Brownie Chocolate Cochin is a great mom. 2018 is her third year hatching a couple batches per year. This time though, she had a very strange hatch. Brownie had been cooking six Legbar eggs and on hatch day, one bright-eyed little Legbar chick made her appearance right on schedule. But two days later, Legbar pullet was still an only child! Brownie had tried to help another exit the egg, with disasterous results, the chick didn’t make it.
After that, Brownie decided she’d had enough. She abandoned the nest, taking her little singleton with her. I moved them into the clean spacious brooder I had all set up, where Brownie just sat, head down, in the corner, with her little one poking around aimlessly beside her. She was one unhappy momma.
I wasn’t too concerned, because I knew something that Brownie didn’t. I like to set a few eggs in the incubator when a hen goes broody. I might as well get my hens to do all the work of raising chicks. So I had a bunch more babies to tuck under Brownie, after dark so she would accept them as her own. That would cheer her up, but she didn’t know and of course I couldn’t tell her. I haven’t quite figured out how to speak chicken yet. Poor Brownie spent the whole day in a funk. Post-partum depression, chicken style.
A little later I went back to the nest box to clean up, remove the unhatched eggs and replace the bedding, and as I picked up the first egg it yelled at me! I nearly dropped the darned thing. That egg was not only alive, it sounded pretty pissed off. I gathered up all four, since they all felt heavy and full of potential, then headed for the house.
Once inside, I plugged in an incubator to warm up, then ran some warm water into a yogurt tub to float test the eggs. Float testing is a great way to see if a chick is alive, if so, the egg will wiggle in the water quite distinctively. The soaking is good for softening the shell too, although it is important to check the egg for cracks before submersion, to make sure you don’t drown a little one.
All four eggs wiggled, so into the incubator they went, along with the warm water which would bring the humidity so necessary for the hatching process up.
Then I waited. That evening, nothing. The next morning, nothing. By this time, we were at 24 days on these eggs, and they should have hatched on day 21. Taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, I poked a small hole into the air cell at the top of each egg and had a look inside. Four babies, still moving, still alive, and all internally pipped.
There are two membranes between an unhatched chick and the egg shell, and once they pierce the inner membrane with their beak they begin to breathe (and peep). Thus the yell I had heard in the nest box. It seemed to me that these babies were trying very hard to hatch, but with not enough moisture left in the eggs to keep things slippery, they were “shrink wrapped”.
I guessed that Brownie had spent a bit too much time off her eggs over the 21 days, slowing development, except for the egg in the middle of the clutch. That, combined with the dry warm weather we have had this May, meant the chicks were awfully late to the party and a bit of help was in order. So I peeled back some of the shell and outer membrane on each, moistened the inner membrane with warm water and back into the incubator they went.
The next morning, one chick had hatched and was staggering around the incubator. I pulled the other three and had a look. The day before, when I had wet the inner membranes, I saw they were lined with delicate webs of blood vessels filled with blood. If I messed with those the chicks might bleed out. Today the blood vessels were empty and brown. The inner membranes were no longer linked into the chicks’ circulatory systems. I knew I could chance a little more intervention.
I started peeling carefully at each tiny beak’s air hole, opening the inner membrane enough so that the head unfolded and popped out. That moment (times three) when each baby opened a bright black eye and stared into mine, was pretty great. I said hello, then put them back in the incubator to finish (or not) on their own.
The next morning (by now we were at day 27!), everyone was out, fully hatched, and learning how to use their legs. It looked like I had mostly girls! Usually chicks hatch half and half, so I was sceptical, but sure enough, once they fluffed out and I could take a close look, I found that I had indeed hatched out four girls. With Brownie’s singleton that made for a 100% female hatch. Wow. I won the chicken lottery.
A dozen little Black Copper Marans and three baby Bresse went out to join Brownie and her singleton that first night. Morning must have felt like Christmas to dear Brownie. Her mood had sure improved by the time I went out to feed.
Can you believe she has sixteen under her? She has one wing spread, like a travel trailer “bump-out”.
Meanwhile the four Legbars are running around the indoor brooder, perky as can be, along with ten Silkies I hatched for the next broody in line. Brownie has enough to do with her sixteen, I think these ones will go out to White Silkie Two in a couple days when her hatch is done. I just love happy endings. 💕🐣