Bonafide Farm


March 16th, 2014 § 4

As expected, the eggs under the broody hen began hatching this morning. I was outside doing chores and cleaning up the garage for a long time and heard nothing. I finally peeked under the hen and all these teetering yellow fluffballs started peeping. My heart almost burst from a combination of gratitude, excitement, and awe.



I can’t really explain this emotion I get from hatching chicks, but it’s addictive and drug-like and makes me feel better than few other things. I suspect it stems from bearing witness to the divine, to seeing something so commonplace and taken-for-granted as a chicken egg turn, in just twenty days, into a walking, chirping, perfectly formed and bright-eyed living being.



I don’t consider myself particularly religious, and I don’t have children and probably never will. But I imagine that what I feel watching these chicks develop in their eggs and hatch is a microcosm of both experiences. A microcosm of a miracle. So infinitesimal, and so huge.


First blooms of 2014!

March 11th, 2014 § 0

I stepped outside yesterday to see these tiny Iris reticulata had bloomed overnight. It’s amazing what a shock to the eyes a three-inch tall purple plant can be after acclimating to a winter’s color palette of brown, gold and grey.


Even more interesting is that these iris are blooming within days of when they bloomed last year, which I find fascinating because last winter was abnormally warm and this winter has been record-breakingly cold. I would have expected the flowering bulbs to be a bit delayed, but I guess once those longer daylight hours hit there’s no holding them back, whatever the weather.

I am very excited for this spring in the garden. I did a lot of work last spring and summer adding new perennials and moving things around, and last fall I planted a bunch of exciting new bulbs. It’s going to be fun to see how this all comes together this year.

Daffodil Leaves Web

The daffodil and iris planted in the woods are also emerging from their warm blankets of fall leaves. I am really curious to see if the iris actually flower. They’re all from the truckful that my friend Todd donated to the farm last spring. I had way too many to plant around the house so they went rogue and joined the woodland garden.


And tonight I heard the first spring peepers of the year! That is definitely the sound of spring,

Candling the eggs: Week two

March 9th, 2014 § 0

Tonight I snuck a peek inside some of the eggs incubating under the broody hen in the garage. It is much warmer tonight than last Sunday, so I felt comfortable taking a few photos to show you the developing chicks. Again, for a candler I just use a Mag-Light flashlight with the end duct taped but for a dime-sized hole. Here’s what the embryos look like at 14 days:


I didn’t candle all the eggs, but I did enough to determine that I have at least a few little Wheaten Ameraucanas (baby Coras) in development. The pale blue eggs are much easier to see into than brown eggs. If you want to see what the embryos look like inside at this stage, click here.


I didn’t make out too much movement, but that’s typical for this stage of development. Each embryo should soon be flipping around in its shell, pointing its head toward the rapidly-shrinking air cell (the bright, clear blue area in egg) in preparation for breaking through it with their egg tooth at hatching.

There are nine possibly viable eggs left under the hen. Props to the still-unnamed broody hen for keeping all these eggs warm during some seriously cold temperatures last week when it was well below freezing on her nest. If all continues to go well, we might have some St. Patrick’s Day chicks!

Potting on the streptocarpus

March 8th, 2014 § 0

The most gardening I’ve done in months. Playing in the dirt, even sterile potting mix, feels. so. good.


And again

March 4th, 2014 § 0


Just another zero-degree morning following a snowstorm. Refill the birdfeeders, defrost chicken waterer, tote in firewood, feed the wood stove, eat soup, make tea, rinse, repeat.

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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