Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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The Incubator

As a kid, my Easter mornings were pretty standard...a basket of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps (and eating as many as possible before church!).  Now, my Easter mornings are far less sugary, but with lots of the same creatures.  Tiny, fuzzy baby bunnies in nests of their mother's fur.  And lots of peeps- soft, downy chicks making adorable, soft chirps.  I love getting up in the morning and opening the incubator to see dozens of tiny birds that didn't exist just the night before!

Dan and I began our hatching adventure several years ago with a small Styrofoam incubator that held 42 eggs.  You fill it and wait three weeks to see what hatches.  We liked hatching so much that we bought a commercial-sized one.  The large incubator that we use now has three racks, each capable of holding 66 chicken eggs (or less geese, or more all depends on the size of the egg).  It works great, since you can fill a rack each week with chicken eggs,  since a chicken takes 21 days to incubate and hatch, as the eggs are ready to hatch and moved to the hatching tray, you have a weekly hatching rotation that can go uninterrupted all spring.  This year, things have gotten far more complicated.  This is because we've been blessed with an amazing number of turkey eggs.  We didn't know what to expect, since this is a new venture for us, we were hoping to get 10-12 eggs from each of our first-year hens. So far, our seven girls have produced over 130 eggs total, and we're still collecting more each day!  It's many more turkeys than we plan on raising up, so we are able to sell the extras for some welcome spring income as well.  But what is making things complicated is that turkey eggs take longer to hatch.  Like ducks & geese, turkey eggs take 28 days.  This means a good part of our rack space is occupied for an extra week.   It's not a big deal, as long as you keep good records and know which eggs need to be moved to the hatching tray at the bottom of the incubator at what time.  (Moving to the hatcher is important, since it's hard for a chick to escape its shell if it's being held upright in the plastic racks, and also the trays turn.  You don't want to see a chick hatch on the trays because they tilt from side to side.  If a chick were to hatch there, it would fall from the rack into the hatching tray below or possibly get crushed by the turning mechanisms.  Not good.)  To maximize tray space, I have to keep good records of what is hatching when, and to avoid confusion, I'll mark the eggs with a Sharpie marker.  It doesn't hurt anything, and I know for sure that the turkey eggs in the tray with, for instance, a blue x on them are ready to hatch while the ones marked with an orange x need to stay a week longer.

 We haven't been hatching near the amount of chicks  we have in the past this spring because our turkey eggs take priority.  Turkeys will only lay eggs for a period of weeks in the spring.  Then they are done for the rest of the year.  Chickens lay eggs over most of the year, so I can always hatch them later.  It's been a bit frustrating, because I do have folks who want to buy chicks from us, but I just don't have quantities of 25 or 50 chickens of a particular breed to sell any given week right now.  One of the hardest things to get used to, for me, is the amount of patience and planning it takes to farm.  I imagine lots of the folks emailing me about chicks expect that I have large pens like they do at Tractor Supply or other stores, and they can come and pick out as many as they like, whenever it is convenient for them.  They don't realize that I have to plan weeks in advance, and that it depends on what is laying and how many eggs are collected.  But that is the way it works on a farm, nothing is instant.  Even plants can take much longer than many people realize- I bought asparagus crowns back in February, they arrived in the mail at the farm last week.  As soon as it dries out enough to work the soil, we'll plant them.  Then we wait.  The plants will establish themselves this year, and next spring we'll be able to have a small harvest, with larger harvests in subsequent years.  Still, it means I won't taste a single bite or make a single dollar selling asparagus until well over a year from when I paid for the plants.  Instant gratification just doesn't happen on a farm.  

The key is to find joy in whatever is happening, and be grateful whenever you have success.  And the incubator brings me great joy every time.  Yesterday morning, I had a dozen turkeys to remove from the incubator tray.  Turkeys are still new enough that even Dan gets a bit excited.  I also had chicken eggs to put in the hatcher over the weekend, and last night, after dinner, I heard loud peeps coming from the incubator.  I've noticed many times that the birds make the biggest noise just as they are making the final push out of the shell.  So I had to check on my babies.  I opened up the incubator to find a single wet, just-hatched chick.  Awww!  Dan asked what it was, and I replied that it was a Delaware.  "Wanna see?" I asked.  No, he's seen hundreds of Delaware chicks and thousands of baby birds hatched here.  I closed up the incubator to let the chick dry overnight while the rest hatched before moving them to the brooder pen this morning.  Dan asked me, as I snapped the incubator door latches shut, "You still get excited every single time, don't you?"

 I do.   

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