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New Life in the Midst of Winter

This past week has been very busy for us. While snow and cold have surrounded the state in an icy February grip, we have had the profound privilege of watching new life emerge. Seedlings are sprouting indoors and developing into tiny plants hinting at what they’ll become once transplanted in the spring. But you may have guessed based on the blog photo that plant life isn’t the only thing growing right now!

We’ve hatched our own beautiful baby quail this week to add to the original flock we started last year. There’s nothing so awesome as watching a chick peck out an itty bitty breathing hole (called pipping) and then work around the eggshell until a perfect little door-like hatch appears. After resting, the chick begins to push and stretch inside until he can push through that hatch. Sometimes the entire eggshell flexes and moves even before you see the chick. Once out, they cycle through resting and struggling to get on their feet, which strengthens their muscles and also gives them time to dry off while still within the incubator.

They’re so small at hatching time – imagine much smaller than a baby chicken – about the size of your thumb’s first joint from nail tip to first knuckle, which is about an inch. Despite their minuscule size, they can holler like nobody’s business so you always know when someone’s hatched!

After air drying, we gently put them into a very warm brooder (about 95 degrees) where they get their first drink of water and can sample small crumbly food crushed down to their tiny chick beak size. It’s essentially powdered for the first couple of weeks. They love running around the pine shavings and playing with strips of bark.

Another amusing behavior of quail chicks is they can “popcorn” soon after they’re born. The best way to describe it is restless leg syndrome for an entire creature’s body all at once. Without warning their little nerves coordinate a full body twitch and they jump into the air! They have absolutely no control over it at all which also makes it tricky to handle them safely! I’ve seen lots of times where the little chicks are napping and one pops into the air and lands back down on the whole group, waking everybody up. They always go back to sleep and hardly seem to notice anything happened (even the one who popcorned).

These will be our future egg-layers, but for now they run around the comfort of the brooder playing and sleeping – and growing very quickly. But most importantly during the cold and dark of February, they represent the promise of spring and all the new life that comes with it.