A Sad Ending, or at Least Compost

categories: Cocktail Hour


Well, our experiment with incubating hen’s eggs has ended at the compost pile.  Four weeks and you know it’s been too long, though Elysia stayed patient and true.  Our confidence was bolstered around the two-week mark, when we candled the eggs and saw all the positive signs we were supposed to in at least half the eggs.  But in the last week we had several mishaps.  First, the light bulb in our makeshift styrofoam-cooler incubator burned out.  Next time around, I’ll install a car alarm to go off when this happens, but we didn’t know how long the eggs had gone dark.  They weren’t freezing cold, as the temperatures outdoors were HOT, but they weren’t 102 degrees either, as required.  And then, on a day when it was in fact 102 outside, we forgot and left the light on with the insulating blanket in place, and–this may have done it–the temperature in the incubator reached 120 degrees.

Still, Elysia wanted to wait.  And though I was nervous about one of the less-successful eggs exploding in the meantime, we gave it another week.  Nothing.  So yesterday, your correspondent, in his role as daddy, asked permission and then discretely transported the ten familiar eggs with their felt-pen markings down to the compost pile, which is running at over 140 degrees, what with all the fresh grass clipping mixed in.  I used the fork to make a steaming hole in there, dropped the eggs in and mashed them unceremoniously (no undue stink, I’m happy to report) and then covered them.

Argument now is whether to wait till next spring, as it’s late to start chicks in August when they’d be due: it’s hard enough to introduce new birds to the flock without the weather forcing your hand.

  1. Roseann writes:

    Delete that last comment… I meant E.B. White. Must have had C.S. Lewis on the brain.

  2. Roseann writes:

    Bill, Sorry to hear that the chicks didn’t hatch but it seems like you and Elysia are ready for next year. This pieces remind me a lot of C.S. Lewis. I’m reading his commentaries about his Maine farm in the book, “One Man’s Meat” (NY: Harper & Row, 1938). I’ll bet you have a copy in your library. If not, definitely worth adding. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

  3. Richard Gilbert writes:

    Ah, sorry. My condolences to you and Elysia. My experience confirms your hunch– temps can run a hair low without much effect other than a slightly delayed hatch, but embryos can’t survive heat spikes as well. Light bulbs, a challenging heat source, make it fun when it works. Then there’s the whole other mystery of humidity supply . . .

  4. Susan Pearsall writes:

    More life lessons for Elysia, so patient and true. You must be very proud of her. All those mishaps– around here we call that the “X factor,” the wild card in any project. I hope you and Elysia are busy tending abundance in the garden. Anyone have chicks that need a good home at the Roorbachs’?

    • Bill writes:

      The X factor is with us. But no, we don’t need chicks. We have twelve robust layers, even after a fox attack. Also a rooster named Mighty. Decision is that we’ll try again in the spring with some experience and maybe a little more sophisticated equipment. Like a hen. If we can get one to brood!