Starting from Hatch

Here's Blondie and Mr. D at seven months of age.

They enjoy their run among the grape vines. They have cleaned all the grape leaves from the plants, but are presently ignoring a cob of corn.

Blondie has captured my heart.

Mr. D has an almost RedCap size comb.
 October 27

The Icelandic boys have grown up beautiful, but they need a new home. I'll help you get the pullets you need to start a flock.

Icelandic chickens are not Standardized. Their plumasge and combs are variable.

One has wheaten hackles and back, the other is spangled.

They gat along well together.

This one has a rose comb.

The other has a single comb.

August 30

The young chickens enjoy spending time among our grapvines.
Blondie and the Mottled Icelandic explore the new terrain.
She's such a beauty.
They all work together.
A closer look at the Icelandic's tuft and the Colored Dorking's comb.
A closeup of the Colored Dorking's rose comb.
Blondie looks like a porcelain chicken.

August 23

ThisIcelandic cockerel has a rose comb.
This Icelandic has a single comb.
Blondie is a true princess.
The Icelandics have very different plumage as well as different combs.
The Icelandic and the Colored Dorking check each other out.
Blondie shows the camera her best side.
The Colored Dorking has a rose comb.
The Dorkings are much larger than the Icelandics.
The Icelandic cockerel is energetic and agile.
The single comb reminds me of a dinosaur.
The Colored Dorking is developing more color in his plumage.
They are becoming good perchers.

August 11
The Dorkings are larger than the Icelandics already.
I think the Colored Dorking is a cockerel.
The Icelandics have attractive mottled plumage.
Blondie keeps an eye out over the food dish. The Icelandics' tufted heads are noticeable.
This is my White Dorking, Blondie.
The Colored Dorking.

29 June

We ended up with two Icelandics, one White Dorking and two Colored Dorkings. One of the Colored Dorkings was slow out of the shell and I helped her. She's definitely a runt at the moment. I didn't think she would survive, but she made it through the night and is now in with the others, under a heat lamp. She seems to be doing okay. Time will tell.
I was worried that I might have to dispatch her, if she were suffering. But my wise friend Susan pointed out that if she isn't going to make it she will lie down and die.

So we are supporting her as we can and will wait and see.

She stands funny because of whatever is malformed below her butt. She has not allowed that to slow her down at all.

They are eating Chick Starter. I gave them a dish of cooked rice yesterday but Ed recommended I not start feeding them treats for a week, get them started on the high protein starter first. They really weren't very interested yesterday -- still absorbing their yolk -- but they are beginning to actually eat it instead of just kicking it around the box

Tiny Tina, TNT, the name suggested by a friend, is doing great! She is definitely making up in volume what she lacks in size. She is the loudest of all. She complained a lot last night, being alone, but she's keeping it up now that she is in with the others. Now that she is feeling better she is bossing the others around. Who knows how this will all work out.

She stands in the water dish and kicks the food around.

She still doesn't walk right, and prefers to stand rather than lie down. So she falls asleep on her feet, and then nods and falls over and wakes everyone up.

I'm optimistic that she will survive and this will be the beginning of her story. The story of my whole little flock.

Photos are posted at

27 June

A White Dorking hatched next, much to my delight. She looked huge, with a big yolk belly, but was soon up and around. Her older Icelandic sister poked at her and bossed her around, already asserting her personality.

A Colored Dorking hatched next -- be still, my heart! Another Colored Dorking egg started to pip, but the next hatch was another Icelandic.

A fourth chick, another Icelandic, hatched Saturday afternoon. The Colored Dorking egg that had pipped wasn’t making progress. We could see the chick breathing and making some efforts, but the pip wasn’t getting any bigger.

I talked to Ed about her. I know the reluctance to help a chick out of an egg – that any chick that can’t get out of an egg is inherently weak and should be allowed to expire.

On the other hand, I don’t intend ever to breed these birds and I really, really want the Colored Dorkings. Ed advised me how to proceed to help her out.

I removed the egg carefully, to release only the minimum moisture. She peeped loudly, a strong peep that gave me heart. I used my fingernail to chip away at the shell, starting at the popped hole. It came away easily. I don’t have very good nails, and the membrane inside the shell stuck at one point, but once I got it torn, she pushed her way out the rest of the way. Her legs felt strong. I replaced her in the incubator.

The other chicks gathered round this new sister. They were very interested but a bit over enthusiastic with pecking. It looked like the right time to move them into their brooder box. We’d set that up right next to the incubator. One by one, in they went.

I am eager to hold them and play with them, but I’ll restrain myself until they get a bit more settled, with eating and drinking. They sure are sweet.

They were quieter in the new surroundings, but soon resumed their boisterous play. They found the water, led by Miss White Dorking, who was the first. She was thirsty and drank several times. They aren’t as interested in the food. I’ve got King Feeds Chick Starter in there with them, but I also put a dish of cooked rice mix, wild rice and brown rice, in there. Ed tells me they need the protein of the starter for the first week, to add other foods later.

25 June, part two

Here she is, the first one hatched! She broke out of her shell quickly, none of this careful pecking around one end. She made her way out the side. One crack, and within a minute she was hatched. She's been very active, rolling all the other eggs around.

She has already completely won my heart.

25 June

Day 20. When I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea this morning at 7, I thought I heard a faint 'peep.' Sure enough, another! Soon the eggs were peeping loudly.

Two of the Colored Dorking eggs are jiggling. Two of the Icelandics have rolled over. I can't tell who is peeping loudest. Some of them already have strong voices!

Although I stopped turning them yesterday, I opened the incubator to allow fresh air in a couple of times. My mentor Ed cautioned me strongly against opening it for the remainder of the hatch. He tells me that keeping the humidity high is very important at this point, and allowing any moisture to excape could compromise the chicks.

I've gotten them this far, I surely don't want to risk them now.

22 June

We candled the eggs again on Saturday, Day 14. I'm still not certain how many are developing. Learn by doing.

I did my usual fourth Tuesday interview with the Chicken Whisperer, and in the course of conversation, Pat Foreman mentoned that she had an egg get rotten once, and it exploded all over her. She said she couldn't even wash the smell off. She mentioned that she had 400 eggs in the incubator at that time, but she didn't say whether they were all affected or not.

That made me nervous, because I detected a scent when I opened the incubator to turn the eggs this morning. Not an unpleasant smell, though, more a living smell. Ed reassured me that a rotten egg will smell really bad. He advised me to leave all the eggs in the incubator at this point and see what hatches.

Today is the last day of turning. Tomorrow is Day 18.

16 June

I candled the eggs last night, Day 10, with the help of my husband. I used a high-intensity flashlight that has a laser-pointer feature, which our cat enjoys, taped to a cardboard toilet paper roll. It worked well, but I’m not confident of the results.

Some eggs seemed too dark for light to penetrate. I’m not sure whether the egg is really that dense, or the shell so thick, or the light wasn’t correctly directed.

One White Dorking egg seems to have no development. One egg looks like a dead embryo, with scattered blood vessels. One is very dark, with a marked air space at the end.

However, the rest have something happening in them. I was able to discern movement of the embryo in only one egg, which was very exciting. I was a somewhat nervous candler. We decided to return all the eggs to the incubator and candle again in three days.

Ed advised me on candling, and he didn’t discount my impression that some of the eggs are developing. From the candling, I can tell that development could be unbalancing the eggs, making them roll in different ways and have a different heft.

Ed says he feels that the shells of developing eggs can become luminous. I hadn’t noticed that, but am alert for it now.

We decided to leave all the eggs in the incubator for the time being. The intense odor of skunk wafted through our house last night. My husband immediately thought, It’s a rotten egg. Not yet.

The University of Illinois has a great site, showing egg development using MRI technology,  This one is of the 10-day embryo.

It helps me to understand that dark shadows I saw on candling. The site also posts photos of candled eggs at some stages. The one at right is the 9-day embryo.

12 June

This is the seventh day. The heart has been beating since the second day. Makes me wonder whether some kind of acoustic device could detect which eggs are developing. The beak begins to form on the sixth day. By the seventh day, digits appear on the wings and feet, the heart is completely enclosed in the thoracic cavity, and the embryo looks more like a bird.

So much is happening inside those eggs. It seems as if I can feel life starting as I turn the eggs, although I'm certain I'm imagining that. If it were possible, someone over the millenia that people have been hatching eggs would have found a way to determne which eggs were growing and which weren't.

I didn't get an automatice turner, because I knew I would want to fuss over them, and it wouldn't be any problem to remember to turn them, because I'm thinking of them all the time. Spending time with them has acquainted me with their uniqueness. Each one is different -- one of the Icelandic eggs is long and oval, one is very small, the Dorking eggs have subtle shades of difference in the tint.

They are all beautiful.

9 June

I've had a couple of anxious moments. The humidity indicator may be a great boon, but it's also something to fret about.

It had been registering around 50 percent. Now, this is exactly what the manufacturer recommends, but my experts advised me to keep it higher, so I decided I'd need to fix that. My husband, an engineer who has taken a paternal interest in the project, cautioned me to make sure any water I added was warm, so as not to cool off the air.

I heated water in the microwave and added it. In a few minutes, the humidity was in the 80s and steam was condensing inside the glass top. Clearly, I had over-achieved. I opened the incubator to let some of the moisture out.

The humidity declined over the next day, but it was still in the 70s. My goal was 60 percent. I decided that I had filled too many of the channels under the eggs with water. However, there wasn't any way to get the water out without removing the eggs, emptying the container, and starting over.

I put a kitchen towel on the counter and set the eggs carefully on that, so that none would roll off and break. I emptied the water out, replaced it (with warm but not hot water), and replaced the eggs.

It didn't seem like much disruption, no more than a hen might have had. It's early in the development process anyway. Fingers crossed.

I also resolved to stop fretting over them. The sensors in the temperature and humidity indicator may not be exactly accurate, and it's on the edge of the incubator anyway. I'm sure they are fine. We plan to candle the eggs at ten days, so that will tell us something.

This diagram, from Mississippi State University Extension Service,, shows where the developing embryos are now, and where they will be at ten days. Craig Russell, very experienced at hatching, told me that while it's possible to determine which eggs are developing by candling eggs as early as three days, it's so difficult to tell that it's better to wait until ten days. Then it's easy to tell between a clear egg, that isn't developing, and a dark one, which is.

7 June

We set the eggs in the incubator Saturday night! They are well started now, 48 hours into the process.

Backyard Poultry magazine had an excellent article on how eggs are produced by Gail Damerow in the February/March issue.  This illustration by Bethany Caskey, (c),, is a beautiful diagram of the process.
The miracle of the egg! Now I'm looking forward to the miracle of the hatch.

4 June

The major pitfall of an electric incubator is that the power could fail. At this time of year, it’s not likely, but you never know. We lost power lasts winter for four days.

That’s because we live in an area with a lot of trees. When the wind blows, trees fall over and take the power lines with them. We had some trees removed last year, and the neighbor across the street had three dying trees taken down yesterday. Here’s one of the tree removal guys up in the top of the last tree, taking it down from the top down.

If power were to fail, the incubator would hold its heat for a while, 12 hours or so. If the power failure persisted longer than that, I could take the whole incubator to another place, that had power, or add warmth by putting warm water in a container. Maybe take them to a hen. One of my friend’s Australorps is broody. Maybe she’d be willing to take them as her project.

Ed told me about a friend who hatched a couple in her bra. I’ve heard of keeping baby birds in there, but not hatching eggs.

At any rate, so long as there’s moist warmth, eggs generally develop well. There are lots of stories about unusual hatches, even hatching eggs in an electric frying pan. Sometimes elaborate equipment can be distracting from the basics of what’s needed. Keep It Simple.

3 June

The eggs arrived today! A day before they were expected, only two days to make the journey from Illinois.

Carefully packed, they are in perfect condition. Not one was cracked. Each egg was wrapped in tissue, then placed in a cardboard egg carton. The cartons were held together with rubber bands, a double piece of corrugated cardboard between them. Then the egg cartons were surrounded with air packs and newspapers to protect them. The exterior of the box was in excellent shape – the ‘Fragile’ stickers must have worked. That’s good, because a lot of jostling can have a bad effect, cause the eggs not to develop.

The post office didn't both calling me to pick them up, as promised. The regular mail carrier delivered them, balancing the box on top of the mailbox. The box was in the sun for about an hour, but it's not a very warm day, some fog drifting in and out, and the eggs were encased in so much excellent packing material that they didn't warm up at all.

They look beautiful. The Dorking eggs, 14 of them, eight Colored Dorking and six White Dorking, are a delicate creamy pink. The 10 Icelandic eggs, in the ten spaces of the carton at the right, are smaller and white. Actually, five are pretty large and five are small. Ed has two Icelandic hens, and one lays large eggs and the other lays small ones. The breed is very variable. I’m looking forward to what they are like when they grow up.

Ed took his last hatch out of the incubator a few days ago, and most of the Dorking eggs hatched. He observes that the early eggs didn’t hatch well, but these from later in the season are hatching much better.

Another reason to be optimistic.

The eggs will settle in their cartons for two days. Before we knew the exact timing of the delivery, we made arrangements to visit the Cowboy Museum in Los Angeles with friends. That will be fine. The eggs should rest for at least 24 hours. We could start them before we leave tomorrow afternoon, or wait until we return the next day.

Ed advises waiting until we return. They are quite fresh, and will benefit from resting an additional day. We anticipated that they would arrive Friday and start Saturday, so that's the schedule we're on now.

2 June 2010

We've been settled in this house for a couple of years now, and we're ready to get some chickens. I've been looking forward to this for a while now. It's been nine years since I had any of my own.

At that time, I had a nice backyard flock of 10 or 12 -- several Dorkings, a Shamo, a Black Jersey Giant, a Cochin, a Houdan, a Wyandotte. They were beautiful and I loved them, but life changes made keeping chickens impossible. Now, I'm ready to plunge back in.

Dorkings have always held a special place in my heart, so I asked my old friend Ed Hart of Sorento, Illinois if he could spare me some Colored Dorking chicks. He's one of the best breeders around. He knows just about everything about the breeds he keeps and I knew I could rely on his judgment. He also keeps White Dorkings, has had many kinds of Old English Games over the years, and Sumatras. He keeps Pomeranian Geese and has had guineafowl in the past.

I expected I could call and get some chicks, if I timed it right. He talked me into hatching my own. He also talked me into some of his Icelandics. They are a non-Standard breed, not recognized by the American Poultry Association, but he's delighted with them. Because they haven't been Standardized, they show a lot of variability -- some have tassels, some have crests, some have feathered legs. I'll research them and post more information later. He was so enthusiastic, I couldn't resist. They are reliable and faithful layers, he tells me, even in the cold Illinois winters. Lots of vitality and personality.

Ten years ago, he sent me a dozen hatching eggs, even though I didn't expect them. When they arrived, I rushed around and found an incubator and set up an Egg Turning Schedule on the wall. I'd check off when I turned them. My daughter, then a teenager, thought this was hilarious.

Amazingly, nearly all of them hatched. With so many interesting breeds, I showed them, and still have the ribbon one of my Dorking pullets earned from the Dorking Breed Club. Fortunately, because they were such excellent quality birds, most went into breeding programs when I had to disperse the flock. The Houdan rooster -- we called him M'sieur -- went into a White Houdan project.

So Ed's faith in my ability to hatch eggs isn't entirely misplaced. But this is ten years later and an entirely different situation. We'll see what happens.

I’m prepared for my eggs. The incubator arrived last week, a Hovabator Genesis. I set it up right away, put water in it and plugged it in. We tested the temperature after a day of warming up by adding two conventional store-bought eggs. The temperature was at 100 degrees, but there is no way to measure humidity.

SPPA vice president Monte Bowen, a prodigious hatcher, keeps his humdity at 60 percent, raising it to 70 percent in the last 7-10 days of incubation. Ed recommended getting a digital temperature-humidity sensor, available at Radio Shack. The local Radio Shack informed me that the one with a probe that Ed suggested has been discontinued, but I was able to get a Journey's Edge Digital Desktop Weather Station, which has a nice clear readout. It's small, only 2" x 4.25", so it will fit in the incubator easily.

Ed shipped the eggs, a dozen each of Dorkings and Icelandics, Priority Mail yesterday. I made arrangements with the local post office last week. I wanted to make a personal contact and tell them that I am expecting this package. We have the worst letter carrier in the world, he refuses to deliver anything that isn’t to his liking. He’s the last person I want handling a package labeled Fragile, Precious, Live Embryos.

The acting postmaster told me that they always make a phone call for live chicks and hatching eggs. Ed put my phone number on the outside of the package, but she said so long as I’m listed in the phone book, they would call me anyway.

She told me they’d had some peachicks delivered that morning!

Mine should arrive Thursday or Friday.