Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chick-U-Bator Blues

When I was 11 years old, I had a serious fascination with chickens. I’m told it’s a disease, one you never quite recover from or outgrow, especially if you keep doing things to keep the infecting organism alive. So for Christmas in 1961, I wanted a small, tabletop egg incubator from the Sears catalog. I would hatch my own baby chicks.

The Chick-U-Bator arrived, and my next project was to acquire some eggs to set. I was all for taking a few eggs out of the refrigerator, but according to my chicken books, that would not do. I had to find a chicken-owner who had fertile eggs and buy them fresh, or I would have no success on hatching day. My mother took me to a chicken farm and bought me a grand total of 3 white eggs, which was all that would fit into my Chick-U-Bator.

By now, I had pretty much memorized the Chick-U-Bator’s instructions. The device relied on a Christmas tree light bulb for heat, and its three legs were hollow so you could add water, because heat and humidity both must be exactly right for the developing baby chicks. Anything going wrong, such as a power outage or a failure to turn the eggs sufficiently would result failure to hatch.

The eggs had to be turned several times a day, and preferably several times at night as well. The incubation period was exactly 21 days, stopping the turning process on day 18. By day 19 or 20, I should start hearing little peeps coming from the eggs if they were going to hatch.

I must have been really assiduous, as by day 19, one of the eggs peeped when I went to check the temperature. Fortunately, it was a weekend, because I sat in front of the Chick-U-Bator for a couple of days solid, waiting for action. On day 20, a tiny chip appeared in one of the eggs. Then nothing for several hours. Then a second tiny chip appeared, right beside the first chip. And the second egg began to peep!

By day 21, two of my three eggs were chipped halfway around the eggshell. Then, one of the baby chicks made a mighty heave and the two halves of the eggshell broke apart. The little pink chick lay on the incubator floor, wet and awkward and exhausted. By the next morning, the second little naked chick had burst from his shell, but the first chick was no longer naked. He had dried out into a downy, yellow fuzzball.

By that afternoon after school, I had two tiny yellow fuzzballs, which I named Peeper and Cheeper. They grew into a pair of fine, White Leghorn roosters, fit guardians of the next batch of baby chicks, which yielded three tiny banty hens of unknown parentage.

By the time I was twelve, I had a small flock of mixed chickens, some bantams and some standards, although the bantams were far more fun, because I could fit 6 banty eggs into my Chick-U-Bator. I should mention that these chickens thought I was their mother, and they gave me great respect and attention whenever I appeared.

I mention the above because the urge to witness the miracle of hatching day struck again recently. Although I still have my Chick-U-Bator and have no doubt it will still perform, I have decided to go big-time. I ordered a device called a Hova-Bator, which will hold something on the order of 40 standard breed chicken eggs, and which will turn those eggs at regular intervals. It’s all automated now, folks, and all I have to do is wait for hatching day to arrive.

During the past 15 years, I’ve been buying day-old pullet chicks every spring, since I live in town and can’t have a rooster without a lot of complaints from the neighbors. Every now and them, one of the hens will go broody, and I will manage to buy the year’s allotment of day-old chicks and place them under the hen during the night. This evades a lot of work in brooding the chicks and caring for them.

So this year, instead of buying day-old pullets, I’ll be buying fertile, rare-breed eggs and firing up my new Hova-Bator. And looking forward to hatching day, all while praying that a hen will go broody about a week before hatching day arrives. I'll keep everyone informed of my progress.
In the meantime, click on this link for a preview of a wonderful Messianic singer, Joel Chernoff, who will be interviewed by Molly Bull in a few more days. In this clip, Joel is singing "Comfort Ye My People."


Molly Noble Bull said...

Love you chicken story, Katy, and like you, I am chicken fan as well. My father ALWAYS raised chickens. I love to hear the sounds chickens make -- whether large or small. To me, these are conforting sounds that remind me of my late father.

Cecelia Dowdy said...

Wow! Amazing! Interesting article, Katy and I learned something new! I've never heard of a chick-u-bator before! Thanks for sharing the music link! Sounds wonderful!

Molly Noble Bull said...

I am glad you liked the Messianic Christian music you can click on at the end of Katy's article. As you will learn in my upcoming article, I have been a fan of Joel Chernoff and Lamb, the group, for years. I plan to post an interview with Joel late on the night of February 15th.
Joel's music either makes me want to dance in the Lord or pray as I do when listening to Comfort Ye My People, the music Katy posted.

Teresa Slack said...

Love the story, Katy. We hatched chickens at the preschool where I worked. The kids loved it. It was so amazing, even more so now that I know a lot about chickens and the way they survive before fighting their way out of an egg--one of God's most amazing creations if you ask me.

Thanks for the music link. Can't wait to read Joel's interview.