Thursday, February 25, 2016


So excited! It's hatching time again!  My ducks finally started the lay, and they are laying faster than I can sell all the eggs. I only have a small flock of 8 hens and 1 drake. He's been a busy boy. And  I've been wanting to grow my flock some. I've also had some folks interested in purchasing ducklings, so, I got to set up the incubator!!

Now, being an engineer, you know I track everything. Right now, I have several batches of duck eggs setting.  And since my ducks decided in the cold of winter, the preferred sleeping in the barn stalls with the sheep over sleeping in their duck house, they've been laying in the stalls. They are not brooding on them, kind of hard to do when a sheep might step on you. I'd love them to hatch their own, maybe that will happen in the spring, when the weather warms up.

Let's look at some past data. In 2012, I tried my hand at hatching. I think this is the year we hatched Paddles!
This was Paddles!

That year, my fertility rate on duck eggs was 87%, and hatch rate was 23%
In 2013, my fertility rate was 72% and hatch rate was 22%

Yikes. Wait till you see the chicken data, so much better.

So what does that data mean? Fertility rate shows, out of all the eggs I put in the incubator, which ones show signs of being fertile? Not a bad performance!

The hatch rate is a percentage of the eggs that are fertile, which ones hatch. So low. There are a lot of reasons a fertile egg might not hatch. Anything from biological reasons, like bad DNA, to hatching conditions. If the incubator gets too cold, or humidity is too high or low. In many cases, I may never know. But there is something different about ducks that makes them much much harder to hatch.

Right now, I have a batch of 16 duck eggs and only 1 was not fertile! They still have 2 weeks to go. There is another batch of 20 that I have not candled yet. It takes 4 full weeks for most duck eggs to hatch (Muscovy's are a non-mallard type duck, they take 35 days!)

Just another picture of some ducks I have hatched!

So we are so excited to have some ducks. I know the hatch rate will be lower. The other issue I have is that I have a really kick butt incubator at home. By big incubator can fit 288 chicken eggs! I have a mid size incubator that can fit 40 eggs, and my tiny 3-egg incubator just died this year, so I can't use it anymore.  My batch of 16 is in the mid-size incubator, hoping I can control humidity better for the duck eggs in there.

The issue with having one giant incubator, and trying to hatch chickens, ducks AND turkeys, is that I can only have one humidity level and temp set for all the types of eggs in there. The other issue is that humidity needs to be changed for different phases of hatching. During the incubation phase, humidity usually should be around 45% - 55%. Once it comes time for hatching - those 3-5 days where the chick is working to crack through the egg, humidity should be set to 55%-65%.

When I have eggs incubating and hatching all in the same machine, I can't hike up the humidity for the hatchers, as I risk the development of those that are still incubating. Yes, yes, I want a separate hatching unit, and am hoping that selling chicks and ducklings this year might show how that would be useful. So until then, I try to keep the humidity as close to 55% as possible, to be beneficial to both those in the development stage, and those in the emerging stage!

Until then, I am hoping to use my medium incubator as the hatching try for the ducklings moving forward, so I can control their humidity. Humidity is super important. If the humidity is too low during hatching, the babies can actually kind of dry up and the shells can stick to them, they struggle to get the shell off, and that struggle can cause death. If the humidity is too high, fluid in the shell doesn't dry up properly, and they can drown, if their beak is not in an air cell.

Ducklings swimming in the bath

So I am hoping for decent success this year. And I am hoping to share the joy of ducklings with others. Look at those silly birds! We like to let them practice swimming when they are still small. Believe me, my daughter loves taking baths with the little ducks!

Now on to the chickens. Their laying is picking up, too, and again, laying faster than we can sell them. So I started to hatch some of them, too. I currently have 57 eggs in the incubator, most of them Rhode Island Reds. Here are some past stats:

2012: fertility rate 77%,  hatch rate 48%
2013: fertility rate 98%, hatch rate 50%
2015: fertility rate 78%, hatch rate 63%

Looks like I had a rough start in my early years. I've learned a lot about maintaining humidity. And in some cases, we have had power failures and humidity loss. I think one year, I moved my incubator into an upstairs room, where the temperature swings during the day, with sunlight exposure were extreme. When the incubator is in the basement, with much more constant temperatures and humidity in ambient conditions, it helps the incubator stay in control.  Also, I may have hatched too early in late winter, or too late into the fall. The BEST fertility time for eggs is Spring.

Think about it from a biological standpoint. A prey animal like this needs to have their babies during a time when their offspring stands the BEST chance of survival. The roos and drakes get the desire to breed in early spring. The hens allow this to happen in early spring. They want to have babies in spring - when it's warm enough to keep them alive through those first few weeks. And it gives them all summer to learn skills to care for themselves, before winter hits and life gets harder.  So fertility starts to drop after summer, and hatching is much less successful.

Last year, I only hatched during the spring.  The other reason I stop hatching chickens in the late spring is that once my turkeys start to lay, I hatch ALL of their eggs.  If I have no real estate left in the incubator, I can only fit in turkey eggs.  I also have the farmer's market as a venue to sell eggs, and don't have the surplus I have in the spring.

Rhode Island Red chicks

Last year, I decided to sell some chicks. It worked out really well. So I am going to do it again. Mostly Rhode Island Reds and a few Speckled Sussex. I am trying to grow my Speckled flock, so I need to keep some of those. And I can always use some fresh stock in my RIR flock as well.

This is a turkey poult!

So the incubator is in full swing. I still have a couple of weeks before they start to hatch. Between now and then, I need to set up my small brooders in the house. Makes a bit of a mess, but I like to keep the birds I hatch inside for at least 3 days before they go to the outside brooder. That's another thing we need to set up!  Ducklings stay in a little bit longer, mostly because of how cute they are!!

We've had a really fun winter with a lot of lambs. Now it's time for baby birds!

If you are at all interested in adding to your flocks, or starting one up, we'll have babies available for sale in March!

Baby Chicks
Just hatched:  $3/each
1 week old:  $4/each
2 weeks old: $5/each
3 weeks old: $6/each

Just hatched: $5/each
1 week old:  $6/each
2 weeks old: $7/each
3 weeks old: $8/each

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Processing sign up link is open again

We won't be processing chickens until April, but I am already starting to get requests. I've set the link back to active, so you can submit requests to process birds.

Keep in mind, I need at least 20 birds to sign up, but don't let that stop you. There may be others asking for a process weekend, and if I can consolidate folks to one day, we can make it work.

It's easiest for me to keep everyone organized if you make your request through the link.

We have another upgrade to our processing area this year, too. We got an L-shaped stainless steel table from the Wayside Inn auction, that has a sink in the corner. We need to get it all plumbed up, which is why we won't process until April. We need night time temperatures to stay above freezing to make this all work.  But we should have a better work space, MORE space for plucking, and we're looking forward to getting butchering up and running again.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lamb Skins for Sale

We finally got our first lamb skins back from the tanner. We are never losing another skin! These are so beautiful, I hate to part with them, but wanted to share them with anyone who wants one. They are so soft and so warm. Eventually, I am going to mount one on some rings so I can hang it on the wall. I am also getting back some leather from my last batch, and am hoping to make some gloves and maybe use some raw leather to make the back side of a pillow, and a woolly skin to make a super warm and fluffy pillow. I am just striken by how nice these came out. We have have used them as throws while watching movies, so warm and soft against my face. YAY!

Make no mistake, we are going to take every skin in to be tanned from now on! These are amazing.

You can order onliner here (CSA shares also available at our online store, just too lazy to modify the script today.)

Order Online

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Shirley

This is Shirley. She had triplets (again) this past weekend. She's our best mama. As a matter of fact, I literally gauge all other sheep performance against her. She give us triplets about every other year, the years in between generally are twins. Except for last year, she had a single for the first time. 

This year is different. Twins and Triples often come a little early, as there just is not enough space for them to grow. And these little ones are pretty teeny. However, for the first time ever, Shirley showed limited interest in her babies. So little, actually, that when we came in just before #3 was born, she hadn't even begun cleaning off 1 or 2. We tried to get them to latch on, but we could get NO milk to come out of her at all! Straight to the bottle with these ones. Left to Right, we have Pipsqueak, Spike and Gummy.

In an unrelated turn, with these guys being locked in a barn stall, hoping for bonding to happen, Spike ended up inside her water bucket. He was soaked to the bone, cold, hungry and exhausted. He got to spend the night in the house with us.  His bond with mama is likely broken for good.

At 1AM, when Spike needed a feeding, I decided the others probably did, too. And went out to the barn to feed his two brothers. It seemed as if mama was tending to Gummy, and we are hoping a bond will develop.

However, all of ths is strange. Shirley has always been amazing. So much so, we have several of her offspring in our flock, We love her, her triplets, and we've never had to worry about her before. Now, we have triplets to bottle feed, which is not fun for us. Or them. Bottle babies grow much more slowly, but at least they are super friendly!

Shirley is almost 12. She is our oldest sheep. And one of our first.
This is Laverne and Shirley, the sheep who started it all. This was the day we brought them home, and they got to see pasture (possible for the first time in their lives).  Laverne was pregnant when we got her, and gave us Lenny and Squiggy, our first lambs.

About 7 months after Lenny and Squiggy were born, Shirley was no where to be found. She wasn't on pasture with Laverne and her boys, and I panicked, thinking she might have gotten attacked by coyotes or was sick.

We found her in the barn with these two... Charlie Brown and Linus. Lenny or Squiggy, at the ripe age of 2 months, had gotten her pregnant, and she gave us these darling boys. 

Here they are again, getting a bit bigger...

I care a lot about Shirley. She's been with us since the beginning. When she shared a barn stall with only Laverne.  Always calm, always friendly.

This is her, pretty sure her and I are both pregnant in this picture. I'm just spending some time with my sheep and my dogs.

Here she is again, pregnant. You can see her bags are starting to fill up a little bit.

This was her with her first set up triplets on the farm. Sorry for the image, she's still yet to pass her placenta in this picture, but you can see, even with that, she's tending to those lambs.
This was her with her first set up triplets on the farm. Sorry for the image, she's still yet to pass her placenta in this picture, but you can see, even with that, she's tending to those lambs.

This is her 2 years ago, with a set of twins.

Earlier this week, something happened to Gummy. He became lethargic, lifeless, just exhausted. We brought him and Fancy Pants (who had been lethargic since the day he was born) into the house, hoping warming them up would help.It didn't.  They both died in their sleep overnight, in a box next to my bed.  That being said, after losing Pebbles, Gummy and Fancy Pants all in just 2 days, it broke my heart. Sheep and lambs are here to live a full and solid life on the farm. To have sunshine and grass and time to play. After disposing of Pebbles and those babies, I just can't have Shirley face the same fate. I don't want her to be buried,  I want her to become food. I will miss her so much, but her only option for retirement is sterlization, I don't want her to get pregnant again, not with her age and her behavior this time. I would love for her to retire, but I don't want her to go through surgery just so I can keep her around. And I don't want to come out to the barn and find her gone. 

I know it seems so cruel, and it's different than euthanizing a dog. Although it feels sort of the same to me. Let her go when she can still become food. Let her go on our terms, when I can say goodbye and spend some time with her. Let her go before she suffers in any way. And let her play out her final destiny, as many of her lambs have, to become food. She's a special mama for us. She will always be. I will bawl my eyes out when we take her in. I will give her hugs and kisses every day until then. But I think the time has finally come, to say goodbye to our Grand Dame. I wonder, who in our flock is ready to take her place as the maternal leader of the lady sheep, who will be there to give comfort, guidance, and teach everyone else about treats and the best shady spots in summer.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's been a tough week

We started off Sunday with the news that Larry's Aunt Annie had passed away. Pardon my French,but this was one badass of a woman. Part of a generation that grew up on a farm. She didn't think twice about getting out a bone saw, cutting a turkey in half and saving the other half for Christmas, when we showed up on Thanksgiving with a homegrown turkey that was well too big for our little family. She's going to be missed.
This is Annie with Shannon (and me) at her first Birthday party.

This is Annie and Shannon at Thanksgiving in 2014, when Annie had just gotten out of a long stay at the hospital. 

So we have finished off a bad week with some farm losses, too. 

Cindy had babies this week. One is doing great.The other needed help being born and just never had any energy. We helped him out with some bottle feeding, but he just never seemed to get it. When his lethargy spread to one of Shirley's triplets,Gummy, we brought them both in the house to see if we could feed them more and keep them warm. It didn't help. They both passed away in a box next to my bed overnight. That next morning, Pebbles, one of our mamas, was breathing so heavy, she sounded like a growling dog. And I mean a NASTY growling dog. I got some penicillin, thinking maybe she had a respiratory infection and it might help.

 You might recognize this picture, it's from the year she was born. That's her brother BamBam (the white one) in that picture.  She was born in 2009, to Cindy. She's not a stellar performer, but we've never had any real issues with her. She was always calm, gave us 7 lambs in her time, and never abandoned a baby or had  a stillbirth. 

This is Pebbles just earlier in January, with her lamb, Celestia. She was always a strong and healthy sheep. Now we have another orphaned baby to feed (although, she seemed to be drinking from Meg when I got home today).
We went to work this morning, thinking in a few hours, if she had a respiratory infection, she would start to get some relief from the antibiotic. When I got home from work tonight, I should have known when a random lamb (not so random, it was Celestia) was running around baaing and looking for food, when I was looking to feed Pipsqueak and Spike, that something was afoot.  Being dark by the time I got to the barn, and our barn lights currently burned out, I looked all over for her. Ran back to get a flashlight and I looked at every sheep in the barn, looking for that little bracelet of white around her front leg... and I didn't find it. So I ran around the corral in the dark looking to see where she might be. She had laid down in a corner, in the snow, all by herself. I am heartbroken.  She wasn't our best mama, just middle of the road with lamb size, but she never gave me any issues. The only thing I won't miss about her is that we had to shear her on occasion. 

And if you think all of this is bad news, wait until my next post, where we struggle with the idea of culling Shirley, our oldest and first sheep. This is not my favorite winter.