Having a hatchability of more than eighty percent during the winter without using electricity and fancy tools is no exception in prehistoric incubators. They can be found in caves or clay houses in Egypt's dessert. Learn more about hatching eggs the traditional way.
By Wiebe van der Sluis
Those who believe that hatching eggs artificially is an invention of the 20thcentury are wrong. The first eggs hatched without the help of mother hen dates back at least till the Pharaoh’s time. During those days in ancient Egypt fertile eggs were collected and hatched in caves. Most of the time the hatchery manager was a man of high age who learned from his father how to control the incubation process. Generations after generations have transferred the technique so up till today we can learn how they managed to maximise chick output at the lowest possible cost.
When travelling through Egypt you still may find a number of these prehistoric hatcheries. One of them can be found in Fayum, a place which during the Roman times was known to be the breadbasket of Egypt. Cereals and cotton were and still are the main products. Besides crop production the oasis also received a reputation of being the ancient centre of poultry breeding. The Fayumi chicken breed is known for laying a high number of eggs no matter whether it was winter or summer. It is an early maturing bird with an impressive heat resistance.
Transfer over generations
Eggs from the Fayumi breeders were collected and hatched in specially designed caves or clay-houses. Heating is done by lighting a fire, natural heat from the sun or using oil lamps. Ventilation is totally naturally controlled by means of doors, curtains and a chimney at the top of each incubator cell.
|The drawing on the wall indicates the entrance of the ancient hatchery.
||The central corridor allows the hatchery worker access to the incubator cells through small openings in the wall.
||Each cell has two levels. This floor level provides space for at least 10,000 eggs.
Just outside the centre of Fayum the Badowi family still runs such an ancient hatchery. Generation after generation learned to hatch eggs the traditional way. Like most of the ancient hatcheries this one has a central corridor with on each side five cells. Each cell has two levels where there is place for 10,000 eggs on each. The levels are connected by a manhole in the middle of the upper cell floor. From the central corridor one has access to both the levels. The openings are used to enter the room when placing eggs, moving the eggs and taking out the chicks, as well as for managing the temperature and ventilation.
200,000 egg capacity
Every week the family sets 40,000 eggs and sells over 32,000 chicks. Most of these chicks are sold directly to farmers near Fayum, while the remaining chicks are sold through a middle man to producers all over Egypt. The fertile eggs are bought from a few breeder farms in Fayum and randomly set. At day 4 all eggs are candled. Traditionally this is done by using the beam of sun light which enters the hatchery cell through a small hole at the top. When there is no sun light a small box with an electric lamp is being used. The number of infertile eggs usually is no more than 10%.
|Egg candling using a box with a lamp when there is no sunlight available.
||The egg temperature is measured by using the sensitivity of the eyelid.
||Eggs are turned manually a few times per day.
During incubation the eggs are moved a few times per day by hand, while the egg temperature is controlled by putting it to the eyelid. This very sensitive spot on the master’s face tells by experience whether the egg temperature is right or wrong. Is it too high than heat is expelled through increasing the ventilation in the cell, is it to low oil lamps are lit to increase the cell temperature.
Humidity control also is a matter of experience. A high humidity level is rather seldom seen, but being situated in the dessert a low humidity is more common. In extreme cases eggs are spayed with water, but most of the time spaying water or hanging wet cloths in the central corridor is enough.
The Badowi family has run the 200,000 eggs hatchery for many generations. Two workers lend a hand and receive training to maximise the performance. The hatchability meets the high expectations, which is over 70% in the summer and over 80% in the winter.