Every now and then, it happens. A wrong way chick stuck in the egg, hatches with assistance but then is unable to walk. I panicked the first time I discovered a poor baby that couldn't stand or coordinate it's legs. It's heartbreaking! I quickly did some research, discovered the hobble, and was able to cure that baby. I've done it a few times now and this week we had a baby duck with splayed legs that needed the treatment. It's a simple, painless, five minute (or less) procedure. Baby is usually able to walk the same day and in a few days to a week, the hobble can be removed. Here is how it works:
When the baby chick (duck, gosling, whatever) has muscle weakness in the legs which causes the legs to splay but is otherwise healthy, very early intervention can bring about complete recovery. The trick is to diagnose early, within a day of hatching. Very simple tools needed, I use hair ties and surgical tape. You can also use band aids, vet rx tape, or anything else that can adhere to itself and remain flexible. I like hair ties because you can get them in different sizes, they are non-irritating to the legs and they are very easy to work with.
The hobble is designed to keep the legs together, while still allowing for movement. It should be just long enough for the chick to stand normally, but short enough that it prevents the legs from splaying. It is much easier for the chicks to focus on standing only, vs standing and holding legs together. Once the legs are stabilized with a hobble, the muscles begin to contract back to normal length and when the hobble is eventually removed, the legs remain in proper position.
To attach the hobble, you slip one foot into one side of the loop then secure in place with a piece of surgical tape wrapped around the hair tie. The second leg goes into the second loop and another piece of tape is wrapped to hold in place.
Your chick will wiggle around and it might be easier to have a second person assist, but if you are patient you can do it alone. For ducklings, remember that they like to get into their water, so the hobble should be waterproof.
At first, they won't realize what is going on. They'll fuss with the hobble a bit and might crawl around for a while.
Once they are able to balance on their feet, the hobble begins to work. The chick will gain confidence and will enjoy being upright.
This first video shows our baby duck after 5 minutes with the hobble on, the second video shows skill building after just 8 hours.
Care should be taken to make sure the baby is on a non-slippery surface and gets plenty of opportunity to practice walking. Keep the hobble on at least 3 days, longer if the condition was severe. It should resolve within a week.
Here is Ernie (forefront) with his buddy Burt, after the hobble was removed. Completely healed with fully functional legs, Ernie's prognosis is excellent!
Be sure to check out our FB page for other duck adventures at fb.com/thepocketfarmer or follow us on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)
Somehow in all the fuss and rush of Spring prep, an important milestone almost snuck up on me. Bob the Chicken turns one year old today! Wow!
I've posted pictures and written about our friend Bob during the past year, but if you knew just how precarious his path in life, you'd be as amazed as I am that he's still here.
Whenever you have a "special case" animal, particularly in the farm world, you are walking in the footsteps of many many farmers before you, who's wisdom in matters such as these, cannot be disputed. It is not "cost-effective" nor is it "practical" to try to save all the Bobs of this world. Chickens are not about to become extinct and since Bob is no longer a candidate for the stew pot, cannot lay an egg and will not be making a genetic contribution to the next generation, a "real" farmer would not be investing time and money into this "folly". Practically speaking, taking on the task of attempting to turn around Bob's fate, is equivalent to being thought a fool. So call us foolish and help us celebrate!
Happy Birthday Bob! I hope your next year is full of interesting things to look at, fun adventures and good health. Now, make a wish and blow out your candles! :)
Mealworms for everyone!
If you'd like to leave birthday wishes for Bob, feel free to stop by his fb page at fb.com/bobthewryneckchicken to say hello! Or join us at fb.com/thepocketfarmer for all the busy spring happenings. Hope to see you there! :)
A couple weeks ago, I hatched out my largest batch of chicks to date. 52. It was a perfect hatch, in that every one one of the eggs I candled at day 10, hatched out a healthy chick. Even the one I dropped.
I know what you are thinking. HOW CAN YOU BE SO CLUMSY?? I can't believe it happened either. Here is how the process normally works.
Each day I head out to the coops to pick up the eggs. I carefully place them in my basket and bring them inside. They are marked by date and set in order and rotated each day until it's time to place them in the incubator.
After 3 days in the incubator, I candle the eggs to determine which are developing, and again at day 10 for confirmation. After that they sit tight until day 18 when they are "locked down" and await hatch day on day 21.
And, normally, it all goes very smoothly. Except this time, there was a glitch. After candling on day 10, I was returning the very full tray to the incubator housing which was in mid-rotation and tipped about 45 degrees. I usually try to do this quickly as the eggs have already been out for a few minutes and opening the incubator allows the heat to escape. So, as I manuevered the tray to fit back into place, I watched in horror as an egg slipped out of position, rolled off the tray and landed with a sickening thud onto the table. Noooo!! %@#*&!!!
I stared at the egg knowing what that meant. Eggs cannot hatch with cracks in the shell. I've tried it before. Several times when I've received hatching eggs in the mail, eggs have been cracked in shipment. I tried gluing them to seal the cracks, but to no avail. If the moisture loss doesn't terminate development, bacteria can get inside and cause rot. It is a death sentence.
Unable to accept it's fate, I picked the egg up and recandled it. Yep, the little embryo was still swimming around, oblivious to its dire situation, which was a crushed spot on the shell, about the size of a quarter. My brain kicked into overdrive. What to do, what to do?
So, I did what came to mind since there was nothing to lose. I cut the corner off of a plastic sandwich bag and taped it over the crack. My logic was that even though I was sealing off critical air flow through a portion of the egg shell, I needed to prevent the massive moisture loss that would have occurred through the crack. I hoped that there was enough egg surface left to handle the natural moisture depletion and oxygenation that occurs during incubation. I put the egg back into the incubator with the cracked side face up. Then, I waited.
On day 18, my cracked egg still showed a developing embryo, so I put it in lock down with the others.
On day 21, something amazing happened! The egg pipped!
I'm not sure why there wasn't an issue with bacteria, as the incubator conditions are perfect for egg rot, should the shell be compromised. And my shell "repair" was completely amateurish. But, somehow, it worked.
I banded this chick to monitor long term progress and I am happy to report, no health issues have developed in the two weeks since hatching. It simply survived, and, like the others, is thriving.
Stop by our FB home fb.com/thepocketfarmer to see what we are talking about or find us on twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)
Every now and then I feel the need to interrupt our sustainability conversation, lest we become so boxed into our passion that we forget what we are fighting for, and to remember The Big Picture. This week the topic can best be summarized as, "What does natural mean to you?"
I often get comments when I discuss incubating eggs, that fall along the lines of "I prefer to let my hens hatch our chicks naturally", etc. Of course, I applaud every one of you that are raising chickens and making it work for your situation. And I can see where incubating eggs with a machine can be construed as unnatural. It certainly requires electricity and a hen is nowhere in sight when these eggs hatch. I get that.
I'd also like to point out that incubating eggs, dates back to Egyptian times. Yep. It goes way back. Before electricity. And in modern days, farmers have been using incubators to hatch their chicks for more than a century.
Incubators are kind of like a greenhouse for chicks. You wouldn't hesitate to give your garden plants the best start in life, right? Maybe you put a grow light on those tiny tomato starts and a heating pad underneath to warm the seeds. You probably don't think of that as artificial incubation, but it is. In fact, you won't have to look very hard to find examples where the term "natural" could be challenged where it relates to our food supply.
Is it natural to keep a dairy cow or goat in milk long after her baby is weened, in order to provide drinking milk? Is it natural to refrigerate our food electrically? Is canning natural? Is it natural to use tractors and implements to plant our crops? Is it natural to supplement water on our gardens when the rain doesn't fall? Where do we draw the line at Natural?
Back to incubation. Here are some fun facts:
* The egg incubator was invented by Lyman Byce and Isaac Dias, in Petaluma, California. The patent was granted on June 2, 1885.
* The Egyptians used large oven-like structures powered by burning camel dung to incubate.
* By candling (holding a concentrated light source against the egg in a dark room) you can see the developing embryo in a light shelled egg, after just 3 days of incubation.
In our situation, the reasons to incubate, far outnumber the reasons not to. For example, a broody hen will stop laying eggs while she is sitting on a nest and for a period after that. That means NO EGGS for a month or so each time she goes broody. To raise enough chicks for our purposes, we would need to have several broody hens each year raising chicks full time. That is neither practical nor healthy for our hens.
We are raising a breed that isn't heavily broody, which means, that if we didn't incubate, our flock would eventually die off.
Our Barred Holland chickens are pretty rare, so if we needed to purchase additional birds it is likely we would have to ship live birds from another farm through the mail (which I avoid due to the stress on the birds) or order hatching eggs, which, of course need an incubator. Or a broody hen (see above).
Incubating eggs, depending on the incubator, can be an extremely efficient way of producing quality, healthy chicks. More efficient than even a broody hen. Since the conditions are controlled and optimal, the chicks are able to develop in a best case scenario and thrive. In the two years we have been incubating and hatching well over 100 chicks, we have only lost one.
On our farm, we raise chickens for eggs and meat. This requires us to produce new birds each year. We do this because we are working to be sustainable and to produce the best possible food for our table. Using an incubator allows us to make this possible in our situation. We have not purchased eggs or chicken from the grocery in two years. So, while we aren't entirely "natural" in our approach to our sustainability, this is the balance we have sought.
Incidentally, that chicken that you purchase from the grocery store? It's highly likely it was raised from chicks hatched out in incubators.
Stop by and visit us at fb.com/thepocketfarmer to let us know where you stand on the sustainability scale. Or follow us on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)
Big day today! It's the first Bird Swap of the year, which, in case you didn't know, is about WAY more than birds. It's pretty much a farm sale held at the fairgrounds. You'll be able to find just about any animal you are looking for and even some you weren't expecting. I saw baby alligators there once.
It's wild and crazy fun! Last year we got there at 5:30 am in the middle of a thunderstorm, lightning flashing and in the dark we were holding flashlights and umbrellas peering into the cages and pens to see what people were selling. The place was PACKED! The first swap of the year is particularly exciting because everyone has had more time to prepare and there will be lots to see.
It's a way for folks to sell their surplus and gather what they need. It's a great place to make contacts and to assess the competition. It's less intimidating than an auction, more personal and laid back. The busiest time is before 8:00 am, sleep in and you'll miss it. Farmer Tom did that once, that was the day I brought home Bella, our livestock guard dog. He forgave me. :)
Anyway, even though there are some major players, it's really a small town affair and a way to bring in some much needed cash for the homesteaders in the area. If you have a small farm, like us, it can be incredibly expensive to build infrastructure, purchase livestock, feed and provide housing.
Here's an example. Two years ago we started with our first chicks. About 60 bucks or so. We built a brooder from scrap wood, so no cost there. Not bad, right? Then we started to retrofit a shed into a chicken coop. Spent a few hundred dollars on that. We ended up building a chicken tractor instead. Spent about five hundred there. We fed the chickens for about 7
months before we got our first egg. Total cost for that egg? About $1,000. This is called chicken math. It makes no sense, unless you are the participant, in which case you wear a protective shield so that you won't be harmed by the powerful and destructive TRUTH of your situation.
Once the shock of that wears off, if you are like me, you are determined to work your way back into the black. Or, at least, the appearance of such. So, we have chickens. They make more chickens. They lay eggs. How do you work with that?
1. We have all the free range wholesome eggs we can eat. At $3.50 a dozen at the grocery, we save about $10 a month.
2. This year we have surplus eggs that we will sell. 8-10 dozen a month, so $30 dollars or so.
3. We raise our roosters for meat. Each bird yields about 3 lbs of meat. We butcher a couple dozen for ourselves per year. About $300 worth.
4. We sell hatching eggs. The best of the best eggs are sold and shipped to buyers around the country who are interested in this very limited breed. Going rate is $25 a dozen. I've sold 4 dozen this year, so far.
5. We sell the chicks. For $4 per chick, this weekend's hatch is worth $200.
I know you are wondering how this will make us rich. I'll save you the trouble. It won't. In fact, that was never the point. Our goal was to live more sustainably, eat healthier, be happier. In that, we have been incredibly successful. Break even on the chicken thing? Maybe, some day.
Share your farm and garden tips and questions at our FB home, fb.com/thepocketfarmer or find us on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)
I'm in heaven! Gardening nirvana. I have a cold frame! And, pretty soon, I'll have another. All for the cost of zero dollars. That's right, we spent nothing on this project. Here's how we did it.
1. 2 storm doors scavenged from landfill.
2. Lumber reclaimed from barn demolition.
3. Paint from old fence project.
4. Misc. hardware found laying around in the garage.
5. Dogs also found laying around in the garage.
6. Free labor. Ours.
In about an hour, start to finish, this project was complete. First, we gathered the material.
We knew what the finished size needed to be by measuring the doors. So we cut the boards and assembled the box.
The inspector came through to check our work.
Side angles cut and attached.
Back and supports installed.
Installed hinges (4) to support the door.
Find a spot in the garden with southern exposure.
Insert cold frame. Done!
Time to get those seeds started!
Do you have a garden project you are working on? Stop by our FB home and share! You can find us at fb.com/thepocketfarmer and we are also on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)
Ever since the Groundhog predicted Winter's last gasp and more recently, the calendar heralded the first day of Spring, we have been battling some of the harshest conditions we've seen in a year. Freezing temps, Bitter cold winds, Dark clouds, Ice and Snow. Really, the Who's Who of Winter has been amongst us, making themselves right at home. As we look for the pattern to break, we scan the forecasts, hoping and waiting for our turn in the sun. Another weekend, more snow expected...blah, blah, blah.
But wait. What's that? Sunshine? Blue skies?? We blink and wander out in a daze. Could it be?
The girls head out to look for clues.
Daisy does her research from ground zero, sampling a single ray of light.
Pete and Bella also apply the Keep Calm and Let Spring Happen methodology by checking the ground temps. If Spring is coming, they'll be well rested.
Yes, it's true! In a miraculous turn of events, we have confirmed an unexpected but welcome break in the weather! To celebrate, we do a little yard clean up, discuss the projects slated for this season and watch the animals bask in the long awaited glorious light.
Mama pigeon takes a peek at the world from the roof of her condo, leaving dad to the task of watching the new baby.
As she is at risk of predation by air, I scan the area looking for threats and my heart sinks when I happen to spot this hawk perched nearby.
Within minutes the hawk makes his move, flushing her off the roof and attempting to snatch her up mid-air.
He got within 20' of her before she cuts back and evades capture. Break time is over and she heads back home. Safe and sound, but that was a very close call.
Overall, a very pleasant day outside for us all. And even as we look out the window this morning to a very different landscape, we are content knowing that Spring is at hand.
Ya just gotta believe.
Be sure to check out our daily posts over at fb.com/thepocketfarmer or find us on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope you can join us! :)
St. Patrick's Day marks our two year chicken anniversary. So, it's especially appropriate that I bombard the blog with pics of the newest members to our chicken family!
The good news is that we have 15, day-old baby fuzz butts chirping away in our utility room, including two from a breeder's line that will help move our flock forward genetically. But, since we bred this year's hens with breeder stock we hatched out last year, we are already headed in the right direction. So it's a double cause for celebration here and without further ado, here are the chick pics! :)
Pips and zips.
Popping the top off.
Squeezy does it.
Hello, little chick!
Exhausted from the effort.
After some nap and lamp time.
Our black fuzzy mob. :)
Last time I checked, Chicago was still a major metropolitan area. And while it isn't exactly a hub for earth friendly practices, it can't help but be caught in the crossfire of ideology when it comes to Greenies vs Meanies. So, having attended the Chicago Flower & Garden show for the past several years, Farmer Tom and I look forward to finding the trends being reported elsewhere, displayed right here in our own backyard for us to examine and evaluate.
For example, two years ago, the chicken displays were very popular.
Last year we saw grass roofs,
and one token coop.
This year? Well, I can tell you there were no chickens or coops. The theme was "The Art of Gardening" and, as such, the focus was on presentation, not function.
And while I enjoyed this wall of windows,
there was precious little sustainability focus and we were hard pressed to find anything new. In fact, the icy gloomy Lake Michigan was far more intriguing to me than the half hearted gutter garden display or the plastic hanging planters that seemed ubiquitous this season.
Coming off the news that the New York Times has shut down its Green blog, I'm wondering if the whole "green" movement is in the death throes of popularity. Not in necessity, because we need action and change now, more than ever, but is the effort waning due to lack of interest? Have we, as a society, grown tired of the earnest pleading and dire warnings that have been our daily fodder for the last decade? If so, shame on us. Our work is not done. In fact, we've barely made a dent.
As Spring is creeping into our conscious minds, so to must we renew our efforts to get things righted in our environment and our world. Not just for our grandchildren, as we used to think, but for OURSELVES. Because the permanent and irreversible environmental damage everyone used to talk about, is happening now. In our lifetime. On our watch. If that isn't front page news anymore, and doesn't merit a mention in a major metropolitan gardening trade show, it should still be in the forefront of our minds and actions. Every day.
It's up to us to salvage our environmental legacy and rewrite the pages that right now will read: "Society grows tired of Sustainability and dooms the world with their apathy". It is no longer a choice ie: paper or plastic, but rather a sprint to cut doom off at the pass. (In fact, it never should have been paper vs plastic, as both choices are flawed). Here is what needs to happen:
1. Educate yourself on the issues. Make the effort.
2. Find a way to change and make a difference. 3. Teach what you have learned.
4. Tell everyone you know.
5. Don't tolerate apathy.
6. Don't tolerate apathy.
7. Don't tolerate apathy.
Sorry to be the downer here, but not having a planet to live on sucks big time and not enough people realize how close we are to that reality. So, fashionable or not, we must press on, until there is nothing left to talk about. Only then can we rest.
Feel free to share your sustainability tips and ideas here or at fb.com/thepocketfarmer. We are also on twitter @thepocketfarmer. Stay Green! :)
Every year, about this time, winter fatigue sets in. Even though we've had a fairly mild winter, and the snow hasn't been a burden (unlike some areas) there is a point where the endless days of dark and overcast skies just suck the energy out of your spirit.
I look at the garden and it's hard to believe that in a few short months, this place will be hopping again.
Two months until we can plant. One month before we can start seeds. Which means that even though the ground looks frozen, final plans for the coming growing season should be happening now.
Such as, where are these apple trees going to be transplanted? They were temporarily placed here a couple years ago when they were tiny bare root sprouts, but now they need more room to manuever, and soon!
But the pace is slowed by the fact that we have to wait. The garden is still sleeping. The snow needs to melt and bring much needed moisture to the soil. The ground must warm up and the sun must shine.
So, for now, the garden is still closed. No frantic bees or quacking ducks rummaging through the foliage for their bug treats. No early morning exploration to discover what new bloom or harvest has presented itself with the dawn. And no fretting about rain or heat that threatens to undue all of my best laid plans. That is still the future.
And yet, just when it seems there is no inspiration at hand, I have only to reach into my pocket to find the still warm fresh laid egg found tucked into the nest box, left by a most thoughtful hen.