Long before I ever borrowed a real incubator from my wonderful friend over at Castle Delight Seramas, I had to come up with something to help hatch abandoned eggs. I'm beginning to realize that in a pinch, I do a fairly good job of just going with my gut. There are three major things an egg needs to hatch:
Here is a method I've used to hatch eggs on more than on occasion that are already pipped or zipped. This means that the chick has already decided it's time to start hatching, but for whatever reason, the Momma hen abandons the nest.
In tonight's episode of "Where's My Mom", it turns out that Momma hen had a chick hatch two days ago, and like all mothers of toddlers, she went running after it, got tired of running around like a chicken with its... (oh, nevermind), so she sat down on her chick until it fell asleep. And darn it to HECK if a mother of a toddler is going to wake up her sleeping baby to go do anything else! Like dishes. I still don't want to wake up my kids by doing the dishes.
I got off track.
So I'm going to show you the cast of characters. It's stuff I have in my home already - that just happened to do the trick.
1. A nifty re-useable (or disposable, if you sin like that) food container. NOT your favorite Tupperware. Please make sure it's clean.
2. A heating pad. This is what mine looks like. It has four settings. 1:Warm, 2:Oh that's just perfect, 3:Hey, that's burning, and 4:OUCH, what the heck?
3. A Meat Thermometer. This sounds distasteful, but it's not to measure the temperature of the chicken, but just the temperature of the air. Now most people who hatch eggs regularly already have a thermometer and hygrometer to keep track of air temp and humidity levels. Well... I'm clearly not "most" people.
4. Bounty Paper Towels. They can be something else, I just put bounty because that's what I have a lot of. Matter of fact paper napkins work just fine. That's what I used today.
Now here's where it gets tricky. You find an egg laying in a nest. It has a pip in it, or a hole where the chick has poked it's little tooth through, and there is no Mother in sight. (Or in the case of mine, she was in plain view, but she was sitting on top of a sleeping toddler and giving me the look of death) I touched the egg, and it was coooold. Now normally I would just slip the egg back under the Mom and wish them luck. But this egg was really cold, and I'm pretty sure that Mom-hen wasn't in any rush to just sit still for another day while her toddler ran laps around the coop. I carefully candled the egg, and saw absolutely no signs of life. I knew it was a wiggly bunch of feet and beak just the night before, so I headed for the house and got my well-organized emergency supplies out of the Poultry Emergency Cabinet.
Yeah right, I don't even have a hygrometer, I certainly don't have an emergency cabinet. So I was warming the egg in my hands at the kitchen table while hollering to the kids: GET A CONTAINER!
NO. NOT TUPPERWARE!
HEY, THE LID HAS TO FIT, YOU DUMMY!
Well, I didn't say that last part. Out loud anyway.
So the kids fetched me a container, that I'm hoping wasn't previously used for chicken, and some paper napkins, because that's all they could find. I sent another for the heating pad, and told them to fire it up onto the "Hey, that's burning" level while I humidified the container. That's the easy part. Get a paper towel (or napkin) wet, and just stick it in there. Take a box knife and cut an X shape into the top of the lid and poke the meat thermometer into the container, taking care to not have it touching anything in particular, like the hole in the egg, for example. Also feel free to make the cut larger than you need, because it should NOT be completely air tight.
Within five minutes this is what my emergency incubator looked like. I had no clue of what the humidity was, and just a general idea of the temp. Good enough for me.
While I was waiting for the container to heat up inside, I did what many chicken people tell you NOT to do. I investigated further. I figured that since the chick was most likely already dead, that I didn't have much to lose. I used a toothpick to chip away a very small amount of shell so I could get a look inside. I poked the beak a few times, and after about six pokes (gentle ones, of course!) and a little sweet talking, the blessed thing moved. I gave it a little more breathing room, and moistened the membrane a bit (it was pretty dried out from sitting in the open air) and then tucked it into the make-shift mini incubator.
I ended up placing a hot pad under the container to keep the bottom from getting too hot since I had to up it to "OUCH" level for the inside air to get high enough. Then I just kept the heating pad wrapped under and over the container and checked the temp like a maniac for the next couple hours to make sure it was around 100 degrees. If it got too hot, I'd just open the lid briefly. If it got too cold, I'd wrap it a bit tighter.
This is what surprised us a few short hours later.
Very weak, and very quiet.
Very weak, and very quiet.
And this! This is what its naughty sibling looks like - the one who hogs all the attention from their Mom
I'm hoping they look a lot alike in the very near future... although the realist in me will simply be enjoying the minutes or hours that I have been gifted to be a part of this tiny life.
All in all, this emergency incubator kit would only run you about $31.00. Fifteen for the heating pad, ten for the spiffy meat thermometer, a dollar for some sort of paper products and then another five bucks for a container of lunch meat when it's on sale.