(Beep, buh, beep, beep, beep. Beep, buh, beep, beep, beep.) We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you the latest breaking news on the incubator front. When we last left our heroine, she was thrilled beyond measure to discover a single chick clumsily bowling around Friday morning, peeping vigorously, and napping intermittently! Join us now as we seek an update on.. (Dum, dum, dum! Insert dramatic radio announcer voice with swelling intro music) The State of the Chicken Babies!
Warning! This is a NOVEL.
Oh these chick babies have been a full time occupation the last few days. We were so absorbed we forgot to water the plants in the greenhouse yesterday and I think I killed all my watermelon starts. We also completely forgot Saturday night fireworks at the lake and had to rush the kids out of the house at the last minute to catch the show. We made it to the highway where we pulled over to watch where a gruff policeman told us to move along. By the time we turned around on the frontage road, we saw the finale and went home. Sheesh.
We were just a tiny bit preoccupied with all things hatching!
Friday morning, we were so surprised the first baby chick wasn’t from the white egg that had been the first to pip on Thursday. The chick in the white egg had been cheeping loudly for quite some time and we thought surely it would be second. We were surprised again when another pale green egg zipped and hatched in minutes, practically box kicking its way out. We were unbelievably excited to watch the whole process.
I stopped taking photos while it dragged itself around the incubator, pausing every twenty seconds to completely drop off to sleep. It would awake 10 or 20 seconds later and continue dragging around, cheeping madly. This one pulled part of its shell around with it for a while, and E. and I wrung our hands and wondered if we ought to help. Thank goodness for google and the forums at Backyard Chickens! I kept running in the bedroom to google every little thing we worried about. Turns out this little guy was just fine.
Meanwhile Elizabeth Shue was finally off her nest! There were still two eggs intact, but we figured mama knew best. We candled the remainders and found one that never started growing and the other had no heartbeat. We broke that one open inside a plastic bag and found a chick that probably died around day 17 or 18.
She was still jealously guarding her babies though. I had to camp outside her brooder coop for quite a while before I caught a glimpse of her sweet little cottonballs on legs!
Augh! Are they not the cutest? I died. Seriously.
Back at the ranch, we were starting to get worried about our first-pipper white egg. Other chicks were hatching and wreaking havoc as they flopped around the incubator to dry off. They were bumping into the other eggs and rolling them around, all while this little guy remained cheeping inside the shell. He’d been rolled around a few times, but finally started zipping (zipping is when they peck a circle around one end of the egg, hopefully the rounder end in order to punch their way out). However, he was zipping in the wrong direction, going the long way around the shell – maybe he got all turned around with all the rolling? I watched for hours, but his cheeps were getting weaker and weaker. After giving nature 24 hours, I decided to intervene.
I watched all the Youtube videos I could find on how to rescue a chick in distress (this article was really helpful too), and thought I could manage it. We knew it wasn’t recommended to help chicks out of their shell, but figured he might die inside the shell anyway, so why not give it a shot? That sounds so nonchalant, but oh my, it was kind of terrifying.
I was really nervous. We brought the room up heat-wise, and wrapped a warm, wet towel around the egg. Using blunt tweezers at first, and later my fingernail, I helped him zip around in the right direction. I kept the membranes as damp as I could, and worried the entire time that I was doing everything wrong.
There was no blood in the membranes, and he popped himself out in no time!
We put him back in the incubator where he dried off and blended in with two similarly colored chicks that hatched out of green eggs.
Note: If we do this incubator thing again next spring, we will stabilize the eggs during lockdown (that’s after day 18) so the newly hatched clumsies can’t bowl everything over.
Our next crisis is one I don’t have any photos of because I was so certain at various times throughout the day that I’d find him dead the next time I checked on him. I’m sure this little guy would have been totally fine if his egg hadn’t been knocked upside down early on.
It was a little brown egg in the corner that had pipped out. We could hear him cheeping (such a sweet little noise). He had just started to zip when a newly hatched chick bumped him upside down. I could see fluid dripping from the hole in the egg and started googling as to whether or not it was worth the risk to open the incubator to turn it right side up. There were a lot of mixed arguments on various forums but I finally decided to follow my instincts.
I turned the egg right side up, and hoped for the best, though I couldn’t hear him anymore. When we opened the incubator again to get some more dry chicks out, I examined the egg. Yellow crust had bubbled up from the hole and glued it shut. I couldn’t hear anything. I showed E. and we decided he was a goner. As E. stood there holding the egg, he suddenly exclaimed, “He’s moving! I can hear him!” And we quickly opened the incubator and popped him back in. But we stood there, uncertain as to what we should do. It is seriously so nerve wracking. The humidity levels are so important to the pipping, zipping, and hatching chicks, and every time you open the incubator it has to rebuild (though we did start adding sponges to help). Once again, I finally decided to follow my gut, and got more hot towels ready.
Full of anxiety, I moistened the goo and gently opened up the pipped hole. The goo had glued the chick’s beak to the opening, and I had to carefully wet it without drowning the chick and work to peel it off his little beak. With all the dried goo, and being glued in one position for hours, I was absolutely amazed he was still breathing. All cleaned off, I put his pipped egg back in the incubator.
I did not think he would be okay. He only opened and closed his beak weakly through the pipped hole, no more cheeping. I kind of just waited for him to stop moving and die. But he kept on moving. For hours and hours, and hours. I lost track, but he’d been pipped and ready to zip for over 24 hours. E. was really adamant that we give him a chance, and I wasn’t about to commit baby chick euthanasia. No way do I have the cold heart required for that. I know, don’t tell me, I’m going to be a rotten farmer with animal hospitals all over the property.
With a warm room and lots of warm, wet wash cloths, I helped him zip around the egg. I was dismayed to see what amounted to a lot of blood for a chick. Once again, I thought there was no way he was going to make it and kept telling E. it did not look good. I did not peel back any of the membrane, but left the zip line and placed him back in the incubator. While I wetted down the membrane, I didn’t know yet, to keep it moist in the incubator. Crap.
He continued to move his mouth. E. was really pulling for him. Again, hours later, he was still moving, but I noticed he was frothing bubbles at the mouth. I called E. in and told him this was it, he was drowning on the humidity or something and was going to die. Another two hours passed, he was STILL moving, and we finally heard some cheeps.
I googled again, but it sounded like if I tried to help he was going to be what they call ‘shrink wrapped’ inside his shell — thanks to not knowing to wrap his zip line in a moist towel, he’d probably dried out inside and had the inner membrane glued to him… especially since he’d already leaked out a bunch of fluid hours previous. (Spoiler: this is exactly what happened). I worried if he did pull through he was going to be E’s special handicapped chicken that he would turn into a pet.
For this stage of the crisis, I filled the bathtub part way with hot water to make the bathroom steamy. I placed a hot pad on my lap, and had plenty of washcloths, bowls of water, q-tips, and tweezers on hand. I gently peeled back more of the shell and was so sad to see the membrane dried like saran wrap all over this poor chick. I dampened it as much as I could with my (clean and scrubbed) fingers or a q-tip. I was happy to see it would come off relatively easily one it was wet, but it was some very, very delicate work. At different points during the process I was certain he either had no eye, an underdeveloped beak, his heart formed on the outside of his body, and/or splayed legs. I was a wreck, is what I’m saying. (He didn’t have any of those things, thank goodness!) The membrane was dried over one of his eyes, down his face, and all over his neck. He hadn’t been able to move at all for hours and hours and hours.
Slowly, slowly I got him free. I was really worried about a bright green squiddly thing hanging from his bottom, but after frantically googling “chick intestine hanging out” it seemed it was healthy chick poop, and that was a really good sign! He drank three big fat drops from a water dropper and I carefully laid him in the incubator. Much less vigorously than the other chicks, he began to pull himself around. He couldn’t lift his head for a much longer time than the others, but finally we saw his head lifting and his wings spreading. I was stunned. E. decided to name him (or her) Rocky, because he was such an unbelievable fighter.
We continued to watch through the night as he dried off and got stronger and stronger. Around 2am Saturday morning E. moved him to the brooder. At 7, E. woke me up and said he wasn’t sure Rocky was doing very well. Said he had a scabbed over bottom. I got up and got the bathroom all steamy and warm again and laid out my clean tools. E. brought him in. Oh my. Though I had tried to get him all clean, he had bits of dried membrane all over his head and bottom – his vent and pooper were completely glued shut and covered in dry goo! I put a little hydrogen peroxide in warm water and used q-tips to gently dampen and work on the area. After a while I had it free, and a big watery poop exploded out. Well, big for a chick! He started cheeping again, hurrah! I kept cleaning, and soaked what looked like a scab (but it was just dry birthing matter) unstuck from his vent… and thought ‘he’ looked more like a girl. At the end we had healthy bright green poop again (not intestines, hurrah!).
I worked on the dry membrane on his (her?) head next, and he hated that, but I got a lot more off around his eye area and he was looking good. I was really worried about him getting chilled but the warm, wet cloths and the heating pad helped a lot.
Soon he was ready to join his brothers back under the heat lamp in the brooder. We kept a close eye on him, and he continued to improve more and more! Just look at him now! (Yellow one in the middle)
Goodness. I was exhausted! We had two more eggs in the incubator that I’d given up hope on, but when we examined one, it had a pip! And we could hear cheeping! It was now day 22, so I hoped it would be a quick and easy hatching. Har, har. Spoiler: it was not!
After lunch, this chick still hadn’t started zipping. She’d only made one little pip and not even all the way through the membrane. The outer membrane that was exposed had dried white. I wrung my hands. Seriously? A third rescue? What should I do? We decided to go to the Farmer’s Market and run some other errands and see if there was any progress when we got home. After dinner she still hadn’t started zipping and the cheeping had gotten weaker and weaker. Blast.
First I just tried helping her zip. I wrapped the egg in a warm, wet rag, leaving the original pip hole open. I was really confused by what I could see through that hole. I couldn’t tell where her head was. Everything seemed backwards or upside down or something. I let it alone for another couple of hours. We could hear weak peeps really intermittently, few and far between.
Back to the bathroom! I prayed this one wasn’t saran wrapped! I started gently tearing into the membrane and thankfully found no blood. The chick was ready to come out… however, I was still confused at how the bird was laying in there, I told everyone that this chick was a transverse breech! My kids started calling me the chick midwife. I thought, rather grouchily to myself in that sweltering bathroom, “Well, a midwife who is a fan of interventions! Pass the tweezers.”
Work was slow and hot. Since she wasn’t shrink wrapped, I wanted to let her do as much work as possible. So I’d tear a little and wait, keeping the membrane really wet. I’d tear a little more and wait. She was really responsive to me and cheeping more and more. I could finally see how her feet were actually wrapped around her head! And they were huge! She was so squished in there, filling the entire egg, and totally misaligned for exiting. (Her egg got rolled around and bumped a ton, too). Finally she freed her feet from her face and opened an eye. It still took a long time — she’d give a shove, and then sleep for twenty seconds. Rinse and repeat fifty times! Finally she was out. Hooray!
She’s a big girl, maybe a rooster? The tallest and largest chick. Really healthy looking, I think her egg was just too small!
Here are some photos we took while she was drying off in the incubator. Her ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ were getting plain yogurt mixed in with their water that day, which helps prevent coccidiosis, a really common sickness for these babies.
They’re oh so cute! If you place your open hand down in the brooder, they’ll climb right in for a snuggle.
Here’s our last rescue, the big guy (though she doesn’t look that big in E’s large hand), getting introduced to the brooder. We dip their little beaks in the water, and then in the chick crumble and they go from there!
With 9 sweet babies, we also have 3 one month old Araucanas, 3 two month old Barred Plymouths, 2 nine or ten month old Black Marans, and 1 ten month old Black Orpington. Bringing our current chicken count up to 32. Of course, we need someone to come take 9 old ladies and our crotchety rooster away… :o)
If you got through this, you deserve a giant cookie! Do you mind if it’s covered in a bit of pine wood shavings and chick starter?
Hope your weekend was way more restful!
p.s. Happy Birthday sister!