Spring is in the air and it’s that time of the year when I travel with our county 4-H extension educator to talk about embryology. First of all, what is it? Did the chicken come first or did the egg? Well, if you’re sitting through my demonstration, sometimes I talk about the chicken first and sometimes I talk about the egg first. We talk about the different purposes and jobs of the chicken, the different parts of the chicken, and the leg band on the chicken including testing for quality and health. We also let the classroom know what the rooster’s job is and what the hen will do to “brood” the eggs.
After all our talk with the chickens, we will move to the egg and the incubator. We educate the youth on the different parts of the egg and how those parts help the chick in its development. We help the kid’s set-up and prepare the incubator including the proper use of it. The temperature and humidity in the incubator are vital to a successful hatch. If either of those two things isn’t right or kept at a constant, in all likelihood, the peeps won’t hatch or they might hatch, but they may struggle to survive.
Did you know that chicken eggs will hatch 21 days after the incubation has begun? If you let the water chambers within the incubator dry-up, the embryos will die. Another important factor that we teach the kids is about the importance of washing their hands prior to handling the eggs. You see, in order for the eggs to properly grow into peeps, the eggs must be turned several times a day while they are in the incubator. It helps to mark all the eggs with a small penciled “X” on one side of the egg. At least three times a day, you need to turn the egg over to its other side. You also want to make sure that however many times you turn the egg throughout the day; you do it an uneven number of times to ensure that the eggs aren’t on the same side through the night.
After we teach the kids all these tricks, they become “eggsperts.” We leave them with a dozen eggs and an incubator that has been set to temperature. After a week, we return to the classroom where we “candle” the eggs. We candle the eggs to check for viability. After only one short week, by turning off the lights in the room and holding the egg to the light box, you can actually see the growing embryo inside the egg. We remove any eggs that show no signs of life.
By day 18, the eggs are no longer turned. Instead, the box is left to wait. You will hopefully begin hearing slight “pipping” noises which the chick is making its way. Before long, you we see a small “x” like crack in the egg. The chick has begun to make his entrance into the world. As difficult as it may be for you to refrain from helping the little chick make its way out of its egg, don’t! The chick builds strength as it works to free itself from the shell. They aren’t the cutest thing in the world when they first make their appearance, but rest assured, before long, they become the cutest ball of fluff we are all smitten with. So when all conditions are right, one of the most rewarding things is being able to witness the hatching of the chicks.