You may recall from this post earlier in the month that we have had a mixed success with our chickens. The original three, two hens and a cockerel, are alive and well and providing us with two eggs per day. Perfect. In addition, I gave Max an incubator for his birthday and we have had enormous pleasure from hatching chicks from the fertile eggs. Sadly, we lost the second lot of chicks (although they were hardly chicks as they had reached the unattractive six weeks!) to an unseen predator and then we discovered that The Blue Team were all cocks and therefore for the pot. That's the resume in a nutshell!
As some of you know, my formidable mother-in-law (Blind Granny to her blog readers) is, well, blind and we thought it would be a treat for her if we hatched some eggs during her visit here. We duly put seven eggs into the incubator 20 days before she was due to arrive, secure in the knowledge that with a 21 day incubation period the eggs would hatch 24 hours after her arrival. Unfortunately, noone had told the chicks this although in the end it worked out better than we could have hoped!
The first one was born just one hour before Granny and the others (my sister-in-law, her daughter and daughter's friend) arrived. These were followed by two more that evening and one more the following morning. So they had the full on experience you could say. My niece's friend was entranced. She lives in London and has never seen the creation of life at such close quarters. She came running in and out of the kitchen (the incubator is in the playroom next door) to tell us what was going on. It was very touching.
The picture above shows the egg, still in the incubator, with the very first visual sign that the chick is on its way. It has bashed the first, all important, hole in the shell. The rest follows quite slowly but it is very important that you don't give it a helping hand by cracking the shell. During this period you can quite often hear a cheep from inside the egg.
There is nothing remotely attractive about a new-born chick but for me there will always be the awe of the miracle of life. This hideous little thing has been out of its shell for about as long as it took me to find the camera. I'm not quite sure what the piece of string is - nothing to do with the chick at all!
At this point we put some water in the incubator (in a shallow tray with pebbles so that the chick can't drown in it) and leave it alone for a while. It gets itself up and has a drink quite quickly, then flops down again wherever it happens to be (hence the pebbles) and slowly builds up enough strength to find its legs and start moving around. The lid goes back on the incubator in order to keep the heat in - there are more eggs still to hatch and, most importantly, the newly born chick must not get cold. The chick is quite wet when it's born and the warmth helps it dry out and become what we all think of when someone says "new-born chick"...cute and fluffy!
And so our chicks hatched. From seven eggs we hatched five chicks - not bad. The other eggs showed no signs of life and after a further two days in the incubator to be sure we threw them out. The first time this happened we opened the eggs to investigate but I don't do this anymore as it can be upsetting. Just as with humans and other animals, chicks can die in the egg for no obvious reason and it is not a pleasant experience to discover this when you open the egg.
The chicks are now ten days old. Already they are developing a character, interestingly en masse. When I put my hand in to change the water or give them food they all charge towards me at once. At the first sign of a camera they all vanish into a corner. When one lies down and "plays dead" the others stand around it and gaze. The first time I saw this I was really worried but of course s/he got up and they all danced, seemingly in delight at the joke they'd played. When one discovers he can do something, the others all do it as well - have you read John Wyndham's "The Midwitch Cuckoos"? It should have been the Midwitch Chickens, but clearly he'd never seen baby chicks!
They are still in the house although probably not for much longer. At this time of year the playroom warms up just enough for the smell to be over-powering and Eau de Chick is not our favourite to be honest! Also, it is usually warmer outside than in during the day. So we will bring round the chick house that my son made and put them out in the morning and just bring them in at night.
This lot will inevitably become known as the Gang of Five, or the Fab Five perhaps, and in due course we will ring them with a green tag on their legs. This tells us which "batch" they are from and therefore what age they are. OK, we are not exactly running a huge enterprise here with hundreds of chickens running around but it's amazing how fast older chickens start looking like their brothers and sisters. We are hatching chicks for two reasons: eggs and meat. A chicken will start laying eggs at approximately 120 days (depending on the time of year); however, if we need any of the birds for meat, or if we have spare cockerels, we prefer to cull them before this - at approximately 90 days. Hence, we need to know the dates of birth and the different colour rings tell us this.