Raising chickens is one of our plans for the farm. This year we will be getting a shipment of jærhøns, the Norwegian breed of chicken, to compliment our heritage-breed farm. As it would be a little extravagant to replenish our chicks via air frieght every year, we thought it was beneficial to learn and practice the art of chicken making. It was something that we were eager to do since our pet stock had been reduced to two – hen and rooster – after a goshawk attack.
We bought a little incubator which keeps the eggs warm. We opted for a basic model so we would have the responsibility to turn them. This would make us keep a good eye on the eggs for the three week incubation period. Four out of five eggs made it past the two candling stages (where you look inside the egg with a torch to see the chicks development.) Humidity is important and we had water in the base of the incubator. Unfortunately, being complete novices at chicken hatching we regrettably under valued the importance of humidity. Norwegian Winter weather is very dry and even though we kept water in the base I don’t think it was enough for a successful hatching.
At time the eggs wobbled and rocked. Three made small little holes in their shells – the initial pip to breath air – and they all rested. After a couple of hours two began to chip their way out but it was awfully hard for them. One gave up and I just couldn’t leave the other to die.
I had been reading about people helping chicks out of their shells. By gathering information I developed a process that I thought would allow the chick to help itself. It is important for the chick to do as much as possible so it can develop strength – similar how the birth process of a human baby awakens its immune system. A lot of professionals say that you should allow natural selection to take its course if you want a healthy flock but I felt responsible that this bad hatching could have been our fault.
On carefully chipping the egg around in a naturalistic way as if the chick would have, I noticed that the lining was dry and had almost vacumed packed the chick. The chick was unable to break free. I had to cut through the lining to help the chick move. Every two mintues I would stop to allow the chick to break free on its own but it was quickly tiring.
In the end I had ‘pipped’ away 3/4 around the egg and left it so the chick could push out when it was ready. He mustered up the strength and was free. Some blood was wiping onto the cloth and I was worried that the nerves and umbilical cord was not ready to be severed this early. The membrane of the egg has tiny nerves that when the chick pips (or chips through the egg) it cuts the nerves allowing the chick to be free. However, I was going in from the outside and which would not have been as effective. Also if the chicks umbilical cord is still in operation and severed too early the chick could bleed to death. But he was fine and very eager to get up on his feet.
We kept him in the incubator with a pen-buddy for cuddles. It took a couple of days before his feathers fluffed up but he is doing well, eating lots, scratching and peeping. He is a strong little chick and certainly deserved to have a helping hand. Even so young he has a very strong ‘chicky’ personality. This chick is a mixture of Italian Brown and Cochin so it will be a couple of months until we find out if he is really a she. We don’t know if he will be used to help our brooder hens (jærhøns don’t brood so we will be using our pet hens to do the job for us over Summer) but he has certainly won a place in our hearts.
Next time we will be certain to watch the humidity and place extra wet cloths in the incubator to level it out when needed. Fingers crossed.