Baby Chicks 2.0

“Winter” at The Gray Marlin is a time to slow down. Coming from Colorado, the cold here is different, but still cold. I now understand what people mean by “it’s a wet cold”. A 50 degree day here feels like 32. And when the wind picks up, it blows right through you.

Because of the cooler weather, we typically stay inside and slow down on the projects for a few months. On top of that, the holidays were here and we had some special visitors for Thanksgiving!

We last left you with the end of summer wrap up . Since then, we have not done any major projects but there have been a few changes.

I occasionally sell my eggs to one of our neighbors. She used to raise her own hens, but no longer does. She mentioned to me that if we ever wanted to incubate eggs for chicks, she has an incubator she would lend us to use. At first, I was against it. Although we’ve gone through raising baby chicks and I knew that they were not as high maintenance as I once thought, they do still require some time investment. However, we tossed the idea around and decided to just do it!

I borrowed the incubator with the intention of only setting four eggs. I was worried about hatching a bunch of roosters, so wanted to keep that number down if I could. After doing some research, I learned that setting eggs to incubate does not always work out. If the eggs are not fertilized by one of our roosters, no baby chick will grow. I decided to place eight eggs in the incubator, betting on a 50% fertilization rate.

You don’t know until you candle the eggs for the first time at day 7 if the eggs are fertilized. You can imagine my surprise when ALL EIGHT EGGS WERE GROWING BABY CHICKS! I couldn’t believe it, of course this would happen! Still, I read that some fetus’ can stop developing at any time so I left all eight in there to flourish. I knew we did not want many, if any, roosters so everytime I went to the incubator to check the egg humidity and temperature, I said “Hello, ladies!” I called them “she” and “girls” any time I referenced them.

Egg candling on day 18 — you can see movement and the tiny blood vessels that feed the chick from the yolk. The light colored space near one end of the egg is the air sack. As the chick grows, the air sac gets smaller until it finally is gone and then it’s time for the chick to hatch!

Chicken eggs incubate for 21 days, so I didn’t have to wait long to see these little cuties. We checked on them several times a day, you have to make sure the temperature and the humidity stay within a certain level or your chicks will not survive. On day 20, our first chick started to “pip”, or break out of it’s shell. The baby chicks have a small little hook on the end of their beak called the “egg tooth”. This is the tool they use to poke first a small hole in the shell, then “zip” around the circumference of the shell to open it and break free!

Here you can see the first hole the chick has pipped with her egg tooth!
Hello, world… here I am!

Over the next 24-48 hours, the rest of the babies were born. Once the first chick is hatched, their movement and chirping encourages the rest of the chicks to hatch also!

Hatching these babies was such a wonderful experience! Every time a new life is brought to us on this ranch, it is such a humbling, miraculous moment. From baby lambs to chicks, new life is awe inspiring! Sadly, the final chick to hatch did not make it. There is a delicate time frame between when they pip and when they must be totally hatched and this baby just did not have the strength it took to complete it’s mission. I knew this was a risk, but it still hurt. We ended up with seven strong babies, each one a blessing.

For the first few weeks of their lives, baby chicks have a very hard time regulating their body temperature. That is why it is so important to use a heater for them. Since the weather outside was cooler, we started with them in our living room. After about 10 days, they really start to smell bad … no joke. So they got evicted to the garage 😁 I was not comfortable with using a heat lamp in the garage so we purchased this heater and it worked great! I highly recommend this heater to anyone with baby chicks (Chick Days are coming to Tractor Supply soon, y’all!).

We still did not know whether we had all hens (female) or all roosters or a combination of both. Sexing baby chicks is a very difficult process. We thought we had it figured out based on tail feathers. We thought we had one rooster (Pepper) and the rest were hens. Three months later, I can tell you we were totally wrong! We have two roosters and five hens. Still not a bad turn out- and we have enough coops to keep them separate.

Lucee was not sure what to think about these little creatures! She was so excited, but scared, but wanted to play with them all at the same time!

I had no idea this was a thing, but people do photo shoots with their baby chicks! We decided to do one, just for fun 😂 If you watch through to the end, I include the “behind the scenes” footage, just part of what we went through to produce this video!

Before we knew it, the time had come for us to move the babies outside! We had lost our Queen Elizabeth (read about her in this post) about a month before so got her coop ready to house the babies.

Vern and Shirley on the left and Pepper on the right. This is the only baby chick we can for sure say we know who Mom and Dad were. The rest are such a mix of the other eggs. Vern is Dad for everyone- but Mom could be Thelma, Louise, Blanche or Dorothy.

I was quite surprised at how much fun raising these babies became. They were so fun to interact with and watch grow. They changed so much every single day. The best part was watching Josh bond with these babies. He always has such a soft spot for any animal, but these babies were around at just the right time for a much needed distraction. Each day that these babies grew stronger, our old man Rockee was growing weaker. We knew our time with him was growing short. God brought this new life to us at just the right time to give us some joy in a very hard time of our lives. More on that in my next post.

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