Sunday, April 08, 2007

Spring Chicks

see that little bump on his beak tip? that's an "egg tooth"

It is once more, time for me to do my Easter lesson on baby chicks and the hatching process. I do this each year so that kids can get to see a chick hatch least on the internet. They don't do this in schools as they did when I was young, I'm told. And it's probably a good thing, since, as many times I saw a class try to hatch seldom worked.

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.

The Pip

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 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!


  1. Lynetta said...
    I'm no kid, but I loved this and learned from it. Thanks Rosie!
    Chris said...
    Awwww, those chicks are supercute!

    So Simone basically had a middle-class lifestyle in Southern California as opposed to a lavish one, right? Would it be safe to say that she was affluent?

    Happy Easter, Rosie!
    Manerva said...
    Perfect Easter Post! My babies are already turning into teenagers. They grow up so fast!

    Happy Easter.
    Anonymous said...
    Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry used to have a chick hatching setup. People would stay and watch a l-o-n-g time until "their" chick was out of the egg and standing.
    Anne Johnson said...
    Okay, so food porn isn't enough. Now you gotta give us chick porn. Chocolate be damned, those chicks are the cutest thing I've ever seen!
    BBC said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Paul said...
    Gives new meaning to "cute chicks..."
    erin ambrose said...
    yay! what is it about baby beings...whatever they damn cute. alas...i can't hatch or raise chicks here on my land as i don't have enought solar power.
    (which does get me to wondering how humans raised chicks for all those centuries before the grid came along and made us power hogs)
    but my neighbors down the road is gonna order me some along with their own and the will raise em' for me....very exciting. i went with a handfull of orpingtons and a handfull of araucanas (i love the green eggs) both are popular around here with
    small scale farmers.
    hope yr well rosie! good luck with those little fuzzers.
    kaliblue said...
    They are sooo cute :-). It's amazing how many chicks don't survive. I'm sure people think they just are in droves and that's not always the case. Not only that, after hatching there survival is still low due to chicken hawks. Love the post. Sorry I got on my little seminar there*giggles*.
    Rosie said...
    Hey Kali, yes...I didn't mention that a 70% hatching rate using an incubator was pretty damn good. Or the horror of having deformed chicks when the humidity settings go wonky. There is so much that can go wrong. Hen Erin will be brooding hers, is much more successful.
    Pissed OFF Housewife said...
    Eve will LOVE this!
    bonnie said...
    Uh oh, was there a turkey in here among the chick admiration-fest? That sucks.

    I remember a high-school biology class where we got some eggs & an incubator. Some genius turned off the incubator one night - which actually wasn't such a bad thing, because as I recall, the teacher hadn't really thought the thing through to the ultimate conclusion, which is of course that a succesful hatching results in chickens in need of homes.

    With only one chick hatching out, a home was found. Half a dozen might have presented a placement problem.
    busybusymomma said...
    Ellie loved watching that! My SIL had baby chicks two years ago and they were so LOUD and messy, but cute.

    Now they are free-range chickens and the kids like to chase them around the yard. I swear if they quit laying my SIL will come after the kids for scaring the chickens half to death! ;)
    busybusymomma said...
    I forgot to say, the McMurray site is great! I can't wait until we move out of town so we can have our chickens and a couple goats. :)
    seejanemom said...

    I have missed the blog for technology deprivation. And I can't say I mind....for more reasons than not.

    I am bookmarking this post.

    For "someday". "Someday" soon.

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