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While my daughters were in East Texas visiting grandparents, they decided to get some chicks. These new chicks ended up being quite different than our first batch of birds. Additionally, the girls decided on a mixed flock: Ameraucana, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, and Black Sex Link.
When the birds were brought home, we kept them inside with a heat lamp for a few weeks. Then we brought them outside to their new home. This was the first coop my husband made out of upcycled wood, telephone poles, new nails, shingles, and a coat of paint. And originally it was for Casanova and Natalie to call home.
It didn’t take long for our girls to name those little chicks. However they didn’t keep their original names. Because, as they got older and got some personality, their names had to fit.
We had two Silver-Laced Wyandottes, which were the oldest chicks in the bunch. They also became the dynamic duo leaders of our little fledgling flock. In addition, we had three brown-red Ameraucana chicks, and two Black Sex Links, bringing our flock to nine members.
Soon we and the birds got into a routine. For the 9 of them, they had a nice green backyard and plenty of space. And we worked on getting more trees. They would serve as shade for the summer months, and hopefully add to everyone’s diet.
It wasn’t until that Winter, when the birds were locked in their coop, due to a heavy snow, that we got our first eggs from them. It had taken around 6 months for the first eggs, and we were so excited.
Deciding to Add More Chicks
The following spring we decided to increase our flock. But, being uncertain about how and when hens go broody, we bought an incubator and started collecting eggs. At the time I felt like we went overboard. I think we had around 20 eggs to incubate on the likelihood that at least half would be cockerels. And if so, we wouldn’t keep them, as I explain why in another post.
We ordered a simple, inexpensive incubator for our eggs. So we were responsible for turning the eggs. Although it had a mechanism to adjust the temperature, there was no way to know what the temperature was. Thus, I ordered a digital thermometer with a humidity gauge on it. But there are many different kinds of incubators out there, depending on how much you’re willing to spend and what your needs are.
It takes 21 days for a fertilized chicken egg to fully develop and hatch. Therefore, we dated all of our eggs from the day we took them from the nesting boxes. And because we had such a small flock, my daughter, Hannah, and I knew which chicken laid which egg. I can’t say that about all of our chickens today.
After a week, we candled the eggs. That’s where you take a bright light, like a flashlight, up to the egg, in a dark room. It’s to see whether the egg is fertilized. It’s called ‘candling’ because candles were originally used. Though how they could see anything is beyond me. We now have Cuckoo Marans, and we still have ‘Caunas, which both have thick eggshells, making it difficult to see if the egg is indeed fertilized.
When the first chick was ready to hatch, it pipped, or started pecking the shell with its beak tooth. That’s a horn-like projection on the end of its beak, that falls off a day or two after hatching. Next, the chick unzipped the shell with his beak tooth, around the circumference from where he started his pip.
Chicks that Hatched
13 chicks hatched within a day and a half. And we lost only 2, besides the eggs that were never fertilized. One egg never hatched, while 1 chick died either from stargazing, which is a thiamine deficiency. Or it had wry neck, which is also a vitamin deficiency. The other option is it could be genetic. Either way the chick only lived 1 week no matter our efforts.
I vividly recall being mesmerized by this batch of chicks, really invested in almost everything they did. Perhaps that’s because it was a completely new experience for me. I soaked up everything I learned about them and chickens in general.
We took eggs from each hen, fertilized by our Cream Legbar. But mostly we stuck with the Ameraucanas. And we only took 2 eggs from our Sex Link, and one of those chicks was one we lost. Though we still have the other one that we named Oddball. She resembles a Barred Rock, however she has her dad’s huge comb.
We got a couple of pullets from the Wyandotte hens as well. One was the second chick to hatch out of the clutch. And she is healthy, and still today tends to be a bossy hen like her mom. However, the other one hatched with one foot/claw not fully formed. We surmised that it was a genetic issue. And since we don’t have chicken vets where we live, that wasn’t an option to see one.
If you’re a pet lover like us, then you understand why we didn’t put Kix down. She could get around, and she adapted easily. Further, the other chickens didn’t bother her once they established their pecking order. Not to mention, she had a special place in our youngest daughter’s heart. So we kept her, and she lived 2 years.
Then, after her good foot got infected, we knew it was futile to give her antibiotics. Because she lived outside, and her foot would only get reinfected. Letting Kix go was one of the most difficult and saddest decisions we had to make. But we knew it was better for her.
The reason the one Sex-Link hybrid didn’t live is simply part of the risk. I’ve read instances where many chicks were hatched from a similar pairing, Cream Legbar and Black Sex-Link, with one or two losses. It’s a risk that there will be genetic issues, though I didn’t really understand that going in. Since then I haven’t incubated any more Sex Link eggs.
Only One Cannoli was our first chick to hatch, and he was a cockerel like 7 of his brothers. Although, he was the only one who bonded with us the way he did, most likely because he was the first-hatched. So when he cheeped and peeped, we came immediately. And by the time the others were hatched, they had each other. Only One Cannoli only had us for the first few hours of life.
We kept the cockerels for 3 months before they totally got unruly. But then we had to slaughter them, because the hens come first. We tried to find homes for them, however where we live, no one wants roosters. They weren’t broilers, so they weren’t fat. Though I was still able to make a few dishes with the meat we got from them. I made roasted chicken, which didn’t hide the gamey taste. However King Ranch Chicken (or Cannoli in this case) and chicken soup tasted good.
Since our first batch of home-grown chicks, we’ve incubated only several more times. And we either went with more manageable numbers or more . Also, we purchased more Sex Links, but locally and only once more. And I’ve bought more ‘Caunas, which I’ve driven from 2 to 6 hours to get the ones I wanted, since they are my personal favorite. And last but not least, we’ve had some hens go broody, yet we still have only allowed manageable numbers.
I would love to hear from you if you have any comments or any stories about your own adventures with chicks.