I’ve got a confession to make – I suspect I am a hatchaholic. A hatchaholic is someone who loves hatching eggs and keeps doing it. Whether it’s watching a broody hen hatch and raise her chicks or setting eggs in an incubator and hatching and raising them yourself.
My lovely pet zoo partner S. and I see eye to eye on many things. She loves the animals just as much as I do, she has the same ideas about animal care and her standards are even higher than mine. It’s a perfect partnership. She doesn’t like mice; I don’t mind them. I am terrified of spiders; she picks them up with her bare hands (ack). Great co-operation.
There is only one thing we sometimes struggle with, and it concerns the cycle of life: birth, procreation and death. These are difficult things to deal with anyway, and we don’t always completely agree on how to handle them. S. has a thing about dead animals. She cannot see or handle them – it freaks her out to the point of panic. I don’t like to see death either, but I can push my fear aside quite easily. So, I am the one who takes care of dead and dying animals.
I have quite a different “thing”, and it’s about procreation. I love the animals so much that it is hard for me to deny them something they want – and to breed is on top of their list. It is fun to let the animals breed sometimes – everyone loves baby animals. But most of the time, we have to stop them. We can’t accommodate the hundreds of babies they would make, and we are not always comfortable about giving them away to people we don’t know. So we have to stop them more often than not.
That’s my problem. Keeping the rabbit and guinea pig sexes apart is hard, but I do it. But when it comes to the birds, I’m a sucker. I can gather eggs when nobody seems inclined to hatch them, but when a hen stays on the nest, puffs herself up and shrieks at me when I come close, I cannot take her eggs. I feel like I am taking away her babies. S. laughs at me, shoos the chicken away and gets rid of the eggs. I stand aside, watching anxiously and wringing my hands. So, S. is in charge of breaking up unwanted nests.
And now, spring has started again, and we are having to deal with broody chickens and ducks. It seems to be contagious: as soon as one starts, they all want to brood. One of our muscovy ducks already hatched 6 babies, but I know we cannot let more muscovies hatch this year – it is hard to find a good place for them. Mallard ducks are easier. One of the females has just started sitting on a nest with around 7 eggs. S. agreed to let this one sit, but will break up any other nests we might find.
Yesterday, I discovered another mallard duck nest. It was so well hidden behind the straw shed, that we didn’t see it until now. It has about 10 eggs and the duck is already sitting. She rustled her feathers protectively at me. I did nothing. I pretended I didn’t see it. I didn’t tell S. I intend to be all innocently surprised when the duck emerges trailing those adorable ducklings.
The only problem is: I’m a crap liar. And S. might read this post. I am so busted. And there is another thing. There are three chickens sitting together on a nest in the feed shed. Between them, they were brooding on 26 eggs. Even I had to admit that was too many. S. told me: “We have to take some out.” “Right!” I agreed, pretending to be totally cool with this. So we lifted the (screeching, pecking) hens and took 10 eggs away from underneath them. The hens settled back in place, still growling, but otherwise fine.
I fully intended to throw the eggs away. Really, I did. But I made a fatal mistake – I candled the eggs. This means shining a bright light into them in a dark room, so you can see through the shell what is happening inside. Every single one of those ten eggs was developing and alive. In all of them, I watched a teeny, tiny embryo chick swaying back and forth with the pulse of its own heartbeat. It was incredibly beautiful and touching. Could I throw those eggs away after that? No I could not. I dare anyone not to have the same reaction.
By coincidence, just the day before, I had received my long-awaited and much anticipated Brinsea Mini incubator. I was planning to use it for a hatching project in my sons’ school (I tried this last year with a crappy cheap Chinese incubator and it went quite spectacularly wrong – only one chick hatched. We live and learn.)
So, you realise where this is going. My brand new incubator is now zooming away merrily in my living room, keeping 10 partly developed chicken eggs warm. I can’t wait until they hatch. I feel like a hero for saving them.
The only problem now is how to break it to S. And how to get my husband to build an extension to the pet zoo, maybe.
Happy soon-to-be Easter 🙂