Monday, January 30, 2012

Itching to Hatch Chicks--Want Your Own Olive Eggers or French Coppered Black Marans??

I can't wait any is time to get things organized for our first Spring hatch.  I saw the University of Nebraska hatch cam today, and knew I had to get in gear.

My first hatch will be a "Colorful Egg Basket" mix.  By having a Dark Brown-Egg (French Coppered Black Marans) Roo in the breeding pen with blue-egg (Easter Egger) and dark brown-egg (FCBM) hens, eggs will produce babies who carry genes for either dark brown or olive egg color:  pure FCBMs, and Olive Eggers.
Soon to be Daddy, Jules, an FCBM roo

This weekend we'll get our materials together and build our first breeding pen, meant to temporarily keep desired love matches together (and away from opportunity-seeking roosters who are no respecter of genetics programs).  This will be a secure pen attached to a coop, inside their normal extremely large pen.

It will take about one week for hens system's to "clear" previously mated Roos' genetic material and to be fertilized by the desired roo.  After one week, I will begin collecting eggs, labeling them with regard to date laid, and storing them for hatching.  Ideally, eggs that you are holding to hatch will be stored in an egg carton at a temperature of about 55-60 degrees.  Unheated rooms or back porches are great for this.  Refrigeration is NOT a good idea (though to be honest, I can point out three birds in my current flock born from eggs that were put in the fridge for a few days before I "scrambled" for a clutch to put under a suddenly broody hen).  Eggs should be hatched in an incubator, or put under a broody, within 10 days maximum, though I usually try for no more than 7 when possible.

An FCBM hen--they are notable for broodiness
When I am collecting eggs in preparation for a hatch (or to ship to someone else who will be hatching them), I keep them as close to 60 degrees as possible, and I turn them a couple times each day, so that the yolk doesn't settle or get malformed.  I put the eggs in a carton, and I put a brick under one end, so that the carton's left end is on the countertop and the right end is higher, atop the brick.  Then I move the carton around accordingly: left to right ends on the brick, then I flip the (closed) carton over and do likewise, one move in the am, one in the pm, each day.  If I start this on day 1, the carton is rightside up (with right end higher) in the am, then rightside up (with left end higher) in the pm.  On day 2, I flip the carton upsidedown (a rubber band gives security here) and do the same on this day.  Day 3 sees a return to position one (rightside up, with the right end higher).

I'll be hatching FCBMs (will lay eggs like the dark brown ones here)
And Olive Eggers (will lay eggs similar to the greens here)
I should be ready to set eggs on Feb 18th, which will give us a hatch date of  March 9th-10th.  Holler if you'd like to put dibs on some chicks from this hatch, and let me know when you'd like to take them--cost begins on day of hatch at $4 each, and goes up $1 for each two weeks that I raise them.  Chicks are fully feathered and can live without a heat lamp (or warm mama) by about 8 weeks.

Interested?  Comment and let me know what you want...I'll hatch based on the interest of folks here.

Watch Some Hatching Eggs with Us!

a 2011 hatch
I am not quite ready to set and hatch eggs yet this Spring, as I like to be able to put them out asap, and they need higher temps than we are having.  In the meantime, get your hatching fix here--we are glued to the screen here at the Charmed Life home:

Eggs should be hatching today and tomorrow--I see one little guy already!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Black Javas--Doing My Part to Save an Endangered Heritage Breed

 Hard to believe I have made it this long without a post dedicated to Black Javas.  You wouldn't even know they are my first priority, judging by their meager appearance here.  They aren't the flashiest--no blue eggs here, no chocolate browns either, and certainly no olives...but they are a kind of "meat and potatoes" bird for someone who truly wants a sustainable backyard flock.  See an album of most of my Black Javas here.

Malcolm with the laying flock (non-Black Java hens are shown)
One of the first two American breeds, Black Javas were extremely popular among homesteaders and pioneers of the 1800s due to several factors still found in the birds today.  First, they are a great dual-purpose breed:  a good balance between a body size big enough to make a decent family meal, but not so large as to reduce by a great deal the egg output (the slimmest birds lay the most eggs--think Brown Leghorns--but aren't great fare for the table).

 Next, they are excellent foragers.  Allowed access to grass, leaves, and other vegetation, they will choose to forage for much of the day, rather than hanging around the feed bin, waiting to be fed.  This means that those who keep Black Javas consistently report that the breed consumes less store-bought feed than their other birds.  My Black Javas have been particularly vigilant at being the first to sound predator-alarms to the greater flock of several breeds, when hawks, foxes, or dogs are sighted during foraging, meaning I feel more comfortable letting them have wider access to free-ranging areas.

For those interested in maintaining a flock without needing to replenish with new chicks on an ongong basis, Black Javas offer a great option--hens often "go broody" (see my post on what this means), set eggs, hatch eggs effectively, and then make great mothers.  My best broody is a Black Java named Minerva, and I've posted many a video and picture of her on this blog.  She's an inspiring mother, and a credit to her breed, but other breeders report similar experiences.

Finally, Black Javas have a great personality--calm, somewhat aloof, and disinterested in conflict with other birds, as a rule.  They stick together better than any of my birds, and roosters are most often gentlemanly and protective.  I have a whole post on the merits of Malcolm, my BJ chief, in fact.  Good roosters have a near-holiness about them that is hard to explain if you've never had the pleasure of being around one, or if your thoughts about roosters were formed from a traumatic experience with a bad roo.

So, if they're so great, why are they endangered?  Would you believe that corporate food production is the answer?  A kind of chicken breed "monoculture" sprang up, with the industry focusing on just a handful of breeds to the exclusion of all others.  Yet BJs were extremely important in the development of those breeds. Wikipedia says, "The Java is a key foundation breed for the American class of chickens,[4] having contributed significantly to major modern fowl such as the Jersey Giant, Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock.[3] They are also likely to be the source of the yellow skin in contemporary Dominiques, which once had white skin.[4]"  

I'm proud to be maintaining  a small breeding flock, keeping records, and getting birds out to folks as often as possible.  The Black Javas are nearly gone.  

Yellow feet are required for showing BJs.
Again, from Wikipedia: "Beginning in the 1990s, breeders and conservation organizations began to make a more concerted effort to save the Java. In particular, the Garfield Farm Museum in Illinois has played a pivotal role in the preservation of Javas in the 21st century.[8] Beginning with Mottled and Black Javas, sports from the Garfield flock have revived the White variety.[9] The Garfield Farm was also been supported by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which hatched Java chicks as part of their exhibit on genetics.[6] The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy continues to list Javas as Critical on its watchlist, meaning fewer than 500 breeding birds from five or fewer primary breeding flocks are known (this does not take in to account the population of non-breeding flocks).[5] The breed is also listed as part of Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste, a catalog of heritage foods in danger of extinction.[10]".

If you are looking for a stable, hardy, sustainable backyard flock, consider Black Javas.  I will have hatching eggs available to ship all over the United States come Spring, and day old chicks for sale locally (only).

Black Javas foraging

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Olive Eggs, from Olive Eggers, at Long Last!

It is with IMMENSE pleasure that I show off my lovely Ophelia's first 15 eggs (in just 18 days!).  She began laying on Dec 18, almost exactly 5 months old, and has laid almost every day since.  The variety in her eggs is fascinating to me.  I have included a couple of white Leghorn eggs for comparison--they are as pure white as you can get.

It's hard to believe I am worked this long on the Olive Egger project, only to end up with just ONE actual OE hen--the others in Minerva's hatch (see last post) were boys.  But with this deep, dark, rich color, how can I complain?

Ophelia is the product of roo Jules (a French Coppered Black Maran or FCBM) and Ruth, a lovely and prodigious-layer of an Easter Egger with a nice deep blue-green egg.  (I'm sad to note that Ruth died, seemingly of heat exhaustion, not long after we moved--we had weks over over 100 degree weather, and she keeled over during the worst of it.  I am so glad I have Ophelia to carry on her legacy!) The look of these stunning eggs, and especially the responses I am getting from those who see them in person makes me excited to hatch more Olive Eggers. (they have goldish glow that doesn't translate well in pics, but this one was as close as I could get).

Tomorrow I pick up this beautiful boy.  He's a TRUE Ameracauna (meaning, he was hatched by a breeder and conforms to the breed standards, and is NOT a Easter Egger) and should impart a blue, blue egg to my breeding program.  This means I'll be able to breed him to my Easter Eggers and get bluer-egged offspring, but also that I can breed him to my FCBM chocolate-brown egg laying girls to get even greener Olive Eggs.  And bred to Ophelia, I should get pullets with an amazing deep olive green, with the gold glow I love so much.  Blue, as I think we will call him, is the product of Blue/Black/Splash breeding--bred with a black bird, he will have all black babies, but bred to a Blue (like one of my EEs), he should produce 50% black and 50% blue chicks.  I like silvery-gray birds (called blue in the trade) better than any other kind, so I'm excited about that too.  Thank you, Craigslist!

An Update on Us--Charmed Chickens on the Move

It's been a long while since I posted, and we moved to a different city in the meantime.  We suffered a terrible loss when Gypsy was eaten by the foxes' kits at the end of the Summer, and we found another home for her chicks, including the Olive Eggers we were so excited about.  It felt like a major setback.  I immediately placed  more with a luckily-timed broody,  which hatched 2 weeks before our move, and put eggs under another broody, Juliet (an FCBM hen), a few days later, set to hatch 5 days after our move.   She would be our fourth hatch of the year, and our third broody--two French Coppered Black Marans, and one Black Java.

Moving 30-ish chickens, including a mother with 2 week old chicks and a broody hen on eggs is no easy task.  We loaded the two coops, chickens inside, on this trailer, which took the better part of a morning and three adults doing heavy lifting/engineering.  We had an additional couple of pet carriers/broody boxes that were transported, with chickens inside, and I was delighted to find this when we got the birds out at the new place.  One of my two elderly Brown Leghorns, which as far as I am concerned are a breed as akin to an egg-laying machine as one can get, laid this egg on the way, in this box, on a trailer, with 5 other hens and a rooster beside her.  It seemed a good omen--everything is going to come out ok. ;)

Sure enough, the new place was amazing for the birds. Lots of lush green grass, even in the heat wave, and new leaves and humus to hunt bugs in.  Minerva, seen here with her five hatchlings, felt right at home.

Everything seemed ideal.  I had my olive egger chicks..all that remained was to enjoy our new fox-free digs and chain link backyard where the chickens could roam almost an acre without fear of predators.  It felt like home.

And that brings us up to speed.  I relaxed on the porch a lot of mornings and drank coffee watching my flock thrive here, and waited as patiently as I could for the day my ONE surviving Olive Egger, Ophelia, would lay her first egg.