This time of year, a strange sound comes from my large kitchen pantry. A beep...beep...beep...beep sound. One that always seems to make friends and family look around as if there is either something on fire or about to blow up. But for me, it's one of the wonderful sounds of spring. So what machine is lurking in the pantry, making ominous beeping noises? It's the incubator!
A few years ago, Dan & I invested in a large cabinet incubator. It has three trays, each capable of holding 66 chicken, turkey, peafowl or duck eggs. (Quail eggs, being much smaller, mean we can use smaller trays which hold many more.) We generally set one tray each week. This works really well, as chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch, so we can have a continuous supply of adorable chicks all spring. It is fully automated, with a digital thermostat for keeping a steady 100 degree temperature, a five gallon bucket that feeds into the machine's tray for steady humidity, and an automatic turner. This turner is necessary so that chicks do not develop lopsided and sickly. A real mother hen shifts on her nest, turning the eggs during incubation, and this fills that function and saves me from turning them by hand multiple times each day. The incubator beeps each time the trays turn, which happens every couple of hours. After a day or two, it becomes a background noise to me, just like the roosters crowing, one that means everything is going just fine. (But a noise that sounds suspiciously like a fire alarm or bomb to visitors!)
I'm excited to have chicks again. As always, we'll be saving some of the laying breeds (our Barred Rocks and Delawares) and keeping some hen chicks to replenish our own laying flock. Others we offer for sale to those looking to start their own flocks. We're looking forward to adding turkey and, hopefully, quail eggs to the mix in the next few weeks, and peafowl eggs later in the spring, probably May sometime. But most of all, I look forward to the day when I can pull out the hatching tray and pull out the first few downy chicks to move to the brooder pen. Because even though I've pulled literally thousands of chicks out of the incubator so far, it's still exciting every time. Seeing new life never gets old.