Thursday, 31 January 2013

Hatching chicks - week 2

Well, the eggs are 2 weeks into their incubation and it’s time for me to candle them again. Although all the eggs revealed developing embryos in their first week, it doesn’t mean that the embryos will still be growing at week 2.

There are lots of reasons for premature death in developing chicks and the majority of them involve temperature or humidity problems in the incubation process. Death in the first stages of incubation can also be as a result of eggs being stored for too long before incubation, but if you use a good quality automatic incubator and rotate your stored eggs, then this tends not to happen.

The blood supply is just visible
Keeping the eggs and the incubator warm and humid while candling the eggs is important at this time of year and, as I keep my incubator in an unheated utility room, I have to take great care that my eggs don’t suffer a severe drop in temperature when I check for life.

It’s day 15 for my eggs today and a lot has happened in the last week. The beak has developed, along with the legs, wings, toes and neck and the embryo clearly resembles a chick. Down begins to grow and the bird’s skeleton begins to calcify. The size of the air sac within the shell has increased and the chicks have rotated so that their heads are at the round end of the egg.

Any chicks that have survived this far, have a strong chance of hatching as healthy chicks so its fingers crossed for hatch day!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Thorleif’s blog

Hi, all! I am Thorleif, originally from Norway, but now running a lovely little B and B in the beautiful Brecon Beacons. Sue asked me a few months back if I could send her some eggs, as she really wanted to have some large fowl Croad Langshans. I said yes, and I organised two pens of hens to breed from this winter. I am 61 years old, and have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I am finding it harder to walk now, and I thought to myself, “I shall have to reduce my number of hens as I cannot look after them myself anymore. Why don’t I offer to give Sue some of them, and hopefully she will keep breeding this lovely old breed"?

Sue's Croad Langshans
Sue was happy to come all the way from Yorkshire here to South Wales to collect them. She (and her lovely partner, Howard) came and stayed overnight. It was so nice to see them again, and to ‘talk poultry’ all night. In the morning we put four birds in big boxes and away they went. It was so strange in my back yard when they drove off; it seemed so quiet and empty. I have 3 hens left now, and a pen of young cocks.

I have a hard job deciding what boys to use for breeding. I had planned to use Yestyn (born in January 2012) on all three hens, but now I am changing my plans a bit. I have promised to send eggs to quite a few people, at home and abroad this coming winter. Some I will manage to send out, and some Sue will post. I have planned a very interesting egg exchange program with a breeder of Croad Langshans in Denmark.  Sue and I will send eggs to him this year. Then Sue can have all the eggs we get back from Denmark, and hatch some Danish Croad Langshans!

- Thorleif

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Birds of a feather

When Sue asked me to set up camera in her garden to record the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, I had no idea what to expect. Well, apart from the weather! We were forecast to have the heaviest snow of the year overnight - always challenging for taking pictures! It was a fantastic day though, and Sue's pin-neat smallholding turned out to be a magnet for bird life, keeping me happily occupied for the allotted hour! With feeding stations dotted all over the place, I'm sure that I have missed loads of interesting birds, but this is a selection...

The Starlings were bullies, but great to photograph because the stayed on the feeder so long
(left) Wood pigeon (right) A very shy Wren
Goldfinches - fantastic but flighty
Chaffinches (left) the male (right) the female
(top) Carrion Crow (bottom left) Female Blackbird
(bottom right) Coal Tit
The shy little Dunnocks didn't stay on the tables long
The Woodpecker stuck around for nearly five minutes!
A beautiful pair of nervous Collared Doves
The garden was full of Blue Tits
(left) A noisy male pheasant
(right) The Marsh Tit was a surprise. We have them in our own garden too.
They may be plain, but I love House Sparrows
The comical Long-tailed Tits arrived in a flock with minutes to go!
And last, but certainly not least...two (I think!) resident Robins
appeared throughout the hour

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Big Garden Birdwatch Part One

I did wonder if the recent snow and freezing frosts would mean that my bird watching hour might end up being a bit of a disappointment, so I set up my ‘hide’ in the kitchen, armed with camera, binoculars, the kettle and a large piece of chocolate cake.

I had possibly overdone the bird bait though, as I also attracted the attention of the chickens and Blossom decided that perching on the windowsill was the best place to intercept any treats that might be meant for her wild relatives.

The hour passed by too quickly and it was great to take the time out to pause and observe the birds that visit my garden.

Fortunately neither Blossom nor the bad weather put the wild birds off and I had a wonderful time watching dunnocks, blackbirds, robins, wrens, chaffinches, wood pigeons, collared doves, crows, blue tits, and great tits. I even caught a glimpse of a buzzard circling above but fortunately it didn’t decide to visit my bird table!

My photographer friend, Harry, got some superb shots and will be posting them up as a guest blog here tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Hatching chicks!

It doesn’t matter how many times I hatch chicks, I always find it really exciting. It’s like nature’s own Kinder surprise! I have been carefully storing eggs from my lovely blue hens and last week I put 8 of them in the incubator to hatch.

They have been in there for 8 days now, so I decided to check for fertility by candling the eggs. I tell myself that I am checking to make sure that I am not wasting energy by incubating empty eggs, but really, I’m just very excited to see what’s going on inside the tiny shells.  My hens are bantams and only take around 19 – 21 days to incubate so they develop quickly and, by day 8, the blood vessels are visible along with the heart and the eyes and head.

All the eggs were developing nicely, which is great, as it shows that fertility levels are very good and that Rufus is active. The eggs have survived the collection and storage process which involves keeping them cool and rotating them every day. It’s so magical to see their little eyes forming and their hearts beating.

I will candle them again next week and let you know how they are developing.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Feathered feet

Those of you who keep birds with feathered feet, as I do, will know only too well that they require a little extra care, especially if the birds free range through the winter months. Snow, mud or a messy coop can lead to feathers getting clogged up with dirt, droppings and ice, which cause the birds discomfort.

Most of the time I find that allowing my birds to wander about on wet grass or a hard wet surface is sufficient to keep their feet clean, but occasionally dried-on mud or droppings may need to be loosened by a soak in a warm soapy foot bath! Now I love the idea of this, but some of my birds are a little less enthusiastic about it.

Along with the messy foot feathers, birds with feathered legs can be more susceptible to scaly leg mite. This isn’t something that I have had a much of a problem with previously, but the new arrivals have both scaly leg and dirty feet! As they are just settling in, I decided that a foot bath might be just a little too stressful for them so I have encouraged them to play out in the wet grass and leaves to soften the droppings attached to their feathers.

Feathered legs require a little extra care
I have given them a treatment spray for scaly leg mite and smeared their legs with Vaseline, which suffocates the mites and softens the scales a little. The scales that are damaged by the mite look thick and unsightly and will take a while to be replaced. This does mean that the chickens will look like they have scaly leg long after it has gone.
Trimming the foot feathers can also help with all this of course, but there doesn’t seem much point keeping a feathery legged breed and then trimming them all off!

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