Monthly Archives: September 2011

Kindergarten Chick Incubator

I am a sucker.  I admit it, and I live with it.  My daughter’s Senior Kindergarten teacher called to ask me for some pointers on a project she thought would be perfect project for the kids….she could set up an incubator, and they could watch some eggs hatch.

Unfortunately, she didn’t know anything about chickens and eggs and hatching them, so she called me.   She also didn’t have an incubator or eggs.  From now on, I’ll refer to her as the “idea” person.

Long story short, I have made an incubator out of stuff I had around, could scrounge, or buy for less than $10.  (I know…it’s my kid’s education, but there are limits).  I took a small styrofoam cooler, some glass out of old picture frames, a light socket and dimmer switch and some wire.  Here are a couple pictures of the high tech incubator:

Lid Open, 25 watt light bulb

Looking through the window of incubator, light fixture, thermometer and dimmer switch

So now I am ready to get some eggs from the breeder farm I work with.  I’m thinking 2 brown and 2 white.  Inside, I’m also going to place a shallow dish of water to keep the humidity up.  
We will keep the temperature at 38.5 C for 21 days, and the kids will be in charge of turning them twice daily.  I think I will put an “X” and an “O” on opposite sides of each egg, so they know which way should be up each time. 
It will be an adventure….I will keep you posted on progress.
The “idea” lady is in charge of finding homes for the little peepers once they are out and about, and the school year ends.
Mike the Chicken Vet

Chicken Talk

I know it has been a while since I added a post.  I wanted this one to be a video, and these things seem to take a while.  Hope you enjoy!!

Mike the Chicken Vet

Why are chickens…..chickens?

I have returned to school….my wife thinks its high time, and my 5 year old daughter thinks it’s cool that we are both in “big” school at the same time.  She keeps asking me what I did at recess, so I make up friends that I play with and games we played…..if only she knew.  I’m back at the university, and am too old to be partaking in the “recreational” activities of my MUCH younger classmates.  (Speaking of which….when did kids in university start looking so YOUNG??)

I’m actually working on my Masters degree part time.  One course this semester is an animal behaviour course.  The point is to discover why animal behave the way they do, and how to use this understanding to alter their behaviour so we humans can get along with them better.

I HAVE to ask the prof to explain this one....

A subject that came up today was one that I wonder if many people realize.  That is, animal (chicken) behaviour evolved, the same way their bodies did.  A chicken does what she does, because that activity made her ancestors survive better than similar animals.  So, when you see a chicken doing something you don’t (or even do) like, try to imagine why that activity developed….you’ll have a better chance of stopping it.

Consider some activity your birds to that you don’t like…..say perching on top of the coop, and making a mess on the roof.  Why does this 1 chicken…..the messiest, most annoying, feathered poop machine….insist on being the one place she shouldn’t be, and ruining the look and feel of your backyard?  Why does running out of the house and swinging a broom at her (while satisfying) not convince her to find a new loitering spot?

The reason chickens perch up off the ground is because the jungle fowl they came from….after hundreds of thousands of years of perfecting a strategy for living in the dense forests….survived better when they “hung out” off the ground.  The predators of the day were mainly ground based…..weasel types, snakes, etc.  By getting up off the ground, hens have a better vantage point to spot predators from, and more distance for their “flight path” when they want to escape. 

This evolutionary predisposition may have been reinforced throughout the birds life, if it encountered dogs, cats, raccoons, people with brooms, etc., and was successful in steering clear of the danger.  The important thing to remember is that…for the most part….chickens look for a high point to provide a feeling of safety from the baddies on the ground.  Luckily, chickens evolved in an environment where being attacked from above was a risk too.  To prove it, watch what a chicken does when you walk out in the yard and raise your hands up high…..they squat, duck their heads back, and swivel them in the ridiculous way that only chickens can….they are very aware of the 3 dimensions.

Now….back to Edwina the eagle…..smug and safe on top of your coop….raining devastation on all below.  Imagine what her reaction will be to a paper airplane flying over her head?  (if you had a trained hawk, it would be even more effective, but a) falconry is in a sad state of decline, and b) it’s REALLY hard to call a hawk back after she is released after prey…..Edwina may be a pain in the butt, but she doesn’t deserve to be lunch).  Now, if you could throw a paper airplane, or flap a flag over the coop (changing it often enough that the hens didn’t get used to it), the sudden increase of air-borne threats will very likely convince Edwina that there is safety on the ground, or on the perch in the coop.

Remember….almost all actions of hens is in response to something.  If you can figure out what, you are halfway to dealing with it. 

Sometimes picking leads to more aggression.

Unfortunately some behaviours, such as picking, can have many root causes, and are much more difficult to figure out and correct.  Still…anything that gives you an excuse to mess with your chicken’s heads once in a while is worth it!!

Mike the Chicken Vet

Warm-Blooded Lizards.

I spent part of the Labour Day Weekend at the fair with my family.  We rode rides, ate cotton candy and hotdogs, and got convinced to try our hands at seemingly simple games of “chance”.  We also walked through the animal displays.  The kids loved all the animals….the piglets and lambs were favorites, as were the goats and ponies. 

Does this strike you as "cute"?

While they were tormenting the animals by trying to feed them hay from the floor, or petting their noses, I was watching the crowds as they filed through the cages and cages of fancy birds.  Many many of them were captivated by the chickens.  There were big ones (truly huge roosters….as big and mean as I’ve ever seen!!).  They oohed and aahed over the colors, the combs, the plumage and the songs.

I know that most of the people had no experience with chickens (or turkeys or guinea hens, which they were also fascinated with), and started wondering what it is about chickens that fascinates city folks so much.  They are not cuddly….they are not physically imposing…..their eyes can best be described as “beady” or “cold”….they are extremely adept at masking any personality in their appearance – never has a chicken smiled, frowned, winked or scrunched her nose at me (I’m convinced that’s why people love pigs…the nose scrunching thing).

At the reptile exhibit, it hit me.  I saw the same interest and wonder in the crowd.  Chickens aren’t fascinating because they are adorable….they are interesting because they are feather covered aliens!

A chicken's true self

These perky purveyors of protein are lizards in disguise.  All you chicken lovers out there….look at your hens with an unbiased eye….there is a large remnant of the reptiles they used to be.  Chickens are actually one of the closest relatives to dinosaurs that still roam the earth.  I saw the same fascination at the reptile show….the big difference is that there is no “eeew” factor with chickens.  Somehow the scaly legs, talons and cold, dead eyes don’t gross us out like gators and Gila monsters, but they still captivate us the same way their more primitive cousins do.

Still not convinced?  Look:

Chicken or Lizard?

Chicken or Lizard?

Can't you see the resemblance?

It’s the wierd quirks of chickens that fascinate us….the laying of eggs, the twitchy way they move their heads, the undulating body movement when they walk.  All these things are reminiscent of reptiles… are the 3 toes…the lack of external ears…the scaly legs….claws.   The fact that feathers are modified scales should come as no surprise.

With all that said, I think I am justified in naming this guy Godzilla, and forbidding my daughter to play with him in the future.


Mike the Chicken Vet