We got a chicken plucker for processing birds this year — the metal on the base is really thin, the motor appears to have come pre-rusted, and they somehow consistently put one of the rubber sticks in upside down (although, after using it, we think this might be intentional and kind of “sweep” the feathers from underneath out the shoot).
We have been very hesitant to buy one of these — they are expensive. But it takes us so much time to butcher birds. I see videos on YouTube of people plucking a bird in five minutes. That’s not us. At first, I thought maybe it was a “get better with practice” sort of thing. Or that we weren’t scalding enough. Or that we were doing something else wrong. But it’s been years. We’re not getting much quicker, the scald is fine, and the only thing we might be doing wrong is being too picky about what constitutes “plucked”.
The biggest hurdle was that we couldn’t really see one work to determine if we’d be done defeathering in a minute or if we’d still be spending half an hour plucking feathers. There wasn’t a good way to find out, though. People post videos online, but they also post videos of themselves plucking a bird in a few minutes. So that’s not really trustworthy. We finally decided to just spend money and buy a plucker. They work! There may be a few big wing feathers to pull. There may be a few smaller feathers near the feet. But the bird was plucked within a few minutes. It takes me about fifteen minutes to butcher a bird, and Scott was able to get a bird to the “ready to be butchered” point in fifteen minutes (that includes walking across the yard twice). This is such a huge difference — we were able to process all of our turkeys in a single day. It wouldn’t be a short day, there’s a good hour or two to clean everything up once we’re done. But it’s done in a day. And the birds were plucked very well.
Happy February! We got our first duck eggs yesterday — I wasn’t expecting them to be laying again so soon. Anya and I took a break after lunch to cut dried grasses for the ducks’ bedding. As we opened the coop to put in the new bedding, there were two duck eggs in the farthest, darkest corner of the coop.
One duck egg started pipping yesterday (really early!), but didn’t make it out of the egg. A second egg pipped this morning and we had a little duckling in the incubator by the afternoon.
We no longer have 22 tiny birds in the house! Stream (the new duckling) spent Monday night outside in the duck coop. We’ve been letting the little one out into the duck yard to hang out and get used to each other, but bringing it into the house at night. I got up at 6-something on Tuesday morning to make sure the little guy was OK and the ducks are now hanging out together in the yard. It was cold — mid 50’s — when I let them out of the coop this morning, and they all were napping next to the pond in the sunshine. The little one was sleeping right next to one of the big ducks.
Then, in the evening, we put the turkeys into the pasture with the big turkeys and chickens. They’ve been hanging out in the baby tractor next to the pasture, so everyone has had a chance to get used to each other. The little turkeys can fly really well — on Monday, Anya got sidetracked bringing the turkeys into the house. She left two thirds of the turkeys in the baby tractor with the zipper open! I noticed the chickens and turkeys were not in the coop, and I walked over to let them in. All of a sudden, this dark shadow comes flying at me … literally, it was a baby turkey who flew some twenty feet and cleared my shoulder. Since they were able to fly themselves out of the pasture, we trimmed feathers on their left wings. Now they look a little asymmetrical, but they mostly stay inside the pasture. Unfortunately, the mesh isn’t small enough and they can pop themselves out of the fencing.
The turkey farm where we picked up four turkeys last year — the owner said the male turkeys take turns sitting on the nest and taking care of the baby guys. I totally believe that after seeing how the big turkeys are with the little ones. They puff up and circle around the gaggle of baby turkeys. When the babies split out into multiple groups, the two big turkeys kind of round them up into two groups and each watch over his group. Anya says they even tuck the little ones around them to sleep.
Scott and Anya candled all of the eggs tonight — of the 41 eggs, there are three that might not be developing. But all of the eggs are still in the incubator because there weren’t any obviously undeveloped eggs. If all of these eggs hatch, we’re going to have an absolute swarm of baby birds!
Trying again with the bigger, better incubator — 22 duck eggs and 19 chicken eggs.
We finally know what a newly hatched duck looks like! The little ones we got last year were a week or three old when we bought them, so we’d never seen exactly how tiny a duckling can be.
Awww — one little ducky has hatched!
Scott set up one of the ESP32’s that we use as environmental sensors to monitor the incubator. There’s an audible alarm if it gets too warm or cold, but that’s only useful if you’re pretty close to the unit. We had gotten a cheap rectangular incubator from Amazon — it’s got some quirks. The display says C, but if we’ve got eggs in a box that’s 100C? They’d be cooked. The number is F, but the letter “C” follows it … there’s supposed to be a calibration menu option, but there isn’t. Worse, though — the temperature sensor is off by a few degrees. If calibration was an option, that wouldn’t be a big deal … but the only way we’re able to get the device over 97F is by taping the temperature probe up to the top of the unit.
So we’ve got an DHT11 sensor inside of the incubator and the ESP32 sends temperature and humidity readings over MQTT to OpenHAB. There are text and audio alerts if the temperature or humidity aren’t in the “good” window. This means you can be out in the yard or away from home and still know if there’s a problem (since data is stored in a database table, we can even chart out the temperature or humidity across the entire incubation period).
We also bought a larger incubator for the chicken eggs — and there’s a new ESP32 and sensor in the larger incubator.
We tried a cheap forced-air incubator from Amazon.
All of these little rectangular boxes seem to have the same design flaw: the fan and heater are in one corner of the incubator, and the hot air blows out of one side of the box. So there are really hot spots in the incubator and relatively cold spots.
Since we had a bad hatch rate (1 of 8) with the thing, we decided to get a bigger, better incubator. After researching a lot of options, we got the Farm Innovators 4250 — lots of space for eggs, a centrally located heater and fan that blow air all around, and a humidity sensor (looks to be the same DHT-11 that we use in our sensor). We’ll collect eggs and get a large batch going in a few weeks.