Sunday, April 08, 2007
And that was an okay lesson. Things don't always go as planned in the messy, creative world of reproduction. Not only do good things happen. Very bad things happen too. We'll look at some of both.
I like to put my eggs in the incubator about 21 days before Easter. That's how long it takes for a chick to hatch. If you time it right, it's a really wonderful thing to come downstairs on Easter morning and hear them coming out of their shells. My dogs usually let me know as soon as there are signs of life coming from the hatching closet.
Chicks hatch at 99.5 degrees and need a steady source of humidity. You have to measure the temperature and the humidity several times a day for the entire 21 day period.
Here is the "pip". Actually this pip is enlarged, the original pip is just a tiny chip in the egg.
Chicks, when they start to hatch, first break through the membrane to practice breathing. You know that pocket of air on the big side of the boiled egg? That's what that is for. Breathing practice.
After the chick breathes up that pocket of air, they break through the shell to let more air in. The chicks have a special little "tooth" on their beak they use to do this. The "egg tooth" falls off when the chick hatches. The little bump on the "chin" of the chick in the top photo is the "egg tooth".
If this looks painful, messy and hard...it probably is. Nonetheless, it's very important not to "help" the chicks when they are emerging from the shell. That is one of the bad things that can happen. If you help a chick out of its shell, then sometimes that chick never learns to walk.
This struggle is also important for internal organ development. Chicks who are assisted at hatching don't survive, or if they do, they tend to be weak and runty. Sometimes they die later. Sometimes, they have trouble laying eggs when they grow up.
Before the chick can hatch, they must first absorb the egg yolk up into their abdomen. This allows the chicks to survive for three days without any water or food. This is why you can order chicks from a hatchery and have them arrive in the mail. They have everything they need at birth to last them three days.
The yolk is one of the last things the chick absorbs into itself. Sometimes it has already broken through the shell and is still taking the yolk up. It sort of sucks the yellow egg yolk up through what we would consider our bellybutton. When we are born, we have a cord that runs from our mother to us and provides nourishment, the chick only has its egg yolk and it takes it with him when he hatches. One of the things that can go wrong is that the yolk will fail to absorb. These chicks don't live long.
Once they are out of their shells, they stay in the incubator for about an hour or more to dry off and fluff up. They make a lot of noise while they are doing this and will sometimes go up to an unhatched egg and "peep" really loudly at it as if encouraging the chick to hatch. The chicks will imprint on you if you are the first creature they see. But they don't do it very strongly. Baby chicks sometimes do better being raised by humans rather than the hen who hatched them. They forget any attachment they feel for you in about six weeks.
They do have to be kept very warm. We use lights to do this and sometimes we use red lights. Red light doesn't show blood and baby chicks can sometimes be very mean to each other. The red light keeps them from doing that.
Some of you may be thinking..."Gee...I thought baby chicks were yellow". Well, certain breeds do produce yellow chicks. Generally, white and lighter colored chickens produce yellow chicks. Buff Orpingtons...a big fat gorgeous golden chicken...produces beautiful rich gold colored chicks. A great place to look at how chicks look next to their adult counterparts is Murray McMurray Hatcheries. They have a wonderful catalog with really beautiful chicken pictures.
My breeds of chicks are darker because they grow up into darkly patterned chickens.
Enjoy your day!