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Hatching chickens and planting seeds
From the Valley
FRESH OUT THE EGG, Em is adding to her flock in nature's time-honored way, and no doubt giving her little guys quite the education.

RISING SUN - This past Saturday turned out to be quite the eventful day for our little family. 

Thatcher and I were able to escape into the Driftless and visit the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, while helping a handful of volunteers plant native flower seed. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when our friend sent the email invite to Thatcher specifically, but when I asked him, he eagerly agreed. 

 It turned out to be quite the nice time. I realized that I don’t often get to spend time with just him. And as he is about to turn five next month, I realize that already the days of me being his number one sweetheart are slipping by quickly. 

So, we certainly made the most of our trip, stopping to grab drinks at Wonderstate and taking the time to explore the area after our seeding duties were done. Thatcher even was able to unearth a long forgotten cobalt blue glass bottle from the site. The perfect treasure to go along with several four leafed clovers we found as well. 

The real excitement happened when we got home though. Thatcher, Waylon and I (sometimes, reluctantly Chasca too) have been anxiously awaiting the hatching of our baby chicks. 

This whole experience with the incubator has been, well, let's say challenging. I’ve wanted an incubator for a couple of years, but never seriously put a lot of thought into it or what one I wanted. 

Finally, this Christmas, Chasca took the plunge and purchased one for me at the local feed store. Sticking to our goal of trying to purchase as locally as possible, his options were a little limited for an incubator in December. 

The model we got is a still air Styrofoam one. Which I’ve since learned takes a delicate hand and a watchful eye to master. 

“They can be really tricky, and we’re still trying to master ours,” Emily Peterson, Hatcher Extraordinaire and owner of Ridge and Valley Farms Poultry of Viroqua told me. 

So, I shouldn’t have been so surprised that the first batch failed to develop completely. But I was. I stood there in the dark of my dining room where the little white box hummed away, trying to figure out what could have gone wrong. Roosters? I have seven, and there are plenty of farmyard antics going on to insure at least ONE of those eggs were fertile. Temperature? Humidity? Both read as ideal on the small dial on the face of the unit. 

I consulted with my friend who had hatched chicks before and upgraded her incubator recently. “Yes, I had one of those,” she texted me back when I sent her a photo of my machine. “I bought it for .50 cents at a rummage sale. It worked okay, but you really need….” and then proceeded to text me links for extra thermometers and humidity readers to help get a more accurate reading. 

I proceeded to purchase the extra implements and cleaned out my incubator. I ended up having another failed hatch before more research proceeded to expose that the ambient temperature in the room may also be affecting the ability to regulate enough for development. 

I moved the incubator to our bedroom which is always the same temperature, cold. And carefully selected my favorite green speckled eggs and some other Silkie eggs from a friend. On a big hopeful wish, I plugged in the incubator and turner and loaded it with 20 more eggs that I hoped greatly wouldn’t end up pig food. 

Thatcher has been my companion through all of this, now older and trustworthy not to open up the incubator and snatch an egg in a moment's notice like some other mischievous little boy that we love. We marked the days on the calendar together and after I took the turner out early, he’d stand at my side and watch me gently turn them. 

So, on Saturday, when I awoke from my accidental nap that I took with Bop, to the peep, peep, peeping of a chick, piping from its egg, I burst out from the covers to go find the Big Brother to tell him the news. We had a baby chick! Partially hatched with the shell stuck to its fluffy little butt. 

 The chick hatched a few days early, as I knew I probably had my dates wrong. I was pretty nervous at first, as it peeped desperately seemingly stuck in its shell. But I resisted all urges to open the lid and help it out. Eventually, it popped free and a couple more have hatched since. Unfortunately, we’ve had two hatch with leg issues that Google attributes to inconsistent temps and humidity during hatching. Sign. Still working out those bugs. So far, a total of three healthy chicks though and two with funny legs (which I've attempted to repair so stand by for updates) and fingers crossed I might get a couple more. 

I admit I did however, just today, break down and bought a different, but inexpensive incubator. I’m hoping in the future to be able to hatch my own dual purpose meat birds and hopefully, the larger Styrofoam unit will do the job, with perfecting. But for now, I’d settle for better hatch rates than five out of 20.