For the last few days, we’ve had the sweetest sound ringing through our house: the tiny chirps of newborn chicks.
Every year we add a few new chickens to the brood of hens we raise in a large coop down the hill from our house. Most years, we simply buy the newly hatched chicks from our local farm supply store, but last spring, when I found out that chicks were in high demand (due to the pandemic and people wanting to raise their own chickens for eggs) I decided to let my boys see how the process works from start to finish. And we had so much fun that this spring we decided to do it again.
The eggs our chickens lay are generally all fertile—we have a rooster, a proud, protective guy, in the coop—but none of my ladies show much of a desire to brood (sit on their eggs until they’re ready to hatch). So starting on the first day of the new year, the boys and I collected a couple eggs a day. We set them in a Little Giant incubator, which kept them warm and rocked them gently. (It’s important to turn eggs as they incubate so that the chicks stay in the right position and don’t end up stuck up against the shell.)
Each egg needed to rest, unbothered, in the incubator for about 21 days—a period that I hope taught my kids a little something about the value of patience. Around the 19th day, we removed the part of the incubator that turns them and let them sit still. And then one day, when we woke up, there were chicks!
Once the chicks started hatching, it was like Christmas every morning for a week. The boys would wake early in the morning, run into the office, and check to see how many had hatched overnight. They started claiming the chicks they wanted to be “theirs” and began thinking about what to name them. We also inspected some of the egg shells the babies came out of and talked about how impressive this whole process is: You start with normal eggs, and if you give them some time and warmth, you end up with something living and cheeping and pecking away at your hand!
We now have twelve chicks living in a big metal trough we set up near the kids’ room, and they’re growing well. Once they’re big enough, we’ll put them in their own area of the coop, separated from the others by a fence, so everyone can learn to get along before they join the flock. And a few months later, if everything goes well, the chicken-and-egg cycle will start all over again.
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Photos by Elizabeth Poett