It all started with a broody hen last December! She sat perched in her box for well over a month but decided she was done right as her eggs were in their final days of development. The day she got off a single chick hatched. I found it that afternoon dead. It was laying next to the other eggs in the clutch. I imagine it died from the cold. I inspected it, then buried it up along our fence line by the row of berry canes. I brought the other two eggs up to the garage and scrambled to find a neighbor with an incubator. That night, thanks to a great neighbor (Izzy) the chics were back on track for hatching. In my mind I constantly question the mentality of animal mothers. Perhaps they know better than us when to move on but it’s hard to know.
Having an incubator is a learning curve and I found myself fumbling to figure out the glitches quickly for the remaining two chics. There is a lot to consider. You have to monitor the humidity within the chamber and too much water in the bottom means they will suffocate but too little water means the chic will stick to the membrane and die. Air temperature should hover around 36 degrees celsius (97 degrees fahrenheit). Then the eggs need to be turned frequently so the chicks again, don’t stick to the lining within the egg. Most incubators now do the work for you and have a method of turning them every two hours. I was able to get the chicks to the hatching stage but both of them were unable to break out of their shells and died. I buried them next to the other chic around the berries thinking I was creating a baby chic graveyard. Kinda morbid.
After burying three chicks in one week I was disheartened but determined to try again. I purchased a Magicfly mini incubator online and read the manual. I went down to the coop and collected 8 warm eggs and brought them up to the house. This was back in the last week of January. I candled them every few days to watch their progress. One of them died within two weeks so we were down to seven within the final week.
As far as the breeds of the chics, I don’t know what to expect because we have so many possibilities. We have 10 purebred standard American breed hens including Buff Orpington, Australorp, Red Sex Link, Black Sex Link, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Cuckoo Maran, Partridge Plymouth Rock, Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, Blue Laced Wyandotte and one other which escapes my brain at the moment. We have three roosters and one of them is pure bred while the other two are a mix. “Lancelot” is our Rhode Island Red (RIR) and Americana that we got from our dear friends Laurie and Mark Donnelly. “Bitie” is our oldest rooster and appears outwardly as a Silver Laced Wyandotte but his father (who was also from the Donnellys) was also RIR and Americana. Our 3rd and last rooster is just now coming of age and he is a purebred Blue Laced Red Wyandotte. My hunch is that Lancelot (Americana x RIR) is the father of all of our current chics. I named him Lancelot for a reason because he sneaks under the radar and seems successfully charming!
Perhaps because I am new to hatching out of an incubator, I feel as though I am more attentive than I should be. For the remaining seven eggs this last week I’ve spent hours assisting them and checking on them. After losing the last two because I didn’t intervene I felt the need to do so this time. It’s hard to say if I helped or hurt but in the end, after a week of hatching we have 4 new baby chicks that are thriving. The other three didn’t make it either because they bled to death or never were able to get out of their shells (probably my intervening). We moved their little box in from the garage the first night realizing that with freezing temperatures outside the garage wouldn’t be warm enough. Then the box with it’s bright light was in our bathroom at night and after my husband spent the second night in our sons room to sleep, I thought it best to move the box into the laundry room. Of course the animals are all very interested in the new activity and keeping them away has meant rigging the box with a grate around the top. We build it with a small piece of no climb fencing and overlapped chicken wire over the top to keep little paws from reaching down in. Then using zip ties we secured the grate to the box.
The process of watching chics evolve within their first week is pretty exciting and it has been for us. I helped one of the last chics finally break itself free from the shell and as it rolled out and pushed off of the egg. Within hours it was walking and dry. Each chick has hatched at different times of the day and each chic has had time in the incubator before being moved into the box with the other chics. Just to see them go from the shell to the box is pretty remarkable.
Chics and kids seem to go hand and hand around here. Both our kids have been inquisitive through the whole process and have asked lots of questions with demands to make frequent visitation. Petting chics or “chick time” is and always has been expected here. “Chick time” is a fairly routine method that starts with the washing of the hands, the clearing of dogs and cats from the room and perching on the floor. Sometimes we form a circle and use our legs as barriers. When we are all connected foot to foot the chicks are set in the middle to wander around or cradle into our palms. Right now we are in the discussion of names. That will take at least a week to decide but my husband already pointed out, there are four which means we each get to pic one to name and make our own. This is also a Harris custom. One of these times, when they were still in the bathroom we had an incident.
Colt came running into the living room explaining that the “warming light over the box exploded and glass was everywhere”. Of course I jumped up from the computer and ran into our bathroom. The chicks were safe in the box, the light hood on the bath rug on the floor, and the bulb broken into pieces. There were two spots where the light bulb had touched the bath rug. One of them still had pieces of glass stuck the melted rug. Immediately I understood what had happened and unplugged the light. Colt had asked permission to hold the chics and I obliged thinking that he would turn the light off and set it on the tile. Normally I oversee the holding of the chics but in this case I thought he would be okay. He set the light on the floor on the rug instead of on the tile and he didn’t turn it off. It got too hot, started to melt and then, because the material was plastic created more heat which caused it to break. Lesson learned. I explained to my frantic 9 year old why it happened and chucked the bath rug in the trash. He apologized profusely and I assured him it was okay. A new light was plugged in and future visitation has been supervised as usual. I am glad no one was hurt.
As with all our other chics, they will be brought up in the box, transferred to a larger area and eventually introduced to the coop and the clan with the intention of being free range. This process is long and tedious but it works. All of our chickens free range around the property during the day and coop up at night. One of the best farm purchases we ever made was the automatic door timer from Brinsea which allows us to set our coop door to either lumens or timer. It opens and closes every day based on the protocol set which means we don’t have to do anything but assist the straggler every now and again (which is rare). Our biggest concern when they are young is that they will get snatched up by hawks which has happened several times. The bigger they are, the stronger chance they have at surviving. Stay tuned to find out how our babies for 2018 fare.