Hatching chicks enthrall fair crowds
ELKHORN Hour after hour, kids and adults line up with their faces pressed against the glass.
What could possibly hold their attention that long?
It's the miracle of new life. It never gets old, and it will continue through Monday at the Walworth County Fair.
Parked against the side of the poultry barn is a little red barn with a clear Plexiglas front. Inside are two little rooms. One holds eggs and hatching chicks. The other holds chicks that have had the chance to dry off and scratch a little.
The chicken barn makes the rounds on an old boat trailer to the Jefferson, Ozaukee and Boone county fairs before wrapping up the season at the Walworth County Fair, said Darien Township poultry producer Dale Wheelock, one of the organizers behind the project.
"People really like it," Wheelock said. "The biggest problem is they'll go into the park (at the fairgrounds) and get benches and park in front of the display. You have to ask them to move. People will spend half a day there waiting for the chicks to hatch."
At the fair in Elkhorn, organizers sell chicks to raise money for youth poultry projects. Fairgoers may buy four chicks for $8. The only rule is you have to have a box and be on your way out the fair gates when you take your chicks.
Local chicken producers donate the eggs, and all proceeds go to the youth poultry project at the fair. The project includes Cornish Rock chicks, which are a meat breed, and crossbred chicks that are perfect for backyard egg laying, Wheelock said.
When the project started, Wheelock loaded the 500-pound barn onto the back of a pickup truck. The boat trailer works better, he said.
He also used to incubate all the eggs himself. But one year he had a problem with his incubator.
"We had no chicks. It was a disaster," Wheelock said. "Now, we spread them around."
It takes about three weeks in the incubator before the eggs hatch, Wheelock said. So, local poultry producers get started a few weeks before the fair. They add eggs to their incubators every day so some chicks are hatching every day in the display.
The incubators are set to 99.5 degrees. That's the temperature of a hen's bottom, Wheelock said.
When farmers take eggs away from under mother hens, they can do several things, Wheelock said. They can put it right in an incubator. Or, if they need to wait, they can set the egg pointy-side down in an egg carton in a room that's between 50 and 60 degrees. The eggs are will stay fertile for one to three weeks, Wheelock said.
Farmers use incubators to improve egg production, Wheelock said.
If farmers didn't take the eggs away, hens would lay eggs until they had enough for one nest and then stop, he said.
If farmers take eggs away and hatch them in an incubator, the hens keep laying, he said.