Well, after a long Winter, Spring, and Summer of hatching, brooding, and growing out every chick from our blue rooster, the selections have been made and our new flock has moved to the breeding pen. The pullets and rooster are all between 4 and 5 months old, so we hope to be hatching from this pen by the end of the year. That means that in 2019, for the first time ever, we will be able to offer Splash Copper Marans. For the short term all of our blues will come from this blue/blue breeding, but the long term goal is to produce a splash rooster that will be crossed to black hens from one of our other pens. That will give us one pen that produces 100% blue chicks.
We have chosen some of the darkest girls to give us the defined edging that we love to see in the blues. They are slowly starting to develop some copper in their hackles, but overall are trending a little darker
They are, however, beginning to grow into the large size of the black hens they came from
To bring some color back to the offspring we have chosen a young cockerel that is a little lighter blue, but is showing much better copper coloring in his hackles and saddle, and the deep red in his shoulders. He is also showing a little copper on his breast, so we think this young rooster is going to be an excellent match to these dark girls. This cockerel was one of the largest chicks, and even at this young age is showing the broad chest and wide shoulders that we love to see in our roosters. He’s going to be a big boy, and from early on has asserted himself as the head of the flock. He’s not aggressive towards us at all, but is very assertive with the girls. We expect much higher fertility rates from this fellow.
We can’t wait to see the black, blue, and splash chicks that this pen will provide for us, and our customers, in 2019
Our choices for next year’s replacement breeders have been made and are being moved to the main pens. Our Pen 1 threw some beautiful chicks this year, but that rooster was nearing 3 years old and was throwing some hens that were over melanized (too dark). Pen 2 has our best rooster from last year, and we kept our eye on his offspring to bring the replacement for Pen 1. This 4 month old cockerel stood out from the very beginning. One of the largest of the chicks, he also started developing his colors early. He has better color than the rooster he came from, is developing into a large bodied bird,and has just a little copper showing on his breast. Our hopes are that he will help improve the color in the hens produced from that pen. We hope to be hatching his chicks by Nov., and that will give us two beautiful roosters in each of our black-only pens. We also have a group of blues that will be moved to the main pen in August, and I will post pictures of those as soon as we get them moved
Our furthest shipment of live chicks arrived safely in Brentwood, CA today. All 16 sent were alive and healthy, sent across the country in just over 24 hours
Our customer was Kite Hawk Farms in Brentwood, a farm providing organic produce to local farmers markets, restaurants, and individuals just east of San Francisco. Lindsey and her team have done an impressive job transforming 5 acres into a working farm, and we are proud to be included in her efforts.
You can also follow Kite Hawk Farms on their FB page
We are proud to have had such success shipping fertile eggs and chicks to the West Coast this year. We love to see our line spreading out west, and look forward to many more shipments in the future
Back on May 3 I posted a video of our silkies with some black and blue copper Marans chicks they hatched for us. Here’s the happy family two months later.
If you’ve read the “about us” page on our website, you’ve seen that our entire chicken journey started with 4 feed store pullets. Every year I say “No more pens”, and every year I end up needing another pen. Apparently this year will be no exception...
We have been incubating every egg laid from our blue rooster over black hens, and with the low fertility rates in that pen we have been hatching 6-12 chicks every week. Some weeks have more blue, some weeks have more black, but over the last few months we have been able to hatch about 40 blue chicks. Some of the earlier hatches are beginning to outgrow the grow out pens, so it’s time to start planning for 2019.
Our current rooster will be replaced by the end of the summer, and the plan has been to replace that pen with a black rooster over blue girls, but these blues are so pretty that we are also going to do a full blue pen which will result in some splash chicks. The blue over black pen will give us the dark blues we love, but the full blue pen will give another option for those wanting to add some variety to their flock. Look for these birds and eggs to become available in late 2018, early 19. In the meantime, here are some of the birds we are growing out to choose from
I get many requests for female day-old chicks, and that’s just not something I can provide. After hatching for many years I can take educated guesses on chicks under 2 weeks old, but I won’t sell guaranteed pullets until about six weeks old. Yes, hatcheries can sell day old sexed pullets, but they pay professionals that have learned to vent sex to sex hundreds of chicks at one time. Vent sexing is an art form, and not something that the average hobbyist should attempt.
I get many customers that have bought “sexed pullets” only to have them start growing large combs a few weeks later, or worse, keep them so long that they start crowing. I’ve had people tell me about wing feather sexing, tail feather sexing, even saying “Hold them upside down. If it tries to pull itself up it’s a boy, if it just stays there it’s a girl”.
What??? With any method of sexing there are only two possibilities, boy or girl. There’s a 50% chance the person doing the sexing will be right, but that also means you may wind up with 5 boys when you bought 10 “girls”. Most honorable people will swap them out when proven wrong, but then you lose your time and money having to return the unwanted boys. That can be expensive if you have driven a long distance to buy a specific breed. We won’t sell our pullets until we are 100% sure. I can make a decent guess at 2-4 weeks, all based on combs and wattles, so I won’t sell chicks this age. I don’t want someone to feel like I’m trying to oversell them roosters, and in just a few more weeks I can sell the pullets for more money. After 2 weeks the chicks aren’t for sale until they are 6-8 weeks old, there are always one or two that will keep me guessing a little longer.
The good thing about Marans is the boys start developing much faster than some other breeds, so we can still sell them young. I also have customers that have bought straight run chicks from us that aren’t sure how to separate the boys and girls as they grow. I have a couple of pictures that I send them of an eight week old cockerel and a six week old pullet that are obvious, that show the differences in combs and wattles that we look for.
Marans pullets’ combs will stay very small for a long time. They are often blackish or a very pale pink, but we don’t use color to make our decision. Some pullets’ combs will be more pink than others, but bright red at this age is a good indication it could be a boy.
Wattles are our other indicator. Young pullets will either have no wattles at all, or very small wattles that are only visible when looked at closely.
Marans cockerels’ combs and wattles develop much more quickly than the pullets. This boy was a fast developer, not all boys will have such prominent combs and wattles at this age, but this is a good picture to show the difference. The comb is well developed, thick at the base, and bright red. The wattles are already hanging well below the jaw, and also bright red.
If you are looking to only buy pullets, or a certain number of pullets with one or two boys, then you can be sure that’s what you are getting when you buy from us. You may have to wait a little longer, and pay a little more for the girls, but you are still getting young birds that are guaranteed to be what you expected
A question I am frequently asked is “Which incubator do you like best?”. That’s a question with multiple answers, as our farm has grown I have used a few different incubators over the years. I can only offer my advice on the ones I have used, so here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of each type.
These are the most common incubators used, and can be found at many feed stores. Tabletops typically will hold anywhere from 7 to 48 chicken eggs. They are the perfect choice for someone just getting into incubating, or who only wants to hatch a few smaller batches of chicks each year. Tabletops can range in price from $50 for a still air styrofoam model to over $400 for a state of the art Brinsea Ovation 56EX.
Styrofoam is the most economical, and the type that many first timers choose to use. One thing I learned with incubators is you get what you pay for, so I recommend staying away from the cheaper versions. My very first incubator was a Little Giant, and I had horrible results. Much of that can be blamed on my inexperience at the time, but the Little Giant was also very erratic and inconsistent with the temperature, it could have swings of 8+ degrees, and that can be fatal to developing embryos. Read reviews on this brand, I’m not the only person that has had this problem. As far as the styrofoam incubators go, the Hovabator Genesis seems to be consistently the highest rated of them all. I’ve never used one myself, but have spoken to many people who have, and everyone says they are much more stable than other brands. They are a little more pricey, but a full digital model with forced air and a turner can still be bought for around $160. Hatching healthy chicks is much more rewarding than chicks that hatch sticky, late with curled toes or splayed legs, or don’t hatch at all because they died in the shell. An incubator that will hold consistent temperatures eliminates a lot of those disabled chicks.
When we started selling more chicks and wanted to have consistently high hatch rates we decided to purchase our first high end incubator, a Brinsea Octagon 20. I about choked when I shelled out $360 for an incubator that held 2 dozen eggs, but that turned out to be one of the best early investments into the farm. We found the Brinsea to be rock solid, set and forget. Temperatures never wavered more than 1 degree, and even after taking the lid off for candling the incubator would return to temperature in under one minute. Our hatch rates went from 50-70% to 85% and up. Fertile eggs that were put in the Brinsea just hatched. I work long hours during the week, so I needed an incubator that didn’t need to be constantly supervised, and the Brinsea truly didn’t. Since I incubate dry, I didn’t have to add water until lockdown, so with the Brinsea it became as simple as plug it in, add eggs, lockdown on day 18, take out the chicks on day 21-22. We were so happy with the Brinsea that we bought a second one the following year, and both of them are still in use as hatchers. Brinsea no longer makes the Octagons, the new tabletop model is the Ovation series, but given how impressive the Octagons were I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any Brinsea product.
High end tabletop incubators can be expensive, but if you are hatching frequently you will make your money back with just a few hatches.
As our farm and flocks grew, our need for more chicks grew as well. Although I am one of Brinsea’s biggest fans, their cabinet models are extremely expensive, so after reading many reviews and speaking with other people with cabinets, we decided to buy a GQF Sportsman 1502. GQF is the same manufacturer that makes the styrofoam Hovabator, and the Sportsman model has been around for years. With a capacity of 288 chicken eggs, the Sportsman ($795 new) is about half the price of a Brinsea Ova-Easy 190 ($1300) or 390 ($1529). I hated to leave Brinsea, but the Sportsman was so highly rated that I decided to give it a shot. The 1502 is the digital model that displays temperature, humidity, and has a turn counter. The turn counter is a great tool to have, because if for some reason the trays were to stop turning you would know. GQF also makes a 1202, which doesn’t have the digital display, and is a little cheaper ($675). These incubators seem to last for years, and replacement parts are readily available online, so if you are lucky enough to find a used one for sale I would snatch it up.
My Sportsman runs constantly. My favorite thing about having an incubator this large is the versatility. With 3 levels of incubating trays you don’t have to set all 288 eggs at one time. With a separate hatcher you can set as many eggs as you want each week and move the eggs to the hatcher at lockdown. We now use our two Brinseas as hatchers, so we can set 4 dozen eggs each week in the Sportsman, hatch in the Brinseas over the weekend, set the next batch in the Sportsman, and have the Brinsea cleaned up in time for the next weekend’s hatch. We have not turned our Sportsman off since firing it up in February, and our hatch rates have been just as high as incubating in the Octagons.
The Sportsman also has a hatcher in the bottom of the cabinet, but since we incubate dry we haven’t used it, the higher humidity needed for lockdown would cause a conflict with our incubating eggs, so we move to the hatchers. If we were only hatching once every 3 weeks, then everything could be done in the Sportsman.
GQF also makes a dedicated hatcher, the 1500 model, and that will be the next investment we make.
What it really boils down to with incubators is how many chicks you want to hatch, and how often you want to hatch. If you just want to hatch a few times a year to replenish your own flock, or to sell a few chicks, then styrofoam tabletops are the most economical solution. I just recommend that you spend a little more money and buy the Hovabator.
If you are hatching more frequently, and selling chicks to help supplement the cost of keeping chickens, then the high end tabletops by Brinsea are a solid investment. Ease of use and high hatch rates make the Brinseas worth every penny.
If you are moving into much larger hatches, or want to hatch more frequently, then the Sportsman by GQF gives you many options.
In the end, hatching healthy chicks is what really matters, and spending a little more money up front will greatly increase your odds of returning some of that investment with healthy, vigorous chicks
Every once in a while we will have a Marans, especially under 6 months old, that will develop an impacted crop. If it is caught early enough, it is correctable, but if your chicken doesn’t show any symptoms, or you just don’t happen to notice, then if untreated it will kill them. For the last week I have been working on one of my young blue cockerels, and thought it would make for a good topic here.
WHat is impacted crop?
When a chicken eats, the food doesn’t go straight to its stomach, it first goes into their crop where it is ground down before passing on to their stomach. This is why chickens need grit, an abrasive material to help grind down whatever they eat. The crop is a small sack high on their breast, just beneath the neck. Think of it as a balloon with the neck of the balloon pointed downwards. If you block the air escaping from the balloon, it will remain full. This is what happens in an impacted crop. A piece of food can become lodged in that passageway, preventing any other food from passing on to the stomach. If the blockage is so severe that no food can get by, the bird will slowly starve to death.
In the early stages you may notice your bird shaking its head from side to side in a jerky motion. It is trying to shake the food loose. If you see this, pick your bird up and feel for a hard ball, about the size of a pinball, in the bird’s crop. The best time to check for this is early morning. Chickens gorge themselves in the evenings before going to roost, and their crops will always be full, but they should be empty in the mornings.
If your chicken doesn’t exhibit the head shaking, and they don’t always do that, then the next phase is a steady loss of energy. They will become very lethargic, letting their tails droop as they walk, and in the later stages will become very unsteady on their feet. They are slowly starving, and this is how bad my little cockerel was before I caught it. Marans are fluffy birds, so a packed crop or weight loss isn’t easily noticed just by looking at them. If it isn’t treated right away, they will die.
If you Google “impacted crop treatment”, there are many different methods for freeing up the blockage. I have tried a few different ways, but here I will give the example of the one that works best for me, is easiest on the bird, and seems to have the longest lasting effect. Some of the methods that rapidly unclog the crop will allow the crop to become impacted again within a day or two. All you need is some cultured yogurt, a stimulant free stool softener in gel tab form, and a 10cc medicine dropper.
Take a spoonful of yogurt, then puncture the stool softener gel tab. Squeeze the softener into the yogurt, then mix thoroughly. Get at least 5cc of the mixture into the dropper. Some chickens will eat the mixture on their own, but if not you will have to hold their beak open and make them eat it. Place a little on their tongue, and they will have to swallow it, chickens can’t spit. Keep doing this until they have eaten the 5cc of mixture, then give them a little water. The next step is the most important, hold the chicken firmly and begin massaging the hard mass with your fingers. You can feel it moving around in the crop, but as the softener begins to mix in with the food you can feel it start to break up. Massage slowly for 10-15 minutes, breaking up as much of the mass as you can. You will feel it turn from a hard ball into a soft, gooey like, mixture in their crop. This is best done in the evening, when the chicken will be going to roost and not eating any more for a while. It’s even more effective if you can isolate the bird and only let them have water for 24 hours. The stool softener will continue dissolving the food in the crop, and as it softens it will start to pass to the stomach. If you have the chicken isolated, watch for fresh droppings, that is a sign that the food is making it through.
Keep an eye on your bird every day for at least two weeks afterward. The muscles of the crop could have been stretched, and it’s not uncommon for impacted crop to reoccur. Just treat and massage with the same method described before.
It took two treatments to get my little guy back on his feet, but he’s slowly regaining his energy and getting a little more spring in his step. I think he’s going to make it, but I’ll keep a close eye on him for the next few weeks.
Hopefully you will never had to deal with this issue, but if you do, try my method to free the blockage. I’ve had to use it a few times over the years, and it works
A little over three weeks ago I posted a picture of 3 broodies on nests in Pen 1 here at the farm. They started hatching over the weekend, and by Monday there were chicks running all over the pen. I counted at least 17, and more were in the coop with another hen. It always amazes me that after 3 weeks confined inside an egg, these little fluff balls hit the ground full of energy, zipping around the pen in search of food and exploring the world. At one point in the video you even see one of these days old chicks scratching at the ground, just like a big chicken.
We never have any problems allowing these hens to raise their chicks in the pens. The rooster is just as protective of the chicks as he is his girls, and the other hens leave the babies alone. They may check them over out of curiosity, but that will usually bring a swift peck from mama, so these chicks grow up right alongside the rest of the flock.
Our pens are surrounded by a two foot tall fence of half inch hardware cloth to keep the chicks in and opportunistic predators out, in addition to the welded wire that the rest of the pen is constructed from. Feeders with chick starter and waterers are placed on the ground where chicks can get to them, and our hens get their feed from PVC feeders that are too high for the young birds to reach. The chick food won't harm the adults, but the elevated calcium levels in the layer feed could damage the reproductive systems of young birds. We have allowed our hens to raise chicks this way for several years with excellent results
Remember my friend Tina, the crazy chicken lady with the black coppers named after the Supremes and a teacup rooster? This woman is an educated professional at the top of her field, but I fear that something about these chickens has caused her to snap.
For the last few months Tina has been battling a few broody hens, a bantam and one of our black coppers. I've tried to get her to just let them hatch some eggs, but she doesn't want to deal with the inevitable choices that will have to be made about extra roosters. That's fine, I understand, when chickens are your pets it's hard to let them go to someone who may have different plans for them than you do. I've told Tina how to "break" a broody, how to snap them out of the trance like state they go into when they begin sitting on a nest, but certain breeds, especially bantams, are so determined to hatch that they are hard to break. So, anyway, about a month ago Tina texts me and tells me that she found something to comfort her broody bantam hen. Two baby ducklings...
Now, I'm no expert on ducks, but most ducks I've seen are much larger than bantam chickens, but I also know that once a broody adopts a baby that they will raise them as their own, no matter what. So, a month goes by and Tina sends me this picture:
I'm strongly considering reaching out to Tina's family, friends, and co-workers. An intervention may be in order