We've Gone Chicken Crazy
We’ve gone chicken crazy! After seeing some beautiful images of baskets filled with every shade of brown egg from beige to deep, chocolate brown, with sprinkles of pale blue, green, pink or white eggs throughout, we too wanted to get more variety in our egg basket. We began to suffer from egg envy, which manifested itself as chicken craziness.
Maybe it was the really l...o...n...g winter that inspired thoughts of spring; maybe it was the urge to try something else in the self-sufficiency department; or maybe it was our children’s growing interest in chickens. Whatever it was, we collected eggs from our Easter Eggers and set them aside to incubate. Now, Easter Eggers are not a recognized breed of chicken, they are more a mix of several breeds (i.e, mutts), but they are popular because they lay eggs which are a pale blue, green, or pink colour. In November we purchased eight Easter Egger hens and a rooster with the intention of building up our own flock rather than buying adult birds. Obtaining the eggs was no extra cost and Dad had previously built a DIY bread proofer/incubator just begging to be tested out.
I remembered a little bit of country wisdom, “chicks in April, eggs in September,” that inspired us to get into action and try our hand at hatching some chicks! That tidbit of country wisdom hits on the reality of chicken biology in temperate climates; hens require five months to reach maturity and begin laying, but if that five month mark falls in the autumn or winter, with their short days and long nights, the hens will not begin to lay until the following spring. So, in order to capitalize on warm weather, so the young chicks will not freeze, but still reach maturity and begin laying before the daylight becomes too short, you want your chicks to hatch in April.
Despite the freezing temperatures in March of this year, we were able to collect 32 warmish eggs, place them in the incubator, monitor their temperature and humidity, and eagerly anticipate hatching day. The eggs must incubate for 21 days, over which time the little Harrolds diligently checked the temperature and humidity readings to ensure they stayed within the proper range, 99.5℉ and 50% - 60% relative humidity. On day 18 we removed the egg turning device and upped the humidity to 80%. To maintain the temperature we used a ceramic 100 watt terrarium bulb and added a second pan of water for more humidity.
Much to our surprise, we noticed an egg with a small hole pecked in it, the beginnings of a chick making its way out of the egg. I think Dad was more shocked than anyone else; his little incubator project actually worked! As the day progressed, more eggs with holes appeared. The following morning greeted us with high pitched peeps as the chicks struggled to get out. The children were ecstatic! The excitement of that day was comparable to a birthday or Christmas. In total, 24 chicks hatched from the eggs.
Two chicks were struggling to get free of their shells, and we knew that without our intervention, those chicks would not survive. Another tidbit of country wisdom is not to interfere with hatching eggs - it a chick is not strong enough to hatch, it’s not strong enough to survive. Well, that reality did not sit well with our eldest daughter, a fan of wildlife rehabilitation stories. She helped one chick out of its egg and I helped another. She named her chick Miracle and I named mine Percy (short for Perseverance). Both of those chicks are still alive and today, a month later, and are indistinguishable from the other 22 chicks.
Even before these Easter Eggers chicks hatched, we started to go chicken crazy. We found someone selling fertilized Black Copper Maran eggs (they lay the dark brown eggs) and purchased a dozen to attempt a second batch of chicks. As I write, these eggs just finished hatching and we now have eight Black Copper Maran chicks to tend to in addition to our 24 Easter Egger chicks. Since they are 3½ weeks behind the Easter Egger chicks, we keep them in a separate brooder so they won’t get trampled by the older, larger chicks.
To recap, we hatched 24 Easter Eggers that will lay pale blue, green or pink eggs and eight Black Copper Marans that will lay dark brown eggs. We already have 28 adult Red Sex Links that lay brown eggs and eight adult Easter Eggers. That is 68 chickens and almost the whole array of egg colours, but not quite. Our egg envy was not satisfied. What about the white eggs? Well, Dad found someone selling an array of hens that just had started laying and we spent a Sunday afternoon driving out to pick up 15 new hens. We came home with five Rhode Island Reds (from heritage stock), two Silver-laced Wyandottes, four White Plymouth Rocks, and four White Leghorns, the hens that lay the coveted white eggs we needed to fill our own egg basket with a rainbow of eggs and finally satisfy our egg envy. Now, the truth is, we only needed a handful of White Leghorns to have white eggs, but why settle for that when you could have more chickens? And beauties like Silver-laced Wyandottes to boot? Our current chicken total is now 83.
But it does not end there… we’re picking up six day-old turkey poults and ten day-old broiler chicks to raise alongside them next week. Apparently our chicken craziness has extended beyond chickens to turkeys.