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An incubator full of chicks

06/26/03 12:00AM By Edith Hunter
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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter has a new brood to care for this summer - quite literally.

(Hunter) Fortunately, Graham, the fix-it, and make-it son, came first among our boys - six years older than Will, and eleven years older than Charles. As they were growing up Graham made them an incubator, along with such things as box kites and a reflectoscope.

The incubator was a wooden box with an electric bulb at one end - pretty simple, but it worked. At the end of 21 days, the gestation period for chickens, we were the proud parents of Peep, a yellow chick who emerged very slowly, and Speed, a black and white rooster who came out while our backs were turned, hence the name.

When grandson Sammy came along 40 years later, I wanted to share the miracle of baby chicks with him. The homemade incubator had long since disappeared. I indulged myself and bought a commercial one with an automatic egg turner.

The first two years our failure rate was 100%. The directions called for a temperature of 100 degrees, but my poultryman neighbor, Leon, told me I was running it too hot.

After a lapse of several years, I decided to try it once more. With Graham as consultant we put it on a low table in the kitchen, set the temperature at 99 degrees, made sure there was water in the little troughs in the bottom, put in fertile eggs, and waited.

The 21st day was Mother's Day, but not for me and the chicks. Nothing happened. Sammy assured me that all babies are not born in exactly nine months. On the night of the 22nd day I opened one egg only to find an almost fully developed chick. I put it back in the incubator, but it died.

On day 23, I was in at my computer and suddenly heard "peep, peep." I thought it was the birds outside, until it dawned on me that they don't "peep." I ran into the kitchen, looked in the little window on the top of the incubator, where a wet yellow chick, free of its shell, was peep-peeping.

I already had a brooder warming up on the porch. I was planning to pick up 12 day-old chicks at the feed store in two days and was getting ready for them even if none of mine hatched. It was cold and rainy outside so I brought the brooder into the kitchen and put it next to the woodstove.

I put the peeping chick into the warm brooder and went back to the computer. Over the next two days two more chicks emerged successfully. I picked up 12 at the feed store and they joined my three in the brooder.

Now, two months old, a United Nations of 14 chicks are growing up together (I lost one to a hawk). Three are Golden Comets, three are Rhode Island Reds, three are Barred Rock, three are Buff Orpington and two are my home-grown varieties, of which one is a white rooster!!

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.
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