The chicks started hatching Wednesday morning, and we got our last one on Saturday evening. All in all, we ended up with 19 chicks out of the 41 eggs we started with, a pretty disappointing hatch rate. But look how cute they are!
The hatch went smoothly for most of the chicks, but four of them required a little assistance. The first rapidly got the top cut off of her shell (known as “zipping”), and was just about to push herself out when the other chicks in the incubator came running by and flipped her egg over. We left her alone, figuring she’d get in the right position again, but hours later she was still struggling to get out. Talk about bad timing. The poor thing was right next to a vent, and was starting to dry out and visibly sticking to the shell.
I pulled her egg out of the incubator and carefully chipped away some of the shell and membrane around her beak, until she could get her head free. Then I wrapped her in a wet paper towel and quickly put her back into the incubator to hatch. She successfully kicked the bottom shell off a little while later, but some trailing pieces of membrane kept it attached to her back. I woke up later that night to find the poor chick still wearing the shell on her back like a turtle, exhausted and unable to stand or get comfortable. I reached in and gently removed it, leaving her with just a couple small pieces of shell and membrane stuck to her down.
After being untangled, the chick quickly settled down and fluffed up, and despite her rough hatch was soon keeping up with the others. And so her resilience earned her the honor of a non-edible name, a first for our flock: Shelly.
The next chick to require help was so eager that she came busting through the opening in the shell before she fully pipped, and ended up with a wing and part of her head stuck in the opening. We waited for hours and she didn’t make any progress, so I carefully broke off the tiny piece of shell that was blocking her head, and she finished hatching a few minutes later.
The third chick I helped had a particularly rough time, ending up “shrink-wrapped” in the egg as she tried to hatch. This was probably my fault, since this one started to unzip while I was helping Shelly and the loss of humidity might have dried out the membrane and made it tough to break through. (This is why they tell you not to open the incubator, even if a chick is in trouble. Easier said than done, that one.) I think she was also a bit sideways in the shell, which couldn’t have helped matters.
So I had to chip away a little shell and wrap this one in a wet paper towel too, and after several agonizingly slow hours she worked her way out of the shell. My mom was visiting for this part of the hatch, and got to name this chick: Crispy Chicken.
Crispy had trouble walking, with her toes crossing over one another and one leg sliding out to the side, probably a consequence of being trapped in the egg for so long. This is known as “spraddle leg,” and can keep the chick from getting to food and water if not corrected. The idea is to hobble the legs so that they can’t move too far apart, and then the chick is able to start learning to walk and quickly builds enough muscle to keep the legs in place. We used a Band-Aid cut in half horizontally to do this — Crispy didn’t like it one bit, but within a few hours she was able to stand up and take a few steps, and her toes stopped crossing. By the time the bandage falls off in about a week, she should be able to walk normally.
Saturday evening, more than 48 hours after the other chicks hatched, we still had 3 eggs in the incubator that started to zip and then stopped at least a full day before. The only chick that appeared to be alive was hopelessly stuck — from the look of things its yolk sack ruptured, and the chick was completely cemented into its shell and in distress. The poor thing couldn’t be helped and I had to make the hard decision to cull it rather than letting it die from exhaustion.
And that’s the bittersweet reality of life, in a nutshell. There’s so much joy in helping new life sprout and grow, but the flip side is inevitable and it never gets any easier.
But incredibly, just then I heard chirping from one of the other eggs that I thought was dead — it zipped but hadn’t progressed in at least 24 hours. But as I stared through the incubator window, I saw a chick turn inside of it — it was having a hard time punching through the membrane, but was still able to move around in there.
I gingerly picked up the egg and started carefully picking off pieces of shell, thinking to myself I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m only making it worse for the poor little guy. And then I lifted back a stiff piece of membrane and a head popped up and looked at me, peeping furiously. I quickly put it back in the incubator, and within 10 seconds a little Easter Egger chick kicked free of its shell and lay exhausted on the incubator floor.
And that was our last chick to hatch. We named her Sesame (actually, Sesame II — after a special chicken from our first flock, who was always a bit behind the others.)
In total, we now have 23 chicks running around: 4 still in the “halfway house” in my office, and the rest already moved out to their room in the coop with the big chickens.
Amazingly, all the chicks that required assistance seem to be doing great — hopefully they continue to thrive.
And if you’re wondering how we ended up with 23 chicks when only 19 hatched, well, that’s chicken math for you. We were at the feed store and some chicks followed us home (2 Light Brahmas and 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes.)