Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches

We're in the middle of pheasant hatching season now. We've taken off ( gamekeeper speak for "dealt with") four hatches so far, and hope to have six more.

This is the Thursday Night Transfer: Mike takes the nearly hatched eggs out of the incubators -

And Ian and I put them in the hatching machines. Like the incubators but more humid -

We remove the eggs from their individual holders, and put them loose in trays so the chicks have the freedom to move about and kick their shells off, somewhere between Sunday night and Tuesday morning. The hatch gets "taken off" on Tuesdays.

We're aiming for ten hatches in total, and each hatch has to average about 3,500 chicks over the season to balance our budgets.

Yes, of course there's a hitch.

Our laying birds caught a chicken virus.

We brought our laying stock from Dorset, and what we didn't realise is the sheer volume of chicken farms in our new area. Or that an airborne virus could transfer from chickens to vaccinated laying hens. Our old girls don't have immunity and there's no effective vaccine for what they have. The vet tells us to expect losses of 50% of our pheasant laying birds.

The good news is the offspring will have some degree of immunity. I don't understand the finer points of virology but we're trusting the vet's prognosis.

As if on cue, both Mike and I promptly contracted our own virus (human not bird), and although it didn't take 50% of us, we both felt near death for a couple of weeks. We actually did some chores on our hands and knees at one point. I think this is how the turkey got out and I didn't notice.

Fox + turkey = no turkey.

So we have one turkey left (and ham for Thanksgiving this year). The remaining turkey has gone broody with a vengeance. Capital B broody. She will not be dissuaded. I gave her a china egg to sit on and figured she would lose interest eventually. That was six weeks ago.

With limited options, I decided to give her three pheasant chicks from yesterday's hatch. This is the Hail Mary pass of poultry rearing because a) pheasant chicks are dumb and b) turkey moms are gargantuan.

Little and Large

Also, I didn't have a spare hen house, so I improvised (you know, for a change) and the family is living in the sheep trailer -

It's safe and weatherproof, if temporary.

The turkey is still not satisfied with her handful of adoptees, and I found her this morning with the chicks, the china egg, and their pot of chick food all pushed under her to "hatch".

Which is how chick no. 1 met its demise. It must have tried to eat from the pot under the hen and she sat down firmly on its neck.

I can't risk bringing in chicks from the poultry sales with our pheasant stock already in jeopardy. The turkey and remaining chicks will just have to ride out the broody storm on this occasion. 

Sometimes it seems to all go wrong on the farm. Why can't it be more like it is in books? 


Sara Rall said...

So sorry to hear of all the bird troubles. That picture of the little chick under the turkey's wing is adorable.

For children's farm books I much prefer Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm. The (mean) rooster gets eaten by a fox, the cats can be scratchy, the goose are bad tempered, the horse doesn't mind, the cows get out and trample the neighbors' corn, etc. and it still manages to be heartwarming and charming.

I hope all are soon healed. I love your blog posts and am thrilled every time I find a new one.

You said you needed 3500 chicks per hatch and have done 4 now, how'd they go? Did you make your target so far?

Jennifer Montero said...

Sara- I will take any heartwarming and charming farm story over reality! On the plus side, the weather has been beautiful.

We are over our target,so we have a couple thousand extra in hand, But hatching is calculated on a bell curve. We're at the top of the curve now (89% hatch rates including the infertile eggs). With hens dying our egg production goes down daily so there are less eggs to hatch, and the last couple weeks' eggs have poorer shell quality so when we hit the bottom of that curve, we could go below our target. As long as the averages balance out.

What that too much information??

Sara Rall said...

No, it was excellent. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Seester said...

You giving your turkey the baby pheasant chicks reminds me of aunt Meg giving young cousin Lisa freshly hatched chicks to "cuddle" even though she inevitably loved them too hard, a la Lennie Small.

See if the turkey will sit on golf balls, then swap them out for wind-up chicks so she feels accomplished.