Monday, 17 July 2017

I Need To Plan A New Hatch

We like to rear a few birds for the table, aiming for a couple of geese, half a dozen turkeys, a dozen Muscovy ducks and about 30 chickens a year.
Rather than buying in chicks or young birds, we prefer to hatch our own eggs and rear the birds slowly to table weight.

But this year we have been experiencing problems! Things have not gone as straightforward as we would have liked.

So we have ended up with one gosling from four nests. Goslings take forever to feather up, but ours is now starting to look like a small goose rather than a bundle of down, so fingers crossed it will make it safely through to Christmas 😀😋😋😋

The turkey hen on her new nest
Having sold quite a few young poults, we then experienced a couple of unexpected losses which has left us with three young birds. I don't know if it is just coincidence, but the survivors are all the silver strain birds.
However the turkeys had a Plan B, and seemingly a Plan C, for quite unexpectedly one or more of them carried on laying and a month ago the old hen started sitting. The eggs were due to hatch a few days ago - I say 'were' because, as you've probably guessed, something has gone wrong.
The old eggs - why did she abandon so close to hatching?
With just two days to go the hen moved off the eggs, but she has moved onto a clutch which mysteriously appeared in the other house. Inconveniently this means that if they hatch it will be when we are away and someone else is looking after the smallholding. It also means the turkeys won't be ready for Christmas, but that doesn't bother us since we have plenty of non-festive recipes for turkey!

Ixworth Hens
We keep a trio of Ixworth chickens (that's a male with two females) for the sole purpose of producing eggs for us to hatch and rear as table birds. We aim for three consecutive hatches in the incubator which gives us three batches of chickens following on from each other at monthly intervals.
We have been experiencing problems here too. For our hatch rate this year over four hatches has only been about 40%. One hatch was disastrous, producing just three young birds. Our most recent hatch produced ten birds out of 24 eggs.

We need to isolate the two hens so we can work out whether the problem lies with the cockerel or with one of the hens. My suspicion is that one of the hens is producing virtually no fertile eggs.

Elvis with her flock of growing ducklings last year.

Last year we hatched ten Muscovy eggs under Elvis, our broody hen. She did a brilliant job and we soon had ten fast-growing ducks. They have proved to be a very tasty addition to our diet and they produce plenty of meat too. After this success we obviously decided to follow the same plan this year. But Elvis had different ideas! She is getting on a bit now, being the only one left of the chickens which came to us with the smallholding when we purchased it, and just didn't go broody early in the year.
Instead though, one of the Muscovy ducks sat on her eggs (they reputedly produce lots of young without any intervention). Muscovy incubation is a long drawn out affair, 35 days as compared to 21 for a chicken. That's a long time to wait  to discover that none of the eggs are going to hatch, but that's what happened. Eventually I had to kick her off the nest. The eggs proved to be mostly fertile but had clearly perished at various stages of development.
No sooner did I kick this girl off the nest than another started sitting. Another chance. But I am sad to report that exactly the same has happened again.
Yesterday I took the eggs from under her and all nine eggs had fully grown young dead inside.
I need to look into why this is happening.

One very pi55ed off Muscovy duck

But I have hatched another plan. For Elvis eventually went broody. With my ducks sitting I collected a dozen Muscovy eggs from a friend and placed then underneath her. She has now been sat tight for ten days.
We will see what happens. Priscilla, daughter of Elvis, has also gone broody up in the stables and is now sitting on five of our own Muscovy eggs too.

Priscilla has to budge over as
one of the Cream Legbar hens
lays an egg in her nest

And finally the new brown Muscovy duck which we purchased earlier this year has not come out of her house for a couple of weeks, so maybe it will be third, fourth and fifth time lucky.

We will either have a lot of duck to eat or none at all. Let's hope for at least one successful hatch.

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