Thursday, June 3, 2010

So today is the day that my first born cheeps are going to their new home out at the farm. The buff polish chicks are a little more than a week old and the blue polish chick is about 2 weeks old.

Let's roll back and see where this started. This STARTED when my mom's friend, Liz, wanted to get some polish chickens for her new farm. She's already raising meat chickens and some straight run egg laying chickens, but she wanted something crazy to go in with them. So, when the bird swap rolled around, Moon and I set off on a mission to find some cheap birds for her. We ended up with 2 breeding pairs; two blues and two buffs. The females are really nice quality, and they have been egg-cellent layers so far. I think they are up to 1 egg each per day!

Which of course is a lot of eggs. So Liz decided, why not try to hatch some out into more chickens! Just for fun, to see what we'd get. So I happily obliged and set up an incubator and a brooder box in my room.

This is how it was originally set up in my room, with the incubator to the left (it's just a cheap Hovabator incubator) and my home-made brooder box on the right.

Above are the 5 eggs we determined to be fertile, after a candling session at 10 days. Next time I will try to make a video of what that looks like, as it will surely be awesome. Now, we started with 8 eggs total, but I expected the first 4 to be clears because the cocks and hens were separated. However, one lonely egg was actually fertile and would later hatch. You can see the one separated from the other four because the first 4 were given to me 4 days before the others, so the others were still being rotated by the automatic egg turner (the big yellow thing).

I will say, the automatic egg turner was a fantastic investment. I did spend a day hand turning the eggs when I thought I would have to take it out because of the difference in hatch dates... but it turns out that you can remove racks from the turner and leave enough space for chicks to hatch without disturbing the rotating eggs. Pretty darn cool and removes a large stress element for both me and the chicks. Since I didn't have to keep opening the top of the incubator, the temp was able to stay pretty stable. Well, until I later fucked it up by doing something stupid anyway.

Moving on! I knew I would need a brooder box for them, but I just don't have the space to hold anything that would be appropriately big. So I spied on all the boxes that we get coming into work every day that we just recycle in the hall, until I saw one that approximated a 10 gallon aquarium. I knew I had a 10 gallon aquarium lid, a snake heat lamp, and sawdust bedding from when I used to own mice. All I would need is a pair of feeding boxes like you'd hang in a bird cage, and I'd be set. So I picked those up from Meijer and trooped home to make myself a brooder box.

The first thing I did was tape up the edges so there were 1) no holes and 2) no 'sharp' edges. I don't know if you've ever had a cardboard cut before, but it's like a paper cut from 50 pieces of paper. So I duct taped the edges and then duct taped the bottom all the way around, and up on the sides a bit. Why the bottom and sides? Well, they're still chickens and last time I checked, cardboard is porous. So I figured, I want to re-use this box, better make the bottom able to be cleaned easily without stains or anything. So here is what I ended up with.

As it turns out, a reptile heat lamp is just not quite enough to keep the cheeps from shivering. Even with the last folding flap on the right side folded down (instead of cut off) to retain heat, the box was still too cold. When the cheeps hatched, I ended up scooting my sacred heating pad underneath half the box to keep the bottom warm enough. Unfortunately I was dumb enough to lay the other half of the heating pad against the incubator, which raised the temp by a few degrees- and the margin of error is not large here. The two dark colored chicks took the brunt of my mistake, paying with their lives. I think. That or the shift in genetics that was made by changing the parents' locations was a bad one.

At any rate, the first cheep hatched 22 days after I put it into the incubator and I was horrified to discover just how absurdly ugly chicks are when they are first born. Thankfully they dry out and become fluffy and cute, but man. That first day is monster movie material!

Somehow the above turned into a charming, shiny lump of silver:

To be honest, I'm not very good with things that are freshly alive. I feel the need to poke and prod and make myself annoying. So with no one to tell me otherwise, that is what I did. I poked and prodded and pecked at this newborn thing as soon as I was able to move it from the inside of the incubator. I pecked at the food dish and it scrambled over to eat. I dunked its head into the water dish and it really hated that but it learned to drink.

A few days later, I woke up at the ass crack of dawn like I normally do, and blearily flopped over to my incubator to press my nose to the glass windows on top. I held my breath and listened with all my listening power.... and heard peep peep cheep from inside the eggs that were supposed to be hatching. I bored holes in the eggs with my mind by staring at them very hard, trying to see if they were wobbling and alive. I then had to tear myself away from the incubator and go to work for the day.

Lo! When I arrived home there was a second soaking wet monster in my incubator, this one burnished yellow. It was looking exhausted, but it had been hatched long enough that it was partially dry. So completely disregarding what every source online told me to do, I snatched it out of the incubator and tossed it into the warm, dry brooder box with the silver chick.

There was a war. It was really more of a one sided war as the silver one immediately ran over to the golden one and started pecking at him, trying to figure out what it was. After all, the silver one had been alone in the brooder for days except for my pestering hand. So I had to separate them and I installed an impenetrable wall in the center of the brooder box- a folded piece of paper. With that installed, I poked at the still hatching third chick and went to get my dinner.

A few hours later, I returned to my bedroom for bed, and the last chick that would hatch was rolling around in the incubator. The silver one (which we named Megatron) was trying to find a way over the impossible wall to get to the golden one (which we named Optimus Prime), and Optimus was standing in the water dish screaming at the top of his little cheep lungs. Horrified, I pulled Optimus out of the water bowl and he immediately started making happy noises. So I set him back down, and he flailed himself into the water dish and started screaming. So I took the wall out of the brooder, and Megatron waddled over and began to peck at Optimus. Who shut up. Clearly this cheep just wanted a friend, so I shoved Megatron back to his side of the brooder, replaced the wall, and pulled the third cheep (which we named Fox) from the incubator. It lay on the floor soaking wet and Optimus cuddled up next to Fox and was quiet. Mission accomplished.

Here are all three, at about 2 weeks. Left to right: Optimus, Megatron, and Fox.

Here we are, two weeks later, and I've learned a lot and I'm happy with the cheeps. I am looking forward to seeing Megatron's adult colors, and I want to see if Fox's old-man beard grows into an actual beard or not. Polish chickens all have the poof of feathers on their heads (which are actually attached to a bone crest) but there are some varieties that also have a beard. So we shall see!

They are actually under my desk at work at this very moment, being smuggled to their final home at Liz's house.

And as if that wasn't an adventure enough, Liz dropped off 9 more eggs with me, and there is another bird swap on the 12th of June that we will all be attending. Whoo! Maybe I will get some hatching eggs for fun of some other sorts.

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