Homegrown babies

Spring is right around the corner, and my poultry have been getting kinda frisky lately. I took that as a sign that it might be time to set the next generation in motion.

Last year I was lucky enough to have three hens go broody and raise their own chicks (takes so much work off my plate, it’s the best possible way!) Those hens are no longer with us, though, alas, so there’s no guarantee that any of these current layers will decide they want to help me out by becoming mamas.

I can’t wait forever and just hope that it happens eventually; heritage breed hens take about six months to come into lay, and if they don’t hit that period before Fall then they just sit tight through Winter, eating but producing nothing til the next Spring. I’ve had that happen before. It costs a lot of feed, for nothing in return.

So I went ahead and took matters in my own hands.


I gathered a bunch of our own eggs. For the sake of genetic diversity I scooped up this dozen mixed eggs from the lady who owns a flower shop down the road. Happily the duck and the drake have been …busy… lately too, and she lay six eggs in a row (one in the middle of the mud wallow, the dummy). I scooped them up and brought them inside too. Perhaps in protest, she hasn’t laid another one since.

Just look at all of them.


That wooden contraption is a manual egg turner. Each of those eggs has to be turned 4 to 6 times per day, lest the inner membrane “stick” to the shell and impair development. See the ‘O’s on the sides? There’s a corresponding ‘X’ on each of the other sides, to help me keep track.

Anyway, turning each of them several times every day while they all sort of rolled around loose in there was getting very frustrating – and taking a long time, letting too much heat out of the incubator. So this grid has spaces wide enough that the eggs roll on their own but stop when I want them to. I can crack the incubator, turn all the eggs at once, and close it all up nice and tight again.

I was counting on not all the eggs being fertile… but after candling at 4 days, all but 1 chicken egg had an embryo inside. It’s critical to say that this in no way  means that they’re guaranteed to hatch – that would be incredibly rare, as all kinds of things happen in development that leads to chicks that simply never hatch  – but still, it’s a bit unnerving to face the possibility that a good many more of them may hatch than I had anticipated.

I’ll just have to build a bigger coop.

Of the duck eggs, only 3 are fertile. I’m still excited, since they’re our own homegrown babies of a somewhat rare (though not heritage) breed – but I had wanted more. Plus now the hen has stopped laying again, so I’ll just have to wait til whenever-she-feels-like-it to try and hatch another batch. Since ducks are notoriously bad mothers, it’s unlikely that she’ll ever sit and hatch out her own brood.

Raising chicks is hard, though. It’s stinky and dirty and a lot of constant, tedious work for six weeks. Sooooo much better when the mamas do it for me! Let Nature deal with it so I don’t have to.

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