Spring is coming. The land doesn’t show it, the air doesn’t feel it but the time is passing and the days are slowly getting longer as the sun comes closer in her orbit. The ground is still cold and hard but the farmers are turning the winter grass over in preparation for planting. It is too cold to smell the dirt. Spring has a way to go before I will be convinced when I step outside. Inside though, things are a bit clearer.
When I got up this morning, the wood stove was full of embers, glowing red chunks pushing their heat toward me as I slowly open the door. It feels good as I place two pieces of wood to bring the fire back up to warm the house through the morning. The wind has been blowing for days, and the stove needs more attention in these times. It seems that the cold wind reaches down the pipe to beacon the fire to burn faster and hotter. It does. I don’t mind a cooler home. I am more comfortable in the cool but I have other things to consider besides myself. You see, Spring has arrived in the next room.
In the dining room the furniture is pushed aside to accommodate a brooder. A brooder is like a well heated day care for baby chickens. We use a special heat lamp clipped to the side to keep them warm like their mothers body would. This plastic storage container is their first home and I imagine it is quite confusing to these tiny babies, but they bond with each other and with us and with a little coaxing they learn to eat and drink and soon begin to grow from tiny, boney balls of soft fluff to feather covered birds. The transformation is extraordinary.
We have ten chicks in the brooder and we purchased them from two different local farmers to expand our flock with breeds that we want to raise. There are many different breeds of chicken and all are different in size, look, disposition and egg laying capability. Some are less common and some are highly sought after based on what they offer. We enjoy offering eggs for sale, so we like hens who lay big colorful eggs. Colorful. That is a word that you may not think of if you buy your eggs at the local supermarket. Their offerings are white and sometimes brown but the true spectrum is broad and interesting.
Those are real colors. Chickens are amazing creatures.
We also have an incubator that has been home to 24 eggs for the last 21 days and we are watching and waiting for the first baby to “pip”. The pip is the first crack or hole that the chick makes in its attempt to begin the hatching process. They each have a tiny “egg tooth” on the tip of their beak to help them cut a circle around one end of the egg so that they can stretch and pop the egg open. This is how they begin life, and once they are hatched and drying the tiny egg tooth falls off without leaving a trace. Each baby works hard to be born and once dry seem huge compared to the egg they were in, but I digress…
Chickens, if nothing else, are predictable, and the gestation period for the eggs is 21 days, even though they lay a clutch of eggs over a period of days, they all hatch rather close together, with our experience being less than 24 hours from start to finish each time we have hatched them. This time, however, is not going quite like that. These eggs were purchased from a local farmer, a perfectly lovely man who raises chickens for eggs as we do, as well as selling some to other back yard farmers to hatch. The eggs are big and pretty and healthy in appearance, and that is why we are concerned today. There are no pips yet. There should be pips but there are none on day twenty two and tonight we will open one egg to see if we can determine what is happening and why. There are a million things that can go wrong during gestation when a hen is sitting her clutch… and just as many in an incubator. Seldom do all the eggs hatch. It is just part of the process, but when 24 eggs don’t hatch or show signs of hatching on the 22nd day, I feel a sense of doom. My hope is that they are simply late bloomers, and tomorrow will be full of life and excitement, photographs and phone calls. For now, we will just have to wait and see.