The chick hatching trial run is complete. After much patience and checking through the windows, our first little incubator chick hatched last Saturday. Quite fittingly, it was one of the Australorps. A black one. The other two Australorps pipped (broke a small hole the shell) and followed suit the same day, but the three Dorking eggs sat still.
Seeing the hatching process through the window of an incubator makes you realise how long the hatching process can take. From when I noticed the egg had pipped to when it was out, it was eight hours and it could well have taken longer. That’s actually a relatively short time to bust out. After gaining access to external oxygen through its little hole, the chick has a rest and us watchers must wait and let it do its thing. I have been reading this long but informative article from Backyard Chickens about if, when and how to assist chicks with hatching.
The third chick to pip hatched second. This little fasty is a blue Australorp and is a big, strong chick. Number 3 chick took rather a while to come out. And I can see why. This black chick hatched with leg problems: spraddle leg and curled toes.
I tried to correct its problems but with the combination of poor leg and foot formation, the poor thing was too hard to correct without intensive, time-consuming care, which I’m not sure would have been successful anyway. The chick spent most of the time on its stomach with legs sticking out behind, flailing around. It could not learn to eat, drink or move without assistance. Add to this the fact that I’m still recovering from the effects of bronchitis, and I soon had to make the hard call for this chick. It is the first time I’ve had to kill a chick so young and it was sad.
This is the first time I’ve used an incubator for hatching and it wasn’t until the chicks were hatching that I realised a problem. A human error. The lid hadn’t quite been closed properly. It was only a small misalignment, only noticeable if you’re looking at the incubator from the side, crouched down. I similarly misplaced the lid on after the discovery, so it is easily done, especially when trying to minimise fluctuations by just lifting up one side of the lid, but thereafter I gave it a push and wiggle to check. The lid would have been like that from lockdown at least, but quite possibly longer. I did notice that the incubator seemed to be needing some effort to try to maintain the correct humidity range. And overnight the humidity did drop a bit too much sometimes. I would say the inconsistencies in humidity are the reason for the chick with leg issues and also the failure of the Dorkings to hatch. The Dorking eggs were set on the side of the incubator closest to the ill-fitted side of the lid. After waiting a couple more days and candling them, I discovered they were dead in their shells, almost fully formed.
It is disappointing to have these losses, which could have been avoided. But it’s all part of the trial run and I have learnt things for next time. The consolation is two cute and very friendly Australorp chicks, which I am exceedingly grateful for. We are enjoying having lots of handling time with them.
The brooder box setup is also working very well and having just two littlies is quite low maintenance. The brooder box is a 100L plastic bin with a lid, specifically chosen for its flat bottom without any weird patterns that could make cleaning annoying. I cut a hole in the lid and taped wire netting over it. Thanks to Willow Creek Farm for the idea. I wanted to use square netting but hex netting is what I had on hand. It doesn’t tape down so well, so I will replace it with finer square netting when I get the chance. The chicks are kept warm with a 30x30cm Comfort heatplate, which has adjustable legs to move the plate up or down according to the size of the chicks. I am very happy with it. I made a plastic cover for the heatplate out of the piece of bin lid that I cut out; a stroke of genius I think. Colour-coordinated even. You can buy overpriced dome covers or use a piece of cardboard, but this plastic ought to do a fine job of keeping poop off the top of the heatplate as the chicks start jumping all over the place. All in all I’m feeling positive about the future of incubator hatching, although I think I will always prefer to let a hen do the job.
Ok, two more chick photos…