Opal has been sitting on 8 eggs since Monday. She is one of two who hatched eggs last year.
Seraphina went broody first and within 24 hours Opal, not to be outdone, was sitting on the floor next to Seraphina’s box, intent on hatching some babies of her own. They sat for 21 days and the chicks started hatching at the same time. Opal and Seraphina raised their babies as one big happy family, and no one even knew who hatched who.
As a first timer to chicken hatching, I made a couple big mistakes and I learned some valuable lessons. Chickens will hatch anyone’s egg and they really don’t care who laid it. That’s a good thing when you want a variety, or babies from certain hens. It’s not so good when the hen is stealing another hen's egg after it's been laid to add to her clutch of developing eggs, or when other chickens invade the nest box and lay an egg on top of the ones already being incubated. In those instances, you can end up with embryos at different stages of development at hatch time, like I did.
The eggs need to maintain a consistent temperature and a certain level of humidity in order to hatch successfully. A hen’s devotion to those eggs is just incredible. The last three days of incubation the chicks need a little more humidity to hatch and the hen will pluck her own chest feathers to achieve the proper environment. One of the sweetest things about a broody hen is that she will coo to the eggs as she sits, and she can hear the little babies peep back from inside the egg. During the 21 days of incubation, she will only leave her nest one time a day to take care of business. She will eat, drink, and poo, and then head right back to her nest. Sometimes other hens seize that opportunity to leave her an extra egg. And that is one of the valuable lessons I learned last year. This year, every one of the eggs under Opal’s bum is marked with a sharpie and every evening I pull the extras out from under her, to avoid any partially developed eggs being abandoned at hatch time. She will sit stone still, in sort of a daze (unless approached, in which case she will puff up her feathers and growl, and possibly peck invading hands) until the eggs hatch.
Opal and Seraphina’s babies hatched over a three-day period. I rushed home from work every day to check on them. On the third day, when I got home both mother hens were out in the chicken yard together and had a total of 15 babies running around.
When I went in to clean out the hatched egg shells and put fresh straw in the boxes what I found were 6 unhatched eggs. They felt cold to the touch and, not knowing how long the mamas and babies had been outside, I thought they were dead. Curiosity got the best of me and, outside of the chicken area, I cracked one of the eggs open to see how far along in development the chick had made it before it died. I got the shock of a lifetime when it started frantically peeping at me! In a panic, I ran around the yard with the little egg in my hands, looking for David and trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do! Thank goodness he is a calm man, because calm – I was not! He suggested I put the egg in a box and turn a heat lamp on it to keep it warm. That is what I did and then I rushed to the store to purchase an incubator. Once back home I set the peeping egg and the other 5 unhatched eggs I had collected in the incubator and waited.
The following morning, I rushed to check on the chick as soon as I woke up and the chick was still peeping. I was so relieved. For several hours I kept a close eye on the little egg. Around noon the little chick was struggling to escape its prison, and I knew the way the egg shell was broken there was no way it would get out unassisted. So with a turkey baster of warm water, and careful hands I assisted the little chick out of the egg.
I left it in the incubator a full 24 hours to keep warm, dry off, and gain strength. The day after it hatched, the little chick was active and strong. But, it was still quite sticky. Apparently, I had broken what was left of the yolk when I cracked the egg, and it had dried to the poor chick’s body.
At this point, I needed a name for my little chick, and because it was a little survivor, I named it Beyonce. Beyonce was in need of a bath and once dry, she was an adorable little ball of fluff.
We spent the day snuggled on the couch.
By evening it was time to be reunited with her mom (whoever that might be). After dark I crept into the chicken coop with little Beyonce and I stuffed her under one of the mama hens with the other little babies. It was a night of tossing and turning for me as I worried about that little chick, but when I checked on her the next morning, the mamas and the 15 other babies didn’t even realize there was stranger among them.
Beyonce is now a grown hen and laying eggs. I’m not even sure which one she is, I just have her narrowed down to two.
Opal has been sitting on her eggs for a week now. I'm anxious to meet all the new little peepers, and my future breakfast makers.