Counting Your Chicks Before They Hatch

I was a city girl all my life, but always dreamed of owning a piece of land with a few hens for eggs and room enough for a big garden. Mr. A shared that dream and 7 years ago we moved out to the country. Interestingly, we’ve actually been able to experience some of the old sayings we’d heard all our lives. Don’t count your chicks before they hatch being one of those wise old sayings.

What exactly does that mean? It’s not too hard to figure out. Basically you shouldn’t count on something to turn out a certain way until it actually happens.

But when you get to experience it yourself, in real life, it really hits home.

I could tell you a lot of anecdotes, but I’ll limit myself to the most recent one.

First, a short biology lesson. Hens (like female humans) are born with the amount of eggs they are capable of producing in their lifetime. Hens produce the most eggs from about six months of age to about two years. They start out laying an egg every other day, or if they are a really good layer, every day. After that they start dropping off in their production, going from every day or every other day, to maybe every third or fourth day. Since we raise ours in a natural environment (as opposed to battery hens) where they get to eat bugs, take dirt baths and lay in the sun, they also produce best when the days are long and the weather is good for raising chicks. When it’s really burning hot in the middle of summer, we’re getting very few eggs from our four dozen hens. Some days we get no eggs. When it gets really cold, it’s the same. They actually produce best around Easter, so it makes sense, the focus on eggs that time of the year. People who are in the business to actually make money buy new pullets (female chicks) every year to replace the aging layers, and put the 2 year old hens in the freezer. You can get baby chicks cheaper if you buy straight run – which means you get males and females. But if you pay a bit more, you can choose to buy only females. Pullets cost more because their sex is determined as day old chicks by humans (called chick sexers) whose profession it is to determine the sex of baby chicks. Some breeds indicate sex by their feathering, but most have to be “examined” to determine their sex.

A day-old chick
A day-old chick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another topic for another day on a different blog is the usefulness of the female farm animal as compared to the worthlessness of the male farm animal. It is fascinating to me how in our society males are so highly prized, while on the farm only a few select males are kept alive. For those who take their farming business seriously, only the finest male specimens are allowed to stay alive to procreate. The majority of the males of any farm animal are destined for the freezer. But on with my story.

Mr. A likes to hatch out chicks, so last February he chose a dozen eggs to put into the incubator. The goal is to produce more hens for laying eggs as our hens are slowing down in their production.

You can automate the process somewhat by buying an egg turner, but those cost $50. Mr. A enjoys the routine of turning the eggs himself, which needs to be done at least twice daily, preferably three times a day. The egg needs to be turned so the chick will develop properly. The temperature in the incubator needs to stay at a consistent temperature, and the humidity level is important as well. It’s a lot easier to hatch out chicks with a willing hen as she does all the work for you.

It takes 21 days for the egg to develop into a chick. 21 days of monitoring the incubator, and turning the eggs three times a day. And since we put 12 eggs in the incubator, soon we’ll be getting a dozen eggs every day from our twelve new hens. That’s what you call counting your chicks before they hatch.

Mr. A turned the eggs faithfully for three weeks.

They were all duds. None of them hatched out. For some unknown reason, they didn’t develop into chicks. The temperature might not have been consistent, or maybe the humidity wasn’t right, or maybe the eggs just weren’t fertile.

So he put in another dozen eggs; went through the whole process another 21 days.

This time two chicks were viable. Did you know that you are not supposed to help a chick get out of its shell? If it can’t get out of its shell, it’s probably unhealthy. One chick managed to get him or herself hatched, the other kept pitifully peeping and trying to make progress on its shell. Even though I know you aren’t supposed to help them out of the shell, I did. That chick was never “right” and I had to euthanize it a few days later.

For all his work, Mr. A got one live chick.

Around the same time Mr. A put the eggs into the incubator, a friend of mine ordered chicks from a company online and we split the order. Our order kept getting delayed, and finally our new chicks arrived when our one live chick was about three days old.

We were keeping the chicks on the porch, with a light on for heat. Baby chicks need to be very warm in order to survive, and we learned over the years that if they are cheeping loudly they are probably cold. It was warm during the day, but still pretty chilly at night. A few nights later, the light burned out during the night and it got very cold. The baby chicks we’d ordered huddled together to stay warm, but the one lone chick Mr. A had hatched out somehow managed to land on his back in the shallow watering dish.

He (or she) froze to death, unfortunately.

All those weeks of turning the eggs, and not one chick survived.

What is the point of this post? Remember how I planned to take my son to the hotel (which if you remember was not as a bribe, but to prevent him from eating for the hours prior to the blood draw) with plans to get his blood drawn the next day?

Well, it didn’t turn out as I expected. He was perfectly fine until he saw the needle. Apparently, last time he was able to get his blood drawn, he was not watching. I forgot that one little detail. I was very distraught, as his doctor was insisting that he have blood tests done before he would see him again for his asthma, and also refused to give us a referral to a specialist. I was actually crying while at the lab, and my son felt terrible and tried to comfort me as we were leaving. When we got outside, he told me he needed to be alone for a few minutes and I could hear him talking to himself a few feet away. “Mom’s sad. Mom’s crying. You a man. You can do it. Mom’s sad. Be strong. Yes.

He came back over to me, ready to try again. This time, the phlebotomist decided she wanted to try for a vein on his finger, as the veins in his arms were difficult to locate. With this change in plan, my son grew quite alarmed, exclaiming, “My finger!” and began flinging his arm around wildly.

We ended up leaving, and soon my tears turned into anger.

I’m not going into detail, but let’s just say I decided it was wrong for the doctor to withhold the referral to an asthma/allergy specialist because he wanted blood tests done. And, well, I went to the doctor’s office after the failed blood draw and well, the end result is we received two letters this week informing us that the doctor has dismissed my son from his practice for non-compliance and “arguing with the staff.” I was not a happy momma bear that day. I was in fact quite outraged.

Contrast that to my asthma/allergy specialist, who when I called to see how much this would cost out of pocket, explained to me that my son’s insurance only requires that I notify the primary care physician that I am taking him to a specialist, and then they agreed to see my son that very day, actually within minutes of my calling and explaining the situation.

As it turns out, the congestion appears to be more allergy related, than asthma. The specialist was respectful of my son’s needle phobia and suggested we treat him instead of expecting him to endure a scratch test. Now I’m not normally one to take medication at the drop of a hat. For example, I have refused antibiotics the last few times my physician offered them until the tests were back proving that I had a serious infection which needed treatment. The doctor was fine to go along with that, stating that he’d just wanted to give them to me “in case”. And in all cases, they were absolutely unnecessary. I believe antibiotics are so detrimental to the human body that I’d rather wait for proof. But in my son’s case, thankfully the specialist was willing to take his phobia into consideration, and agree to treat him without proof.

The other thing that gripes me is blood testing is not always the most accurate way of testing especially for the things for which my son’s ex-doctor was testing. Yes, all of you with needle phobias, guess what? For some diseases, saliva testing is much more accurate, costs less and if infinitely less invasive.

My son’s lung function is diminished, so he does need to have a daily breathing treatment. That’s the next hoop we’re jumping through. My son’s insurance won’t cover the prescription medication for him because he is over the age of five. They expect him to use an inhaler. My son cannot coordinate his breathing to get the medication into his lungs properly. The prescription would cost $183 PER MONTH to buy out of pocket, so we are waiting to see if the specialist can persuade them that HELLO THIS YOUNG MAN *HAS* INSURANCE BECAUSE HE IS MENTALLY CHALLENGED and he needs to use a nebulizer.

On the upside, we had a fabulous time in the pool at the hotel. My son had a huge grin on his face as he swam in the water like a fish. The pool was 9′ deep so I got to practice my diving. I brought my camera and taped myself and I can actually still dive pretty darned good!

I seem to be having a bit of insomnia, that’s why this post is so early. I have an appointment today with my asthma/allergy specialist and have to run some errands. I had better see if I can get a few more hours sleep before my day starts.


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4 thoughts on “Counting Your Chicks Before They Hatch

  1. I feel for your son, I am 40 years old and still panic when they come at me with a needle. I don’t advocate drugs, but on rare occasions they can help a lot. When I went in for surgery a few years ago, they couldn’t put the IV in my hand because I was shaking so bad. Two valium and a half hour later I was calm enough to let them insert the IV, and it made the rest of the time prior to surgery much easier.


  2. Dear Anonymous, I appreciate your empathy toward my son’s needle phobia. I hope we can find a doctor that will be compassionate toward my son and find a way to work with him to make the experience tolerable. Thanks for visiting and thanks for your supportive comment!


  3. I’m glad to hear that at least the asthma specialist treated you and your son a little more humanely. Some people should not be practicing medicine!

    [sigh] I also hate needles (and by extension, most things having to do with doctor’s offices and hospitals). When I was a little girl living overseas, we had to have annual immunizations to about a dozen scary diseases — typhus, typhoid, cholera…and on and on and on and on. They staggered these, so people got shots about once every six months. As a child I was absolutely terrorized by these, some of which really were painful. Mercifully I don’t recall this episode, but my mother said that once when I was trying to escape, a nurse threw me down on the floor, put her foot on top of me to pin me down, and jabbed me with the needle. After that, getting me to the clinic was quite a little project.

    LOL! I do remember sneaking out the clinic door and running away down the road, thinking if I could make it to the fence around the camp I could dig my way under it or maybe swim into the gulf and swim around it and then just run off into the desert. Since it was the Rub al’Khali, if I’d succeeded I would never have had to have another shot (or anything else) ever again!


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