It’s been awhile since I’ve written and I have also hatched another lot of chickens – officially my own first ever batch, not for school, not testing anything, just for myself. I want a few girls to keep the two remaining 11yr old hens at home company. So I got to do everything my way :) and I did alot of what Jeff tells our customers not to. I fussed, I checked the eggs too often. I put my hydrometer in to check the incubator (only twice!) and I learnt heaps. Having the eggs at home, on my kitchen bench from the first week onwards meant that I could study all the problems along the way. The air con made the incubator use heaps of water – I was topping it up twice a day – you are warned!
So what did I learn? After opening the incubator door (to top up water or check on the eggs) the internal temperature decreases several degrees – this is fine! Mother hens get up to feed, drink and poo. So if you put your hydrometer in the incubator, initially the humidity appears to go up – it’s more humid in the incubator than outside (usually!) and you’ve also let alot of warm air out so the whole ‘closed’ incubator system has been disrupted. As the temperature climbs back to the pre set temp, the humidity seems to climb too…but if you wait, you will find it hits a peak than starts to decrease again, as the heat stabilizes and the air flow in the machine returns to normal. It can take longer than 10 minutes for the ‘normal’ humidity to re-establish itself which is why just popping a hydrometer in the incubator and taking a reading and then panicking about it is not particularly helpful.
For example on the 5th Nov 2015 when I added water and put my Aqua Pro hydro/thermometer; the humidity peaked a few minutes after it went in at 80% but 5 or so minutes later is had gone down to 60%. This isn’t the first time I’ve observed this. While the IM 12 digital auto turn incubators temperature reading said 37.5C within 10min after I had openned the incubator and added water, the Aqua Pro took considerably longer to get there and it did eventually, but it had to climb from 21.3C in the kitchen up to the 37.5C inside the machine. Interestingly as the temp on the Aqua Pro increased (with time) the humidity eventually stabilized to 53%… comfortably in the range it should be for the first 18 days of incubating.
Had I not taken the time to allow the system to stabilize I would not have realized that it was my adjustment/disruption of the system that was effecting the results. The moral of the story – if you want to use external measuring devices inside the incubator, leave them in there long enough to get a true reading 20/30 mins not 5 seconds!
Side note to the story, regardless of my fussing we hatched all 9 eggs – technically. In reality 8 of them got themselves out and are thriving and my 9th egg/chicken ‘Caesar’ who had an assisted birth is still alive (26th Nov). Also worthy of note is that the after I left the hydrometer in for its 30mins, the readings were a perfect 37.5C and 53% humidity. So Jeff scores the final point – when he told me I didn’t need to use external measuring device!
Their story continues to grow as they have now had their own chickens, but as the school chickens are approaching being 17mths old it is more than time that I completed the story of their birth. As per Part 1 we took home the incubator (and brooder cage) on the Friday afternoon with 2 hatched chickens and pipping eggs.
Over the weekend 10 of the 14 eggs hatched out beautiful chickens. Mr (then) 4 was fascinated. I rapidly discovered that along with being cute, chickens also poop their own body weight everyday :)
For the next 3.5 weeks, the chickens enjoyed the classroom during the week (with Jeff cleaning the cage, feeding and watering them everyday) and had weekends at our house. But when it got to the stage that the children wouldn’t sit down ‘that end of the classroom’ with the chickens due to odor, since there were no other volunteers, the chickens came to the shop. Here they enjoyed a large space in our big display brooder.
While at the shop they spent alot of time working out their pecking order – flying from one end of the brooder to the other. I thought they were fighting all day. Five of them were were sold to a Grandmother as pets for her grandchildren and five were left here.
It was obvious there at least two roosters – the darker, non speckled ones and they were taken away by a kind customer. And so we were left with three pretty speckled chooks… who turned out to be a rooster and two hens: Bruce, Dark Specks and Speckles.
On Saturday the 15th of Nov 2014… Sat just been, the school chickens… who are now beautiful chooks – turned one year old. I have put together a photo collection of their existence – which I took in to school for the children, so they can see how much they have grown. Along with the photo collection I took in morning tea – of the chooks favourite foods. I had the platters in an esky and got a few weird looks when I said we were going to the share the chooks favourite treats. I suspect more than one person was worried we were having layer pellets. I actually took watermelon and strawberries, which I’m sure that many chooks enjoy greatly. Even the old black hens will peck the watermelon rind clean.
Bruce the rooster, whom we suspect was ‘Fairy Princess’ in the classroom, Dark Specks (probably the one named Bruce as a chicken by the children :) who is back to laying beautiful brown eggs after her attempt at brooding and Speckles – who is now off in her nest but I have no idea at all if she actually hatched anything as I never found any evidence of a live or dead chicken, are customer favourites at the shop. Bruce in particular is a real ‘show pony’ who lets us know when someone arrives and does his wing flapping dance to show off his lovely feathers when I take anyone to talk to him.
It’s been a very busy week here in the shop- incubation season is starting. So it’s probably way past time that I actually started the story of how we ended up with our ‘school chooks’: Bruce the rooster and the hens Dark Specks and Speckles – both of whom laid lovely brown eggs today.
We didn’t actually find out about the incubator being in the classroom till a Friday afternoon, after school when ‘The Boy’ said “We’ve got eggs in our classroom. They are going to grew into baby chickens.” Naturally we were interested and so on Monday morning went to investigate. There were 15 eggs, in a manual turn incubator and the teacher hadn’t been told much about it….so there was no water in the incubator and the eggs hadn’t been turned since they arrived. Jeff and I looked at each other and started wondering where we could source some day old chicks, if the eggs didn’t hatch! So we filled up the water tray, turned the eggs and volunteered to help.
The next day Jeff brought a candler to check the eggs out and to his amazement 14 of the eggs appeared to have growing chickens… and some were very close to hatching size. So he filled up the second water tray and we kept on eye on them everyday at drop off and pick up. I think the first chicken appeared on the Thursday, because when I come to pick up the incubator on the Friday afternoon there were 2 chickens and some more eggs pipping.
…Continued in Part 2. Got to dash to do the school run. Take care Helen
I’ve been trying to date when the old black hens arrived here at the shop.. I’ve a photo from May 2012 and know they were here then… Grandad and Grandma went on holiday and left them here to be ‘hen/baby sat’. At that point in time ‘The Boy’ was not yet at school and spent some of his time at the shop – naturally he made friends with the chooks and loved to help feed them. Anyway the grandparents returned from their travels, moved the younger Isa brown hens back to their chook pen and left the 5 old Australop hens to ‘keep down the weeds’.
Then the day arrived… Grandad came down and was having a cup of tea with us when he announced he was ‘taking the old hens to market’ and getting some younger hens …well Mr nearly 3 let out a cry “Grandad you can’t take the old black hens to market they are my friends!” and dissolved tears. Many hugs, cuddles etc later we assured him that the old hens could stay. So we got our first feathered staff members.
By Jan 2014 we now only have 3 of the 5…the other 2 having died of natural causes. Best guess makes the girls about 9 years old (as of 2014) and so far each spring they have laid some eggs.. it will be interesting to see if it happens this coming spring? I’ve no idea how long hens live? But google has reports of up to 20 years.