Saturday, August 27, 2016

Spring chickens

The last few days have been hectic. The kind of hectic you plan for and anticipate, but you never know what it's going to be like, until the actual day arrives.

For the past 21 days, I set some 20 chicken eggs, in our incubator. I forgot to turn the eggs, once, in the first week. You're supposed to turn them twice a day. Plus I had a temperature fluctuation, a few days in. It dropped by a few degrees, overnight. So I didn't even know if we were going to get any chicks at all.

Then on day 20, at precisely midday, our first egg hatched...

Egg #1

I wanted to check which eggs were viable, as we had a new rooster on the job. So I numbered all the eggs from one to twenty, as I collected them. Since they were only laying 3-4 eggs a day, it took several days to collect enough. Number one, was in the first group to be collected, so it was one of the oldest eggs. Can you guess which one hatched first? Yes, it was "1" and thus, we are naming them, number one.

Our eldest has taken a liking to them in particular, because they are both the first born in their family!


This is still number one, only a few more hours older. They're wet when first born, and once their down dries, they look like little fluff balls.  Although the humidity in the incubator meant, their down didn't get completely dry yet.

The next egg to hatch however, was number eight.

Egg #8

Eight, came much later on day 20. Like, eight hours later at 8pm. Number eight, eight hours later, at eight PM! You will find many of the numbers have bizarre placements as we go along. But we worried initially, that the first chick would be a lone survivor. Because although several other eggs had pipped (meaning the chicks had broken the egg with their egg tooth) nothing much had happened for eight, excruciating hours!

Number eight, looks just like the first chick, only it has a dark coloured beak. As they are both yellow, they will both grow in white feathers. We're dealing with Isa Brown, crossed with a Leghorn rooster, who is also part Isa Brown. So the colours are all going to be very different!

The third, and last to be born on day 20, was number 16. They hatched just 45 minutes after the last, and at that point, we didn't known how many more would hatch the next day. Twenty-one days, is the final day. Anything after that, won't likely hatch or won't likely survive, if they do. As they tend to be too weak.

New arrivals, from eggs #15, #17 and #19

Sometime overnight however, three more hatched. The three up front (to the right) were the day 20 hatchlings. The single one to the left, and the two at the back, were the new arrivals. You can see, some more eggs had pipped, but we still didn't know what day 21 would bring. Sometimes nature doesn't always deliver, and the chicks simply die in their shells.

The next two eggs to hatch, virtually happened at the same time.

Egg #2

Number two hatched at 6.30am. We didn't see the other chicks hatch (we were alerted by their peeping instead) but it was amazing to see the chicks slowly emerge from their shells.

Nearly at the same time, number four, hatched...So number 2 and four, were 7th and 8th to hatch. We think of them, as the twins.

Egg #4

At this point, we were very happy with the outcome. Eight chicks, wasn't a bad turnaround, for something I wasn't sure would even succeed. But there were still more surprises to come.

Number fourteen, arrived at 6.45am, and a half hour later (at 7.15am) number ten made it! What is so funny about number ten is, their placement in the que.

Egg #10

Just as number one, came first - number ten, came tenth! Dab smack in the middle of 20 eggs, number ten, hatched tenth. I was glad in the fact, I decided to number them, as I collected their eggs from the nest. It made hatching all the more interesting!

Something bad happened after 10 though. My son got a hold of our camera. I normally kept it well out of reach, but I left it in the laundry to take pictures, as the chicks emerged. It just so happened, he dropped my camera after number 10 was born, and cracked something inside. It no longer works.

So the next photos, I took with the camera in my smart phone. Which happened to be after I relocated all the chicks, from out of the incubator and into the brooder.

Recovering in the brooder

We got quite a variety of colours in the end. Even some with racing stripes! That was egg number 20, and born eleventh. This racing stripe however, is indicative of a brown leghorn. We were never told which coloured leghorn, fathered our working rooster, but there was a chick born with feathers on it's legs too. So there's definitely more in the mix, than anyone knows.

In the end, we got 15 chicks out of 20 eggs. There was only one casualty. Number eighteen (born thirteen) made a lot of noise after they hatched. Plus they couldn't stand up initially. They kept flipping onto their back, with their feet in the air. I eventually assessed they had crooked neck, indicative of their inability to keep their head up, and a small lump on top of their head.

If you want to read about crooked neck, you can do so, here. It's most likely genetic, and it means part of the brain has been injured.

The brood

Luckily, I have successfully treated something similar before, and thus far, the chick has shown some improvement. They have more control over their neck, and can get about to eat and drink. You can see them in the picture above (bottom, centre) with a little red bump, poking through the top of their yellow down.

Egg #18, aptly named "Mumble" from the movie:
Happy Feet

I had to sprinkle some antiseptic power on top of that bump, to help disguise it. As the chicks kept pecking at it. That's how chicks learn to eat - by noticing things which stand out. They instinctively go over and peck at it.

We will have to watch and see how Mumble goes. They have been accepted by the group and hasn't been pecked at, since applying the powder. Which is a good sign. They all had their first day out on the grass already, and loved to sleep in the sunshine. Most of the time however, they stay in the heated brooder, as they can't regulate their body temperature yet.

Now we have to repatriate a chicken tractor for outside, since we totalled the last one. I can't believe it's taken us 6 years to fix it! I guess we've been busy.

In closing though, I thought to share something really fascinating about the eggs which didn't hatch. They were all odd numbers: 3, 5, 9, 11 and 13.


  1. How fascinating, Chris. Aren't they just gorgeous? What a shame about your camera but your phone photos are pretty good too.

  2. Oh gorgeous!!

    What a lovely thing to do. I look forward to doing this with the boys. Xx

  3. It's as close to a miracle as I have ever seen. Hatching eggs are just a fascinating piece of nature for sure.

  4. How beautiful, Chris. I would have been beside myself with nervousness! What a great experience for the kids to see life emerging.
    When will you introduce them to the mother hen? What will happen, since she didn't sit on them or see them hatch. Will she reject them? Who will show them how to peck and find food? Endless questions!

  5. Thanks everyone. We certainly think they're gorgeous and miraculous in being born. Both our kiddos enjoyed the experience too. While I wasn't happy with the camera being broken, Nanna Chel, I have to accept I was distracted, and toddlers are extremely prone to accidents. ;) Thankfully it was only a cheap camera.

    If I had a broody hen, foodnstuff, I would have gladly given her the job of incubating and rearing. It's so much easier when the mum's do it for you. But I didn't have a broody hen. If I attempt to give them to a none broody hen, they will more than likely view them as food, and kill them unfortunately.

    When we first introduce the chicks to the brooder, we have their food and water already set up. They're more interested in resting than eating, in the first 24 hours. They still have the nutrients from their egg sack to sustain them for up to 24 hours. After that however, all I have to do is wiggle my finger in the food and water, to mimic what mum would do. They run over immediately, to inspect and peck.

    That's how mama hen teachers them in nature, and it seems to work with just a little bit of encouragement from us too. They're doing well, even Mumble, so I'm pleased. Thanks for asking your questions. :)

  6. Chooks are so interesting. It is amazing to me that a non broody hen is likely to eat the little chicks.

    1. Sorry I didn't reply sooner Sherri. It's the broodiness which changes a hen into mother mode. Which means protection mode. Otherwise they're your regular omnivore, looking for an easy meal.

  7. I absolutely loved reading this. I was so excited for the end to find out how many babies made it. well done mama hen!

    1. Thanks Clarissa. It is exciting incubating eggs, and seeing what happens. :)

  8. The miracle of life in your hands! The photos are really awesome in this post btw. we were given two wild duck eggs last year, in an attempt to save them since a farmer flowed down the nest and the mom. They hatched but unfortunately in no time, they died-due to gnats apparently. I don't wish to go through that again. Even our llama was sad about this. I just didn't know-a friend just thrust the eggs on us, told us to keep them in the barn with the chickens in a cage. Not a good idea.

    1. Sad about the ducks, but you did your best. It's great they managed to hatch though. Do you still have your llama? I'm happy if you do, because he sounded like such a character. :)


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