes on appearance, type of egg, fertility, and the position of the egg in the incubator.

Day 8 candling notes on each individual egg

Day 8 candling notes on each individual egg

Upon candling the eggs I decided to categorize the eggs three different ways: (1) fertile, (2) infertile, and (3) questionable.  At the end of candling 36 eggs, 28 appeared to be fertile with apparent vein growth or visible chick development, 3 appeared to be infertile with either no growth at all or the sign of early death called, “Ring of death”, and 5 were questionable as they had vein growth but I wasn’t sure if they had stopped developing.  I’ve decided to leave all eggs until the 10th day at which point I’ll candle the eggs I’ve determined are infertile and/or questionable a second time.  If there has been no change, they will be removed so that they do not explode inside the incubator.  I’m hoping that development makes a turn for the better for no other reason that I’m a big fan of life.  My notes and documentation of each egg and it’s location will allow me to track the egg’s development up until the 18th day when the eggs are removed from the turner and placed on the screen inside the incubator.  The signs that I used for growth/active chick development were vein growth, chick movement, or evidence of a dark mass (developing embryo).  The signs I used for infertility/early death were the literature based ring of death, an overly porous egg, or a transparent egg.  See the photos below for evidence of tonight’s candling.

Life cycle of a fertile chicken egg for comparison

Life cycle of a fertile chicken egg for comparison

Chick development: Dark spot aka. embryo.

Chick development: Dark spot aka. embryo.

Possible infertile egg

Possible infertile egg

A fertile, but porous egg.

A fertile, but porous egg.

Olive Egger Easter Egger

Olive Egger Easter Egger

Vein Growth in Barred Rock

Vein Growth in Barred Rock

Day 12:  I decided to candle a second time tonight and to my surprise my original fear of 8 infertile is down to only 3 inconclusive.  There are two porous eggs that I am unsure of and a third egg has a ring but a developing mass that was not present on the day 8 candle.  Not sure what to think of this barred rock egg.  I’ve also decided to take pictures of air sac development tonight as the air sac needs to gradually get bigger until it takes up approximately 1/3 of the egg.  Tonight the air sacs appeared to make up 1/6 to 1/8 of the egg.

Air Sac development

Air Sac development

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was unsure how to check the development of the air sac so I simply continued to hold the egg with the point facing down and the rounded end facing up.  Then, I shined the candler from the top end to see the air sac.  It was very clear and apparent in each of the 8 eggs that I candled this evening.  Hopefully, in following the dry hatch method, the air sac develops properly and healthy chicks emerge on day 21 and 22.  In other news, it looks like I’m going to sell some hatching eggs to a local poultry enthusiast for a broody hen.  I’m interested to see how it goes.  All part of the poultry game.

Day 18:

Tonight was the beginning of Day 18 so I thought I’d candle the inconclusive eggs.  Two early deaths and two infertile eggs, which leaves 32 healthily developing chicks in the other eggs.  Candling of a few of the fertile eggs revealed airsacs that had grown in size and a fuller egg with a larger chick inside.  One can also weigh the eggs to measure % of weight loss.  Ideally in the first 18 days, an egg should lose 11 – 13% of it’s weight.  Tomorrow night at 9 pm the eggs will go to lockdown at the beginning of the 19th day for three days until the 22nd day when I will open the incubator to remove fluffy chicks and place them in their new brooder home with pine shavings, water, feed, and heat.

Day 19:

Awoke this morning to find a shell being pipped.  The very distinctive cheep cheep of the Easter Egger chick caught my attention.  The chick has not emerged yet, so as a first timer I’m a little concerned.  While away in St. Quentin getting hay, another Easter Egger chick completely unzipped and started to flop around the rest of the eggs in the incubator.  As most of us are prone to doing these days, I googled day 19 chicks and read the chicken forums.  It appears to be uncommon, but usually does not pose a risk to the health of the chick.  Small eggs, and certain breeds, sometimes hatch ahead of time.  I’ll most likely turn the heat down on the next hatch and avoid strictly following the manufacturer’s instructions.  I’ve also learned, through email exchange, that shelf liner (you can buy it at the dollar store) makes an excellent footing to lay over top of the wire mesh in the incubator.  It serves to prevent splayed leg problems in chicks as  well as keep egg-shell fragments from going into the water trays.  It’s something we’ll implement on the next hatch of MacCurdy Farm only chicks.  Just a couple more things to complete on the breeding pen.

Day 20 – 21:

The chicks are steadily hatching, both Easter Egger and Barred Rock chicks.  Three eggs appear to have partially pipped and can not completely zip to exit the egg shell.  Not sure if the humidity from day 1 – 18 had an effect on this situation.  Just hoping the chicks can make it out.  It’s been a frantic lockdown period.  I’ve watched several emerge from the shells alongside my children and wife.  The kids have been uber excited to watch each new arrival.

Hanging out during lockdown

Day 22:

Removed all of the hatched chicks to their new brooder home.  Before letting them get acquainted with their new surroundings, I first dipped their beaks in water to train them to drink.  Afterwards, with the help of my wife, we released the chicks onto the feed covered newspaper.  By sprinkling feed on newspaper, the chicks learn to distinguish between the pine shavings and a feed source.  At the end of the night, the chicks have settled in nicely.  The brooder is set to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week.  We’ll check on them periodically to make sure they are eating and drinking.  Finally, we lost one barred rock chick to a condition called sticky chick where the inner membrane sticks to the chick so that it can’t move to pip.  It was upsetting.  I assisted two other Easter Egger chicks in their hatch who were in the same predicament by gently picking off shell fragments around the air sac.  One chick appears to be healthy and properly developed while the other has a crooked foot.  This is the inherent danger in assisting chicks out of the shell as sometimes they have deformities or conditions that are life threatening or will require culling.  Life can be so precarious.

Drying out for the brooder

New octagonal brooder home

Clean-up

After the chicks and eggshells have been removed from the incubator you must clean the incubator to disinfect and sterilize before your next hatch.  A quick browse of the internet will give you some ideas but I would recommend one of the following two methods.  (1) dishsoap and warm water.  (2) Bleach and warm water.

I prefer dishsoap and water as bleach can be corrosive and it smells if not mixed properly.  I scrub every square centimeter of the foam with a scrubbing sponge, inside and out after I have removed the digital thermometer (undo a couple bolts) and unplugged the power source from the fan.  You do not want any bacteria festering in the incubator before your next hatch.  They recommend drying in direct sunlight over the course of a couple days but, given our Sprinter (portmanteau of Spring and Winter) weather, I’m drying mine by the wood stove.  In cleaning the mesh, I use a hard bristled toothbrush to scrub the gunk off of the wiremesh.  Next time around i’ll be using shelving cloth so it won’t be as difficult scrubbing the wire mesh.

All that is left to do is calibrate my thermometer with a couple small thermometers and collect my NHR and Black Australorp eggs.

Categories: farming, hatching chicks, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

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