Okay, so it’s not snap, crackle, pop, but in the spring, we eat, sleep and breathe the whistle, crack and hatch. You see, it’s hatching season.
The whistle begins about a week before the cracking, but the story begins long before that, so let’s start at the beginning. Here at 4 D Acres, the breeding season begins in September and lasts through May. It is during this time where our best hens and their male counterparts let the magic begin. Within days to weeks, the hens begin to lay eggs and our ‘round the clock work begins. The eggs are laid after dark, so we must check the pens during the night so that the eggs do not freeze in the cold weather or are not pilfered by predators. Once an egg has been taken from the pen, it is weighed, assigned a number for record keeping and then placed into refrigeration at 45°F for 30 to 45 days. A batch of eggs is then brought to room temperature before being placed in our floor-model Hatchrite incubator at 97°F and 33% humidity. The eggs stay here until the hatching begins, approximately 52 days. Our incubator maintains the ideal temperature and humidity level and even rotates the eggs, so unless an alarm sounds signifying a change in ideal conditions based on external factors, all we have to do is check the water reservoir for proper levels and fill as necessary.
Whistle: About a week before an egg is ready to hatch, the most amazing thing happens. If you whistle at the egg, it sometimes starts rocking as the baby chick responds to the sound, and every once in a while, it whistles back!
Crack: One of the most exciting things for us to see is a tiny shell fragment on the floor of the incubator as it means that the hatching has begun. That egg is then placed into a hatcher, where the hatching process takes anywhere from one to two hours, and up to twelve hours. If the chick has some difficulty hatching, we must resist the temptation to help the chick out of the shell. Much like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, the emu chick must exercise survival muscles including the pipping muscle that does the majority of shell-breaking work.
Hatch: Once the chick is completely hatched out, it is again weighed, sexed and tagged. Then it goes into the brooder box with all the other hatchlings, and does not come out of there until we see that it eats, drinks, and poops, - basic survival skills.
From newly hatched chick to sexually mature adult, it takes eighteen to twenty four months, and the birds are kept in areas accordant with their age, generally recognizable in their height.
This year, in addition to all the other chores that it takes to run a farm and a household, the hatching and brooding season will keep us constantly busy as we go through two phases, the first hatch planned for the beginning of March with sporadic hatching finishing out the first batch under our careful vigilance. Our second phase will begin in May and hopefully by summer, we are on to a whole different season at 4 D Acres.