Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the quick and the dead

Well, it was quite a weekend. Our hatch that was due on Friday didn't start making an appearance until Sunday. Here is some of what we saw when things started moving along:

This was on of the first "pips" in the shell that we saw:

After a chick pips, it "zips" the shell -sort of pecks away in a semi-circle until it's able to start pushing its way out:

It's so exciting to see that first real fissure in the egg shell start opening up:

Then you start to see some feathers. Silkies have black skin (and even black bones, apparently), so even the lighter-colored ones look black when they're still wet at hatching time:

There's one little claw:

Free at last!

...except for this darned sombrero, which was a bit hard to shake:

Ah, nap time. Nobody told us they were going to look and act like drunken space aliens who'd been severely slimed on their journey to Earth:

This is a bit more comfortable:

And before long, there's a buddy in the 'bator:

By late Sunday night, we had three new chicks and one more pipped egg. The chick that took the longest to zip the shell (about 30 hours) had its feet curled into little clenched fists, so it wasn't able to get around like the others. I ended up splinting its tiny, weak toes to try to straighten them out, after being told that this should be done ASAP. For a while it looked like it was rallying: I'd dipped the tip of its beak in water and tried to introduce it to some warm chick starter mash so it could get its energy up. By last night, though, my husband and I agreed that it didn't look good, and despite all efforts my son went into the bathroom first thing this morning and woke me up to tell me that he thought it had died. Sadly, he was right. It was hard, but it wasn't a shock; and I also knew we'd done as much as we could for the little one. So, we had a chick funeral first thing this morning before school. My son asked me if the burial spot was a chicken graveyard now, since that's also where we buried his prize-winning rooster after it was killed by dogs last fall. I told him I guessed it was.

So, that was a little somber, but it wasn't the hardest part. The hardest part was when I went to check on the remaining pipped/zipping egg in the incubator. Since yesterday it had been making progress, but it was very slow progress. Last night, my mother-in-law and I debated about maybe putting it under the broody hen to see if that would move things along, but we eventually decided that leaving it undisturbed would be the better option. I wish I'd paid more attention and intervened, though, because it didn't take long for me to realize that, though it had about a centimeter of the shell zipped, there were no cheeps and no signs of life as there had been last night. Sure enough, when I took the egg out and started picking away at the shell with my fingernail, I could see that the little chick had died, probably at some point during the night.

Part of the problem, I believe, was that it had pipped the wrong end of the shell (the smaller, pointy end), which meant it didn't have as much room to move around and peck itself out. The chick was also huge (and perfect looking), so I'm pretty sure it suffocated in there. That was the part that got to me - the fact that I could have easily chosen to get in there and help it out if I had maybe paid closer attention and realized the chick was in trouble. That was the part - that sense of culpability - that had me sitting out on the back step with the dead chick still partially cradled in its egg bawling my eyes out. If only.

But I have to remind myself that I didn't know. That even experienced egg hatchers lose chicks at all stages of the incubation and hatch process. It's a beautiful and brutal thing, this life and death business. Now, it's time to tend to the life part, to the sweet little survivors:


  1. Life and death is part of life. Great lessons for the kids... and you, too :-) You got two absolutely beautiful chicks there, farm girl!

  2. Yeah, I know, but I'm one of those tender-hearted gals where my critters are concerned - too tender-hearted to be an authentic farm girl, I think.


  3. Would I sound awful if I said this was a beautiful post?

    They are lovely chicks. I'm really thinking of getting some chickens for my backyard but I don't know who'd take care of them when the kids and I take off to the farm for a couple weeks in the summer. I have got to catch up on my reading here... I'll live vicariously through your chicken raising adventures!

    What an experience for your kids. Good for you.

  4. Thanks, Heidi. I've been trying to catch up with your blog, too, but you're just so darned productive. Seems as soon as I've gone back to the last post I've read you've posted two or three more!

  5. It doesn't matter what kind of newborn creature we're awaiting, we all feel responsible for those that are in our care. Yet so much of it is out of our hands. We are really just "observers" in that bigger picture of life wishing we had all the answers so we could fix the hard things.

  6. MiKael, thank you for that beautifully phrased comment. You're definitley someone who "gets" this particular kind of sorrow as an Arabian horse breeder, and your words helped perk up that sad little place in my heart a little.

    I see you've posted some Daffodil show posts, too, so I'll have to go back and read those.