As a “city kid” the last few years have brought a lot of new experiences as I stumble my way through life on a small family “ranch”. Over the years we have accumulated chickens, ducks, goats, horses, many dogs and cats and the occasional vagrant 4 legged creature. I have almost grown accustomed to the joys and the sorrows of bringing new animal life into the world. Almost being the key word.
A Brief History
The chicken population on our ranch started with 20 chicks purchased through the mail. They grew and grew, which motivated us to build a second coop, and then they started to lay eggs. I really did not think or care much about the eggs aspect, we just wanted to have chickens to see what it was like. Then tragedy struck and a dog killed all but 4 of the chickens. It was awful. I know to most people, and rightly so, view chickens are utilitarian, they provide eggs and/or meat. I am not sure the incident would have been as heart wrenching to others as it was to us. We raised these chickens from chicks, named them, and established a daily routine with them. They were a part of our family. I know, I know … they are chickens, birds, and sometimes they seem almost prehistoric, like little raptors that might attempt to eat you if you lay still long enough.
A few days after the chicken tragedy of 18′, we decided to rebuild our chicken population. It took time, but we got up to about 60 chickens. Today we hatch our own by either letting chickens hatch a clutch or taking them selectively and putting them into a large incubator. We love our Ameraucanas, blue egg layers with a very friendly disposition. They will run to you and jump up to your shoulder and just hang out there. I mean, they do this with the kids, I rather not have a chicken anywhere near my face.
What surprises me is that when an egg hatches, I am still in awe. I can’t help but praise God for his brilliant design. Most of the time the hatching starts with peeping. The chick inside the egg starts to peep and we know it’s close to time. My wife and I will pick the egg up and whistle at it, and almost always the little life inside echos back our whistle with a peep. There then seems to be three approaches that chicks take to escape their calcium fortified birth pod.
1. Punch a hole in the egg and breath for a bit
A small hole forms in the egg shell and a beak sticks out and begins to open and close repeatedly. The peeping increases as does the breathing. Then either an hour or so goes by and the chick emerges, or 10-15 hours later the chick emerges.
2. All at once!
This approach is to be silent, no cracking of the egg, no signs of anything. Then within 5 minutes there is a chick. These chicks almost always tend to be larger and within a few minutes are walking fine and dry out pretty quick. I hypothesize that they are late bloomers and rather not mess around with the drama of hatching for 10-15 hours and just burst into the world ready to go. I imagine they won’t be moving out any time soon either …
3. Still silence
That last approach is really not an approach. Every now and then an egg will start to hatch and then stop permanently or it will never even start. We don’t have enough experience yet to know why this is, other than sometimes life simply does not happen due to complications we are unaware of. Only once has a chick hatched and not made it, and this is 1 in about 100. Currently we have 1-2 chicks being born every day.
What happens after a chick hatches is quite entertaining. They are slimy, confused and floppy. As in they flop around a lot. Within about 30 minutes they are starting to dry off and look a little more like a bird and less like an alien. We have a “starter box” under a heat lamp which helps them dry out. Within about 80 minutes they are pretty dry and fluffly, they look like chicks now and they can walk around a bit. They look totally drunk doing so, but they can technically walk around the box and move to where they are comfortable with the heat. They absolutely need the heat but they will move in and out of range of the heat lamp as needed. Within 3-4 hours, you would never guess that the bird was just a few hours old. They peep, they drink water, they peck at food and are ready to socialize with similar sized chicks. They are however, not super friendly unless you handle them the first few hours of their lives, but even then I think that instinct is very strong in birds and they just don’t prefer to be near you.
The process is much the same with our ducklings, but they 100% want nothing to do with us no matter what. They are pretty much jerks, but they are cute and their eggs are my absolute favorite. With ducklings you just need to be vigilant about water. Because they want to swim in anything that has any water in it. They splash it out and/or get it dirty and then they have nothing to drink. You also can’t have chickens and ducks together as chicks and ducklings. Ducks are super dirty and they will make the chicks sick. As adults they get along fine. While we have 4 coops for the chickens, the ducks prefer to wander on our property and often sleep in the grass out in the open or near their pool.
I mentioned earlier that eggs were not our intention to being with, but now they very much are. We get on average about 2-3 dozen chicken eggs per day and about 8 duck eggs. As our birds mature that number will go up quite a bit. We have learned some great tricks and tips for getting our layers to produce quality eggs. I’ll save that for another post.
So there you have it. The simple joys of hatching and owning chickens and ducks. It’s a lot of work, but it really is a fun thing to do, especially with kids. There is a huge amount of stress release as well, not sure I can really explain why, it just is that way for me personally. Our kids range from 6 to 18, and they all participate in some degree or another and enjoy it. Also, if you want some fresh eggs … let me know.