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Oct 16 / Michael

Hatching Chicks

Every year or so, we’ve been ordering chicks from hatcheries, such as Murray McMurray.  We usually get some layers and some meat birds, plus throw in the various duck, goose or turkey.  We tend to lose layers to natural predation (the blasted fox!), so need a regular replenishment even if we aren’t doing meat birds.  Since we’re going to be up to our eyeballs in meat this year (two cows, lots of lamb), we decided to skip meat chicks and turkeys this year.  But we only had 10 laying chickens and only one rooster, so we were still concerned we’d need more layers before long.  We had the idea to incubate our own eggs.  The price is right (our own layers can provide the fertilized eggs), we would just need an incubator (a one-time expense).

When considering which incubator to buy, I looked at everything from homemade designs (which I decided not to pursue) to the high-end home models such as those from Brinsea.  When incubating eggs, it’s important to keep the temperature and humidity at certain levels and rotate the eggs several times a day. Starting at the low end are still-air incubators, which simply have a manually-adjustable thermostat.  In the mid-range, incubator’s add fans to make the temperature more even throughout.  Automated egg turners are available on some models and the highest end models offer automated humidity control.  The Octagon 20 ADVANCE EX digital egg incubator looked so cool (pretty much automating everything), but at more than $400, I decided that was just too much money to justify.

Hatching Chicks

After considering the options for a while, I decided to go with the simplest still-air incubator and manage the egg-turning and humidity myself.  I picked up the Farm Innovators Model 2100 Still Air Incubator from Amazon for less than $50.  I also added a digital thermometer and humidity monitor to keep in the incubator to help me make sure I was maintaining the temperature and humidity correctly.

The basic rules for hatching chicken eggs are these (other species will have different temp/humidity/duration):

  • Maintain temperature at right around ~100° F (I’ve heard it recommended to go with 102° F for still-air incubators, which is what I went with)
  • Maintain humidity between 40-50% until hatching, then ~65%
  • Turn eggs three times a day, stop turning after day 18
  • Eggs should hatch starting on day 21, but may take several days longer to complete hatching

I charted all the values, which helped me remember to rotate the eggs three times each day.  I drew X’s and O’s on the eggs, so I could keep track of which ones were rotated each time.

Hatching Chicks

I started 30 total eggs on September 5, 2013.

On day 9, I candled the eggs and saw that many (if not all) of them were viable and growing (in the image below, the dark spot and veins indicate a viable embryo). I could more easily candle the white eggs, the brown eggs were mostly opaque to me.

Hatching Chicks

On day 21, we were hearing odd noises coming from the incubator (chirping and tapping). On day 22, the first eggs were cracking open and chicks were hatching.

Hatching Chicks

That same day, our first chick was completely out of his/her egg.

Hatching Chicks

They started hatching pretty quickly.

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

The egg hatching project was shared with my daughter, who was thrilled the whole way. She helped turn the eggs and take care of them since we started collecting the eggs from the coop to set.

Hatching Chicks

By day 23, more chicks were out and they were starting to dry off. We’ve never done this before so we were very nervous about what to do and when to move them to the brooder. I guess I shouldn’t have been too nervous about this, because commercially hatched chicks are shipped airmail and somehow survive. All I needed to do is move them 10 feet across the room to their brooder when they were dried off and able to move around on their own (they need to be able to move around on their own, so they can move towards or away from the heat source in the brooder as they feel necessary — without that, they may freeze or cook to death if they find themselves stuck in one spot).

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

And here are the chicks in their brooder a couple weeks after they hatched, looking happy and as normal as any chicks we’ve ever had.

Hatching Chicks

Finally, today we moved the chicks from the basement of the house (where they were starting to smell) to an enclosed area in the chicken coop.  They’ll have a heat lamp out there and lots more space, so I think they’ll like it.  The children helped with the move.

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

This was a pretty good experience. We set 30 eggs. 18 live chicks were put in the brooder. 1 chick died half-way out of its egg.  1 chick died after emerging.  3 eggs looked like they might have died very late.  7 eggs looked to have no action, or died early on. I’d definitely do more chickens, but would also consider ducks and geese (especially if we can collect eggs in the spring). As far as automation, the only thing I think would be helpful would be the automatic turner, but that’s only a matter of convenience. The manual model was completely sufficient to task.

This was definitely a fun project, but practical besides.  Since we started the eggs, the fox got two more of our chickens, including our rooster.  If we’d waited any longer, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at all.  Phew!

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