The Light Sussex Chicks Have Landed!
Here we finally go! On the morning of 21st May, three Light Sussex chicks beat the rest to hatching, and lay over the tops of the other unbroken eggs, like miniature, fluffy yellow beached whales. It’s recommended to open the incubator once every six hours at most during the hatching process – not because of the temperature drop but mainly due to the humidity drop. A dry atmosphere inside the incubator can lead to the chick drying out and getting stuck to the inside of the egg – and on the last two days we raise the humidity and lay kitchen towels into the small water troughs inside the incubator, to increase the wettened surface area, which leads to increased evaporation and therefore raises the humidity. Unfortunately our incubator ran dry on about day 17 – the instructions recommend checking the water level in the internal reservoir every three days, but ours ran out on the second night and we awoke to a dry reservoir. I could have kicked myself for relying on instructions – last year I checked religiously every day and we had no problems, but this year we lost six eggs who’d almost gone full term and failed to hatch. I can only put this down to the dry spell they had.
But the good news, we have thirteen lovely little Light Sussex chicks! I’m going to have a stab at how many cockerels and how many pullets we have – 6 and 7. It’s strange but looking at general temperament and attitude, even at a day old, and I *think* I can have a good guess at what’s what – but we’ll wait and see, I’m probably totally wrong!
We’re adept at the home-made brooder setup now, after hatching a few broods over the last two years. It consists of our 4 foot plastic field trough, lined with newspaper and a towel on top of that. The towel is to give the chicks some traction for their tiny feet, newspaper on its own can lead to splayed legs. Then we commandeer the camera tripod (sacriledge!) and dangle the heat lamp from the head. With this system we can raise and lower the heat lamp by winding the tripod up and down, easy! Into the trough go the chick crumbs, fresh water (changed at least once daily, more if they poop in it) and some sand, the chick-sized equivalent of grit. You have to make sure the sand is untreated though – basic sharp sand is good, no anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-anything added! The towel gets changed as soon as it fills with the tiny poops, and in a week or so when they’re eating properly and hungrily, we’ll move to wood shavings. If we use wood shavings too early, they’ll try and eat them which can be fatal, so we give it a couple of weeks. And make sure the shavings are pine, not cedar.
We monitor the Light Sussex chicks – they need a certain temperature and there are many websites telling you how high to raise you lamp, and how often to do so. The rub is, the chicks will tell you! If they’re lying in a big clump directly under your lamp, it’s too cold, if they’re spread around the outside of the brooder, they’re too hot! If they’re in a nice circle, then you’ve found the goldilocks distance. We place ours around 1.5-2 feet high and lower it gradually whilst watching them, but it helps to know the starting temperature is 35 Celsius (95 Farenheit), just below the temperature of the incubator when they popped out.
And this is where we’re at at the moment – all thirteen Light Sussex chicks have hatched and alternating between improptu naps and looking around cheeping. Some of the more curious are starting to peck at things and sample the food and water, but we won’t see proper eating and drinking until day 3, when they’ll starting chasing around the brooder and generally become far more active, with the wing pin feathers developing fast! They grow up so quickly!