Clucky success despite heat

By Madeleine Caccianiga

The chicken hatching season proved a struggle this year with heat waves impacting on the success rate of previous years.

Forget the saying crazy cat lady, in our house it’s the crazy chicken lady — a title I have proudly taken in my stride.

Everyday throughout December and January broody chickens were hand fed and the grounds watered to ensure comfort through the heat.

Day-old hatchlings were brought inside out of the heat to fluff up and cool down before heading back out to the mother hen ready to take on the world.

Fresh fruit and vegetables were served with ice as a treat and a steamer was hung to keep things cool throughout the 40°C days.

Sadly, despite, all our efforts, more than 10 chickens were lost.

Feeling disheartened I decided enough was enough.

I love the hatching season but after seeing the stress our flock went through this year I wasn’t keen on leaving any eggs out for a second round.

Reminiscing on my first encounter with chickens — a school project where the eggs sat for 21 days in an incubator — I had a light-bulb moment.

After a discussion with my fiance Dave we sourced an incubator online in the hope of taking the stress from the hens and to possibly hand raise some chickens.

Waiting until February to set up the new contraption seemed pretty straightforward.

The incubator would count up to day 21 and with daily monitoring we hoped to get at least one lot of chickens hatched for our first try.

The temperature was set to 37.6°C, water was dripped into the bottom tray to set the humidity above 45 per cent and 20 eggs were placed into the turning mechanism that would rotate every two hours.

Day two came and alarms started to sing from the chook shed.

The outside heat had dried up all the water and the humidity was below 45 per cent.

This continued to happen every second day, because the more water we added at one time the humidity would increase to above maximum per cent and the drop seemed to happen while Dave and I were at work.

We decided to just take each day as it came and attended to the eggs when we could.

Day 18 came and the eggs were pulled out of the turning mechanism and the humidity was increased to allow the eggshells to soften for hatching.

We watched, we waited and we continued to attend to alarms of temperature increases from yet another heatwave.

We honestly started to fan the eggs in the incubator to get the excess heat out.

This continued until day 20 when we had our first chicken hatch.

I started yelling with excitement and was so proud that our hard work had paid off — even if that was our only hatch I was happy and content with our achievement.

Dave’s comment was the funniest, ‘‘now what?’’ he said.

Firstly the cages we were working on at the time had to be finished and set up with a heat lamp.

The cages needed a bit of work because they were the original cages I had raised chickens and rabbits in throughout my teenage years at my parents’ house.

My Dad had also grown up with them at Grandpa’s house so they were pretty old, but built to last.

After re-wiring a few holes, attaching the heat lamp and applying a fresh coat of paint, we were ready to go. The next 24 hours saw five more chickens hatch and numerous alarms from exceeding ideal temperatures.

Checking hourly on our new babies I felt myself slowly going insane, but was still proud of our first attempt and the set-up we had created in time for the hatching.

Spending time with the chickens every day, I feel proud to have them in the cages my Dad and I grew up with, raising our chosen pets at the time.

Knowing the cages have lasted the test of time and that we’re still sharing the stories that have travelled with them, I hope the newly-hatched chickens will become a story to pass onto future generations of our own.

Madeleine Caccianiga is a journalist at The News.