We hope to see you at the Mother Earth News Fair this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, February 18-19, 2017).
If you’ve already placed an order that you’re planning to pick up at the fair – please let us know by email which day to have your order at the fair (Saturday or Sunday).
Digital or Analog?
About the time the digital incubator controller went out, I started reading a book called The Revenge of Analog. It talks about the swing of the pendulum away from digital and back toward analog.
When I was describing it to my family over dinner, one of them asked, “What’s Analog?”
For children that never wore a wind-up Timex watch, and never played vinyl records with a stereo system that had vacuum tubes in it that needed to warm up when you turned it on, the concept of analog was pretty foreign.
When the controller failed, I counted that I had 6 of those same controllers in use. And that if one of 6 died in less than two years, what does that say about the other ones?
Pat and I talked about adding another controller that would act as an absolute turn off if the temperature got too high. A period of low temperature is tolerated much better than any too high temperature. A temperature of greater that 106 degrees (F) is enough to kill the developing chick.
We started looking at – you guessed it – another digital controller to safe guard the first digital controller. So now, instead of 6 digital controllers prone to fail when you can least afford it, we would now have 12 digital controllers prone to fail when you can least afford it. I’m not an expert, but I think that would make our mean-time-between-failures much worse.
Many of the older incubators and hatchers used wafer thermostats to control the temperature. I had one old GQF hatcher with two wafers, one acting in a fail-safe arrangement to the other as described above.
Moving up from the wafers were mercury thermometers that had wires embedded in them. When the mercury flows upward and hits the wires, it completes the circuit, and a heater turns on or off, depending on how it is wired. We looked at adding one of these as a fail-safe. I begin to feel an application of Occam’s razor – there we were multiplying entities needlessly. Why have the analog protect the digital when the thermometer never fails unless it is broken?
So now, we are getting rid of the digital controller and going to an analog thermometer. We had 2 complete thermometer units on hand. And in a couple of hours, Pat had converted one incubator – that now has eggs in it – and one hatcher to use them.
In doing so, we discovered that the previously calibrated digital controller on the hatcher was running 2 degrees low, which would explain the slow, drawn out hatches that we’ve been experiencing.
So once again – I feel like we made a big step forward by re-inventing (really, rediscovering) what was already known to a previous generation. Much in the breeding of poultry feels that way, too – that we are re-learning what was known to previous generations. For example the 10% rule, which Matthew describes below:
The 10% Rule
The 10 percent rule, or the rule of 10s, is based on genetic variability. Whenever you hatch poultry, even several offspring from the same parents, their quality and traits will vary. Some birds will be about average. Some will be above average, and some will be below average. This is why it’s important to cull. Only about 1 out of 10 (or 10%) will be far enough above average to consider using them as breeders. This means if you want to raise 10 new breeders as replacements, you’re looking at hatching around 100 chicks. (You can see why breeding chickens goes hand-in-hand with raising birds for meat — you end up culling a lot of birds).
There are variations on this rule and how it’s applied. It’s not uncommon for breeders to select only the top 5% of male offspring as breeders (since fewer males are needed) while keeping the top 20% of females.
And some breeders, seeking to improve their flocks more rapidly or more extensively, will select only the top 1% of offspring as breeders.
How this affects you, as a potential customer, is that you can expect some variability between the birds you order from us. If you plan on starting your own breeding flocks, let us know, and we can help you determine how many birds to order to have a good starting point.