Tuesday, May 17, 2011

chickens, part one: incubating and hatching

Oh boy, it seems that I have taken about a million pictures of our little chicks. Really, it wouldn't be healthy to try and cram all of them into one post, so I'm splitting them up. We'll start at the beginning.

John has been asking if we could get chickens for two years now. His family had chickens while he was in high school (until it all came crashing down in a frenzy of floating feathers thanks to a frisky fox-- I was there that day and I still remember his mom running around the backyard in a sad state of semi-shock from trying to defend her poor chickens), and he knew he wanted to raise them again one day with his family. I wasn't too warm to the idea at first. There were a few very logical reasons for my hesitance, but I didn't want chicken poop all over my backyard, mostly. The more we talked about it this year though, the more I began to like the idea. We figured out the perfect spot in the yard to make a coop and a fenced off run for them so that their mess is confined and my kids can still play in the bulk of the yard without worrying about rolling around in poop. The thing that made our decision final though, was when I discovered that I could order fertile eggs and incubate and hatch them myself. I loved that idea so much. It was perfect because the teachers at school had wanted to do something like that for our students, too.

So without another thought I paid the $3.00 for each fertile egg (I got 4), rented an incubator for the week (only $5.00), and set up a little birthing (okay, hatching) station on my kitchen counter. I was actually really surprised to find myself feeling this wave of maternity as I gingerly transfered each warm egg from the towel that I had wrapped them in for the ride home into the incubator. I couldn't help but feel this womb-like attachment-- I know what it is like to incubate a living thing inside my body and I honestly felt a twinge of that same miracle-feeling as I handled each one of those delicate little orbs full of life. It was strangely inspiring and touching for me to think about the potential that was bottled up in those precious shells. And you guys, these are just chickens-- no wonder I am so crazy about the miracles of pregnancy and birth!

I knew that they would likely hatch on Wednesday (I had gotten them on Monday (April 25)), and is it embarrassing to say that I woke up several times throughout the night on Tuesday to check on them? One of them had started to crack the shell early that evening, and I didn't want to miss it.  I also felt this sense of responsibility like I needed to be there to make sure everything was okay. What would it say about my future abilities as a chicken-raiser if I woke up to an incubator of dead chicks, you know? This was the first sign of life from our chicks, and I was pretty excited to realize that we really were going to be hatching some babies:

I brought the eggs and incubator to and from the classroom every day because we wanted the students to be able to learn about the process (and possibly see a chick hatch), but I couldn't just leave the chicks there unattended all afternoon and night. It was a little nervewracking to move the whole set-up twice a day for three days (the temperature and humidity in the incubator need to be stable and I stressed myself out watching that blasted thermometer and tweaking the dial to try to get it to stay at exactly 100 degrees), but the kids at school loved it so much. I won't post school photos, but here is one of two of my favorite students observing our incubator in the kitchen :).

Who knew that chicken-hatching took so long? I had no idea how long (and exhausting for the chick) the process would be. After hours and hours of working (you could see the chicks little beak come up for a few pecks and stabs now and then), she had gotten it to this point:

Like I said, I woke up several times throughout the night to check on the hatchlings. I went out at about 3:30 AM, and there wasn't a lot that had changed, but when I went back out around 5:30 AM, this is what I found:

Well hello there little chickie. It was so exciting! And what was even better was that a second chick had really started working on her shell now and I knew I wouldn't miss that one. If you look closely in the above picture you can see the hole that she was making on the top of her egg (the far right one).
Here is another shot of it. You can see some of her yellow fluff inside the crack.

Oh! Here she comes! This was seriously so exciting for me. I was sad that it was so early in the morning and I was the only one awake. I did run back and tell John, but apparently he wasn't as into it as I was because he stayed in bed. I guess he figured there would be two more to hatch later that day when it didn't cut into his precious sleep time.

A few more pecks and some maneuvering by the chick and out came her wet little head. Seriously, I kept making parallels with chick hatching and childbirth and I would likely sound a little crazy if I kept going with them all here, so I'll just share the pictures. But how cool is it to watch life emerge from the space where it was first created, right? So cool.

Another angle of her working her way out:

Oh, I love this one. This slick little newborn so exhausted from all the work it took to be born.

This was about when Georgie woke up and I immediately called him out to the kitchen to see. I love his morning eyes and blankie.

And this one cracks me up. They hatched just a couple of hours apart (you can see how quickly the first one was already fluffing up), and they just collapsed like that and slept in the same position. So funny.

The third chick hatched later that afternoon, and the fourth, our little runt, had a little bit of a rough time. She had started cracking the shell way early in the day, but really seemed to struggle to get out. She would poke her little beak out and cheep-cheep to us, probably asking for a little help please.

That night John's mom came over to watch the kids while John and I went to a REAL game and we told her what was going on with the chicks and to call us if the last one hatched. We had read that ones who are late and/or struggle to hatch often end up dying once they do hatch so we were a little concerned. Janet was worried about it too, and decided to help our last little one out. John totally predicted it, too. When we got the text from Janet saying that the chick had hatched John's words were, "That means she helped it hatch." He knows his mama :). It worked out well though, because who knows if the chick could've done it on her own (she may have gotten dried out and stuck to the shell since she had been working at it for so long), and she has done just fine.

If you ever decide to raise chickens I highly recommend you start this way. Hatching them myself gave me a sense of attachment and ownership (and maybe even love?) that I know I wouldn't have felt for them otherwise. We added 7 other chickens to our flock (the only variety we could hatch were Leghorns and we wanted some other breeds as well), and those little ones that we hatched are definitely my favorites. It was a really cool experience, and I'm pretty happy I gave in and we went for it :). Lots more chicken stuff to come...


Katie said...

How fun!

Alisa said...

Yeah for little chickens. I still remember John and Jerrod feeding our baby chicks. They followed John around the yard in a little line. They thought he was their mama. He was.

Adam said...

"if I woke up to an incubator of dead chicks..."

if only i had a nickel for each time that's happened to me.