Monday, April 25, 2016

Postmortem on Unhatched Egg

The Rest of the Story

In my previous post Hatching Baby Chicks I chronicled my hatching adventures this month.  I placed 8 random eggs from my little flock into the incubator and started the process.  A couple of times during the 3 weeks of incubating I candled my eggs to check on their progress. The first time you should candle is on day 8.  You really need to leave the eggs alone for the first week (except for the gentle 3 times a day turning) as it is a very critical developmental time that could be messed up by you jostling the eggs too much.  Just be patient and wait.

Candling is the process of using a bright light that shines through the egg's shell allowing you to see some of what's going on inside. Right away I could tell that one of my eggs was not fertile.  You can tell because it has a nice glow going on in the entire egg.

When I candled the rest of the 7 eggs I could tell that each one was developing into a baby chick.  The air cell was pronounced and there was a beginning network of veins starting to develop.  The contents were also darker.
It should be noted that if you raise Ameraucana chickens, their green and blue eggs are notoriously hard to see through.  Some of those you just have to adopt a wait and see attitude.

I usually candle about once a week just to check on progress.  The infertile egg stayed infertile (ha ha) and I probably should have removed it to prevent it from breaking and contaminating the other eggs. Each week I could see further development of the air sac and darker contents on the rest of the egg.

Right before hatching the egg should look something like this:
During the last day or so they chick will draw back up into its body the rest of the yolk.  This gives it the nourishment and strength it needs to go through the arduous task of breaking out of its shell. It is at this stage that the chick inside "pips". Pipping is when the chick breaks through to air and begins to breathe.  They can pip internally (into the air sac) or externally.  If pipping externally you will see a little break in the shell.  After pipping nothing much happens for a while (hours) as the chick is drawing in the yolk and gathering strength.  You will usually hear the chick peeping, though, so that's pretty exciting.  Chicks can also pip internally.  If candled you would see this:
Notice the little dark bulge?  The is the beak of the chick (in this case, duck) which has broken through the internal membrane into the air sac.  Hatching is imminent.

You can refer back to my previous post on hatching eggs for the rest of the story on my 8 incubating eggs.  I did leave off after 5 of my eggs hatched, though.  I'm hear to tell you about the other 3 eggs.

When I went to work that morning I had 5 little chicks lying in the incubator, drying out and trying to recover from their ordeal.  When I came home from work 8 hours later I was very surprised and happy to see that one more chick had hatched and she was black! It's so nice to have some diversity.

My little hatchlings

Un-Hatched Egg

I really wanted to know why the one fertile egg failed to hatch so I decided to do a post-mortem examination.  This can be tricky if you have a fairly sensitive yuck button, though, So I took precautions.  I don't like handling raw meat.  I don't like the smell and I don't like the feel.  And you never know what kind of odors you're going to get when opening an unhatched egg. 

I put the egg into a gallon sized Ziploc bag and I made sure that top was zipped up tight.  Then I took a kitchen knife and gently began cracking open the shell.  It didn't take long at all before the egg shell was cracked all the way open and the contents slipped out.

The first thing I realized was that this was a fully formed chick.  It was only hours away from hatching.  On the top side you can see its well-formed body, and flipping it over to the other side you can see that the yolk sac is mostly re-absorbed.  I'll never know what went wrong with this hatch.  It could be something like bad humidity level, bacteria contamination, or bad genetics.  For whatever reason nature selected this one egg to stop it's developmental journey at this point.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Wensleydale Experiment

I am the first to admit that I'm not a very proficient spinner.  I bought a wheel off of Craigslist, and had to drive 200 miles to pick it up.  I didn't know the first thing about it.  I wasn't even sure how big the wheel was going to be and hoped it would fit into my car.

I had nothing to worry about.  When I first laid eyes on my "baby"  I was slightly shocked at how small it was.  

And how cute it was!  The lady I purchased it from told me it was handmade by a Mennonite man who made one for each of his daughters.  He didn't want the art of spinning to die out so did his bit to encourage it. 

I love my wheel!  We had about a year of getting acquainted and with me learning her little quirks and nuances, but she and I are really pretty good friends now.  A big thanks goes to my niece who has been spinning much longer than I, for showing me a thing or 2 about the whole process. (Thanks SpinninAGoodYarn!)

Back to my Wensleydale......

Wensleydale wool has a pretty long staple (length of the fiber) and is kind of wiry and coarse.  When I attended a fiber fair I was entranced with all the billowing clouds of fluffy fiber.  I was drawn to a table that had this wool, all combed and carded and ready to spin. I really had no clue what kind of wool it was, but  I loved the beautiful grey color and the spongy soft feeling of it. I bought a bagful of the stuff. 

That was back while I was still getting to know my wheel, so the bag lay mostly undisturbed for over a year. 

A couple of months back I decided it was time to spin the beautiful grey cloud of fluff. 

It was a joy to work with.  I think the perfect wool for a beginner spinner like me.  It seemed to hang on to the other fiber as I was drafting it out, and didn't let me pull it apart like some of the other slicker wools.  As I started spinning I decided to add a little element to my yarn. 

I had previously dyed some Alpaca fiber, using Kool Aid, and wanted to introduce some of that.  I would spin some wool for a while and then switch to colored Alpaca for a while, then back to the grey wool, and back and forth. 

I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to ply this with another strand and have the colors match up, but soon solved my problem by determining to ply with a solid strand of grey. 

I really loved how it turned out!  Kind of heathery and muted.

With the plying done, I set the twist by washing the wool gently (as I could tell it would felt if I was vigorous), and hung it to dry.

After drying I used a bit to knit up a swatch.  I love how it knits, how it feels and how it looks.  It will make a great pair of socks.

Hatching Baby Chicks

Hatching Baby Chicks – Year 2

About 23 days ago I decided it was time to start incubating some eggs.  I began watching for cleanly laid, and healthy looking eggs from my 7 hens.  It only took 2 days to get 8 viable candidates.  A lot of the eggs have some kind of soiling on them so are not a good choice for incubation.  When I found clean, perfectly ovoid eggs from the hens that I wished to hatch from, I did not wash them off, but placed them in the fridge. The reason you do not wash them off is because when hens lay eggs they leave a protective coating on them  You don't want to wash it off as it will be more susceptible to letting germs get inside. Once I reached my quota of 8 eggs I placed them in the incubator and began the process.

My incubator is a Brinsea Mini eco.  It will hold 8 chicken eggs, a few more quail eggs, or a few less duck eggs.  It’s a great little unit.  The upside is the cost and easy use, the down side is that you have to manually turn the eggs. 


The first order of business was to plug the unit in and then watch the temperature.  It needs to be calibrated to around 99.3-99.7 degrees Fahrenheit to hatch hen eggs.  I let this run for about an hour before adding eggs.

Then I placed the 8 eggs around the perimeter of the incubator, filled 1 side of the water well in the center and replaced the cover. As I put each egg in I used a pencil and marked an “X” on one side and a “0” on the opposite side.  I watched for the next few hours to make sure that the internal temperature hovered just over 99 and just under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It took a few little tweaks over the next few days before the incubator temp stabilized. I just did my best to keep it steady. 

Once you start incubating in this unit you will need to turn the eggs 3 times a day.  I would typically do this when I first awakened in the morning, after I got home from work at 5 pm and then once more right before retiring for the night at around 11 pm.  It is important that you do this very gently as you could break the fragile blood vessels forming inside.  You should also turn the egg over on the smaller pointed side, not the wide end as this is where the air sac is forming. The “X” and “0”s really help when turning the eggs.  I always knew that I had fully turned them and which eggs still needed to be turned. Turning 3 times a day is important because you want to alternate each side for the longer night sitting time. Every day or so I would take the little water guard off the center well and fill up one side.  This keeps the humidity level inside the incubator at a correct level.

On day eight I candled the eggs.  Some of them were very easy to see through and others nigh unto impossible.  My brown, tan and white eggs I could readily see that the air sac and blood vessels were forming, except one egg which looked to be infertile.   My green eggs were impossible.  I just had to accept that they were on their own. My method of candling was the same and looked just like this.

I just kept turning and adding water for 19 days.  2 days before the expected hatch you stop turning the eggs.  You also start filling both sides of the water well to raise the humidity inside the incubator. Always remember to put the guard back on the water well so that when the chicks hatch they won't flop into it and drown.  Once the eggs start hatching the humidity has to be high or the egg membrane will dry out too quickly after the first shell breach and essentially trap the chick inside.




Last night when I arrived home from work I could hear peeping.  It was very exciting when I checked on the incubator and saw 3 of the eggs had pipped. Pipping is when the chick breaks through either the shell or into the air sac and begins breathing. 


Here you can see the shell on the tan egg is broken just to the left of the “0”.  The white egg right behind it is broken through on top.

This was very fun to actually hear the baby chick peeping and announcing her arrival before she actually made an appearance. 






After a long time (hours) and mighty struggles one chick breaks out.  When a chick hatches it is not the cute little fluffy thing that you usually see in pictures. It’s all wet and looks very straggly. Sometimes it takes a long time for it to wiggle itself up onto its feet.  I placed a little mat under the eggs when I was preparing for the final 2 days.  If you don't put something in there for them to grab onto they could end up with splayed legs.





It takes a few hours for the chick to dry out and start looking normal.  This one was the first to hatch out.  I call her Mother Hen because she took it upon herself to encourage all the rest.  She seemed to know which egg would hatch out next and somehow maneuvered herself around that cramped space inside the incubator until she was next to the hatching egg.  She would lay her head on it, nudge it with her beak, and peep at it.  Sometimes she would bump it around a bit.  Every time she did this the hatchling would get a little burst of energy and try a little harder to break free from the shell.

This morning when I woke up I had 3 baby chicks and one chick that had “zipped” its shell.

Zipping is when the chick has essentially pecked a line around the shell from the inside, breaking it into 2 pieces.  Then it can kick itself free.  It is a very long process.  This chick had worked at it all night long.





 Mother hen knew that the time had come and had flopped herself over to the next hatching egg.  She sat like this for almost 30 minutes encouraging and offering her support. 


I managed to capture this egg in the final stages of hatching.  The video is 12 minutes long, but you can see Mother Hen doing her thing, and the mighty struggles of the chick breaking her head out of the shell.


I learned a lot the first time around.  Last year I put 8 eggs in the incubator and hatched out 6 chicks.  I did a post-mortem a couple of days later to see what the problem was with the 2 un-hatched eggs. One of them had died early on in the incubation process, but the other one died just prior to hatching.  I did some research and have come to the conclusion that I was the one who killed it.  I moved the egg and inadvertently turned it over half-way through the hatch.  I’m pretty sure the fluids moved inside the egg and drowned the baby chick who had pipped internally into the air sac. I feel badly about my part in its demise, but glad I learned something in the process.

I still have 3 more eggs in my incubator.  I'm pretty sure one of them never developed as it was infertile, but the other 2 could still surprise me with chicks.  They were green eggs and for some reason this color is extremely hard to see through when candling.

Hatching out your own baby chicks is very easy and satisfying to do.  I would recommend you try it.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Becoming a Beek

I'm starting a new adventure.  It's something I've wanted to do for a long time.

I'm getting BEES!!!

My hive is half-way put together and my 3 pound bee package is ordered.   I'm excited to get those little ladies and watch them get to work. 

I spent all day on Saturday at a Beginning Bee class.  I learned so much and it made me anxious to get my hands dirty, (and hopefully not stung).

I will be documenting my Bee Trials here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sharing the Journey

As a way of introduction, I am a 58 year old woman who loves learning.  One of my passions has been to get back to basics.  I love to hear stories about my grandmothers, and the lives they led, the things they did, how they survived and lived their day to day lives. 

My Grandma Kate wrangling horses.

Some of the things I will share are:
  • Fiber Arts (spinning, knitting, crochet)
  • Chicken Keeping/Egg Production
  • Gardening (traditional, indoors, greenhouse, underground)
  • Food Processing and Storage
  • Sewing (hand, treadle, and modern machine)
  • Pioneer Pastimes and Pleasures 
  • Surviving the Elements - Camping Adventures
  • Cooking without electricity
I'm excited to share my journey with you.