A Contraption Replaces Mama

For 21 days, the hens would lovingly cover the eggs and the warmth of their bodies was just right for the embryos to develop.  Until finally the baby chicks pipped away many, many times until they broke through the shell and hopped out wet for a day until they fluffed out.

Instead of using the hens to brood the eggs, we chicken farmers had the hatchery place the eggs in a heated box called an incubator and many thousands of chicks could be produced under carefully adjusted temperatures by the thermostatically controlled machines.

Mama said it was a shame that the mother hen was not allowed to sit on her eggs and hatch her baby chicks.  If we did not remove the eggs each day from the nest, the hens would become “broody” and sit on the eggs. 

Mama lamented that the love and warmth of the chicks from the mother hen was replaced by a makherayke (contraption) that did not cackle.

Every spring the brooder houses were prepared for the baby chicks.  First, we disinfected the coops.  Then came the brooder stoves and the Stazdry (shredded sugar cane) for litter.  Newspaper was placed on top of the Stazdry so the chicks would not choke trying to eat it. 

Then, little hoppers (feeder troughs) and water fountains were all placed neatly around the brooder stove, and a foot-high tin placed at a distance away from the stove to keep the chick from wandering too far from the heat.

The day the chicks arrived was exciting.  They came in cardboard boxes divided into four compartments with 25 chicks in each compartment. 

How soft and cuddly they were —these tiny balls of fluffy, light yellow peepers.  We cupped our hands, scooped up several at a time and gently removed them from the box.

Many years later we placed each hen in a wire cage where she could not scratch the litter, run around the range, and look for tiny tidbits from Mother Nature.

Mama was old-fashioned.