Saturday, April 19, 2008

day 22 (or: and then there were six)

Chicken eggs need 21 days to incubate before they are ready to hatch. During those three weeks all sorts of changes are constantly taking place, eventually turning that microscopic little dot on the yolk into a full-fledged chick. Tons of genetic and environmental factors can influence the final outcome, however. For instance, if an incubator's temperature spikes a few degrees for an hour or so, there's a good chance all the embryos will die. I haven't had to deal with temperature spikes during my first incubation experience, but I have had humidity issues. One of the biggest was the discovery at the end of week 2 that my PetSmart hygrometer was defective. I thought I was maintaining a lovely 62% humidity for days on end, only to find out (when I finally got suspicious) that the stupid thing read 62 percent whether I put it in the 'bator or outside (where the humidity was right around 15%).

Anyway, we're at day 22 now, which means the hatch is officially overdue. But I'm not worried or anything. Nah. Not me. I've just been shining a light through the incubator window every five minutes because I have nothing better to do. Yeah, that's it. I must have stared for hours yesterday as the eggs started to rock and roll a little, and when the kids and I actually heard cheeping from a couple of the eggs this morning you would have thought Willy Wonka himself had just announced that we'd all won golden tickets.
It would have been lovely if my broody hen had been ready to set when the eggs arrived, thus allowing me to bypass all this anxiety and overwroughtedness (is that a word?). But she wasn't. She is now, though:

The other hen isn't broody at all, and I think it's because she views herself as just way too above all that sitting-on-eggs nonsense. That blue ribbon from the fair last year went straight to her head, I tell ya:

My mother-in-law (aka the genuine farmgirl in the family) came over to candle the incubator eggs a second time, this time with a more powerful candler. Unfortunately, when held to the light, most of the eggs glowed like little yellow Christmas lights (which meant there were no chicks inside). In fact, when we broke those 18 eggs open (outside in the fresh air, of course), only one of them contained an embryo, and that one looked like it had died in the first week. The others showed no sign of an embryo presence, much less development, which leads me to believe they weren't fertile in the first place, or they were scrambled by the post office en route from Florida to Arizona, or a combination of both.

Anyway, so there we were - down to six eggs. It was sad to see the incubator so uncrowded all of a sudden, but that's the breaks (especially with shipped eggs, as I've learned). The good news was that we saw definite chickage in the remaining ones. That's when the last, longest part of the wait began. I was glad to get away to Phoenix for a couple days, and then a new job started up, which kept me further occupied. There was a 4-H meeting to get ready for, too (I lead the local horse group), and that turned out to be fun. My husband gave a shoeing demonstration, and we all stood out in the arctic wind, proving what tough equestriennes we are (yeah, right).

There was a new tomcat to figure out, too. This is Mogi (short for Mogollon, which is pronounced Mogiyon)... named because the Mogollon Rim just south of Flagstaff has the dubious distinction of being one of the most lightning-struck places on the planet, and I think Mogi looks just like a grey thundercloud over the prairie.

He may be something fancy, too, like one of those Russian Blues. All I know is he's young and sweet, and he definitely seems to be sticking around. Also, those fuzzy little round things between his hind legs will be snipped off very soon.
But still, despite all these distractions, I have continued to worry, and I continued to obsessively research all the things that can go wrong not just during the incubation process, but during the actual hatching process, when you'd think you'd pretty much be in the clear. But Nooooooooooo. Chicks can drown in the air sacs before they pip the egg (make that first little hole). They can suffocate inside membranes that dry out too quickly after pipping (back to the humidity issue), and they can fail to fully absorb the yolk or hatch with their intestines hanging out. Nightmare-creating stuff, I say. I told my husband that I would have made a completely neurotic hen, so it's a good thing God made me a female human instead.

He chose the strategically intelligent response of total silence.

Then I started to worry about my kids. They've been so patient and excited during these past three weeks that the thought of a failed hatch hurt my heart on their accounts. So, I hemmed and hawed, and deliberated and thought...and then my neighbor mentioned that the feed n' grain in town was due to get another shipment of day-old Silkie chicks in the next day.

You just knew this was coming, didn't you?

There's four, one for each person in the family. Mine's the big yellow one, and I've named it Ivan the Terrible due to the fact that it unmercifully tried to peck the sh*t out of all the others their first day home. If it turns out to be a pullet and not a cockerel, I'll call her Ivanka.

I dare you to tell me the last time you saw something cuter.

I'll let you know how the hatch goes.


  1. The Olsen chicks ARE adorable! Can hardly wait to see the incubated chicks. I have really missed your blogs - I love your styly of writing - welcome back!

  2. pics pics of the new chics, please