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:

LL

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.

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Bad egg! BAD EGG!!!!

This morning, Steve asked me an excellent question on the D├║agwyn Facebook Page. How do you know when an incubating egg is nonviable? The simple answer is: I don’t, but I’m surrounded by generous, experienced people who do.

The incubation period for chicken eggs is only 21 days, a very short time to go from zygote to fully-functional, independent being, although it doesn’t seem so to me at the moment. This remarkable transformation goes a little something like this:

chick_embryo_development1

As you can see, there’s a whole lot of growing that needs to happen each and every day. We can’t see the development as it’s happening inside a shell as graphically as above, of course, but we can see a shadow puppet show of it, in slow motion, through candling. Candling is the shining of a bright light through the developing egg, revealing silhouettes of growth, like this:

f996bd1d_chickencollage

Candling is made much, much more difficult when one of two kinds of eggs are hatched:

  1. Very dark brown eggs, because the depth of colour of the bloom can make light penetration meager. Eggs such as these are laid by Marans and Welsummers
  2. Blue-shelled eggs, because, unlike all brown eggs, no matter how dark, the shells are blue all the way through; it’s not just dark bloom painted onto a white shell. These eggs are laid by Easter Eggers, Araucanas and Ameraucanas.

I am hatching Marans and Ameraucanas. Getting the picture? Because I’m not. There are special, high-intensity candlers for these kinds of eggs. I do not possess one. I will be in the market for one for next spring when 4.0 comes into the world, which presumes there will be a 3.0.

But…I grow maudlin.

What’s a freshman hatcher to do, when she can’t even see into her eggs properly? She guesses, she asks questions, and she waits. A lot. Especially when the eggs being evaluated were purchased at considerable cost and shipped considerable distance, and they’re not all hers.

Why not wait until hatch day, then, and just see what happens? As it turns out, very, very bad things can happen. A nonviable egg, dead, essentially, kept at a steady 100-degree heat over the course of three weeks might well explode, contaminating the other (live) inhabitants of the incubator, and, according to all reports, rendering your home inhabitable for quite some time. This is to be avoided.

To toss or not to toss? A difficult question, at the best of times; a damnable question when a virgin hatcher with failing eyesight is looking into dark, murky eggs. There is a time, however, when dark realities can no longer be avoided. On Day 18 (where 3.0 is today), a viable, incubating egg should be nearly full with chick, the yolk almost completely consumed. Save the air cell, there should be almost no light going through the shell when candled, thusly:

LL

So, if on Day 18, one should see this while candling…

DSCF4259a

…one would need to assume that the embryo, once viable, has “quit” for one reason or another decreed by Mother Nature in her ineffable wisdom. I removed ten such eggs last night after candling. It was painful.

I have two eggs in the ‘bator still which I am 90% sure are nonviable; they look much more like Day 14 eggs than Day 18 eggs (which is to say half full), but I haven’t the heart or the stones to toss them.

We are in the final hours of Day 18 as I write, and still no internal pips that would signal the beginning of lockdown, all of which I will go into in more detail when it happens.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have to go candle.