Chickens—the next generation
By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association
and Lin Vogl
We raise chickens for eggs first and meat second: eggs are more nutrient rich, easier to store and more versatile than meat. Our chickens are a mix of heritage varieties; they are also good egg layers. Raising chickens should be a good plan with increasingly high energy costs.
Our rooster, Mr. Peabody, was part of the hen adoption that occurred in fall 2009. He was an intimidating barred rock—tall, proud, black-and-white banded, with a huge plumed tail and impressive talons, but we soon came to realize he was a very gentle creature.
He watched over the hens and would step in between two if there was a dispute. We were amazed at how he would always let the ladies eat first and call out to them when there was a tasty treat to share. Sometimes he would even bring the tidbit to them, lay it at their feet, and make a little cooing sound.
With a healthy assortment of hens and a rooster, the plan was to hatch some of our own chicks this year. However, after much observation, we came to doubt just how maternal our hens might be. We had two semi-broody hens, but “setting” did not seem to hold their interest very long. The most logical alternative was to use an incubator.
Fortunately, Lin received an incubator for her birthday and brought it to the farm. It was early March, and we had planned on putting Mr. Peabody with just a few hens some time in April for a May hatch, but sadly, Mr. Peabody passed away the following Friday morning, and our plans changed drastically.
After some speedy research, we discovered we had a window of 10 days after fertilization (or, in this case, the death of our rooster) to collect eggs that might hatch, and only five days after an egg was laid.
For the next five days, we collected eggs and kept those that, to us, looked promising. We’re still not sure on what we based that hope. We chose those with the most consistent egg shape to fit into the egg turner.
During the days leading to incubation start day, we memorized the instructions that came with the incubator. The most difficult part was maintaining the 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit temperature necessary for the chicks to develop. After considerable frustration, we hit the right spot on the thermostat.
We filled the egg turner. Over the next three weeks, we monitored the incubator temperature, added water to keep the humidity level stable, and hoped some eggs would be fertile.
On the 21st day, a tiny chip appeared in an egg, and a little while later, we heard a peeping sound as the egg rocked back and forth. Soon, four more eggs had cracks. There would actually be several chicks! At the end of the day, five wet little chicks were floundering around on top of the shells.
It took a little more than a day for each chick to dry out, and eventually 12 healthy chicks hatched. They were carefully placed in the brooder box, fed special chick food and chick water (with marbles in it to prevent their drowning).
The first chick was black with slight yellow markings, and the second yellow. We aren’t sure what breeds we have; will they look like their mothers or their father? We just hope to have one little barred rock rooster to take Mr. Peabody’s place. He was the most easy-going, pleasant rooster we could have.
From the April 27-May 3, 2011, issue
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