Bonafide Farm

Drinking and candling

March 1st, 2014 § 1

Last night I drank half a glass of wine and candled the 15 eggs I’d put under a newly broody hen Sunday. What, this isn’t your idea of a rocking Friday night?

Maybe not for most people, but for me candling eggs induces Christmas-morning excitement. There are few things cooler in this world than getting to peek into an intact egg, with nothing more than a flashlight, and see bright red veins, a beating blob of heart and small dark eye. It is a magic trick, a miracle, and all those other things that make me grateful to be along for this wild ride.

Out of fifteen eggs, eight were definitely on the road to becoming chicks. One egg was a big fat question mark, and I magnanimously returned it to the clutch. I suspected five eggs were infertile, and in the interest of self education I risked destroying embryos to crack the eggs into a white bowl to check. All five were totally clear. My instinct and eye must be getting sharper.


I didn’t take any photos of the developing eggs this time because I wanted them to be out in the cold air as little as possible. In fact, I withdrew them from under their mother two at a time, quickly candled them, and then snuggled them into a pan full of clean towels to hold their heat as much as possible. The whole operation was over in minutes. My pipes may have fallen victim to the polar vortex, but my potential chicks shouldn’t. If you want to see candling photos, they’re here.

I have high hopes for this hen as a broody. She’s one of last summer’s olive egger babies, and there’s a 50% chance she is Dahlia’s daughter. I only mention that because broodiness is a genetic trait. The young broody started plucking her breast feathers out a few weeks ago, and then hunkered down on all her flockmates’ eggs, hissing violently at any chicken that got too close. She’s the only broody out of the four I’ve had that’s actually pecked at me when I reached under her, and I take this feistiness as a good sign. I suppose I should name her as she’s definitely distinguishing herself.

I was on the fence about whether to do chicks again, but finally decided that it’s the best part of chicken keeping and costs me nothing. So I moved the broody to a coop in the garage, where she settled immediately despite being moved during the day, having a raucous rooster (Griz) in the coop next door, and me driving the loud and stinky tractor in and out right after the move. She remained steadfast, I set the eggs, and here we are.

I placed four eggs from my Coronation Sussex, two from last year’s olive egger babies, and nine Wheaten Ameraucana eggs from Cora under the hen. I removed all four of the Coronation eggs tonight, which were all infertile, and one Wheaten Ameraucana egg that was one of the oldest I placed, and had also cycled through the refrigerator as I waffled. I find it telling that my Coronation Sussex hen is the only bird that still has luxuriant feathers on her back and all her eggs were infertile. The hens that laid the fertile eggs are all looking a bit sparse back there because of Calabrese’s attentions. Another lesson learned—keep an eye out for “favorite” hens when scouting future mothers.

I just read back through last summer’s pained posts on hatching eggs, and I have to say that after that experience and this, I will never again let a hen set eggs in the middle of the summer. I realize now that the heat was really detrimental, leading to spoiled eggs that burst and contaminated the nest, and to chicks that were born prematurely and deformed. Incubating in the winter is the way to go. Live and learn.

But then again, we’re only five days into the 21-day incubation period, so let’s not count our chicks before they hatch, right?

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