On March 27, Robin and I placed 36 eggs from our hens into a borrowed Styrofoam incubator.
After carefully reading the instructions and the section on incubator hatching in Raising Chickens for Dummies, we marked the eggs with a pencil: an x on one side...
and an o on the other.
Doing so was important, for the eggs had to be turned at least twice a day, and having the x and o on each one made it easy to know which ones had already been turned. Robin has some experience with hatching chicks, both with an incubator and with a real live hen, but it had been many years since he had done so. I, on the other hand, have only last summer's experience with 80-some chicks that arrived by mail.
On a warm June morning, close to a year ago now, we picked up our order of baby chicks at the local post office. The box containing over 80 three-day old chicks was considerably smaller than a suitcase and made the final leg of its journey from the Iowa hatchery in the back of a very large truck.
we took it home and settled the babies into two large cattle feed tubs in our basement.
The next four weeks were busy with feeding and watering dozens of little mouths and cleaning up after those same dozens of little fuzzy behinds. Add to that the derecho storm and the 7-day heat wave that followed with no electricity, and this chick mama was pretty frazzled indeed. But, thanks to some divine protection from my inexperience, we lost only one baby chick. Weeks later, when the flock was big enough to survive in the chicken yard with the grownups, we divided them with my brother-in-law. And weeks after that, sadly, many of the roosters found their way into our freezer, since a hen can only take so much. And just recently, a wily 'ole fox managed to make off with almost a dozen of our little chicks-that-grew-into-hens before we were able to (hopefully) fence him out.
Not to be outdone, Robin set about replacing those lost hens by borrowing his sister's incubator and hatching babies at home. I was a bit skeptical, having never attempted such a thing, but if it didn't work, we wouldn't be out much: just some eggs and a little electricity. And so, I dutifully turned all 36 eggs every morning and every night, checking the incubator's thermometer to make sure the temperature stayed at 99.5 degrees.
I also had to keep a little water in the bottom, as the eggs needed humidity as well as heat to develop properly. On the 18th day, I stopped turning the eggs, as the directions said to do, reason being that around that time, the chick gets itself into the proper position for hatching. If the eggs are turned after that, the little fella has to re-orient himself, which uses up some of the energy he needs to break out of his shell. After almost three weeks of carefully tending what seemed to be inanimate objects, I was genuinely surprised when I heard the first "cheep" come from the incubator yesterday morning.
When I looked through the viewing windows in the top, sure enough, one of the eggs had a tiny hole!
And it was peeping! There was a little chick inside, working hard to get out, and letting the world know he was on the way. Like most births, it took a while - a couple of hours, at least - but finally the larger end of the shell broke open and a very wet and very homely chick lay panting from the effort.
Several more eggs had begun to hatch as well, so we spent the evening going back and forth, checking on their progress.
By bedtime, the oldest chicks were almost completely dry. We fixed a box in the basement - again - with a heat lamp, food and water. As the babies dried, we moved them downstairs, where they could flop and cheep without disturbing the eggs still to hatch. When I finally went to bed at midnight, we had four babies in the basement and three wet ones still in the incubator. This morning, there were seven in the incubator! Two more have hatched today, bringing us up to thirteen. Thankfully, they all seem to be healthy and strong. I don't know if all the eggs will hatch, but I'm delighted that a least a third of them did. Not bad for a chick mama who didn't have a clue what she was doing!
It's a lovely story with some valuable lessons for all ages: hard times come, worry doesn't help anything, and waiting and watching with a little faith can change everything. Who knew there was so much to learn from sweet, simple eggs???