Saturday, 25 February 2017

The miracle chick

 Today we aren't counting our chickens so much as counting our blessings!

By Friday evening eighteen little chicks had hatched. For us this is a fabulous hatch rate, 90% of the eggs had hatched and we were over the moon. I had already moved eight of the chicks into the brooder box. This is a small secure cage with an electric heat pad on legs that the chicks can walk under to keep warm and feel secure. Effectively it's an electronic mother hen. So at supper time I moved the remainder of the chicks to the brooder, switched off the incubator and watched the eighteen little chicks finding their feet, exploring their cage and eating and drinking. Then I returned to the kitchen where the incubator was and started to clean it out.

There were lots of eggshells and the two remaining unhatched eggs. Sometimes, but not always, I carry out a simple post mortem by opening the unhatched eggs to see whether the chick had died in the shell early on or whether it had just become too exhausted to hatch. It's a useful process as it gives me an idea of whether I have let the incubator dry out or the humidity level was too high etc. It's a bit of a grim process, but it's the best way for me to learn whether I am doing things wrong (or right!).

I picked up the first egg to examine it. It was pipped and the shell was broken in a line about 3/4 of the way round, obviously this little chick had just worn itself out trying to hatch. I started to open the shell when the little bird inside started cheeping and moving! Good grief, I had switched off the incubator about 20 minutes earlier and left the lid off for several minutes while taking the chicks out of it to move them. So, I put the egg back into the incubator and put the lid back on. I grabbed a water sprayer and filled it with warm water and then lifted the incubator lid a little and sprayed warm water on to the shell of the unhatched bird and on to the empty shells in an attempt to quickly increase the humidity levels in the incubator.

Lifting the lid of incubator reduces the humidity levels significantly and leaving it off will mean that the air inside will be as dry as the air in the room. The air surrounding hatching chicks needs to be around 65% humidity (or more) to enable them to hatch properly, if it drops too low then the membrane inside the egg ( you know the one you have to peel off a hard boiled egg) will dry out. Then what you end up with is a shrink wrapped chick that can't get out of the membrane and shell and dies before it's even hatched.

The little chick struggled for some time to get out of shell and eventually the shell was off, but sadly the membrane had got too dry and part of it was stuck to the back of the chick. This little bird was weak, exhausted, had been subjected to cold, dry and being handled and neither Mr J nor I had much hope of it surviving. It was another white Jersey Giant and I would have loved one more to add to our growing flock.

It seems to me that about this point in any hatch I start hoping for miracles, hoping that the weakest little chick will find the strength to live. Up to now we haven't had much luck with the hoping, wishing and fingers crossed method, up until now that is.

Little chick no.19 lay in the incubator, too weak to stand up, its breathing alternated between deep gasping breaths and rapid shallow breathing. Its eyes were closed and looked swollen, its abdomen looked distended. As the evening went on the swelling went down a little and it opened one eye, although it still couldn't stand but looked like it had a little more control of its head and neck muscles.

When we went to bed we anticipated coming down to a dead chick and were prepared to be sad for the one and to celebrate the eighteen healthy hatches. 

But to our delight, no.19 made it through the night and as its tiny feather fluff had started to dry out, it began to look a little healthier. It was also up on its feet, wobbly and weak looking, but upright! 

By mid-morning it was moving tentatively around the incubator and with each passing hour, it looks stronger. It is still sleeping a lot, but then all chicks do that and it has started cheeping which indicates that it's lungs may not have been damaged by the rocky hatching experience. Chicks can stay in the incubator for up to 72 hours as they have enough nourishment from the yolk absorbed into their bodies and I think no.19 is going to need most of that time to become strong enough to join the others.

As I type it is late afternoon on Saturday, about twenty-four hours since the chick hatched, it is now cheeping away in the incubator and walking about, a little wobbly still, but definitely gaining strength hour by hour. It is not out of the woods yet, it still needs to be able to stand steadily, but we are both now hopeful that this little chap or chapess will survive and that if it continues to improve at the same rate, it will be able to join its brothers and sisters in the brooder box in a day or so. 

Every time we hatch some chicks (or ducklings) I am struck by how clever nature is, that little beings can grow inside an egg, go through the struggles of hatching and be well and lively within hours is nothing short of a miracle. The additional struggle that no.19 has gone through surely earns it the title of today's 'Miracle Chick'.
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You can see videos of the chicks on my YouTube channel where I post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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