Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Difference Between Success and Failure... a dishcloth. Well, it was for me, anyway.

Ten days ago I started an incubator full of eggs that the hens had laid in weird little hidey holes here and there in their yard. Whenever I find an egg "out of bounds", whether it be just one or a whole clutch, I always either compost them or incubate them. The last thing I want one of our friends or customers to crack open is an egg that has already started down the path to chickenhood. Been there. *shivers*

So, though we didn't need this brood of babies, we figured that we might as well incubate them, what with Spring coming, supposedly, and maybe sell a few, keep a few. 'Twas not to be.

I started the incubator in our back room, which is unheated. It is the same place that I start all of my seeds on their heat mats and under grow lights. It's basically like a greenhouse that is connected to my spare room.

Well, the seeds don't mind the cool so much, but my poor little incubator just could not get up to temp. I upped it by little smidges each day, trying to get to the magic 99.5 degrees, but never going higher than 90. I maxed out the "increase" switch without ever reaching temperature. I knew that this wasn't great, but what else could I do to increase the heat?

I considered a heating pad. Nah, For one thing it had auto shutoff, so the temp wouldn't stabilize anyway, and for another, I was too scared that it would go bananas and somehow burn my house down. For a lack of better ideas, I threw a kitchen towel over the top of the incubator, hoping that that little 1/32" thickness of cloth would insulate my little foam box just enough to hit the 99.5 degree mark. Boy did I underestimate that towel!

I checked the eggs later that evening, and upon removing the top of the incubator was greeted with a hot blast of sulphery/chicken poopy smelling air. OH NO.

The temp on the thermometer was at 120 degrees! 101 degrees is theoretically enough to kill a chicken embryo. There was no doubt, these little eggies were toast.

I removed them from the incubator with a great deal of care, lest I drop one or smack a few together and create a noxious cloud of superfunk. Bill carried them ever-so-carefully to the compost bin, and I was left with a smelly, empty, fireball-hot incubator. :(

And so I'm bummed. Poor eggs. The only potential silver lining here is that only about 1/4 of the eggs that I candled had shown any signs of development at any point anyway, so many of them may have been duds from the start. Maybe they weren't fertile in the first place? That would be hard to imagine with the way King Kong has been, err... "patronizing" his ladies lately. Maybe they got too cold out in the chicken yard before they were found? We've had a lot of weird cold snaps since mid-January, jammed in right next to beautiful sunny days. It's the devil's potpourri, this Winter weather of ours. Or maybe, I just straight up murdered 42 potential little fluff balls with my kitchen towel and a heaping helping of stupid.

Next time, I'll preheat the incubator to find the perfect temp before adding my eggy babies. And yes, I will be using my kitchen towel turned insulation WITH EXTREME CAUTION.

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