Here's Big Hen later in the season setting upon a clutch of eggs. The male, which protects its own territory, digs a nest in the ground and mates with a number of females. But in the end, only one female will sit on the eggs; she knows her own clutch and will get rid of eggs belonging to other females.
Here's the old fashion barrel type incubator we used for our first hatch outs.
Here is the hatcher. Unlike the incubator, four hour rotations are no longer necessary, so the egg is moved here about day 40 so the hatchling can be monitored carefully.
Welcome to the world! See that knobby bump at the tip of the nose? This is called the egg tooth. That, along with the bulging neck muscles the bird develops inside the egg allow it to break free from its calcium confinement.
John sent us his egg incubator and chick hatcher, both pieces were rather stylistic, more like furniture than functional items, but they were a start to our hatching business. The incubator was a wooden cylinder, laid on its side, about six feet long. The eggs were put in wire boxes inside, and the entire cylinder rotated back and forth every few minutes, and the inside kept at a set temperature and a specific humidity. The rotation mimicked the birds’ natural tendency to move the eggs around the shallow dirt nest, which they dug in the wild using the large toenails on their feet. Periodically moving the eggs was necessary to keep the inside membranes from sticking to each other, and to facilitate oxygen transfer into the fluids as well as to allow carbon dioxide to leave. Oxygen and carbon dioxide make their way through the pores of the eggshell. If the eggs were not turned at least six times a day, the developing embryo died.
We couldn't do this stuff in the barn; it needed an upgrade. It had no concrete floors, no closed rooms, and only one circuit of electricity. The barn wasn't ready, so we set the ostrich business up inside our home. We would deal with the barn later. We placed the incubator along one wall of the dining room, plugged it in, added water to the humidifier, and turned it on. We put the single egg in the incubator realizing we were in the ostrich egg hatching business.
Other eggs came along; each time we brought out our wooden barrier. After a while, we painted a gorilla on the plywood, which we thought made us even more intimidating. In reality, Africa gorillas are mountain creatures, and ostriches are from the plains areas, but anything that kept the male ostrich away from us was what we needed.
Once collected, the eggs incubate for six weeks. On day 42 they are transferred to the hatcher, ready to hatch. However, for some reason, we were having a difficult time hatching out healthy babies.
So, for now, we kept both the incubator and the hatcher in our little house, successfully hatching out many in spite of the fade problem. But with chicks hatching out, we needed to find room for them. We cleared the guest bedroom of all human furniture and put chicks to bed in the room inside four by four-foot nurseries Mary used for raising dogs.
I built outside runs on the lawn by setting up lightweight cage panels we used for dogs so the chicks could walk outside. This was no problem at first when they were half the size of a chicken, but they didn't stop growing, soon they were the same size as a chicken, then continuing to grow to the scale of a turkey.
Still they grew; one foot a month going from three to thirty pounds in that time. Mary urged me to find a new place for them when they were three feet tall; she was tired of carrying these three-foot tall thirty-pound birds with long kicking legs outside every morning, this was not only tedious but was becoming dangerous; soon these guys would be as tall as us. We needed the barn remodeled ASAP. The house reeked of alfalfa hay and ostrich poop. I agreed we needed to expand our hatching operations, but we needed to do some research; I was committed to building the correct type of facility.
Audiobook coming soon