Saturday, 9 May 2015

HOW TO: Hatch a chick

This isn't a normal post for this blog, however after worrying about these little creatures hatching over 72 hours and finding quite a bit of conflicting advice on the internet, I thought I'd write what happened to us first time brooders and how we dealt with the issues that came up, hopefully helping other people learn from our mistakes.

In April, the Lad came back from work with a six pack of little white eggs. I was like, wtf? He said: I've just traded these fertilised eggs for two bottles of homebrew.

I've three things to point out here:
1. He has never done anything like this before.
2. One of our hens, Bruce, spends half the year broody so we already had somewhere to heat and look after the eggs.
3. My family have owned chickens most of my life, hatched several broods and, like most people in the world, I'm very partial to a cute chick.

So we shoved these eggs under Bruce and waited. Chickens reproduce like clockwork - it's as though a little timer goes off on Day 21 and hey presto, you got yourself a baby chicken. Even though Day 21 is usual, it's also not uncommon for chicks to hatch before or after that and still be healthy.

Day 21 came and I found a dead chick still in it's smashed egg. Turns out, our other hen hates hatching chicks - who knew? - so we separated the hens by putting Nugget (our second hen) into one of our recycling boxes in the kitchen on a night and closing the coop door on Bruce during the day.

Day 22 and we get another chick, this time alive! I name it Pip and go to work. When I come back, Pip is cold dead at the other side of the run. She squeezed through a tiny gap in the doorway of the coop, fell out and stumbled about before, we assume, getting super cold and dying. I hate myself for not making sure the door was closed fully. But, to stop any more mishaps, we swap the hens, bringing Bruce and the remaining four eggs inside in the recycling box and putting Nugget in the coop.

Early Day 23. I wake up to two chicks alive and well under Bruce. Both cheeping their tits off. We candle (by shining my iphone torch directly up to the edge of the eggs) the last two eggs. One isn't fertilised, the other looks to have a chick bundled up into one half of the egg. It's moving about and chirping, but doesn't appear to have 'internally pipped' (when the chick bursts through it's internal membrane before 'externally pipping' through the actual shell).

Day 23, it pips externally! Excitement all round.

Later in Day 23, the chick is cheeping away, but not moving very much and the pip hole isn't very big.

Much later in day 23. 
The other two chicks are fluffy and moving around outside the comfort of Bruce's shelter. She's started showing them how to peck at food and they've started pooing. Even though chicks survive off the yolk of their eggs for a few days before eating, I assume that once they start pooing, they'll need external nourishment to replace the initial yolk absorbtion.

Much, much later on Day 23.
The pip hole in the third is still the same and the chick seems completely jeffed. I pull little pieces of shell off around the pip hole to make it bigger, but the chick doesn't do much. I take it out from under Bruce every half hour for a couple hours, but still nothing. So, we decide (after reading online articles/forums) to peel a bit more shell off. The membrane at this point is pretty crusty round the pip hole. After pulling a reasonably large chunk of shell around the tiny beak off, there's quite a bit of blood on the inside of the shell, but after comparing it to the empty shells of the other two chicks, not too much to make us unduly concerned. We watched the chick push its way out the remaining cocoon of shell and see that it's attached by a weird thread of blood to the inside of the shell. I was going to put it back under Bruce, but as I moved, the chick went for it and shoved the egg off and away from itself completely. It left this weird tiny clump of red on it's arse. I was pretty worried now because chickens love to peck at red. Red nail polish, red coloured food, blood. Whatever, they lurve pecking at red. So we took a gamble and put it back under Bruce, sans egg. It was chirping away quite happily so I reckoned that if it started being brutalised, I'd hear about it soon enough. After 30 minutes I went back, picked it up and it looked exactly like the other two had just after hatching and the red arse had disappeared leaving a nice clean pink arse.

Early Day 24. 
All chicks are fluffy, gorgeous, chirping verrrry loudly and stumbling about all over the place.The last chick is a lot weaker than the other two, but seeing as the first was born over 24 hours before this one, I reckon that it's just playing catch up at the moment.

Day 24.
I begin to present the chicks with wet chick mash. Bruce loves it as she's not been drinking very much these past few days and the moisture seems to be agreeing with her belly (cue, weird digestion noises). All the chicks are way more active, regularly coming out from under Bruce to stagger about the confines of the recycling box. We had them out of the box, whilst we cleaned the old shells and changed the sawdust out, but Bruce seemed a bit concerned with all the s p a c e around her so we popped them back in pretty quick.

Late Day 24.
We thoroughly clean the coop out, dusting it with mite powder and putting a thick layer of sawdust down on top. Technically, chicks and mite powder don't mix, so we leave them inside in the recycle box to let the powder in the coop settle down.

Day 28.
We moved the chicks out into the coop (and fixed the door so none can get out without supervision). Due to magpies being spotted around the area, we've made a cage, of sorts, to put over Bruce and the chicks whilst they're outside to protect them from potential overhead attacks. The run itself is secure so none of the chicks can escape, but there's usually no overhead cover. Bruce doesn't particularly like it, but it's keeping her bambinos safe so until they get bigger, she'll have to put up with it.

Day 30 and all three chicks are doing really, really well. All of them are eating and although the youngest is always falling behind the other two, she's on a par with how the others developed the day before. Every single day they do something new or I spot something different about them - a tail! a feather! no more baby beak! It's crazy and I love it.

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