I think it began with beetles in the orchard. This past summer, the new trees and shrubs that I planted were getting trashed by a heavy onslaught of japanese beetles. They seemed, especially, to enjoy my plum trees. I tried to gather the beetles from the leaves in a bucket every morning. It was a frustrating task. I had little hope of helping my trees as most of the bugs dropped to the ground and not in my bucket or flew away. However, I sure did enjoy dumping the gathered beetles into the chicken run to see the chickens eating them with great, GREAT enthusiasm. I needed chickens in the orchard!
That meant making a mobile coop and getting a new flock of chickens. The four hens that I had weren’t going to do it.
Well, what kind of birds would I want in the orchard? I wanted good foragers. I loved the idea of having chickens raise their own young. I needed good mothers. I wanted them to be hardy and very healthy. I checked in with Harvey Ussery, who wrote The Small Scale Poultry Flock. He gave me some information on Icelandic chickens. They seemed like they would be a good fit. They were beautiful to boot! I joined a Facebook page, found a breeder, and bought some eggs and an incubator.
There was a question looming. Do I vaccinate or not? I did some research. There were groups of people saying “Absolutely!” and others that said “Never!” There were, thankfully, many people sharing some very useful information. Yes, I was concerned about disease and, particularly, Mareks. We have poultry farms nearby and I suspect that I have had Mareks disease rear its ugly deadly head in my own flock. I’ve decided to follow a plan for breeding resistance against disease. This plan, also, provides a strategy for maintaining the genetic diversity needed for keeping a healthy flock.
I used a Hova-Bator Incubator and an egg turner. They worked beautifully to provide the right amount of heat, movement, ventilation, and humidity. I did add a piece of aquarium tubing to inject water for humidity without opening the lid. That worked well. I rigged up a candler with a bright LED reading lamp. I was amazed at how clearly I was able to see the viability of the egg, or lack thereof, with candling. At 9 days, we found 2 non-fertile eggs that did not develop at all and 3 that stopped developing and died. We ended up with 18 hatched chicks, one failed after hatch; so, 17.
Since, it is winter and we do not have electric to the barn yet; I made a brooder in a spare bedroom with old screen windows and doors, heat lamps, a tarp, and bedding. We made waterers with PVC pipe and watering nipples. The chickens went right to these waterers. I like them because they are easy to fill and stay clean.
They are growing very fast. We have about a week or so and, then, we will be looking to get them in their coop. We’ll put it behind the house with access to electricity for the rest of the winter as they may still need heat lamps when the temperature gets too cold. I’m wishing for good health but am prepared for challenges. I’m envisioning putting these ladies and gentlemen to work in the orchard come spring!