Update: Turkey & the Hen, pt 2

I’ll be dang.  That turkey Hen, after a full week, is still sitting on her eggs*. I say her (almost) eggs because we actually put her eggs under the hen, and gave her fresh chicken eggs to sit on.  If she was gonna run off and visit the “guys” I wanted to be able to save her chicks.  Chicken chicks are pretty easy for us to get, but not turkey chicks, so if we lost  her “chicken eggs” it was not quite a disaster for us.

But, she is finally hanging in there.  I peek in every day (sometimes twice) just to make sure… and she just looks at me. Doesn’t get flustered at all.  The hen gets pretty grouchy at me if I try to check her eggs. She rustles up her neck feathers and tries to peck me if I get to close.  She’s definitely into protecting her (turkey) eggs. Her eggs were actually moved to the incubator, along with some turkey eggs as there were too many eggs for her to sit on.

The Alternate Surrogate – an incubator!

A couple of days ago we had a surprise in the incubator, the hen’s eggs are starting to hatch!  A constant churp-churp-churp alerted us to a hatching chick.

We’ve been struggling a bit with the incubator, at the start, to make sure we had the temp in the right range… 99-100 degrees F, so I was SURE we had killed off the developing chicks. Nope, tough little guys.  It turns out they can tolerate short periods of temps down to 90 degrees for hours. It may slow the hatch but high temps (103  F) for even 30 min, will kill the embryo.

Temp & Humidity Levels

We bought an instant read digital thermometer with a probe that went into the incubator.  It would give us the internal temp and the humidity level.  Things you need to know… and difficult to actually find out WITHOUT opening the top of our little incubator. Every time you remove the top you alter the very things you are trying to keep stable.

The little funnel you see in the top of the lid gives us access to putting water inside to increase the humidity level WITHOUT opening up the unit. The humidity inside the unit needs to be in the 55-65% range or else the growing embryo’s get too dry and stick to the membrane inside the egg.

We use an automatic turner in our forced air incubator. The mother hen normally turns the eggs multiple times a day, to keep the embryo from “sticking” to the internal membrane. If the eggs are NOT turned consistently you end up with a very poor hatch rate. Years ago we started out turning them manually but as soon as we could afford to add the “turner” we did. You are supposed to stop turning the eggs for the last three days, but out little hatchling did just fine.

Automatic Turner w/eggs

You can see the chicken and turkey eggs (light speckled eggs). They are placed in the slot with the large rounded end up.

There is an air pocket inside the egg as well as the yolk, the clear ‘white”, and the embryo surrounded by a white layer. Did you know that the yolk is NOT the chick? It is the food the chick will use while it is developing. Just before it actually hatches, it draws the rest of the yolk sack into its gut, and uses it for food, for the first couple of days, after it is hatched.

Chicks do not need food or water the first two days, which allows them to be shipped all over the country, from hatcheries. They draw on the yolk reserves for their energy needs.  Now, of course nature did not design this process for OUR use… so why does it work that way?

People are often astounded when I tell them that Hen’s do NOT sit on their eggs right away. But instead, lay eggs for up to 1-2 weeks before sitting.

Think about it.  A hen, at most, lays one egg a day. If it takes 21 days to hatch a chick, and she was sitting on 10 eggs, starting from the day she laid the egg, she would have chicks born over 1-2 weeks.  How could she keep her unborn chicks warm AND take care of her new chicks.

Momma Hen with her new chicks

Actually, she lays a clutch of eggs over a couple of weeks, and THEN she sets.  That way all the eggs are “warmed up” beginning at the same time.

They generally hatch over a two-day period (maybe some were at the outer edge and weren’t quite as warm so the hatch is slightly delayed).

As the chicks begin to hatch they stay under mom to keep warm.  After two full days she will then leave the nest. Any eggs that have not hatched, are left.  It’s time for mom to take care of her new hatchlings. The oldest chicks have two days food supply on reserve but after that mom needs to show them how to scratch and eat/drink.

So, contrary to public opinion, eggs do NOT have to be kept refrigerated to be fresh. If an egg can sit in a nest for two weeks and still be “fresh” enough for mom to set … and hatch out a clutch, I bet they are still good eggs.

In Europe, it is unheard of to put eggs in the refrigerator… you must WARN people, by law, if you do that.

What’s the deal?  I’ll address those issues in my NEXT post!

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