Having expected the partridges to hatch on Friday night, I was getting worried by Sunday morning. The shells had started to chip on Thursday, but no further activity whatsoever was cause for concern. When one partridge hatched at lunchtime, I was sure all the others would be close behind, but there was no sign of progress whatsoever by eight o’clock. Taking one of the motionless eggs, I chipped away a bit more of the shell to find a live chick inside, but the membrane had dried like leather and he was stuck fast. Checking the hygrometer, I saw that the humidity reading was 80% relative, so it was hard to understand why the little blighters were so badly stuck in dried up eggs.
Determined not to be left with a single chick, I began the long and ultimately hopeless process of helping the partridges to hatch. It’s not a pleasant job, and so delicate that you’re almost certain to do more harm than good. However, there would be no point in bringing on a single chick, so rather than wipe the slate clean and start again, I stuck at it. After a couple of hours, all the chicks had hatched to some extent, but it was clear that there weren’t going to be many do-ers.
In the meantime, the one stuffy chick had developed horribly splayed legs and could do little more than just sprawl around on the mesh floor of the incubator. Deciding to leave them all to it, I went to bed.
This morning, all the chicks were still alive, but some so obviously weak that I euthanased the worst of them. Three showed signs of progress, including the splay legged bird which, apart from its odd legs, appears to be perfectly healthy and happy. Following advice from an old book on poultry, I hobbled his legs together with a bit of tape which should keep them at a reasonable angle and help him get his act together. Another one of the three is actually quite game, so it looks like I might have at least two to bring on. Unless the others show serious signs of progress in the next few hours, I’ll euthanase them and concentrate on what I’ve got.
The last 24 hours have actually been surprisingly distressing, and it has redoubled my resolve to get properly set up with broody hens. There’s something quite brutal and unsympathetic about circuit boards and thermostats – I almost feel guilty that I passed on the care of vulnerable, pulsating animals to a hard, unfeeling machine which wasn’t designed to trouble-shoot or provide natural care. I don’t know what went wrong, but you’re playing with fire when you think that you have all the answers for a biological process which verges on the magical. The freakish, distorted chicks will be a reminder of how things can get out of hand, and the next batch (which come this week) will hopefully be the last that I incubate artificially.