chick in hand

Barbara’s Backyard – Hatching Chicks

Barbara’s Backyard – Hatching Chicks

I’ve written this blog as a reminder to myself of the specifications and times for hatching chicks in an incubator – and when to do what – but it should be helpful to anyone else thinking about hatching chicks.

An incubator is designed to regulate incubation temperature (about 99.5 degrees F for hens), and humidity (between 35-45% until the last two days when it should be raised to 65-75% for hatching) and some also rotate the eggs – if it doesn’t – then you have to do this manually.

A broody hen does not of course know what temperature her nest is – or the humidity – or how many times a day she has turned her eggs – but she seems to get a better hatching rate than my incubator!

Choose eggs ideally up to 7 days old – but they can be up to 14 days old.

Wipe the eggs if necessary – and store pointed end down. Egg shells are porous so don’t wet them.

Mark the eggs – I put an ‘X’ on one side and a ‘O’ on the other side – and I use a felt pen although often a pencil is recommended – but my eyesight isn’t that good!

Turn the incubator on and leave to warm up for a few hours.

Put the eggs in the incubator and leave for 24 hours to settle – day 1.  On the following days you need to turn the eggs 3 times a day – this prevents the embryo sticking to the shell.

Turning 3 times a day means that they are a different side up every night.  Don’t panic if you miss a few turns – hens can’t count.  But it helps if the eggs are a different side up each night.  I keep a notebook and mark every time they have been turned with a ‘O’ or an ‘X’.

Candling – is holding an egg against a light to see if a chick is developing – this can be done at day 8 but you can see better at day 14.  I don’t do this because I only have a tiny incubator so only have 8 eggs to turn and as an amateur, I am never sure what I am looking at.  It also means opening the incubator more which upsets temperature and humidity, so I just turn them three times a day and top up the water – and hope for the best.  50% hatching rate is normal, the most you are likely to get is 80% hatch.

Day 18 – increase the humidity to 65% and stop turning the eggs – just leave them until they hatch – usually 21 days for hens.

Turning the eggs on the 21st day, it’s incredible to think that there might be a little life inside each egg, a tiny heart beating, just waiting for the right moment to break the shell. Life is amazing. 

My Silver Grey Dorking chicks never started hatching until day 22 – and sometimes it was day 25 before the last one hatched – so don’t despair.  Just wait and DO NOT be tempted to help them.  It can be really painful hearing a chick cheeping, but their chances of survival massively increase if you leave them alone.  (There speaks the voice of experience.)

One chick took 3 days to hatch from pipping – so don’t worry.

chick in incubator

 

If you try and help, the chick may not absorb the egg yolk properly, and its legs may not develop properly.

And you don’t need to move chicks – they can happily stay in the incubator for 72 hours before they need to be moved to a brooder.

Absorbing the yolk gives chicks enough nutrients for about 72 hours – which allows other eggs to hatch before mother hen leaves the nest to find food and water.  Newly hatched chicks spend the first 4 days mostly sleeping – so don’t rush to move them.

brooder

Most of what I have read says that the first few days chicks need a temperature of around 95 degrees F – which is nearly the temperature that they hatched at – then it is recommended to

reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week until week 6 – when you get to 70 degrees.  In practice, the chicks just move further away from the heat source as they grow.

And temperature depends on a lot of things – the size of the space they are kept in – the number of chicks that hatch – one chick is going to be much colder on its own than cuddling up to brothers and sisters – so the best advice I have read is to use common sense.

If the chicks are all huddled together cheeping then they are probably too cold.  If they are asleep together then they are fine.

If they are panting and cheeping then they are too hot. If they are hopping about and drinking and eating then they are OK.

chick in hand

I use hay as bedding but you can use shavings, sawdust, or straw, whatever you use it needs to be changed regularly.

Chicks need chick crumbs for the first 6 weeks, then you can give them growers pellets – it’s a good idea to feed a mixture of both for 2 weeks, gradually reducing the crumbs.

Mother hen will peck corn into tiny pieces for her chicks but your chicks will have to put up with pellets until they can fend for themselves.

chicks 4 weeks old

Chicks at 4 weeks old

At 8 weeks they will have all their feathers and can go outside but they will still need protecting from rain and wind – and predators – and will of course need to be indoors at night.

Introducing them to the hen house can be a bit fraught – and I leave this as long as possible as hens will have a pecking order and the current residents will want to demonstrate this quite forcefully.

hen with chicks

Ducklings take 28 days to hatch and the humidity needs to be higher. So I tend to leave mother duck to this task. The most wonderful thing about ducklings is the first time they find they can swim in their water bowl.  I have read that ducklings shouldn’t be allowed to swim until they have their feathers – but as long as they are warm and can get dry quickly – and the water is very shallow – I have never had a problem with tiny ducklings having a swim!

When they get older and go in a proper pond, they discover that they can swim underwater and they get so excited splashing from one end of the pool to the other, wonderful to watch.

ducklings in pen

 

 

 

stroking a sheep

Dorking chickens – and amazing coincidences

Dorking Chickens – Amazing Coincidences

The story started last year during lockdown when I hatched some Silver Grey Dorking hen eggs in an incubator.  All five hatchlings turned out to be cockerels – so we couldn’t keep them all.  Sadly a fox got Dillon our resident rooster – se we needed to keep one – three of the others went to a neighbour, the fourth one escaped this fate – so we were left with two cockerels who just about tolerated each other.  I advertised for ages on www.preloved.co.uk, then, last week, I had an enquiry from www.wildlife-sanctuary.org.uk and yesterday we delivered a cockerel to them in Pendeford, Wolverhampton .  We had trouble finding it and turned round in a car park – which I noticed was a Midcounties Co-op – at Coven (coincidence number 1)

We met Mark and Tina who run the sanctuary – which is a sensory park – set up to give anyone with disabilities a wildlife experience in a safe space and offering autism therapy and land-based learning.  They explained that they particularly wanted Dorking chickens because they are one of the oldest breeds.  The children wanted a bird dinosaur and this was the nearest they could find!  Dorkings have five ‘toes’ – an extra claw on the hind leg which possibly demonstrates this.  They were absolutely thrilled with their new cockerel.

Needless to say, we were shown around and met extremely tame sheep and pigs – I had never stroked a pig before!  (They are bristly!).  I asked where they got their funding from and Mark said that Midcounties Co-op (not The Co-op like people usually say) had helped a lot, initially funding a ramp for disabled access.  Then, last Christmas, during lockdown, they were at their wits end, having run out of food for the animals and birds – and they rang Midcounties and asked if they could have any out of date food – Midcounties have been supplying them with food ever since.  I explained that I was a director of www.midcounties.coop Amazing coincidence.

The final coincidence is that I put some more Dorking eggs in the incubator – and yesterday the first ones hatched.  Hopefully there will be some ladies who will have a lovely home with a beautiful cockerel – making autistic children happy.

Bonnie the pig featured in several Midcounties stories as a piglet.  We were talking about animal welfare and Tina said she loves the fact the co-op source food sustainably and buy from suppliers who properly care for animals.  I would love to see this story on a co-op advert –  after all – “It’s what we do!

stroking Bonnie the pig stroking a sheep

Today’s Treasures – A Taste of Summer

Today’s Treasures  A TASTE OF SUMMER

In these dreary days before Spring really gets going it’s nice to look back on summer and the flowers that bloom in our English Country Gardens.

Daffodils, hearts ease and flox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget me nots
In an English country garden – according to the song by Jimmie Rodgers

And poppies and evening primroses, cosmos and sweet peas with their vibrant colours and heavenly scents, which all brightened us up during 2020.

evening primrose

It looks like Easter is going to be as exciting as the non-event that Christmas turned out to be, but at least we have a vaccine now – and our most vulnerable people have some protection.

Whilst we wait for the celandines, coltsfoot and primroses to follow the snowdrops and crocuses as spring unfolds, we look to the herb garden to brighten up home-cooking which I am sure we are all getting heartily fed up of doing.  Take-aways are simply not the same as sitting as a table with a glass of wine and a beautiful view and being presented with a menu that you don’t have to shop for or cook.

Some herbs grow through the winter – rosemary, thyme, sage and bay leaves – others are very effective as dried herbs – and make delicious flavours for the simplest meals – tarragon chicken, garlic and parsley bread, minted peas, pasta with basil and oregano.

In the summer I always freeze some fresh herbs in ice cube trays – chopped mint and parsley and grated horseradish for sauces, and basil and marjoram to add to pasta dishes, chopped coriander for curries.

Herbs – fresh or frozen – also make excellent herbal teas – hyssop regulates blood pressure, peppermint helps digestion, chamomile for stress relief, lavender helps sleep, sage is stimulating, fennel is relaxing.

lovage

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

Today’s Treasures –  Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

bee on borage

Life can be a challenge sometimes and, although places are opening their doors again, people are still scared to go out – and anyone who had social issues before – has much more to deal with now.  But people have found solace in nature – growing vegetables and enjoying walks and found life’s little treasures all around them in flowers and trees and butterflies and bees.

I walk around the field every morning and there is always something new to see.  When it’s been wet, toadstools spring up unexpectedly overnight and when it’s sunny butterflies dance along the hedgerows.  The buddleia flowers are opening and butterflies of all colours love its purple blooms.

toadstool

I bought a packet of mixed seeds ‘flowers for butterflies’ and planted them in an old wheelbarrow, they’ve been really pretty – corn cockle, cornflower, field poppy, vipers bugloss, forget-me-not, corn marigold.

wheelbarrow of flowers

I always leave some ragwort at the edge of the field for the Cinnabar Moth and in July I check every day for the appearance of their striking orange and black caterpillars.

cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragwort

The blackcurrants are ripe and the kitchen is fragranced with the rich aroma of blackcurrant jelly and the anticipation of that first delicious mouthful on toast the next morning.

The chicks that hatched in an incubator during lockdown have grown.  Dillon III – who was the only one to hatch successfully in the first batch – is the boss and leads them on forays around the garden.  They are quite mischievous and keep finding ways to get out – under or over the fence, trying my patience somewhat!

chicks

The herb garden is at its best – and the bees love all the blues and purples – sage, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, chives, borage and marjoram.

herb garden

Life is not about the destination – but the journey – every day is a gift – fill it with moments to treasure.

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Summer Gardening Tips

Summer Gardening tips

Use grass cuttings to mulch around plants – retains moisture and stops the weeds growing.  Use on runner beans, peas, broad beans

French beans – and I use straw once the beans start to grow to keep the pods off the soil.

 

And fruit bushes

Don’t mulch potatoes – I found out (to my cost) that it encourages blight – earth up instead to encourage more potatoes – and suppress weeds at the same time.

Use straw around strawberry plants to keep the fruits off the soil – the straw helps to deter slugs as well.

In late spring when you repot and split houseplants you can plant the extra plants outside – they won’t be frost proof but they will last all summer

This is Kalanchoe – this year I planted out pink Streptocarpus too.

Once the first broad beans are ripe, cut off the tops of the plants – it stops them growing too tall – and getting blown over – and it also helps prevent blackfly.

And cut off the tops of runner beans when they reach the top of the poles – stops them becoming top heavy and susceptible to windy days – and if you can’t reach them you can’t pick the beans anyway!

Grow nasturtiums alongside runner beans – helps deter blackfly – not sure whether it’s the smell of nasturtiums that overpowers the bean scent – or whether the blackfly just prefer nasturtiums – but it certainly seems to work – and they look pretty too.

Grow purple flowers to attract bees and butterflies – and put out a shallow dish of water filled with pebbles for the bees to drink from.

The Miracle of Life – watching chicks hatch

The Miracle of Life – watching chicks hatch

During lockdown – as we couldn’t go anywhere – I thought we might try hatching some eggs in the incubator.  They need to be turned three times a day so it’s impossible to manage under normal circumstances.  After 3 weeks of patiently turning the eggs (had to set an alarm on my phone!) and topping up the water every day, 3 eggs pipped.

The first chick died in it’s shell, the second chick climbed out all on its own, the third chick (bearing in mind I didn’t help the first one and it died) I helped out, it survived for a while but it’s legs were very weak and eventually it too died.  So, we had one ‘Cheepy Chick’ left.  In the meantime, a fox took Dillon, my beautiful cockerel – in broad daylight – and a few days later – despite my being vigilant and outside most of the time – he took the 3 brown hens as well.

So, I decided to put the rest of the fertile eggs in the incubator.  We eventually had 4/7 chicks hatch.  It was quite traumatic waiting for them to pip (on the 23rd day – not the 21st day as anticipated) – and then being patient and letting them climb out of the shell themselves.  I made sure the water pot was properly topped up this time so the humidity was better and probably helped with hatching success.

Dane managed to get a video of the first chick hatching – it took ages so he created a condensed version – but I can’t get WordPress to add it to this page yet – so here is an image from the video.  The magic of life – how can an egg change into a chick?

In the meantime, back in the hen house, both the ducks went broody and sat on eggs.  Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch (much easier to let the ducks keep them warm and turn them every day!).  As Mr Fox was still around, I shut the ducks in most of the time, only letting them out when I was around.  Jemima eventually hatched 5 tiny ducklings, three of which have survived.  I have found ducks and hens are not terribly good mothers and don’t seem to be able to keep their babies together and out of harm’s way but it’s definitely easier than hand rearing so you just have to leave them to it and hope as many as possible survive.

I’ve read somewhere that ducklings are not waterproof when they are tiny so shouldn’t be allowed in water, but our ducklings immediately found the water bowl and were happily splashing about.  I always put a stone in the bowl to make it shallower so they can get out.

While I was clearing up the hen house, I heard a frantic quacking and turned around to see all the ducklings in the pond – and of course they were too tiny to get out, so I had to rescue them.  I’ve filled the pond right to the top now so they can get out.  So much for not being waterproof!

One night last week we forgot to shut the hen house door and Mr. Fox returned and I found the ducklings without a mother the next morning.  Happily, the others survived and Jake the Drake is now a very proud father taking parenting duties very seriously – it’s quite touching the way he’s now looking after the ducklings when he wasn’t terribly interested in them before.

 

The Evening Primroses are out

 

The Evening Primroses are out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So called because of the transformation of their bedraggled daytime appearance into beautiful, fragrant, phosphorescent, fragile pale yellow blooms when the flowers open in the early evening. Long known for its medicinal properties – since the Flambeau Ojibwe tribe first used it in a poultice to heal bruises and clear skin problems – it is now used as a treatment for pre-menstrual tension and, more recently, nervous disorders, particularly multiple sclerosis.

Its generic name Oenothera biennis, comes from the Greek ‘oinos’ (wine) and ‘thera’ (hunt). According to ancient herbals the plant was used to dispel the ill effects of wine – and the oil does appear to be effective in counteracting alcohol poisoning and preventing hangovers.

A native of North America, The Evening Primrose was introduced to Europe in 1614 when botanists brought the plant from Virginia as a botanical curiosity – many strains of the plant also came to Britain as stowaways in soil used as ballast in cargo ships.

Apart from all this plant’s amazing herbal properties, the roots can also be used as a vegetable – and boiled they taste like sweet parsnips. Personally, I just enjoy looking at them!

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

It’s June and I have finally managed to replant the hanging baskets with petunias and fuchsias – bought this year – geranium cuttings overwintered in the conservatory – and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) bought online as plug plants and planted out into pots when they arrived.  Couldn’t get any lobelia so used Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron Karvinskianus) instead – it’s a mass of tiny white daisies and grows anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I split up the Oriental Poppies and planted some on the rockery.  They have been absolutely stunning in the recent sunshine – poppies always make me think of Enid Blyton’s story of Greencaps the Goblin who made caps for the poppies to protect their buds – and Cicely Mary Barker’s poem describing the seedheads ‘poppies with their pepperpots…’

A few years ago, an adjoining field was left wild.  People complained because it was full of thistles and ragwort – but there were also some really lovely wild flowers – pink campion, wild roses, white dead nettle – all of which relocated over the hedge and now grow in our field.  They do of course go a bit wild so you have to cut a lot of them down before they seed but I love the variety of wild flowers.

 

Last year I bought a packet of wild flower seed – not a lot of them germinated but the knapweed, ox-eye daisies and bedstraw have regrown this year and have been really beautiful.  Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.

There’s a Broom bush (Cytisus) which has seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year.  I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version from a garden centre which I planted by the hen house.

Unfortunately it got blown over one winter and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – so I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a beautiful variegated version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foxgloves are just coming out.  My aunt told me the story of how the fairies hide their dancing shoes in the foxgloves but – according to Enid Blyton – they hide them in the white dead-nettle flowers so the mice can’t steal them!

The fields have had a haircut – they look so different shaved of grass.  Good job they don’t need to go to a hairdresser, we’ve all had home hair-cuts this summer – and all the men have grown beards!  Farming is something that will not wait for anything – life goes on and haymaking is only restricted by the weather.   The little wild field has not been cut – it’s left to its own devices most of the time and provides a wonderful habitat for voles and mice – it’s full of butterflies in the summer – they love the bird’s foot trefoil and ragwort – as well as the not-so-wild buddleia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The herb garden has excelled this year – and the bees love it – all the purple flowers – chives, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme.  And I keep finding different uses for them – lovage soup was not very successful – but adding some angelica when stewing rhubarb makes it sweeter – so you don’t need as much sugar.

Today I finally finished weeding the herb garden – planned for last week but then the heavens opened! Started early because it’s so warm – and had a lovely time. Took me two hours but during the morning, apart from bees and butterflies, I saw ladybirds, damselflies, a big dragonfly, a green shield bug, a beautiful red and black cinnabar moth – and then a toad crawled out of the chives and disappeared into the angelica. I don’t mind toads, they crawl, frogs hop and make me jump.  The herb garden is near the wild pond, full of yellow flag irises at the moment and surrounded by wild roses and honeysuckle.

A lovely morning topped off with some home-made elderflower champagne!

Barbara’s Back Yard in May

Barbara’s Back Yard in May

I had not anticipated growing many vegetables this year – because we planned to put our house on the market on 1st April.  Maybe we should not have chosen April Fool’s Day!  So, as Corona virus scuppered our plans, we decided to stay here another year, and I have replanted the vegetable patch – and, with all the extra time, the garden looks better than it ever has done!

I finally managed to replant the hanging baskets with petunias and fuchsias – bought this year – geranium cuttings overwintered in the conservatory – and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) bought online as plug plants and planted out into pots when they arrived.  Couldn’t get any lobelia so used Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron Karvinskianus) instead – it’s a mass of tiny white daisies and grows anywhere.

Last year I split up the Oriental Poppies and planted some on the rockery.  They have been absolutely stunning in the recent sunshine – poppies always make me think of Enid Blyton’s story of Greencaps the Goblin who made caps for the poppies to protect their buds – and Cicely Mary Barker’s poem describing the seedheads ‘poppies with their pepperpots…’

A few years ago, an adjoining field was left wild.  People complained because it was full of thistles and ragwort – but there were also some really lovely wild flowers – ox-eye daisies, pink campion, wild roses, white dead nettle – all of which relocated over the hedge and now grow in our field.  They do of course go a bit wild so you have to cut a lot of them down before they seed but I love the variety of wild flowers.

Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.

A Broom bush (Cytisus) seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year.  I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version which grew by the hen house.

Unfortunately it got blown over and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – but I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a coloured version.

The foxgloves are just coming out.  My aunt told me the story of how the fairies hide their dancing shoes in the foxgloves but – according to Enid Blyton – they hide them in the white dead-nettle flowers so the mice can’t steal them!

The fields have had a haircut – they look so different shaved of grass.  Good job they don’t need to go to a hairdressers, we’ve all had home hair-cuts this summer – and all the men have grown beards!  Farming is something that will not wait for anything – life goes on and haymaking is restricted only by the weather.   The little wild field has not been cut – it’s left to its own devices most of the time and provides a wonderful habitat for voles and mice – and is full of butterflies in the summer – they love the bird’s foot trefoil and ragwort – as well as the not-so-wild buddleia. 

The herb garden has excelled this year – and the bees love it – all the purple flowers – chives, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme.  And I keep finding different uses for them – lovage soup was not very successful – but adding some angelica when stewing rhubarb makes it sweeter – so you don’t need as much sugar.

Looking forward to June – sunshine, strawberries and elderflower champagne!