Monday, May 31, 2010

Baby Chicks!

Early spring brought huge change on our farm!  We got baby chicks, hatched out more baby chicks, got a puppy, and picked up our cattle!  In mid-May, our first set of chicks arrived. We ordered from Performance Poultry in Ontario together with some other people on the ACE forum. They arrived in good condition and thrived on arrival. I was expecting day-old chicks, but they were probably a week old when they arrived. We ordered some heritage breeds, hardy enough to withstand our winters.

The lighter colored chick with the spot on it's head is a Buckeye.  They are a hardy bird with a pea comb that is low to it's head so it's not prone to frostbite in the winter.  They are a calm bird, dual purpose, easy to handle and are known to chase down and eat mice!  They are a rare breed, and absolutely gorgeous.

The smaller, darker chicks are a Buff Brahma Bantam.  They are also hardy, and know for their brooding and mothering abilities.  I hope to use them for hatching and raising chicks.

These chicks attacked the feed and water immediately!  Their flight from Ontario was a dry one, but they did not seem to be affected at all by the partial day of no food.  Of course it got really cold right after we got them and they lived in our basement for a week until it started getting stinky!  The kids enjoyed being able to go downstairs and watch them, we housed them in an oversized plastic storage tub with a heat lamp dangling overhead.  We had a remote temperature sensor under the lamp so we could keep an eye on the temperatures, especially when we moved them into the garage and the temps fluctuated from day to night.  We had some large wooden crates that we used to house them in the garage, and once they were fully feathered, we moved them into a chicken tractor that we built.  I'll put up pictures of the tractors in a later post!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hatching - a risky business!

My husband picked up this incubator from his mom on the off-chance that we would need it. We initially weren't planning to use the incubator to hatch chicks this spring, but when we didn't receive the Partridge Chantecler chicks that we'd ordered, we began looking for hatching eggs and ordered a water bottle that was missing from the incubator. Our crazy trip to Calgary gave us the opportunity to stop in at a wonderful couple's farm and pick up a dozen Partridge Chantecler eggs. We also picked up a couple of roosters as a favor for a lady who lives in our area, and were given 10 Serama eggs as well. After letting the eggs rest for a day, we fired up the incubator and began the watching and waiting!

The Serama eggs were very small and we had to make some modifications to the egg turning rack for them. The automatic turner was set to turn the eggs every hour, the temperature was set to about 99 degrees. It was difficult to monitor the temperature and humidity, as the dial for adjusting the temperature was very touchy and the humidity depended entirely on how big the puddle was on the bottom of the incubator. We had some major 'oopses' with the temperature fluctuating wildly, the humidity being completely out of whack, and the eggs getting stuck and not turning. These events didn't seem to harm the birds though, they weren't deformed, stuck in their shells, or whatever.

We candled the eggs about once a week. We don't have a real candler, so we rigged up a box with a bright light in it and began the learning process. We had no idea what we were looking for, but with the first candling found several clear eggs which indicates that no chick is growing. We looked up pictures on the internet of what an egg is supposed to look like, and compared that with what we were seeing. Of course the PC eggs were brown, making them difficult to see through. Eventually we began to see the reddish mass of veins and a few veins running across the egg to the shell indicating a growing chick. The second candling was much easier, as the chick inside the good eggs was a dark mass. With each candling we eliminated a few eggs, and at hatching had 10 Partridge Chantecler eggs and 3 Serama eggs.

I was shocked to read in our hatching book that eggs that are not growing before day 9 can be removed from the incubator - and eaten! We didn't... :-)

The eggs were getting noisy, cheeping could be heard from the inside of the eggs. We removed the egg turner on Day 18 as recommended, leaving a hardware cloth screen for the chicks to hatch on. We increased the humidity slightly and lowered the temperature a bit.

We brought the incubator into the living room for hatching, and we hovered over it; it was so fun to watch the progress.  We were totally shocked when the first eggs began hatching on Day 20 instead of 21!  The Serama eggs hatched first, but the Partridge Chantecler eggs were only a few hours behind.

The first chick working it's way around the shell

Top of the shell popped off, they're really packed in there tight!

Pushing it's way out of the shell

First steps, flopping around among the other eggs

The first little Serama chick, they are really small!

A Partridge Chantecler Chick

The final outcome was that only one of the remaining Serama eggs didn't hatch, otherwise it was a great hatch with no deformed or weak chicks!  We are the proud caretakers of 2 tiny Serama chicks and 10 Partridge Chantecler chicks!  All the chicks hatched within a 24 hr period, with all 10 PC chicks within a 15.5 hour span.  I introduced them to water and feed and they are off and growing!  

All in all, it was a fantastic experience.  It's good to know that hatching eggs aren't as sensitive as we were led to believe.  We broke the 'rules' and opened the incubator several times during hatching.  My husband is a 'hands on' kind of guy and couldn't keep from helping the occasional chick out and listening to the eggs to see if there was peeping!  Next year I'd like to try using a broody hen so they can look after the chicks after hatching too, but at least we now we have some experience using the incubator if that doesn't work out!

Monday, May 24, 2010


Finally!  After a winter's worth of planning, the snow cleared and we began the construction of our greenhouse.  We searched online for ideas of how to build an inexpensive, yet effective, greenhouse and found the Alberta Home Gardening blog, where he posts ideas for an inexpensive hoop-style greenhouse, and a year later posts an update with improvements and modifications to make it hail-proof.  We appreciated the simplicity of the design, and of course we saw a few things that we figured we could improve upon as well!

We began with a basic frame, and pounded 4-foot rebar into the ground on the inside of the frame at 2-foot intervals.  The dimensions of the greenhouse are 32 feet by 12 feet.  We used pressure treated wood, as we intend to build beds or use containers inside the greenhouse and are not concerned with contamination in our vegetables. 

We did a few things different than the one posted on the previously mentioned blog, one being that we made it a lot heavier and more (hopefully) structurally sound.  The hoops are made of PVC electrical conduit, two 10-foot pieces spanned this distance perfectly.  To beef them up a little, we first cut 16-foot pieces of rebar to fit inside the hoops, the ends butting against the rebar supports that are in the ground.

Secondly, we used a different method of supporting them, drilling holes through 2x2's and threading the pvc through them.  The result of this, however, was that we now had 2 large sections that had to be lifted into place with a picker truck, thankfully we have access to one!

One concern we have with the modifications we made is that the pvc has a pronounced bend in it where the ground supported rebar meets the rebar in the hoop.  We are hoping this won't become a weak point and fail, time will tell.

We've already had a heavy wet snow since putting the plastic on and saw some flattening of the arches, but with a few 2x8's on the inside holding up the center purlin, it withstood the storm quite nicely.  If we were to do it again, we would likely make the center purlin even more sturdy, either a 2x4 or 2x6 and put a few vertical supports on the inside of the greenhouse.

The ends of the PVC are placed over the rebar stakes and fastened to the inside of the wood frame.

We fastened the hoops on the inside of the frame so we could use the polyfastener from Northern Greenhouse Sales.  We wanted to have a nice tight seal and a method for attaching that wouldn't punch holes in the plastic in case we remove the plastic for the winter and wish to re-use it next year.

The rounded ends of the greenhouse were finished with strips of 3/8" plywood, bent around the arch and screwed into place.  The polyfastener was attached to this strip and we left enough plastic to wrap around to the ends.  We stretched the plastic over the hoops and zipped the inside strip of the polyfastener into place.  It worked really quickly, but it did slice through the plastic in a few places where we were stretching it a bit too tightly.  Our original intent was to apply 2 layers of poly and have a fan blowing between the layers, but we didn't have quite enough so we may do that at another time.  We will just have to open the polyfastener and add a layer.

We used plastic lath, also from Northern Greenhouse sales to attach the plastic to the doors.

We protected the plastic from the rather rough wood on the purlins with a double layer of plastic, stapled in place.

We have made a few more changes since this photo was taken.  We built a window into the door and installed the heat-activated window opener  from Lee Valley Tools.  The door on the other side is yet to have one installed, so when I see that the window is wide open, I know it's time to go prop open the door on the other side!  We installed doors on both ends of the greenhouse for access and ventilation.  We hope to keep the temperature and humidity inside the greenhouse moderate both day and night with effective ventilation and using a couple of black barrels of water inside the greenhouse as heat reservoirs. 

We're ready for the growing season; melons, pumpkins, zucchini, eggplant, flowers and tomatoes are at home in our new greenhouse, growing like weeds already!