Hatching chicks and ducks

We have been incubating our own eggs for several years. One of our more frequently asked questions is about hatching so we will try to answer some of those questions.

We have changed the type of incubator we used several times over the years. Our current favorite is the Harris Farms Nurture Right 360. The newest model has an almost completely clear top so we can easily see inside. It also has a opening to the water reservoir on the outside so water can be very easily added. I use a large syringe and add water twice a day, morning and evening. It has an automatic turner so we rarely have to open the lid. This incubator keeps the temperature and humidity regulated better than any we have used. It also has a built in count down and an egg candling light. And no, I do not get any compensation for endorsing them. But I’ll be glad to take a free incubator if they want to give me one. 🤣 Seriously though when we find a great product we do like to share it.

So now that we have the incubator what’s next? Start by gathering your eggs or buying hatching eggs. Try not to use any older than 7-10 days. The hatch rate goes down the older they get. We have had good success with eggs we found in odd places and had no idea how old they were! Store them in a cool and humid place. 55° and 75% humidity is ideal but that’s not easy. Mine have hatched for me and others and I keep them in a carton in my kitchen. Also turn them in the carton daily until you are ready to start incubating. Turning keeps the yolk centered and from sticking to the membrane. Always store them pointy end down.

Get your incubator ready and make sure the temperature and humidity holds steady before you put your eggs in. I usually leave mine running and keep an eye on it for several hours.

Once you put the eggs in monitor the eggs often. Temperature should stay at 99.5° F and humidity at 50-55% for both chicken and duck eggs. They stay this way for the first 18 days for chicks and 25 days for ducks. Day 7-10 is a good time to candle your eggs and see if there is growth inside them. A strong flashlight will work if your incubator doesn’t have a candler built in. Look for signs of blood vessels. If you can see them there is a live embryo inside. By day 18 days the embryo takes up most of the egg and it looks very dark inside the egg. Sometimes you can see movement inside the egg.

Three days before hatching add more water to raise the humidity to 65-70%. At this point your eggs are in lockdown. Do not open the lid until they’ve hatched!

Now is the time to start watching for pips or little cracks or holes in the egg. It is so exciting to see the first pips and to watch them hatch!

Hopefully this helps with your egg incubation. Feel free to ask any questions I may not have answered. Happy hatching!

We have chicks, now what?

So you’ve been given or bought some chicks, or as in the case of my teacher friends you’ve hatched them in your room with the help of a knowledgeable person. That would be me, by the way. 😊 So now what? We have these tiny beings running around. How do we take care of them?
First, I know you want to hold them but don’t be in a rush to take them out of the incubator. They are warm and safe there and still being fed from the yolk of the egg. A newly hatched chick can survive 3 days without feed or water. The yolk of the egg is drawn through the navel into the stomach of the baby bird before it hatches. This provides nourishment for the chick from the time the bird hatches, fluffs out, and gains enough strength to look for its food and water. So no need to rush them out of the incubator!

All snugly in the incubator
All snugly in the incubator

Once it is time to take them out they need to be in a draft free space with about 6″ of room per chick, less if you have smaller breeds. When they are bigger they will need about 3 sq.ft. each. We use a large brooder to house our babies until they are ready to go outside, but it is not necessary for a small backyard chicken owner to go to that expense. Before we had the brooder we used a metal tub. A sturdy box will also work. Make sure to put a couple of inches of pine shavings in the bottom. The shavings will need to be cleaned out and replaced from time to time when soiled. The good thing about the brooder is that it has a thermostat built-in. A heat lamp of some sort needs to be used to keep the chicks warm until they are fully feathered, approximately 6 weeks. For the first week the temperature should be set at 90-95. Each week the temperature needs to be lowered by 5 degrees until they are fully feathered and ready to removed from the heat and put in the coop. There have been reports of mishaps with heat lamps. Thankfully we have never had anything go wrong. Our brooder is completely safe, but if I had to rely on a heat lamp I would recommend checking into the Prima heat lamp by Premier or a small brooder with a safe heat source like the Brinsea EcoGlo 20. Both of these options are much safer than traditional heat lamps. After a few weeks if the weather is nice and warm the chicks can be taken outside briefly for some yard play time. They love to scratch and peck!

Our current set up in the classroom. Looking for a better lamp.

Classroom set up before we got the safer lamp.

Inside our brooder
Inside our brooder

Fresh food and water needs to be available and checked regularly. Chicks don’t like dirty water and it harbors bacteria. They may more interested in water than food the first day or so. When taking them out of the incubator for the first time dip their beaks in the water dish so they will know where and what it is. Be sure to add a chick electrolyte solution such as gro gel or quick chick to their water for the first few weeks. Organic ACV (apple cider vinegar)in the water, 1 Tbsp per gallon, is also helpful in a large variety of ways.
Chick food should be of good quality and balanced with vitamins and minerals. We use both Purina and Nutrena brands. Chicks need to stay on a starter/ grower blend until about 18 weeks or until they lay their first egg. Some brands have a separate starter feed that is followed by a grower. Defer to instructions on the bags. Treats are okay as well after a couple of weeks, but the majority of their feed should be their starter grower. If they are allowed to forage or are fed whole grains they will also need access to chick grit which will help them digest and grind their food. When they begin to lay their food should be switched over to a layer feed and they should be given supplemental calcium such as egg shells.

During the first couple weeks chicks will also need to be watched for signs of “pasty butt” Droppings can stick to the vent and clog the area. Using a warm cloth with water and or ACV and washing gently will help. Vaseline is also helpful to clean little bottoms. Using organic ACV in their drinking water will help avoid “pasty butt”.
Chicks also like to perch so after the first week or so we make them a little perch for their box or brooder.

Little perch made from tree limbs
Little perch made from tree limbs

Raising chicks is fun and entertaining. They are sweet little things to watch but they are also dependent on your care. Watching out for their daily needs and protection can be time-consuming but once you fall in love with that first chick, it’s worth it!

Love at first sight!
Love at first sight!

Cage free, free range, pastured eggs…What does it all mean?

Excellent question. Just what do all these terms mean? I think in most people’s minds when they hear “free range” they immediately picture wide open spaces and chickens roaming freely. That is what it means to a lot of regular people but not at all what it means when you buy a carton of eggs from a grocery store! Let’s start at the beginning.

When you buy eggs at the grocery store and you see the label “cage free”(a USDA term) it simply means the hens are in huge building or room and they have plenty of food and water but no access to the outdoors. Yes, you read right. No outdoor access.
If you have ever watched chickens scratch and peck or dust bathe then you know this is not a great life. Sounds worse than being stuck in your house during quarantine!

“Free range” is another USDA term and it means the hens have access to the outdoors. It could be a small door or a couple of small doors but it does not mean they actually go outside. Free range just simply implies a door exists for them to use. If they do make it outside the space is a small enclosure. This is a step up but still not great.

The term local means they are within 400 miles of the plant or at least in the same state. Wow…local to me is in the same or surrounding county. If eggs can travel 400 miles to get to the store how old are they when you buy them? For an example a farm store in my county gets it’s eggs from Atlanta which is over 200 miles away. I know this because I talked to them and asked where the eggs they sell come from.

The labels hormone free or no antibiotics added means absolutely nothing since it is illegal to give poultry hormones or steroids. And antibiotics are rarely used. If they are used then the eggs or chicken itself are not for human consumption.

Farm fresh is a term I actually like and in my mind it means the eggs are fresh from the farm. But it really means nothing as well on the carton. It gives you no information. It just sounds good.

Vegetarian fed is another term you will see a lot of. This one really makes me chuckle since chickens are omnivores. They love bugs, worms, and all sorts of crawling things. Mine have torn into a deer carcass and left nothing behind!

The term Organic is one that misleads a lot of people. If it’s organic then the hens are living their best life and eating great right? Not necessarily The only requirement is that they be fed organic food. A lot of organically raised hens are also “free range”. Remember how little outdoors time that actually is?

“Pasture raised” is not a term regulated by the USDA. In stores it is sometimes accompanied by “certified humane” or “animal welfare approved” In that case each hen has 108 square feet of space outdoors and space in a barn or enclosure as well. This is about the best you will find when you buy from large operations. A word of warning though.
According to egg laws Farmers have up to 30 days from when the egg is laid to get them in the carton. And the store can keep them on the shelf for 30 days after it was cartoned. This means the grocery store eggs could be two months old by the time you buy them. Yuck. They are technically still safe to eat but do you want to?

So now that we are completely. overwhelmed by terms that are designed to trick us where and how do we truly find eggs that are fresh and come from well cared for hens? They key is to know your Farmer! Know where the eggs come from. Ask questions, see pictures or visit in person. Are the hens enclosed or are they truly free to roam pastures and fields? I would describe our eggs as pasture raised because they are free to roam wherever and whenever they want. They could roam to Timbuktu if they so desired. They have shelters and plenty of food and water. Our customers know they are welcome to visit or ask as many questions as they like.

I hope this has been informative and helpful to you. As with all food choose your egg source wisely.

Trying to get food to the feeders!
We like to perch in th cedar tree.

Gracie’s Story

From day one Gracie was special. She was the only lab we ever had that never chewed up the furniture and other things she wasn’t supposed to. Sara Lee, Onyx and Phoenix would have chewed down the house if given the chance. My furniture still has the evidence from them.

Gracie came to us after a loss. We had a registered lab named Sadie Rose. Farmer Cheese got her from a dear friend. One day while still a young pup she went missing. No trace…just gone. We were heartbroken of course and just knew someone had dognapped her. This was before social media was in every aspect of our lives so attempts to find her were fruitless.

Several months afterwards in 2008 our daughter came across a family selling puppies at Tractor Supply in Valdosta Ga. They were full labs, unregistered. We’ve never really cared about whether dogs were registered. It makes no difference in the abilities and temperament of the dog.

She asked if we were ready for a new pup to love. It had been a long time and we said a tentative yes. I wasn’t 100% sure. She brought us home a gorgeous 12 week old Gracie. We all fell in love immediately. We named her Gracie because Easter was nearing and she brought us hope.

Unknown to all of us our daughters dear friend bought a pup for her family from the same people. Not sure if it was the same day or just near the same time. Our families have been friends forever and we were excited to learn we had sisters! What are the odds of that happening? Of course through out the years we have kept up with how these sisters were doing. Their Lucy and our Gracie have had ear troubles among other issues from the beginning. Gracie’s had several surgeries. But despite all that she was mild mannered and sweet and has been a blessing to us. Sadly Lucy passed away in December but she was a blessing to her family too.

Gracie has been to school with me after surgeries and visited other times. She was always so sweet and everyone who met her loved her. She was the most gentle dog I’ve ever known. The kids at school adored her.

Gracie is the only dog we’ve ever had that would go out and do her businesses far away from the yard and out of eyesight. We’ve always said she was a lady. It’s been tough on her to have go on a piddle pad in the house. Due to her arthritis and tumor in her foot she just has not been able to walk much at all. Every step is hard but she adapted well and still loved to ride in the RTV as much as possible. Riding and eating scrabbled eggs were her favorite things.

In December 2020 we had a tumor in her foot and a growth from her head removed. Even with her legs as feeble as they were we and her doctors thought this would help her and give her a better quality and longer life. Unfortunately the tumor was large and he was unable to get it all. We knew the cancer would come back eventually but we had no idea it would be this soon. The tumor was very aggressive. Because of her age, 13, and the severe arthritis she has there was nothing that could be done about her tumor. It was rapidly growing into other areas of her foot. With each bandage change it looked worse. She began to tear at the bandage to try to take it off. We were left with no choice. For her wellbeing we had to let her go. This feeling is to familiar and is quite possibly the hardest thing in the world to do.

Thursday February 4th was a beautiful sunny day so Gracie spent a lot of time in the sunshine. She went on many, many Kubota RTV rides. She of course had scrambled eggs for breakfast and treats often throughout the day.

Friday was more dreary. It was drizzly and cloudy. We fixed Gracie scrambled eggs for breakfast. Later in the early afternoon she had some more as a snack. When it was time to put her in the car to go I made sure to bring bread and cheese. With all the medicine she had to take she had become extremely fond of a piece of cheese wrapped up in a bit of hot dog bun. At the vet she enjoyed this special treat as we loved on her and told her how much we loved her. Gracie took her last breath about 3:50 that day.

Writing about her is like a form of therapy which I definitely need. Farmer Cheese needs to do physical work as his therapy. We all grieve in our own ways. Thank you for loving our sweet girl along with us and for all your thoughts and prayers during this process and the days, months to come.

Gracie girl, you will always be in my heart.

Enjoying the sunny day.
A younger and more active Gracie.
Kubota RTV riding.
Scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Even the cats adored her.
Such good buddies.
Riding before the surgery.

Farm lessons

Another lesson learned on the farm today. I’m wearing my clogs instead of boots. They are easier to take on and off at the door as needed. I did put 2 shower caps at the door for boot covers, works great btw, but I just felt like slipping into the clogs today. Anyway I went down to get the duck eggs and you know how they are. It’s a game of let’s hide the eggs in the hardest place to get to and see if the people can find them. 🤦‍♀️ In one of their usual spots on a slope I managed to lose a shoe. Yep…slid right in the pond. 😳 Luckily it didn’t go too far in it. So now what? I hobbled to the house, I don’t do good in no shoes..or one shoe, put on my boots and got the snake catcher. It’s a longer grabby that holds better than my egg picker uppers. I then had to slide on my rear end into the hole and stretch to catch the shoe. Shoe is now caught, rinsed off and drying in the sun. And yes, I’m still wearing my boots. 🙄

I think I need a do over.