By May Woodworth
The next three weeks were worrisome. Incubators were a mystery to me. Scary even. Hens and mother birds were supposed to hatch babies, not hunks of electrified plastic. Machinery in general are a challenge for me, and I try to do things manually as often as possible. The Universe obviously had other plans, because not only would I be caring for future chicks-heat lamps and all- I would have to monitor this electric incubator for almost a month!
The incubator came with zero instructions, only a square of paper with Asian symbols. All advice and information was gathered online. And quickly. These twelve eggs weren’t getting any younger. I plucked the data I felt most important, and set up the incubator in the extra basement room.
My thinking at the time was that the basement room was quiet, dark, and maintained a steady temperature of approximately fifty degrees. Spot chosen, eggs placed inside, I had a ‘great idea”. Translate- bad idea. I read somewhere that after a rooster inseminates a hen, her eggs could be fertile for two weeks. That could mean fourteen more Rhode Island Reds! I could hatch a huge flock of future egg layers. While some people see dollar signs in their eyes, I see chickens. Heck, I could just collect her eggs for the next two weeks, and pop them in the incubator. I did not, however, read, or retain the information, that eggs do best when all placed in the incubator AT THE SAME TIME. Chickens in my eyes, that’s all I saw.
I should have been more concerned about the incubator humidity, instead of the hair brained idea of adding more eggs. I added water, subtracted water, added socks of rice…I could never get the humidity right. Eventually I gave up out of frustration, hoping that it would not make a difference in the end.
I never fathomed the next obstacle thrown our way: mold. As in a huge mold outbreak in the basement! It was an extremely hot summer, and a heat spell hit New England hard during that first incubator week. My partner was the one who smelled it first. I freaked, after researching the possibilities of mold invading the incubator. The incubator was unplugged and moved to the utility room on the main floor.
Although the heat wave had passed, and the incubator humidity was closer to the optimum level, moving the incubator worried me. I still had the handy dandy egg candler my partner made, so I used it. To my relief, like before, there was still signs of life in many of the eggs.
I should have left well enough alone, but I continued to collect the next two weeks of eggs. They were popped inside the incubator. I did it quickly, but with all the trouble maintaining the humidity, in hindsight it was a bad idea.
After that, it was calm. Just played the waiting game. Until one day we lost power during a thunderstorm. It was out for hours, while we were out, and there was nothing I could do. I always try to find the humor in everything, but none of this seemed funny.
Then it calmed down again. Until the very morning I was to prep, the incubator to put it on lock-down. An egg pipped. Seriously. It was too early! Now I could not open the incubator to remove the automatic egg turning cups. I did manage to pull the turning wire, but I was afraid to open the incubator again. The pipped egg was not on a nice flat surface like it was supposed to be . More worry, laced with excitement as I witnessed that first egg unzip itself. By late morning, Uno was welcomed into this world. Our first incubator chick.
(Left: Uno exiting egg/ Right: A close up of him in brooder )
We waited for the others to pip and unzip. And waited. And waited some more. Uno stayed in the incubator, waiting with us. That evening, I moved him to the brooder when he was dry, and quickly removed the egg turning cups so the other chicks would be on a flat surface.
While we waited for more chick action, I observed Uno. That’s when I noticed something was wrong. His head was tilted up and to the left. If he moved even slightly, he flipped over backwards. The poor thing bashed itself around the brooder in his attempts to get to the water I had dipped his beak in.. His entire left side was so swollen that his eye would not open. I wrapped him in a washcloth to keep him in one place.
Meanwhile, for the next few days we waited for the other eggs to pip. One did, which caused a brief flurry of excitement. The chick never unzipped though, and after an entire day of waiting, an attempt was made to help it out of the shell, even though I knew deep down that it was already a goner. That little baby is also buried in the poultry graveyard.
Our first experience with an incubator became a sad event, as I accepted the fact that the other eggs might not hatch. By the end of the week the incubator was turned off. Uno, our lone survivor, our early bird with special needs, needed my full attention.