An elderly reader recently shared her memories
of when, as a little girl, her job was to feed the poultry, then
hide in the barn loft, peeping through cracks, watching setting
hens and turkey hens go to their hidden nests. The reason for this
chore: Outlying nests of eggs were subject to bad weather,
predators and calamity, reducing the live hatch. If the nest could
be found, mother and eggs could be placed under protective housing,
hopefully increasing the live hatch and providing extra revenue for
Artificial means of hatching eggs began in 1847 with the
invention of a crude but practical incubator. In 1887, a
much-improved incubator became available, with warnings that the
user must fully understand the essential conditions needed for
successful hatch. Some early models often caught fire, but new
safety features soon corrected that flaw.
In 1896, W.P. Hall of New York invented and placed on the market
a mammoth commercial incubator capable of hatching 5,700 eggs at
one setting. This device gave birth to the huge commercial
hatcheries of today. Since then, millions of baby chicks from some
26 breeds plus other poultry and wild game chicks are as close as
the nearest U.S. Post Office.
The incubator is a device which provides controlled conditions
for hatching eggs artificially. Most early models used a special
kerosene lamp for heat, a pan of water for correct humidity and
pull-out trays so the eggs could be rotated half a turn each day.
Turning was absolutely necessary to prevent the embryos from
attaching to the inside of the egg shell and dying. Originally,
Mother Nature delegated this delicate chore to the mother hen, who
moved the eggs as she climbed on and off the nest.
Incubators came in all sizes and prices, with many models still
available today. Many appeared to be fine furniture, made of
butternut or redwood with polished copper tanks and flues. Of all
the inventions related to the family farm, this improved egg
hatching process was in a class by itself, by adding greatly to the
owner’s income and quality of life.
– Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and
supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him
at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: