Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hatching Chicks

A new classmate
Prior to Jack Sparrow's demise, I collected a few of the girls' eggs that were likely fertilized by him. I really loved his coloring, so thought it might be fun to see if we could get a few baby "Jacks" by hatching them ourselves. It turned out to be much more complicated than I thought it would. 

(Note: I have a really old styrofoam incubator, that doesn't seem to maintain temp very well.)

21 days ago, I brought in 9 eggs and placed them in the incubator. Since the thermostat "seems" to be off, I bought an external thermometer/hygrometer to I could attempt to monitor temperature and humidity. I also picked up an automatic egg turner. Twice a day I headed to the basement to make sure the temp wasn't vacillating too widely, trying to keep an even 99-101 degrees. The basement is where I figured the ambient temperature was least likely to fluctuate. It's always chilly, but not terribly cold down there. The process was not quite a nightmare, but it was difficult. At least I wasn't opening the incubator (releasing heat and moisture) to turn eggs three times a day! Nevertheless, I was constantly tweaking the temp controller.

Having totally forgotten to go down and check on Sunday (due to a very "important" AFC playoff game, which, sadly, we lost), I ran down first thing Monday morning to remove the egg turner. To my surprise, and great disappointment, in myself, one of the eggs had hatched; the poor little chick had fallen upside down in the water in the bottom of the pan. I was in tears. Opening the incubator, I gently removed the tiny, wet body. As I was debating what to do with it, I heard a glorious cheeping from another egg! I turned it over to find that the chick was pipping!

Pipping. No change after 12 hours of watching the egg wiggle then rest, wiggle then rest.
Moving quickly, I removed the eggs from the turner and placed wet paper towels in the bottom of the pan. (No more drowned chicks!) Then I carried the incubator upstairs so we could watch this miracle unfold. So we watched, and watched, and watched. The egg chirped, wiggled, rested, cheeped, wiggled, rested. All day with no progress. I felt like a mama, pacing the floor waiting for labor to start!

After watching the struggle for over 12 hours, I decided to intervene. I researched to make sure intervention wouldn't be more harmful than helpful, then dove in. I heated up a rice filled cloth bag, found a dropper, collected some very warm water and a pair of blunt edged tweezers and went to work. Very carefully placing the egg on the warm rice bag, I used the blunt tweezers to peel back some of the egg shell, leaving the membrane intact. I worked a small "strip" where it looked like our little guy (or girl) had been attempting to chip away the shell. (I peeled about 1/4" strip of eggshell). Then I put a few drops of water on the membrane (to help soften it) and placed the egg back in the incubator.

After "helping" our little chick, we finally saw progress!

 Another hour later, little Puffin kicked his/her way clear of the eggshell. It was so amazing to watch: its little chest heaving as he struggled with his shell, little wet feathers peeking out of the cracks, the tiny egg tooth chipping away. Then suddenly, a flutter, a push, flapping of wings and Puffin was "born." And now we have one adorable baby chick. 

Here he/she comes!

About 12 hours old.
After 24 hours, moved to the new "nursery."

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