Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The day begins with sad news....

First thing this morning, we checked our 2 little injured chickies in the aquarium.  Mr Percival is doing better by the day and looking more and more alert, but unfortunately Dot didn't make it through the night.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800" caption="Dot (on the left) and Mr Percival"]Dot (on the left) and Mr Percival[/caption]

Her injuries were much more severe though and you could see the muscle fibre on the back of her wing.  Poor darling!  So, it is all hands on deck to look after the remaining chicks.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800" caption="Mr Percival snuggling with make-do Mamma Hen"]Mr Percival snuggling with make-do Mamma Hen[/caption]

In addition to Mr Percival inside, we still have the 3 little black ones out in the pen, but they are fully feathered around the neck.  We think one of them might even have a little frizzle in there as it is so fluffy even with its new feathers!  So cute!!

Last night I candled the duck eggs and turkey egg as we are now up to day 7.  Candling is a process whereby you hold a narrow bright light up to the egg in a darkened room and you can see through the shell.  You have to do it fairly quickly as you don't want the temperature of the egg to drop too much while it is outside of the incubator.  I bought a little $5 torch from Woolies which does a great job.  Here are some photos:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800" caption="Visible Yolk"]Visible Yolk[/caption]

In this first picture, you can see where the yolk is - the dark yellow shadow.  There is a small darkened dot which is a bit difficult to see in the photo, but hopefully it is the beginning of a new little duckie!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800" caption="Day 7 - Embryo and Network of Veins"]Day 7 - Embryo and Network of Veins[/caption]

This next photo turned out great - lucky because the battery in the camera died right after taking it!  The really bright bit at the pointy end is the air sac which will increase in size as the egg progresses.  A few days before the duckling hatches out of the actual shell, you should (hopefully) be able to see its beak sticking into the air sac - I'll be sure to keep the camera battery charged!  That red spidery looking thing is the exciting part.  That means there is a living embryo in there!  The thin red lines are a network of veins supporting the tiny embryo which is the red "C" shaped mass in the centre.  When you look at if for real, you can actually see the heart beating!  I'll see if I can get some video of it tonight.  Very exciting stuff!  The girls are finding it an amazing process to watch and be involved in, especially as you can get the odd glimpse of what is going on inside the shell!

They say that the embryos shouldn't start developing until they reach incubation temperature, and we collected the 7 eggs over the course of a week, so technically they should all be at the same stage, however, I'm not too sure.  I am pretty well convinced that they are all fertile - Danny the Drake makes sure of that EVERY morning without fail!  Also, there is no sign that any of them have died.  You can tell if you have lost one as you get a red ring instead of the vein network.  So, cross your fingers with me and hope that the ones with just a yolk shadow are a day or 2 behind the others!

Monday, 21 September 2009

My Homemade Egg Incubator

As I said in the previous post, we have lots and lots of babies on the way.  I had started collecting duck eggs from Daisy and Danny about 2 weeks ago as we figured we needed more ducks over summer to keep the grass down, and because their eggs are just so amazing for baking.  We had collected half a dozen or so when our friend Monica from Lowanna rang and asked if we had any broody chooks.  After the last hatch, Specky took over the brood and Pecky stayed on the nest.  Whitey the White White was also starting to spend alot of time on the nest too, so we said yep.  A few days later we drove up the hill and she gave us shoebox with 23 naked neck eggs!  We were absolutely over the moon!  Then, as the icing on the cake, she caught me admiring her male turkey as he strutted around the yard, so she gave me a turkey egg from their nest also!  So now, we have 23 chicken eggs under the 2 hens, and 7 duck eggs and 1 turkey egg in the incubator inside!

After the failure of our last 3 ducks eggs hatching, I decided I needed to finesse the incubator a bit.  The last lot only died in the final few days, and I think I actually drowned them in my efforts to keep the humidity levels high enough.  I had read you could spray the eggs with a water mister, but I think I continued spraying too long.  After they had clearly died, you could see dark brown droplets on the inside of the egg.  This time I decided I would do better.  The first couple of days I had them in a small fish tank which I had lined with styrofoam, but the temperature was fluctuating wildly, so I decided to make a new one from scratch and take photos along the way incase anyone who reads this decides to have a go.

I began with a styrofoam broccoli box from the greengrocer.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240" caption="Styrofoam Broccoli Box"]Styrofoam Broccoli Box[/caption]

Alot of fruit and veg shops give them away, or at most they cost about $1.  No great expense, but they seal well and have fantastic insulating properties (they will also keep champagne on ice for 3 days lol!!)

Next I cut out a hole in the side with a sharp knife.  I find that a SHARP smooth blade knife (not serrated) cuts best with minimal mess.  Serrated knives just send bits of styrofoam EVERYWHERE (ask me how I know!!).  I tried to keep it as neat as possible as I would be replacing the square back in the hole later.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Cut a hole in the side"]Cut a hole in the side[/caption]

I'd love to tell you how big to cut the hole, but that depends on the size of your switch box, so you just have to eyeball it and dive on in!  Next step is to cut off one corner from the piece you have removed to enable the power cord to pass through.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Cut off one corner"]Cut off one corner[/caption]

Next is the tricky part if you are not used to electrical wiring.  If you are lucky like me, you might have a friend who knows what they are doing.  With the promise of a home made wood fired pizza, my wonderful friend up the road was able to wire a dimmer switch to a lightbulb, and screw the lightbulb into a piece of wood.  (Thanks Craig - you are the best!!)

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The Wiring"]The Wiring[/caption]

You could have the dimmer switch mounted, but he said that by putting it into a switch box (I think that's what he called it), I could move it into a larger incubator down the track if I needed to, or move the set up into a brooder box when they hatch.  I also wanted to be able to turn the dimmer from outside the box if possible.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Dimmer Switch outside the box"]Dimmer Switch outside the box[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Light Bulb inside the box"]Light Bulb inside the box[/caption]

Now you need to pass either the dimmer switch box or the light fitting through the hole you have just cut and replace the square "plug" with the cord coming through the cut off corner so the light is on the inside of the box and the switch is on the outside.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Replace the styrofoam "plug""]Replace the styrofoam plug[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="View from inside"]View from inside[/caption]

Next part is the fan.  If you have an old computer lying around, pull the fan out.  It looks like this:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Computer Fan"]Computer Fan[/caption]

If you don't have an old computer lying around, you can pick these up for a couple of dollars at a computer repair or electrical shop.  This one is a 12V fan.  It had a big double plastic plug on it, so I cut them off, stripped back the wire coating a bit and put on a pair of 5mm Tab Connecters.  I went searching for a battery to run it off, but they don't sell them at the supermarket.  I found one at Dick Smith Electronics though, and luckily enough, Matthew had a 12V battery charger in the garage.  I put the fan inside the box, and passed the wires through the same hole as the light bulb's cord so that the battery could be on the outside of the unit -

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Fan wires and 12 V battery"]Fan wires and 12 V battery[/caption]

2 reasons for this.  One is, the less "bits and pieces" you have inside the box, the more eggs you can fit in, and secondly, I don't have to open the box to remove the battery when it needs charging.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="External Battery and Dimmer Switch"]External Battery and Dimmer Switch[/caption]

Okay, you are almost there.  As I mentioned earlier, high humidity levels are required (around 80%).  I've been able to achieve this by placing dishes of water inside the incubator.  By placing a face washer and sponge in the water, it breaks the surface tension of the water and provides a greater surface area for it to evaporate from.  At the moment, it is sitting on or extremely close to 81% quite consistently.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Water dishes for humidity"]Water dishes for humidity[/caption]

So how do I measure the humidity I hear you ask.  A lot more easily than most I am guessing.  From all the reading and research I have been doing, most people run a wet/dry bulb thermometer system.  this requires to bulb thermometers, one with a wick, and then you have to cross reference the temperatures on a chart.  Too hard!  For a couple of dollars at your local electrical store (Dick Smith to the rescue again), you can pick up a small weather station like this:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="298" caption="Thermometer and Hygrometer"]Thermometer and Hygrometer[/caption]

As you can see, this one has 2 temperature readings and a % Humidity reading.  I place the unit at one end of the eggs, and the external temperature probe at the other end of the eggs, this way I can see the temperature all the way around.  It also makes figuring out the humidity a whole lot easier as it is right there on the screen for you!  Gotta love technology eh?

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Thermometer and Hygrometer in position"]Thermometer and Hygrometer in position[/caption]

Some people set their incubators up with a window to take the readings through, but I figure I need to open it up regularly to turn the eggs and also to get some fresh air in, so I'm not really bothered with it being inside the unit.  The blue matting on the floor of the incubator is non-slip matting from the $2 shop.  It stops the eggs rolling around and keeps them in the position you put them in when you turn them, as they can try to go back to their previous position depending on how the air sac is sitting.

This next photo is to show you how I have aligned the light bulb for heat, water dishes for humidity, and fan for circulation.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The important bits"]The important bits[/caption]

So now that all of this is done, you can put your eggs in and start incubating!!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Pop the eggs in and start incubating!"]Pop the eggs in and start incubating![/caption]

Just quickly, try and get this set up before you get your eggs so you can run it for a day or 2 to get the temperature and humidity levels right.  I record the readings each time I turn the eggs on a chart I made:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Record Sheet"]Record Sheet[/caption]

This way I can monitor the readings and keep track of how many turns I am up to for the day - you need to turn them an odd number of times each day so they are not sitting on the same side for an extended period (ie through the night) as they can stick to the inside of the shell if this happens.

Well, that's about it for now.  We are up to day 7, so check back in another 21 days and hopefully we will be pipping!!

Daring Cooks September Challenge - Dosai

I must apologise first up for taking so long to get this entry up. It should have been written about a week ago, but things have been crazy around here to say the least! The pizza oven has been working overtime entertaining al of our friends, we have had Father's Day, and the Father's Day Stall at the Primary School, P&C Meetings at school and preschool, lots of gardening with the onset of spring, and yep, we have more babies on the way. Lots more babies. Lots and lots and lots of babies in fact, but I'll get to that later.

The Daring Cooks September Challenge comes to us from Debyi at The Healthy Vegan Kitchen. It is an absolutely delicious Indian savoury pancake served with 2 yummy curried sauces. There is a thicker chickpea based one and a lighter coconut sauce poured over the top of it all.

Here is the recipe:

Serves 4

Dosa Pancakes

1 cup (120gm/8oz) spelt flour (or all-purpose, gluten free flour)

½ tsp (2½ gm) salt

½ tsp (2½ gm) baking powder

½ tsp (2½ gm) curry powder

½ cup (125ml/4oz) almond milk (or soy, or rice, etc.)

¾ cup (175ml/6oz) water

cooking spray, if needed

Dosa Filling

1 batch Curried Garbanzo Filling (see below),

Dosa Toppings

1 batch Coconut Curry Sauce (see below),

heated ¼ cup (125gm) grated coconut

¼ cucumber, sliced

Dosa Pancakes

1.Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the almond milk and water, whisking until smooth.

2.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed.

3.Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan in a circular motion until it is a thin, round pancake. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter.

Makes 8 pancakes.

Curried Garbanzo Filling

This filling works great as a rice bowl topping or as a wrap too, so don't be afraid to make a full batch.

5 cloves garlic 1 onion, peeled and finely diced

1 carrot, peeled and finely diced

1 green pepper, finely diced (red, yellow or orange are fine too)

2 medium hot banana chilies, minced

2 TBSP (16gm) cumin, ground

1 TBSP (8gm) oregano

1 TBSP (8gm) sea salt (coarse)

1 TBSP (8gm) turmeric

4 cups (850gm/30oz) cooked or canned chick peas (about 2 cans)

½ cup (125gm/4oz) tomato paste

1.Heat a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Add the garlic, veggies, and spices, cooking until soft, stirring occasionally.

2.Mash the chickpeas by hand, or in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste to the saucepan, stirring until heated through.

Coconut Curry Sauce

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic ½ (2½ gm)

tsp cumin, ground

¾ (3¾ gm) tsp sea salt (coarse)

3 TBSP (30gm) curry powder

3 TBSP (30gm) spelt flour (or all-purpose GF flour)

3 cups (750ml/24oz) vegetable broth

2 cups (500ml/24oz) coconut milk

3 large tomatoes, diced

1.Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, or until soft.

2.Add the spices, cooking for 1 minutes more. Add the flour and cook for 1 additional minute.

3.Gradually stir in the vegetable broth to prevent lumps. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the coconut milk and tomatoes, stirring occasionally. 4.Let it simmer for half an hour.

Okay, I know what you are about to say....what did I change?? Surprisingly, very little, the only difference was I used Besan flour instead of spelt (because that's what I had in the pantry), and I left the chickpeas whole because I love their taste and texture. This was an absolutely delicious dish. I have even made it a second time already this month. Seeing as the pizza oven has been getting such a work out, we made naan bread to have with it instead of the dosai pancakes the second time around, and what can I say but Yum, Yum, Yum!!! Definately one to try if you are cooking for vegetarians or vegans, or you just enjoy a really good curry. I had a bit of the left over coconut sauce on an omelette the other day too, and that was just super delish!