Here is the Hovabator incubator where forty-two Ameraucana chicken eggs have been growing babies since April 16th. It takes twenty-one days for an egg to develop into a chick. On day eighteen I candled the eggs with the red flashlight at the right in the photo above and discovered thirty-eight were opaque, or full of chick. Four did not develop for one reason or another, usually because they did not get fertilized. Candling is done in complete darkness. The light is shown through the egg. Any that are empty are translucent.
On day eighteen, the embryos transfer. This means they move their beaks into the air sac at the broad end of the egg and start breathing air. At this time the eggs are removed from the automatic turner used to slowly move the eggs so the baby doesn’t stick to the shell. The eggs are placed on the bare floor of the incubator for the last three days. During this time, the chicks also pull the yolks into their abdomens so they will have sustenance for the first few days of life until they learn how to eat. Chicks that hatch too soon and have not fully incorporated the yolk will die.
After the babies transfer, they can start to make sounds. Tiny peeps have been emanating from the incubator for two days. A close listen will reveal the sounds of chicks scratching and chipping at the insides of the shells with their egg teeth as they work to break free. I talk to the baby birds with clucks just as a mother hen would do so they will recognize my voice and bond to me when they emerge.
This morning the peeps were greatly amplified, indicating that birds had hatched. A little bird was looking back at me when I checked in the view window. It is common in my experience for chicks to start emerging on day twenty and for the process to continue through day twenty-two with the majority hatching on day twenty-one (tomorrow.)
The incubator is a warm, moist place with a constant temperature of 100F and humidity so high that condensation forms on the insides of the windows. The high humidity is necessary for proper hatching. The chick must remain wet so it is lubricated while it pushes and wriggles to break the shell. Should the environment dry too much, the baby sticks to the shell and can not hatch.
A quick peek in the incubator shows three babies have broken free. The dry, fluffy one in the foreground is the oldest, and the dark one in the background has just emerged. It is still damp and learning how to balance and lift its head. Behind the central chick is an egg breaking open. Many of the eggs have pipped. The pip is the hole the chick has made by breaking the shell with its egg tooth. The egg tooth is a sharp point at the end of the upper beak. Over time the tooth disappears.
These purebred Ameraucana chicks are in three colors: silver, wheaten and blue wheaten. The dark baby may be a silver. Some of my silver chicks are very deep brown. Since the lid of the incubator can only be lifted for a few seconds at a time, I didn’t have a chance to examine the coloration. When I remove hatchlings from the incubator, I place a towel over the whole thing and reach under to grab chicks so less heat and moisture are lost while the lid is open.
After hatching, the babies can stay in the incubator for up to 24 hours. Then they are moved to a brooder where the temperature is kept near 100F for the first couple days and the birds have access to water, food and exercise. I take hatchlings from the incubator a couple times per day. Too many chicks jostling the unhatched eggs makes it difficult for their siblings to emerge. The hatched chicks also require more air and can cause dangerous low oxygen levels in the incubator if it is too crowded.
My fingers are crossed for a good hatch, please, at least twenty babies would be great!