Hatching a Program
For a senior well into her eighties, Harriet experienced birthing of a different kind earlier this year. Along with her fellow residents at Peninsula Retirement Residence in Surrey, B.C., she spent 21 days excitedly waiting for the birth of seven new lives, who they were to name and cuddle. As part of the Hatch-A-Chick program, equipment and eggs were loaned from a farm and set up in the dining room for residents to enjoy and care for.
“Harriet was curious about the project right from the beginning. She would visit the room three times a day because she didn’t want to miss the hatching. She said she had never witnessed something like this in her entire life,” said Diane Toth, lifestyle and recreation consultant at Peninsula Retirement Residence, and the person behind bringing the program to the seniors.
“I got the idea from a local school program I read about had also heard of a retirement home in Ontario doing something similar. I thought this would not only revive some memories from their youth for those that grew up on farms but also could play into a mothering theme I was trying to achieve for that particular month.”
The residents were so excited that they would make stops on their way into and out of the dining room to say hello. They pulled up chairs near the incubator, talked to each other and to the chicks.
“Some shared stories of growing up on the farm while others discovered things they had in common. They even named the chicks – Lady Cluckalot, Geronima, Larry, Curly and Moe were some of the names they came up with through a voting system. It was truly heartwarming,” said Toth, who acquired the equipment and eggs from Quality Farms in Kelowna, where the chicks returned after hatching.
Before saying goodbye to the chicks, Toth and her team devised a fun way to preserve the memory. She took photographs of all the residents holding the chicks in their palms, and had them framed for the male residents with a caption, ‘Chicks Still Dig Me’, and gave it to them as gifts for Father’s Day. “I am definitely considering revisiting the program in the Spring but may put a different spin on it. Maybe we’ll do ducklings this time,” said Toth.
At Island Park Retirement Residence in Campellford, Ontario, a similar program stole the hearts of many seniors, and led to much bonding and excitement.
“I came across a pamphlet from a company called Critter Visits, which brought us chicks and strict instructions on monitoring the temperature and humidity of the incubator,” explained Krista Hazlewood, lifestyle consultant at Island Park Retirement Residence, adding, “The owner of Critter Visits walks you through ever step and was always available for a quick phone call should a question arise. It was like being a new mom again. The unknown was scary and exciting. It seemed like a big responsibility to care for these chicks-to-be.”
While the company supplied the incubator, feed, vitamins and bedding for the chicks, all the love came from the residents.
“The real excitement began when the first chick hatched. One of the night housekeepers thought a bird had entered the lounge, only to find that one of the chicks had hatched. We took photos of all the new chicks and put up announcements in the elevators to ensure that everyone was aware of the new arrivals,” said Hazlewood.
It turned out that residents were not just aware of the new arrivals but also could identify the chicks by the names they were given. A democratic process was put in place to ensure everyone got a chance to name the chicks.
“To help name our chicks, we encouraged staff, families and residents to put a name in a jar. Once a new chick was hatched a name was pulled and the new chick would be given that name. It was amazing how we could identify with each chick by name and watch him change and grow through the days they were here with us,” said Hazlewood, sharing details of the process.
Many of the residents at Island Park are retired farmers and some were initially hesitant to be a part of the program. But when the program got underway, they quickly took it as an opportunity to teach others what they knew about farming and raising animals.
“It brought the entire home together. Residents would finish their breakfast quickly in order to come up to the lounge and check on the chicks. Staff would stop by the incubator and brooder box to check on the chicks,” said Hazlewood, adding, “The program was completely handson. Cuddling with the chicks was encouraged. It was easy to see the joy on everyone’s face as the chicks snuggled into their ‘handmade’ nests. The heat from our hands would quickly have them snuggled in to take a nap. Family and friends were also encouraged to come in and take part in the excitement.”