It has been one year since my last post. Why so long? This story is not a nice one, in fact it is quite dark and dreary, so grab your favorite beverage, take a comfortable seat, and ready yourself for an epic tale. I like to call it "Farming faux pas" or "Tough lessons, big losses". To drive the point home I have even added some wonderful life lesson quotes that are familiar to each of you. Ready? Here we go.
Last January, I set up the incubator as normal, clean and ready to hatch dozens of eggs to jump start my Spring profits. Strangely, only 1/3 of the eggs survived the first 3 weeks of incubation. Out of that 1/3 (approx 13 eggs) 2 hatched. 1 died. Curious, but not unheard of, I started over. 48 eggs in the "bator", temp was perfect according to the digital readout, humidity steady at 65%, HJ Dad and I took a short trip to visit Alexa in Louisiana. Four days later we returned home to obvious signs of a power outage, and 48 ruined eggs. Here we go again.
Now I am 30 days behind schedule with one chick to sell. The blessing was that the ducks had started to lay again so with 2 dozen duck eggs and 2 dozen chicken eggs newly set in the incubator, I started over...again. In years past, even when using our own home made crude incubator, our duck hatch rate was 98%, chickens about 92%. Fast forward one month, we get 6 chicks, 5 ducks. The other eggs in the incubator died.
Here is an image of a fertilized egg, with proper veining and the "eye spot" of the embryo clearly visible. If an egg is unfertilized, there will simply be a yolk sloshing around inside the shell.
Now let's compare that to a dead egg.
In both of these examples, you can clearly see the blood ring which indicated early death due to bacterial growth within the egg. Bacteria is introduced when the "bloom" or "cuticle", (the protective coating on every egg shell) is somehow compromised. This can be through a hairline fracture, rubbing or washing the egg, or incubating at an improper temperature. Fun fact: The U.S. is the only country that washes its eggs. One of the most common ways for bacteria to enter an egg is by washing the "bloom" off the outside of the shell. That is why we must refrigerate store bought, pre-washed, production raised eggs. Farm fresh, right from the chicken's butt eggs can be stored on the COUNTER TOP for up to ten days with NO ILL EFFECTS. I have heard all the arguments. "You'll get salmonella!" "There is poop on that egg!" You wash the egg shell off before you use it. Duh.
Back to the story.
I never wash eggs before I incubate them. There is no possible way all of those eggs had hairline cracks. So...it had to be the temperature, but the incubator was only a year old; I was stumped. We were now well into the month of March and all of my online competition had already been selling newly hatched chicks for over a month. I did some internet research about poor hatch rates, and determined the temp was a little low. Here we go again with another 48 eggs and an extra 0.6 degrees Celsius on the thermometer. Do I really need to say it? 11 out of 48 eggs hatched. I was over it.
Now I have 14 chicks and 9 ducklings. Four chicks and 2 ducks are born with deformed legs. None of these survived past 2 weeks of age. In 6 years of incubating chicks that has NEVER happened. When you do the math and figure I get an average of $3 per chick and $5 per duckling...I was out $500 give or take a few. That also meant my plans to use that money for farm improvements and animal purchases was gone. Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.
The beginning of March through the end of April is also lambing/kidding time at D'Ranch, the big animal counterpart to Heeby Jeeby Hatchery. Rowdy gave birth to three gorgeous kids: two boys and a girl. Without a doubt the best mother on the farm, she nursed all three with no issue and kept them safely by her side.
So far so good; I was starting to imagine profit recovery happening. March is typically "monsoon season" in Missouri, so keeping these babies warm and dry is imperative for their survival the first couple of weeks. The sheep did not get that memo. When it rains it pours.
There are two accessible shelters on the farm, and one large dry barn. Where do the ewes lamb? 300 feet up the side of the hill, under a tree, in the dark, in the rain. Those beautiful little Shetland ewes did not disappoint though! The first to lamb was Daisy, the brown and white ewe, and she graced this world with the most beautiful set of triplets you have ever seen. They looked like panda bears; the boys almost identical twins, the girl the absolute opposite coloring like a negative/positive photo. I trudged up the muddy hillside in that freezing rain three times carrying babies and finally dragging mama down only to have her run back up after the babies were tucked away in the straw.
By the end of April, all of the animals were again roaming freely on the farm, including the chickens and ducks. This is the time of new growth, new bugs, and freshly turned soil. Neville, the Royal Palm tom turkey, was one of the most animated when it came to scratching and fluffing the wet ground looking for worms and grubs. I had just picked up 18 fertile turkey eggs to hatch, and was looking forward to giving Neville a mate while profiting from selling the others. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Let's consider this a chapter ended, or rather an intermission. Too many tragic narratives tend to bring the reader down so until the next time we meet, read the comics, tell some jokes, watch your favorite comedian to lighten the mood...because this dark tale has only just begun.
Happy(ish) farming everyone.