newly hatched chicks

Everyone gathered round the incubator to watch the hatch.
observers

Around the 21st day of incubating, the pipping began. Having spent a lifetime with eggs that do not move or cheep, an egg that does is transfixing!

zipping-egg

From pipping, the chicks began to zip – to peck holes all round the flatter end of the egg, and to push with strong little feet. Some took hours; others were so quick we missed their hatch entirely!

hatching-chick

We were amazed at how they begin so delicate, so awkward, yet they get control of their movements so rapidly. One can read about this, be told about it, see pictures, videos, but witnessing it is entirely different.

hatched-chick

Little darlings. They liked to lie over the other eggs, and often bowled them right over, peeping away.

One little chick pipped, but never progressed further. This is one of those heartbreaks of life. Quite a number of the eggs weren’t fertile or were possibly so addled in the post that they had never begun to develop – we saw this when candling. The moment when you truly understand the meaning of not counting your chickens before they are hatched! Yet another did hatch, but had not yet absorbed its yolk sac and needed lots of time in an incubator. I found this process incredibly emotional, precarious somehow, and intensely joyful, not unlike my own children’s births. Responsibility for life is an enormous thing!

brooder-chicks

Within twenty-four hours, we had a flock of ten tiny chicks, cuddled under the heat lamp in the brooder, sleeping intermittently like any newborn. We gently dipped each tiny beak into water as we moved them from incubator to brooder; after that they know to drink.

fluffy-chick

In just a little while they have fluffed up into such beauties, such characters. After a day or so they’re eating, and drinking, and doing all their entertaining chicken things. We are smitten.

a hatching egg movie

Watching our incubating eggs pipping, then zipping, then hatching, was such an extraordinary thing. I thought you might like to see a time-lapse of our firstborn chick.

Sped up, the rhythm is quite amazing, we didn’t notice this at the time. From pipping it took the chick about twenty minutes to peck round in a circle at the round end of the egg. This pretty blue egg is from an Easter Egger hen paired with an Ameraucana rooster.

hatchedegg

More about hatching out our little flock here.

candling eggs

On the eleventh day of incubation, we candled a couple of the chicken eggs.

candling-eggs

Shining a bright light behind the warm little egg, you can just make out a mass in the middle of it, and veining lines all around. Such an insight for the children, such excitement, and talk of their own growth when they were so tiny themselves, but a heartbeat and a flutter. Just a few more days of watching the eggs tipping in their turner inside the incubator, and then we’ll remove the egg turner and watch for more signs of life. I’m working on the chicken coop, and will show you my process next. Come back soon!

incubating eggs

Hatching eggs have arrived at the lakeside cottage!

hatching-eggs
With great joy we opened our post box to find a box of hatching eggs from a heritage breeder in Northern BC. These are marked with letters indicating the breeds we’d carefully researched: Lavender Orpingtons, Bielefelders, and Red Blue-Laced Wyandottes. We welcomed still more fertile eggs, hand delivered from our friend who rented us the incubator, almost a dozen blue-green Auracanas. We’re hatching so many! Though not all for us.

labeled-eggs

Thirty-one eggs settled overnight like this, point down, in a cool spot, to allow the air bubble to rise to the top where the growing chick will need it.

incubator

On May Day we set them into the egg-turner, then set the turner into the warm, humid, waiting incubator that hums in our bathroom at a steady 37 degrees C. Now they all tip to the left a little, and later when you visit you’ll see them all leaning together to the right, seeking to emulate the cosy nest and the intelligence of a mother hen turning her eggs, to keep the growing chick moving easily inside the shell. All our dreams of keeping chickens, all our conversations and research about how to keep them, are extraordinarily real now. We’ve studied hard – but now it is time to learn by doing.

Twenty-one days will bring us to hatching time – come back and see our preparations and the ideas behind them in the days ahead.

dyeing eggs

Gathering for the vernal equinox, a rite in celebration of spring, of the growing light and all the beautiful food that comes with it – this is what Gather Victoria set about to do. I laid a table in the midst of this extraordinary event, covered in foods that we used to dye our eggs. Oh, I adore the history of colour, of pigment, the natural sources and the culture that came along with them. Would you like to dye eggs with plant-life? Let me show you our experiments.

Dotted about on the table are bowls of sea salt and bottles of vinegar. We used a pinch and a splash of these as our mordants, to fix a colour, deepen it.

beet-table

In fabric dyeing these were often malodorous, and dyeworks would be found in their own district or well away from town.

beet-dye

Beetroot, for a gentle pink. Chop more beets than you think into as little water as you can – just enough to cover your eggs. With only a brief time at the event, we could get a pale pink on white eggs, but fill a jar with the strained dye, leave an egg immersed overnight, and you might deepen its colour.

cabbage-dye

Blue, blue from the outer leaves of cabbage! In England we dyed eggs cabbage blue, but our cabbage was grown on the biodynamic farm near our cottage. It was certainly not driven in a truck for thousands of miles, nor stripped of its colour-rich outer leaves by middlemen all the way to the supermarket, as I fear the cabbages I could lay my hands on had been. Suffice to say, our blues were of the sad, pale kind. Never mind – you will have more time, and can leave the eggs submerged. Brown eggs and white have a different effect, try both if you can. In fact, the cabbage is related to woad! So perhaps it is apt that we got our richest blue in the south of England, in keeping with the history of naked Celts painted with woad blue to frighten Romans back to the mainland. The Romans called indigo indicum, from the Greek, indikon; India was the source of indigo dyeing from Greco-Roman times.

eggs-table

Carrot tops give a pale chartreuse to the cheesecloth sachets I use to contain the vegetation, but the eggs themselves take a long, long time. I prefer to overdye cabbage blue with a touch of turmeric, for a fine green. Historically the woad of England or India’s indigo blues were overdyed with dyer’s broom for Kendal green, Lincoln green – think Robin Hood.

turmeric-dye

If green is the most difficult colour to achieve from plant-dyes, yellow is the easiest. Try oregon grape, or any number of wild greens. Here we used, no, not dyer’s broom, but turmeric. This cloth turned rich gold, but do not trust turmeric to fix in wool or cloth. You will wear the colour with the cloth. I captured the spice in a cloth, but in my own experiments the colour was more effective when the dusty spice stuck to the eggs and was gently rubbed off.

paprika-dye

Then, for a bright orange, paprika. We call the colour orange now, these last two hundred years, yet orange the fruit coined orange the colour, not the reverse. Previously we had only red as a descriptive, and so we have robin red breast and red heads.

dyed-eggs

For a deep red, you’ll want brown eggs, plenty of time, and surprisingly, plenty of papery yellow onion skins. Leave them to boil on and on and you may achieve quite an orthodox blood red, in keeping with the fertility rites of the season. Until 1869 and the age of synthetics, Madder red dyed the militia’s coats in France and Holland and the hunting pinks in Britain. Try your hand at growing madder for its colourful root, if you like! Murex snails along the Mediterranean yielded a drop each of an intense dye, some of which became Phoenician Red. You may know of the purple dyes from these snails, precious royal or Tyrian purple, vastly expensive, never to fade, likely developed by the Minoans of East Crete. Italian red silk was dyed with kermes, from the unlaid eggs of an insect, and across eastern Europe, the cochineal gave red. It was the brilliant, nothing-that-is-not-useful-or-beautiful William Morris who reviled synthetics and aniline dyes, and with the Arts and Crafts movement turned back to the traditions of using indigo and madder for dyeing excellent woven and printed fabrics. I believe we are continuing the tradition on a grassroots scale.

onion-spice-table

Red onion gave us yellow in its first moments, deepening to a rich chestnut over time. Beautiful. I liked the currants that gave a pale brown, and blueberry’s warm blue, but these are precious foods and mostly I prefer to eat them myself. What do you think? Will you experiment with colour this Easter?

I must tell you, this spring, eggs are of particular fascination to me, for in April we’ll receive a dozen heritage hatching eggs, and in May we plan to build a coop and run that I’ve designed for them! Watch for more about keeping chickens very soon – get the postcards to stay in the loop.

Thank you to Gather, Nourish Café and all the wonderful people I met at the event, I loved it.