Paging Doctor Chickeneer…

Now that the last weak chick is out of the NICU, and it seems unlikely that there will be any more hatching, I can pause to reflect on my very first hatching experience, which was much more operatic than I had anticipated…

This hatching chicks thing is way harder than anyone let on. I certainly set myself up for success when I chose the Hovabator Genesis 1588. This thing truly is plug and go. What impresses me the most is how it is holding its heat and humidity as I open the ‘bator during lockdown over and over. I mean, it’s been busier than a Dunkin Donuts drive-through window in there. I know, I know. Das ist verboten!! And yet, the ‘bator has held its temperature and humidity remarkably well. Miraculously well.

No one told me that, as the chicks began to hatch, the incubator would quickly become filled with shell debris, and rowdy, fluffy chicks (and how ’bout that smell, folks?!). Well, they did, but they didn’t say the situation would quickly become untenable as the stronger first-hatchers pecked at the still-hatching and sat on the heads of the more newly-hatched. I can not imagine leaving them in there undisturbed for 72 or even 48 hours. It would have been Escape From New York in there.

And no one told me I was going to need to help. In fact, I was told quite the opposite, that I should, under no circumstances, help. Emerging chicks need the fight; the fight makes them strong. If you take away the fight in a misguided desire to help, you take away the workout that sets them up for a healthy, strong chickhood.

CAVEAT: Unless they won’t make it to chickhood. That’s the criteria: help only if the chick will die if you do not. It’s not an easy call, especially for this virgin hatcher. (Virgin no longer!)

Fortunately, I was not alone; Justine of Les Farms has been my constant mentor, my Mr. Miyagi, my Ova Wan Kenobi, if you will, available pretty much day or night via email, to guide me, to encourage me, to give her opinion on the photos and video I sent in panic. This is as much her hatch as it is mine.

Thursday morning, technically still Day 20, I awoke to three chicks, just like that. BAM. Here’s yer chicks. Easy peasey. The rest of the day was equally smooth. I went to bed Thursday night knowing there were two Marans on the move, one halfway zipped and another pipped, working since that afternoon.

I was not happy to find them in exactly the same condition early Friday morning. The chicks inside were alive; I could see their beaks gaping with breath. I sent Justine this pic of the zipped chick:

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I was unprepared for Justine’s reply: “If it were me, I’d help.”

Following her instructions to the letter, I placed the egg in the lap of Stepdaughter the Elder and carefully (terrified, mind) moistened the dried membrane at the zip site with warm sterile water and a Q-tip, ensuring there was no dried membrane glued to the chick, preventing hatch.

It was a multi-tiered process, and, in the end, I zipped the shell all the way around and put the chick back in the ‘bator to pull itself out of the shell. S/he had a little help from early-hatching siblings (if torment can be called help) and was up and padding about in short order. (This whole process if well documented on video on the Dúagwyn Facebook Page.) I was thrilled to see s/he is a splash, the only one of the entire hatch, and here’s what s/he looks like now, only 48 hours later:

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We decided to give the other Maran a few more hours, as its progress was much less advanced:

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S/he turned out to be a Cesarean, as well, in the end, and our first Black Copper Marans emerged, safe and well.

There were two zipping Lavender Ameraucanas through all this, and I was thrilled. Only two had hatched the day before, and I had been concerned that was all we’d get. As the day passed, I became re-concerned, as the zipping hadn’t progressed. At all.

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This was the shell of #4, aka Light Preemie, who did not look good when s/he got out:

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Dark preemie had zipped even less, and seemed even more listless upon exit. It was a long, silly story, involving, but not limited to, me bathing both preemies when it became apparent that they were encased in an armour of dried egg. Both chicks fared much better (and certainly looked better) after they’d had a bath:

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Light preemie was off to the races, after a power nap. I never worried about him/her again. Dark preemie was experiencing balance issue severe enough that s/he needed help to stand. For an hour and a half on Saturday, I held him/her to my chest, doing some form of rudimentary, improvised chicken physiotherapy.

And s/he strengthened rapidly. By dinner time Saturday, s/he was standing and walking with confidence, if still a little wobbly at times, and both preemies entered gen pop in the brooder for the night. Here they are today, just 24 hours later:

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Quite the little success story.

In less happy news, a Blue Copper Marans chick hatched (without assistance) that could not get upright. I tries shoes, I tried hobbling, but nothing helped. Here is the chick having shoes installed, to keep the toes spread and the feet flat during a critical period where the bones harden:

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Even with the shoes, the chick was only able to push itself along with floor using its feet and wings as paddles; with the hobble it couldn’t even do that. In the end, I was forced to accept that the issues were not fixable; the hips were badly malformed. And so, I experienced my first cull. It was a brutal experience.

Nietsche said what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger, but I beg to differ. If culling will be easier next time (and I’m pretty sure it will), then what doesn’t destroy me doesn’t make me stronger, it just snips the connections to empathy. What doesn’t destroy me makes me harder. And that sucks.

As if all that weren’t enough, there was a late-hatching BlackCopper Marans Saturday evening, and it needed help, and it has issues, too. (This doctoring stuff gets old fast. I’m being honest with you, here.) When I took Little Black Copper Marans out of the incubator this morning, it became immediately apparent that there were foot and leg issues. This is probably why s/he was unable to get out of the shell independently, even with a great deal of help.

Darwinism would suggest that all these chicks should have been left to die. I can see both sides of the issue. Certainly, these weaker, problematic chicks should not be used for breeding, even though it’s entirely possible their problems may not be genetic. Because…they might be. Had they been born in a hatchery, they would never have seen the light of day.

I put shoes on LBCM this morning, but I knew there was an issue with the ankle as well; the left ankle was turning inward. Chicken Debbie to the rescue! She concurred that shoes were in order, as well as a brace for the left leg to hold the foot straight. All of that looks like this:

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Poor little guy/girl. What a rough way to start life! It remains to be seen if this chick will be sufficiently independent to grow to full chickhood; I really, really hope I don’t have another “call” to make.

All this to say, in the past 48 hours, I have performed one euthanisation, and five egg surgeries. Four of those have happy endings, and one is too soon to tell, but looks promising. I have performed orthopaedic services, preemie care and physiotherapy.

I am exhausted.

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My huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

I love writing this blog, I really do. Well…most of the time. I don’t love writing the ones announcing deaths, but they are cathartic, all the same. Out with the bad air; in with the good air.

One of my favourite parts of the writing process is bringing in little bits of classical and popular culture. When I make a connection in my mind, I get a little frisson of pleasure in my nucleus accumbens, and a little voice in my head says, “Well, now. Aren’t you a clever one.”

This blog has seen references to Wagner, Hammerstein, Gertrude Stein, the Beatles, Eugene O’Neill, Stephen Colbert, and Charles Dickens, to name a few. This week, I added Dr. Suess, and now, The New Colossus. I am quite pleased with myself.

Anyway.

I have 27 eggs in the ‘bator, 25 of which have a very good chance of being alive and viable. I can only see into a few of these, however, so it is those I will be candling for internal pips, as a bellwether for the rest.

What’s an internal pip? When a developing chick reaches the end of it’s maturation, it reaches a point where it prepares to leave the shell by becoming an air breather. You know how when you crack open a hard-boiled egg (regardless of fertility), and you tap the fat end of the egg on a hard surface, there’s a space of no-egg inside? That is the air cell.

The air cell sits at the fat end of every egg, fertilised or no, and waits for the incubating chick to need it. As time passes, the shell, which is highly porous, releases moisture from inside the egg, and the size of the air cell increases. (This is why a very old egg floats when placed in water.)

As a fertilised egg passes through the incubation cycle, the air cell becomes larger (at a slower or faster rate, depending on the porousness of the shell). Many hatchers trace, in pencil, the air cell increases on the shell of an incubating egg, to note its progress.

Around Day 18, a chick embryo has consumed the contents of the egg, and prepares to leave the shell. And that looks a little something like this:

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But, before it can break the shell, it must learn to breathe. The space to the right of the chick, at the fat end of the egg? That’s the air cell, waiting for the chick to call upon it. The chick will break through the membrane that separates it from the air cell, and then rest, before pipping the egg externally.

But how do you know?! Candling often revels an internal pip, when the shadow of a beak or bill can be seen inside the air cell space. This is the moment for which I am still waiting. And waiting. And candling. And waiting.

Why is this moment so important? Because the ideal conditions for hatching are quite different than the ideal conditions for incubation. The chicks require much higher humidity to get themselves out of their shells, and must no longer be turned. Some experienced hatchers will also reduce temps in these final days. This is the time when Mama Broody Hen would glue herself to the nest and refuse to leave. This is lockdown.

Lockdown means removing a turner (if you’ve had the eggs in one) and laying the eggs on their sides on the floor of the incubator. It means humidity goes from around 30-40% up to 55-70%. It means no opening the ‘bator, dude! Babies are coming!

I want lockdown. I want it NOW.

Meet 3.0. Some assembly required.

At last, some hopeful news. I know I haven’t blogged Trixie’s death yet. I’ll do it as soon as I can bear it. Same for the obituaries.

This morning, our long-awaited hatching eggs arrived from The Garry Farm, our first hatch ever. The new Genesis 1588 has been assembled and sterilised, the brooder is even set up (not too optimistic, am I?). I went to the post office in my jammies, because I just don’t care.

Shipped eggs are notoriously difficult to hatch, as the shipping often renders them nonviable; it doesn’t take much jostling for air sacs to detach, or for eggs to be scrambled, frozen, or overheated. That said, The Garry Farm is pretty famous for the care it takes sending shipped eggs. I was hopeful.

The reviews do not exaggerate, gentle reader; each dozen arrived in a medium-sized USPS Priority Mail shipping box. Each box was lined with heavy-duty large bubble wrap, and, within, a smaller USPS Priority Mail shipping box, the 7x7x6 size. Included in the large box were detailed instructions for the handling and hatching of the eggs…and a prayer for their delivery and, well…delivery.

Now, I am not anyone’s idea of a praying woman, but, let me tell you: with all we’ve been through lately, I am very moved. I am all the more moved because I have a very strong feeling that the Garries have God’s ear. They’re the real thing, y’all.

The Stepdaughters and I each brought one of the smaller boxes up to the room set aside for incubation and brooding, as though we were carrying The Hope Diamond. Upon opening, each smaller box was lined with more bubble wrap, and the eggs were within, each egg bubble wrapped again, individually:

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To unwrap these eggs is to get a masterclass in shipping hatching eggs. I hope to ship Dúagwýn’s eggs someday in the not-too-distant future, and my customers will be the benefactors of the Garries’ instruction. All 37 eggs arrived intact, shipped from Georgia to Albany-ish, over the course of three days. (Yes, 37. There was an extra Lavender Ameraucana egg. Because that’s how the Garries roll.)

That sounds like a lot, I know, but they’re not all for us. I bought 24 eggs (it was 12, but The Man and I decided to add another dozen after our first three losses, and I’m so glad we did), and the other dozen bought by NotHeedleyWendy, who will be living and dying with this hatch along with me. How well I do will determine if she has new chicks this year. No pressure.

I did not candle. I really don’t know what to look for at this stage, and 24 of my eggs are very dark. I will take a look tonight when the room is dark, but I seriously don’t think I’ll see much. I did weigh.

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There is an extremely complex method of tracking the weight loss of a developing egg. I will be tracking just to see that they are losing weight at comparable rates. Again, I don’t know how successful candling will be for the Marans eggs.

After weighing and numbering, each egg went into the turner, inside the incubator:

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They will sit there for a few hours, coming up to room temperature, then the incubator will be closed up and turned on. The egg turner, however, will not. I have been advised to leave the eggs unturned for at least two days, to allow any detached air sacs to reattach. I am relying on the experience of those who have gone before me.

You may notice two coloured plastic straws at the bottom of the photo above. The canals for water are in a plastic tray beneath the turner, covered by 1/4″ hardware cloth. I was wondering how on earth I was going to fill them, should the need arise, without disturbing the egg turner. So, I cut two bendy straws, fed them through the hardware cloth into the canals. There they wait, easily accessible for me to add water via syringe, should the need arise.

And, there you have it, ladies and gentlechickens…3.0. Fingers crossed, please.

I have a good incubator. I have a basic understanding and good advice. I am going to try to fuss as little as possible and not deviate from the plan. I hope it goes well. I really need this. We all do.

I know nothing. Again.

I have ordered three dozen eggs for hatching, to be shipped this coming Monday: 24 for me, 12 for a friend. I did the research on the incubator, and have just been gifted a shiny, new Genesis 1588 with egg turner. So, I’m all ready to hatch me some chicks, right?

WRONG.

Great googly moogly! I had no idea how much there was to learn, and I now have precisely five days in which to learn it all. I started here, and there has several dozen links for more information. I don’t even have a candler, and most of my eggs are Marans!

I am freaking out, people!

Okay, chickeneers, I need your help. Those of you who have incubated eggs, particularly shipped eggs, please let me hear your best tips and most urgent cautions. Helpful links also gratefully accepted.

Help me make babies, y’all!

Not dead.

Hi. Long time no blog. Sorry. I finally have something to blog today, however, and, holy moly, it’s even chicken related!

I have just ordered my first-ever hatching eggs, to do my first-ever hatch. As I have mentioned before, I am going to hatch Lavender Amercaunas (true blue eggs and du a gwyn) and Blue/Black/Splash Copper Marans eggs (chocolate brown eggs, and…du a gwyn). I am consistent, if nothing else.

The Lavender Amercaunas will look like this:

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Which, frankly, was what I was hoping Mae would look like. Amercaunas should, unlike Easter Eggers, lay truly blue eggs, without any hint of green. The Blue/Black/Splash Copper Marans, which lay a dark, chocolate-brown egg will look like this:

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And this:

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And even this:

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Just like Blue Slate turkeys, there are three colours tied up in one breed, and they all look good to me.

I am hoping to have a good hatch rate, but braced for the reality that these things are an adventure and a crap shoot. In the end, I’d like to have one rooster and 2-3 hens from each breed. And they will be (say it with me)…3.0!

From whence am I getting these beautiful birds? From the Garrys of The Garry Farm in Georgia. You can learn more about The Garry Farm here, or at their Facebook page.

What’s that you say? You thought I was going to wait for Abby to go broody so I wouldn’t have to brood them myself or worry about integration? I did say that, didn’t I? Here’s the thing: I got me some baby fever.

Am I blue? T minus 30-ish. Again.

I have turkey news!

Tricia has just let me know that the hatch did not go well, and only four poults made it. These are spoken for (grumblegrumblegrumble…), but I have first dibs on the next hatch, going into the ‘bator today, with a hatch in 28 days.

Needless to say, my turkeys’ arrival is being pushed further and further forward (we started at April 6), but I am undaunted! I have been letting the universe have its way with me of late, but I am tired of being its bitch! I’m digging in my heels on this one. Gimme ma damn turkeys!

With poults landing in about a month, my dreams of integrating them with the new chicks are slipping away, and it’s unlikely the pink gazebo will reach its true potential. Perhaps the new found cage will be their brooder? By then, the weather will be very warm, indeed.

So, the chicks get to live in absolute spacious luxury for the next four weeks, and I keep waiting. To help with the wait, Tricia sent along pics of the babies. Enjoy.