My brother Mark and his wife Kim raise chickens in their yard in Whitney Point, N.Y. They’ve got quite the nature preserve with a full garden and golden eagles sweeping down in the lake behind their house.
Mark has shown up with cartons of fresh eggs, telling me that I didn’t know what I was missing until I tasted fresh eggs.
I was mildly impressed but didn’t know what the fuss was about. I became more interested when we published a story about raising chickens in your backyard. I don’t have room to do that so I dismissed the thought.
Then came the West End Fair.
Penn State Cooperative Extension Agent Steve Hughes and members of the newly formed 4-H poultry club actually had eggs in an incubator
and I saw a chick hatch.
Now I am hooked and extra space here spent way too much fair time just staring at an egg with a crack in it, waiting for it to open and a chick to climb out.
The Fox-Cicconi farm in Canadensis donated the eggs to the club. The eggs were kept in an incubator and turned several times a day to simulate the movement by the mother hen. The eggs were placed in incubation on a staggered schedule so that some would hatch every day during the fair.
It was all planned out. Except one hatched on Sunday and some hatched the following Sunday. You can’t really predict nature, you know.
Not all the chicks hatched.
“In an incubator situation we can expect 75 percent to hatch,” Hughes said.”The hen does a little better.”
Part of the problem was the weather. It was really dry so Hughes spent days and nights spraying the eggs with water. The humidity needed to be above 80 percent, and the temperature had to be about 100 degrees.
It wasn’t just the fair. “This is true at commercial hatcheries this time of year. Hens and roosters aren’t as fertile in the summer (too hot for good sperm viability) and the weather can be extreme,” Hughes said
The humidity softens the shell so the chick can poke its way out. The chick is wet when it comes out and all curled up as it spent days trapped in an egg. Gradually it lifts its head, stops flopping around and straightens up.
Hughes kept newborns segregated from older chicks until they could hold their own.
Friday night I happened upon the 4-H building after some were born. Saturday night I had the fortune of seeing one being born. That clinched it. I kept coming back to the building until the fair ended.
Sometimes I thought the crack in the egg was a little bigger. Then I realized it was wishful thinking.
A total of 41 chicks hatched, with 37 being sold to benefit the new Sunnyside Up 4-H club. There were three born Sunday morning that should have hatched Saturday. (These were THE ones I was watching.)
Hughes gave them to a 4-H’er who had guinea chickens so now she has chicks for next year. They were a little weak so they needed some TLC and she could do that, he said.
One chick early on had some issues and the club leaders took that one … bought six more.
The money will be used toward four different projects that are designed to increase the students’ knowledge of chickens. They will keep records on costs and they can exhibit a live bird at the fair to be judged on conformation of the bird and showmanship of the student.
Imagine if next year I could see the one I witnessed being born. All grown up.
If it’s special for me, I can just imagine what it’s like for 4-H kids. Wow.
Interested? Call the 4-H office at 570-421-6430.