July 07, 2006

The cheeping kitchen

A month ago a neighbor phoned to ask if I had a broody hen under which he could slip some wild turkey eggs he'd obtained from an acquaintance in Edmonton. I told him I didn't have any broody hens at the moment, but we did have an incubator in the storage room that we could set up. The kids were thrilled to see the incubator come out again, and we put in the turkey eggs and filled up the rest with chicken eggs from our hens. Yesterday was the big day, and while the turkeys seem to be duds -- maybe too much time went by getting them to us, though I'm still holding out hope -- the chicks are coming out on schedule, popping out like popcorn. At the moment, I have a straw-filled box in the kitchen with four black chicks and seven yellow ones, in various stages of fluffing out. A few more are working on their escape in incubator.

Since yesterday the kids have been spending their time either at the incubator or by the box, sometimes with a meal so they don't miss anything, from rocking and then cheeping eggs, to the first chip, to a small wet bird unfolding itself. Davy was the first to discover a hatched chick, and so he has spent hours cradling "his" chick. And last night, Laura was inspired to practice "Edelweiss" on the piano as a chick lullaby, which apparently worked as the cheeping stopped for about 15 minutes. Later this morning we'll take the box to the corrals and set up the chicks in their new home in the second, empty coop, away from their bossy mothers. A box of chicks is cute only for about a day.

It's been an eggy summer. The bluebird eggs hatched before Tom had a chance to move them out of the swather tube, so he moved the nest with babies instead to a wooden tube he made for them. The adult birds accepted the new container, and the babies seem to be doing well; we have to use a flashlight to peer in, and with its help can see the dud egg that didn't hatch. The killdeer is getting used to us as we check on her daily and sometimes doesn't even get off her nest with the broken wing routine; I got some nice close-ups of her the other day. The coots and ducks in the ponds are swimming around with their new families -- in some cases, their second families of the summer.

Updated: Occurred to me to include information about our incubator, in case someone is interested. The model we bought about 10 years ago is a Styrofoam Hovabator with a picture window and a turbo fan, and I'm ever so glad we sprang for the optional automatic plastic egg turner, which I highly recommend for saving considerable wear and tear on adoptive parents. We bought ours from the Canadian country living/farm supply company Berry Hill, and I see at the Berry Hill website that Hovabator has replaced our old model with this one, which is available either as a thermal air flow or circulated air model, and includes a sanitary plastic liner. The classic manual on the subject is A Guide to Better Hatching by Janet Stromberg, who knows what she's talking about because the family business, now in its fourth generation, is Stromberg's Chicks and Gamebirds hatchery; you can buy the book wherever you buy your incubator.

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