Throughout the span of the quarantine, brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have developed a hobby to enjoy within the safety of their homes, such as exercising, baking, or watching television. My family took on the unique adventure of incubating a handful of chicken eggs. You may be asking, what could possibly be so special about keeping a couple of eggs warm? To our amazement, the process was not as simple as placing them into a heated box and waiting a few days. Tacking and tending to each egg, I realized just how meticulous and diligent one must be in order to hatch one successfully.
It takes 21 days to transform a dull egg into a lively baby chick. Within the first two days of incubation, the chick’s veins form and the heart starts to beat. If an egg fails to develop, it must be promptly thrown out to prevent it from rupturing and contaminating the other eggs. In the following days, the eggs must be candled regularly to track growth and health. One can identify a healthy chick from active movement within the egg. Some chicks may show activity at first but suddenly stop a few days later. These are considered “duds” and should be removed. Although the careful inspections seem to be the most difficult task throughout the 21 day period, the most important factor in the chick’s development is the temperature and humidity.
On average, the temperature should range from 99 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Leaning too far in either direction can severely impact development or lead to a higher fatality rate. Humidity is essential and protects the eggs from moisture loss. The relative humidity should remain at about 50-55% until the 18th day when it is raised to 70%. Beginning on the 18th day, the eggs should go on a “lockdown” until they are finished hatching. During the three day time period, the eggs should be left alone and human contact should come to a halt to preserve the moisturized air. The higher levels of humidity allow the newborn birds to break out of their shells without getting trapped behind a dry membrane. A common side effect of incorrect temperature and humidity is reflected in birth defects. Chicks may be born with weak legs, malformed beaks, or exposed brains and intestines as a result of poor upkeep. Unfortunately, one of our batches suffered a power outage during the incubation period and had to endure almost 24 hours of both low temperature and humidity levels. The result was tragic. Out of six chicks, two were born with chronic joint problems that could not be treated. One did not live past a week and the other must suffer a limp for the rest of its life. To avoid such mistakes, it is vital to invest in a high quality incubator and constantly check for any technical issues.
This painstaking 21-day incubation process is behind every single baby chick that comes into this world. Each egg has to be tracked and given special attention to in order to ensure a healthy delivery. Moreover, from the small parrots living within our homes to the grand eagles soaring above the Appalachians, this procedure is the foundation of all of the world’s beautiful avian creatures. Who could fathom that these animals were capable of such a complex and wondrous artistry?