One week ago, our dining room was a frenzy of hatching eggs. Well, if 8 chicken eggs qualifies as a frenzy! As some of you know, our first foray into incubating eggs last spring ended in the hatching of just three chicks. We were determined to improve the outcome and educate ourselves for this year’s adventure. Things did, in fact, go much better…
In many ways, this hatching was quite textbook. We heard our first peeping in the morning of Day 20–meaning that at least one chick had broken through into the airsack and we could hear the cheep, cheep as she took her first gulps of air. By mid-day on Day 20, we were seeing the first little “pips” in a couple eggs–these are the tiny holes first made by the pecking chick inside. Once a chick pecks through the egg shell, it generally will rest about 8-12 hours before working it’s way out of the shell.
When we went to bed on Thursday evening, there were 3 pipped eggs out of the eight still in the incubator.
When Kori got up in the middle of the night (or early morning, actually) to check on the incubator, one soppy yellow chick had just hatched at 3 am! The hatch had officially begun. In addition to the two pipped eggs from the day before, there were three more eggs with little holes. By the time we got up around 5 o’clock on the morning of Day 21, the two other eggs were “zipping” or “un-zipping”–these are the terms used for the activity of the chick pecking all around 3/4 of the egg before kicking free and hatching!
Once a chick starts zipping–working her way around the circumference of the egg, it generally takes 45 minutes to an hour before the job is done. Things tend to move rather quickly at this stage and it can be fascinating to watch as the egg shell comes away from the chick’s labors. The next two checks were born rather early in the morning on Day 21…and then there were three hatched chicks! And 4 more pipped eggs! One of those eggs was actually showing a tiny hole on the “wrong” end of the egg. Normally, developing embryos settle themselves with their feet to the small end of the egg and the air sack will be at the thicker end. During the hatch, they peck their way around that thicker end after pecking into the air sack. This embryo was obviously turned upside down and we weren’t at all sure how that would affect it’s ability to get free.
After a few hours, the first three chicks were dry and fluffed and wrecking havoc on the remaining eggs in the incubator as they shuffled, tumbled and climbed around. We decided to quickly remove them into the heated and waiting brooder, clean out the egg pieces and leave the rest to hatch. It is a good idea to NOT open the incubator during the hatch as one can lower the temperature and humidity at a crucial time, so we decided to work very quickly to minimize risk.
By late afternoon, three more chicks had hatched and the final blue-green Ameraucana egg pipped. Kori left to pick Teri up from work around 5 pm and when we got home, another chick had hatched in our absence. It was at this point we realized that there was a chance that all 8 eggs could actually hatch! We had been hoping for a successful hatching of 5 eggs with fingers crossed, and hadn’t dreamed that all the eggs might hatch.
At the end of the evening, we again removed the four dried and fluffed chicks, quickly pulled out the big pieces of broken egg shell and left two eggs in the incubator–each with a tiny pipped hole. We’d been watching eggs and hatching chicks for just about 18 hours and things had gone rather quickly. All hatches are different and can last anywhere from 24 hours to a few days. The quicker the hatch, however, the better things are all around. The six hatched chicks were exhausted and sleeping all snuggled up in the warm brooder. It takes the chicks a day or so to get steady on their legs and they tend to snooze a lot in the first 24-48 hours of life.
Early the next morning of Day 22, both the remaining eggs were starting to zip. The Ameraucana hatched by 5:30 am or so and once she hatched, her peeping and flopping seemed to encourage the final egg–that upside-down chick–and the zipping started in earnest. This final egg took longer than the others–maybe because it was atypical and by 7 am, the final little chick had flopped into the world–all 8 eggs had hatched!
As we write this, the chicks are just over one week old. They are getting louder, sassier and more adventuresome in their brood box. We have already lowered the temperature by about 5 degrees and they didn’t even seem to notice. Their wing feathers are coming in quickly and they are sleeping less and spending more time leaping off of the perches and feeding station.
We are trying to figure out which ones will be roos, but we won’t know for sure for a few more weeks. We definitely have our suspicions! Meanwhile, we’re having fun watching their daily changes and taking advantage of the opportunity to pet and play as we did not get this chance when Hilda hatched her chicks last summer–she was quite the protective mama!