The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Chick hatching roller coaster

Newly hatched chickLearning to hatch chicks is a roller coaster of emotion.  The excitement of the first pipping, worry as nothing happens for hours, elation as a healthy chick pops out of the shell.  Then agony as a chick that was nearly hatched is accidentally clawed by its recently hatched sibling and perishes without quite making it out of the egg.  More sadness as I autopsy four other dead chicks --- one made the beginning of an exit hole in the egg 36 hours previously then gave up and three are nearly fully formed but are unaccountably dead in the shell.  I bury them under the peach tree and remind myself that this first trial is a learning endeavor and we did get two live chicks.

Day old chickBut can they play together?  The chick that hatched Sunday afternoon is already drinking and running about in its brooder by Monday at lunch while its sibling hatched nearly a day later and gets brutally pecked when I introduce it to the brooder.  All the youngest chick wants to do is to sleep off its exertions, so I clean out the wet, foul-smelling incubator and pop the chick back in for a few more hours of solitary confinement.  But this morning, the late chick is belly up in its incubator --- late-hatched chicks often don't make it through the first day.

I'll be posting the scientific side of what I learned and our plans for the next hatch over on our chicken blog later in the week.  For now, though, I'm just practicing my deep breathing and reminding myself that this was an experiment and I said I'd be happy with one living chick.

Our first chick found its chicken waterer right away --- no chance of dehydration or drowning!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Very sad. I'm sorry. But it's still great that you got one chick on your first try and think how much you learned!
Comment by Heather Tue Apr 19 08:37:11 2011
I was sorry to read this. I agree with Heather, though as I am sure you do. It is a real success to have that one surviving chickie. Good luck!
Comment by Maggie Tue Apr 19 10:20:02 2011
I'm sorry as I can imagine how stressful and emotional this would be for me if I were going through this. But I'm hoping this trial found you a very fit chick that will be the foundation of a new flock.
Comment by Lisa Tue Apr 19 11:13:25 2011
When I had my laying chickens I was so involved and attached that when one died I cried. I do not like to see a grown man cry especially when it's me. It has been nearly forty years now but I can remember each and everyone of them. I just may do it again if I can get by the dread of the emotional rollercoaster. For the eggs only of course as I will never kill again.
Comment by Oldfool Tue Apr 19 12:17:00 2011
Thanks, everybody, for your kind words! That's life on the farm, and it is worth it in the long run. Mowing the garden aisles tends to put everything in perspective. :-)
Comment by anna Tue Apr 19 12:53:32 2011
Oldfool --- I try to keep from getting emotionally involved with the livestock, but its tough with chicks. Strangely, it was much more painful to deal with the dead chicks than with slaughtering our own chickens --- we were prepared for that and they had a happy life.
Comment by anna Tue Apr 19 13:00:31 2011

I would consider This successful. You got one new chick and a handsome one at that. My first try last year I incubated 30 eggs and ended with 3 chicks. Second try 24 eggs and 4 pips and no chicks. Humidity to low I think?

Wouldn't it be easier if we just had a few broody hens. I would gladly fight them for eggs on a daily bases if I knew she would sit for me on occasion. I think I'll put an add on craiglist looking for anyone wanting to rid themselves of a broody girl.

Congrats and I bet you will have more success the next round. In later spring you can do away with the space heater and have a more even temp to work with.

Comment by Erich Tue Apr 19 13:50:32 2011

I really appreciate you sharing your experience. It makes me feel less like I failed the chicks and more like hatching at home is tough and low results are to be expected the first time around. Hopefully I'll learn from my mistakes and do better next time!

I totally agree that the broody hen option looks better and better...if you can get a good broody hen! I tried the craigslist route with no luck. It seems like the chickens most people raise have broodiness bred out of them and it's tough to find a good mother hen.

As a result, we've decided to buy some Cuckoo Maran eggs since they're what Harvey Ussury uses for his broody hens and he's in a similar climate. If we can get any of them to hatch, maybe by next year we'll be working with a couple of broody hens!

Comment by anna Tue Apr 19 16:20:30 2011

I had a similar experience with my incubator last year. My wife accidentally left a window open overnight above the incubator, and the eggs got chilled. Only about half a dozen (from 40-odd eggs) survived the hatching, and half of those died within the first couple of days. Very disappointing, to say the least.

For the next batch of chicks, I put 12 fertile eggs under a broody hen. She broke two accidentally and the other 10 hatched. Two more died very young (I don't know the cause), and I found another one dead a few months later (I think one of my other chickens may have killed it). But the remaining 7 are big and strong and doing very well. They're probably only a month or so off laying/crowing now.

Incubators are great when you can get the conditions right. Broodies are great when you have a good one. Both will cause you heartbreak when they don't cooperate! :-(

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Thu Apr 21 01:15:22 2011
Thanks for sharing your experience --- again, it makes me feel better. :-) We'll keep trying, and I suspect we'll do better next time! The hatch rate under your broody hen actually sounds really good to me, though....
Comment by anna Thu Apr 21 07:48:25 2011

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