Yesterday’s candling was quite dramatic, but it reminded me of some basics I had become lax about and forgotten. I went up to the coop around dusk to put up my chickens for the night. I had let Rosie, my brooding Welsummer, out of her dog crate for a chicken spa (bathroom, food, water, dust bath) about half an hour previous. When I came back, she had gotten back on the wrong nest – the first time she has made a mistake. I decided to take advantage of this and candle her eggs. I saw the air cell, perhaps a bit of veining in the upper half of the egg, and a thick, dark stripe around the bottom of the egg, about 1/3 of the way up. “Oh, no!” I thought, “She’s killed them all!” (I still picked her up, placed her back on her eggs, and closed her back in.)
I knew that my temps and humidity had been nigh-on perfect in the incubator, so I did not panic too much. “Silly girl. I shouldn’t have given her such valuable eggs,” I thought to myself, and of course, to my poor, patient husband. I went straight inside to candle the rest. There was still some light leaking in at the windows, so I pulled the curtains and set myself up to candle, weigh, and take the photos you see on this post.
To my horror, all of the EO eggs looked like Rosie’s! I could see only the faintest veining and, in each egg, the dark, low-lying band stared out at me like the very specter of death. Yes, specter of death. It was that serious. Oddly, the other eggs in the incubator looked just fine – there was more veining and, while there was a band in the same place, it seemed more integrated into the mass of life growing inside. Hmm.
I turned on the lights and put everything away. What had I done wrong? Did the eggs get too hot in my car? Did they not get enough air because I had covered the sides of the incubator? And why had these factors not affected the Australorp eggs which had been through all of the same conditions?
After a bit of pacing and panic, I looked out the window in my living room. Outside, the world was dark and I could only see my own reflection. Hmm. It wasn’t so dark when I candled….
I washed my hands again and wiped the candler with rubbing alcohol once more. Returning to my bedroom, I lifted the lid of the incubator and carefully examined each egg once more. This time, the veining throughout the egg was more pronounced, and the dark band low in the egg was attached to these veins, the leading edge in the expansion of the growing embryo. This realization greatly relieved me and made far more sense. I calmly candled all of my eggs again (camera-less, I’m afraid) and found that all but three (of 31 eggs in the incubator, 23 of which are Basque) were developing; these three were one clear and two blood rings. As a result, I suspect that all four of Rosie’s eggs are developing as well.
What are the lessons I can take from this experience?
- Candle in a completely dark room. This does not mean “mostly dark,” – it means completely dark with no light outside or in. (Not that I’d recommend shooting out streetlights, but perhaps move to a windowless room.)
- Use a very bright flashlight with fresh batteries. Well, I didn’t learn this from last night’s panic, but I did learn this when I panicked on day 6 of my last hatch (apparently I haven’t had the patience to wait for day 7 this season). I saw the same weird low shape, freaked out, and felt much better after I checked again with new batteries in my flashlight. Notice a pattern? I sure do. No more panicking on day 6!
- Candle later at night as you near summer. While it was perfectly fine to candle at 8:00 pm in March, it isn’t dark enough to candle properly until well after 9:00 pm anymore. (Remember this post on latitude and day length?)
I have been concerned about air cell development recently. Basically, while my hatch rates are really just fine (about 50% of eggs set for shipped and 90% from my flock), I have been concerned that my air cells aren’t getting large enough. With pullet eggs, I want to be doubly sure that these eggs dry out enough that the chicks stay small enough for the shell and are able to turn for pipping and zipping during hatch. I’ve been keeping my humidity right at 29% for the last week. When I candled and compared the air cells to a chart, most were on the small side, although others were just fine.
I’ve decided to adjust just slightly and remove the water container at night and replace it in the mornings. This will allow for a twice-daily air exchange, which will become more important as the embryos grow, and for lower humidity for half of the day which should push air cell development just a bit. This way, I can leave the towels covering the sides of my incubator for insulation (not covering my vent holes which are, as always, unplugged) without worrying about stifling the growing chicks.
Just two weeks left to go! Whew!