Saturday, December 02, 2017

Farewell Polly

Last month we said a fond and tearful farewell to Polly.  You may remember her from the first blog entries I ever did. 

She was a lovely, loyal dog and was always full of joy.

In the end she got very thin and didn't enjoy anything anymore.  She didn't want to eat, drink or go on walks.  She just wanted to sleep somewhere warm.  She was telling us that it is her time.

My lovely companion of eleven years has gone.

She was a delightful dog and never showed a bit of aggression her entire life. 

We shall miss her loyal face.  Rest easy faithful hound.

Saturday, April 08, 2017


This will be their last weigh in as chicks.  They seriously don't like it and it is harder to get them to stay bloody still long enough to take a photo that includes the leg ring.

While some are considerably heavier, they are all putting on weight.

Snowball 1

Snowball 2

Snowball 3

Snowball 4

Snowball 5

Snowball 6

Snowball 7

Snowball 8

Snowball 9

Snowball 10
Now they're under the workbench and they can stay there until they have all their feathers.  Some are really being quite aggressive.  If start to show aggression toward me, they'll be first on the chopping block.

 I can't have chickens that will peck humans.  Not if I have small visitors coming.  In the meantime, they're still cute.  They can enjoy their youth. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Moving on up!

The chicks were a week old yesterday.   In celebration, they all got coloured leg rings.  I still don't know which ones are male and which are female, but it doesn't matter.  The Snowballs are doing well.

Today after dinner, I found one of them had found its way out of the box that is on top of the workbench onto the floor.  Okay. . . time to move them to a safer space.

Thinking quickly about WHERE they can go, I devised a plan.  I cleaned out the area under the workbench, blocked the area off with scrap plywood and hey presto, we have a safe place for the chicks.  The heat lamp is suspended for them.  They have food and water and much more room!

The back half of the tool shed is now off limits for a few weeks.

When the chicks no longer need that heat lamp, they will move outside.  I will make a week long introduction to the four remaining elder hens and then their life as full on chickens will have started.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Weighing in

The chicks have been growing well.  True to their name, they are starting to develop a bit of attitude.  When I put my hand in, I will get pecked.  It doesn't hurt as the chicks are still less than a week old.  But some are making a "challenging" pose and square up to my hand - even though they're only little.

When they were three days old, I thought I'd weigh them. The heaviest was 65 grams and the lightest was 50 grams.  I was surprised at the variance. The average weight was 58.0 grams.

I weighed them again today - what a difference two days makes!  The smallest today was 60 grams and the heaviest was 83 grams with a group average of 72.4 grams.  Average increase in 14.4 grams.  The largest chick gaining 18 grams in weight and the smallest gaining just 10 grams.

I wish I had leg rings for them so that I could check the progress of each individual chick. . . .but that window has passed.  I will just have to work on averages.  I would love to be able to chart the growth of each chick.

I have no idea which chicks are male and which are female at this point.  I am just guessing that the heavier chicks are male.   We'll see.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Confession time.  The second batch of eggs didn't hatch either. It is crushing when that happens. When the hatching day comes and goes without a peep, you know that all have died in the shell. The eggs were infertile, damaged OR I suck at incubating eggs.

As I wasn't going to throw good money after bad and buy more eggs, I took the decision to not get any more eggs for the incubator.  I will wait until I have a broody hen and increase the flock that way. But that is for next year.

Shortly after my second incubator failure, there was an add on a Facebook poultry group I belong to for day old chicks.  Just the balm I need to soothe me after incubator failures. I bought ten chicks and picked them up yesterday after work.
A box of 10 day old chicks
Little yellow peepers!    They are one day old but if you look in the corner, there are two that are still a bit damp as they have JUST hatched.  Sold down the river on the day they were hatched.  Life is tough when you're a chicken.
Light Sussex (not my photo)
The breed is Light Sussex.  A really good domestic breed for a garden.  The Light Sussex is a handsome dual purpose chicken.  Hens can lay on average 200 eggs in the first laying season. They aren't too scrawny to eat after they've finished laying.  If one of the hens goes broody, they are known to be good mothers.
lining up for breakfast
As things stand now, I don't know which chicks are male and which are female.  They are therefore all named Snowball.
an indignant Snowball
They are named in honour of the Leghorn rooster we had when I was a small girl in North Dakota. His name was Snowball, (The Hammer of Bismarck).  He was one bastard of a mean rooster.
Snowball, the Hammer of Bismarck 
My sisters and I have stories of being terrorized by this very dominant male chicken.  If we wanted to play outside my sisters and I would walk out the back door.  Moving quietly to the corner of the house, we would call for Snowball.  In my childish memory, Snowball would come running full speed at us, flapping his wings and squawking.  We would dutifully run squealing back to the kitchen door and claim sanctuary.  My mother would shut Snowball up and we were free to enjoy the outdoors without fear.

Snowball had to be tough.  We lived on the edge of town where there were coyotes on the ground and owls in the air.  He had to protect his flock - which consisted of two skittish hens named Phoebe and Alice.

Back here in SW Scotland.  I have managed to keep the chicks alive for an entire day.  The chicks are small and vulnerable with many enemies.  Anything could eat them. They have no natural defenses.    It is my job to keep them safe, warm and fed until they can fend for themselves.  It has been noted that they are already a little bit faster and brighter today than they were yesterday, so three cheers to me.

Nature Walk

A favourite walk is up to the duck pond.  Polly is growing too old to enjoy walks up there.  One of her legs hurts so I won't make her do anything she doesn't want to.

The Man of the Place and I went up and were astounded by the devastation!  The trees are gone!

Trees in Scotland are quite often planted as a crop.  This means, that after the trees have matured, you have forgotten what the place looked like before they were big and the creatures of the forest start living in them, they get harvested.

It looks like a war zone.

There are still signs of spring.  They didn't harvest the gorse

One of the remaining Larch is sprouting needles

A dandelion

and of course, frogs  :-)

Just so I could prove to Polly that even though we went up to the pond without her, we didn't have a good time.  I fell in the mud.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Waiting for Spring

Taking part in the next Red Squirrel survey means that I get to go walk around local woods on a regular basis.

The trees are so beautiful.

The squirrel feeders get checked on a regular basis.  The food level is checked and the sticky tape that is underneath the inside flap of the feeder is swapped for a fresh one.

Today when the feeders were checked, all the sticky tape had small bits of red squirrel fur on them!  

After four sets of samples have been collected, my portion of the red squirrel survey is complete.  The samples will be posted away and scrutinized under a microscope.

Meanwhile, we wait for spring.

The fuchsias have overwintered successfully.  New leaves appear.  I will remember what happened last year and not let them get frosted.

It will be the vernal equinox on Monday and Tuesday, the 21st the second batch of eggs are due to hatch.  I am hopeful but actually more fearful than I was last time.  I know the heartbreak of a failed hatch.  The eggs are in lockdown now.  No more turning.  Just waiting.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spring things

The next batch of 12 eggs are in the incubator.

From what I have deduced, the temperature was two degrees too high and the little chicks couldn't survive.
2nd batch of eggs in the incubator

I've turned the temp down a smidgen and have tried again.  The eggs were put in on the 1st of March.  This will make remembering when they are supposed to hatch a bit easier.  (chicken eggs take 21 days to incubate).

I sure hope this second batch works.  I have 25 kilos of chick crumb waiting to be consumed!

In the meantime, a few garden jobs have been done.  Winter storms blew the ground cover off the vegetable bed.  It was the work of moments - very muddy moments - to replace the ground cover and weight it down with a carefully saved stash of bricks.
Sprayed apple tree

As we enjoyed a sunny, still day last week, I took advantage of the fine weather and sprayed the apple trees and rose bushes with Bordeaux mixture (mostly copper sulfate and lime)  It will prevent black spot on the roses and scab on the apples.

With all chemicals, protective gear is recommended.  I didn't use them.  I should have worn goggles and a mask.

I'll be better next time.

A new wire was added to the wall.  This will give my beloved wisteria a new thing to cling to in the upcoming year.

I love warm, still spring days.

The plants like them too.  Corkscrew hazel has lovely dangling catkins and tiny little pink flowers.

Spring is well on its way.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Failed Hatch

On Thurdsay, the 9th, the chick were due to hatch.  The day came and went . . . and nothing happened.  I thought perhaps I had miscounted, they hatch at the END of the 21st day . . .so I waited.  Friday came and went.  Nothing.  I put my head to the incubator and listened for peeps or any noise and was greeted with silence.

So today, Saturday I took the eggs out of the incubator.  I cracked open a few shells to see what had happened.  There were partially formed chicks in 10 of the eggs.  Rats!

I am struggling to figure out what went wrong.  I think . . . the temperature of the incubator was too high.  I'm going to see if I can-recalibrate it and start again.

I had everything ready too; box, warming lamp (with spare bulb), chick feeder, waterer and a 25 kilo bag of chick crumb.

I'll see if I can reset the temperature and start again.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Candleing the eggs

Eggs must be turned when they're in an incubator.  Some incubators have automatic turners.  Mine doesn't so a couple of times a day, I turn them myself.

The eggs are due to hatch on the 9th of February.  On the 6th the eggs go in "lock down".  The humidity is increased and there is no further turning. and this is the lock down part - NO OPENING THE INCUBATOR!

After a week, you have to "candle" the eggs to see how they're getting on in there.  A primitive xray if you will.  Regular chicken eggs are easy to candle. Why don't you try it at home?  You will be suprised how porous an egg shell is.  Shine a torch (flashlight) under an egg and see what you can see!

With fertile and incubating eggs there are things to look for.

This egg didn't develop at all.  Perhaps it wasn't fertile in the first place. Eggs that look like this after 9 days will be removed.

a yolker - not my photo
In the egg incubating world, and egg that looks like this during candling is called a "yolker".

You can also see if they had started and then stopped developing and died, "a quitter". Quite often they have a well defined blood ring.
a quitter - not my photo
 All yolkers and quitters need to be removed from the incubator.

a winner - not my photo
This is a winner!

You can see the little embryo safe inside, a well defined network of veins and a nice air sac at the top.

My eggs have very dark brown shells,  I discovered when trying to candle them on day 9 that detecting development is super difficult, bordering on impossible.

If I can't see what's going on inside, I'll just keep them all in and hope that the rotten ones don't poison the ones that are developing.  

Do you know how tense this is going to be on the 9th?  I'm glad I have to go to work . . . or I will finfd myself staring at the incubator and willing chicks to come out.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

New Beginnings

I am back in my beloved Whitelees.

December 2016 saw the arrival of Avian flu.  This means a clamp down on all domestically kept birds.  We have to keep the chickens away from wild birds. To keep my four hens (and the wild birds) safe, my birds are in the hen house.  They're not allowed out in their run and certainly  not allowed access to the garden.   Boo for restrictions but if it keeps them safe, then alrighty.

My birds are getting old and even though they are hybrid layers, the slackers have not given me many eggs lately.  I was thinking about expanding my flock.  How can I do that if there are all these restrictions going on? Restrictions mean that the movements of live birds is forbidden, but not eggs! If I'm going to hatch some eggs out, I'm going to hatch GOOD ones!

I got some Maran hatching eggs (the dark brown ones) from Greenfield Marans in Lancashire. Look for them on Facebook.

I kept some Maran chickens years ago.  They came at great expense and from over 100 miles away.  They laid beautiful eggs. In the end, a fox got them. The death of those birds meant the end of the free range life for my home flock.  I replaced the chickens but never got the Maran breed again.  Getting other more common breeds was just easier.  Somebody in the village has a commercial flock and I would get birds who have just finished their first laying season from them at a very good price.

As I only have a few hens, I thought that if I was going to invest in some new birds, I'd get ones that make me the happiest.  Those hens that lay the beautiful brown eggs will be just the thing.

The Maran eggs arrived today.

Look at how expertly they have packed those eggs!

As soon as I was home from work, the eggs were popped in an incubator that has been warming up for 24 hours.

In the past, the incubation here at Whitelees was done by an actual hen.  A broody hen does a fantastic job of incubating eggs.  Once, I had a hen hatch out 14 chicks in one go!  I've also used a broody hen to hatch out duck eggs. In the absence of a broody hen, I am using a borrowed incubator.

When placing them in the incubator, I marked them with an X on one side and a O on the other. The incubator that I have does not turn the eggs,  It is supposed to turn eggs, but that part of the incubator broke.
Turning has to be done manually.  Now that they are marked, I can tell which ones have been turned.  Egg turning must be done a couple of times a day. up until the end.
Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch.  You must stop turning the eggs on day 19.

Now our watch begins