A Beginners Guide to Incubation and Hatching Fertile Eggs:
Eggs in the incubator
This is the Bellsouth 100 Auto that I borrowed from a friend.
Temperature should be 37.5 degrees
Humidity 45% for days one - nineteen, then the humidity should be raised to 60% for the "lock down period" in the last three days before hatching. If the humidity is not correct you will have all sorts of issues.
Make sure you set up your broody box early in case you have some early arrivals!
I use a heated wheat bag in the brooder when the chicks first hatch to mimic a mother hen to snuggle into!
We sell purpose built brooder boxes in our shop, however you can make a brooder box out of many household items. This small brooder box (above) is made from a plastic crate with half the lid cut out and replaced with fly screen wire for air flow. We also have some great brooder boxes made from plywood that are easy to clean. Google "Brooder Box" for more ideas on how you can make your own brooder box.
You need to use a SAFE heat source. We sell brooder lamps in our Shop that are safe and keep your babies warm. An infra red globe is also required as the new style halogen globes do not let off the heat your chicks require to be kept warm. PLEASE be aware that a cardboard box with sawdust or chaff litter is a fire risk and you need to think clearly about setting up your brooder box safely so it is not a fire risk to your home. These globes get very warm going 24/7 and can also burn little fingers, so always monitor your children around the brooder box. We also sell 22 watt poultry warmer plates that have adjustable legs to raise and lower the heat pad. These are a safe and easy to use product that are cheaper to run than the infrared globes.
*note: I now use oaten chaff in my brooder boxes as I found shavings a little harsh on little legs and also got very cold if they spilt their water. Chaff is also edible, where i dont like chicks eating and pecking at wood shavings.
I often bond a broody hen with incubated chicks to take over my role and teach them to be "real" chickens! this can be tricky and needs to be done under a watchful eye as some broody hens can attack little chicks and not look after them.
Here is a good guide on how your brooder lamp should be working.
The red dot is your heat lamp
If your chicks get too cold they can die, or get troublesome problems like "Pasty Butt" Your Brooder lamp is a very important part of incubation
Pretty soon they learn to eat and drink for themselves. Please ensure you purchase a CHICK sized drinker, as many chicks have been known to drown in the smallest amount of water.
You will need to purchase some chick starter. some brands are medicated to prevent coccidiosis and boost their little immune systems, and there is also unmedicated chicks starter. Some are micro pellet and others are crumble or crushed grain. I use and recommend the medicated crumble. You need to feed this until 6 weeks of age, then move them on to the Pullet Grower mix until point of lay.
They are so much more fluffy and chubby than the silkies! but still very precious and need careful handling as little legs are very easily damaged.
I love when they all fall asleep in a little pile! the little guy standing is who I have called "turbo" .. he waits until all his brothers and sisters are asleep and then he runs over the pile of sleeping babies and jumps off the other side like evil kinievel !
I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your chicks in a very hygenic environment. I keep 2 smaller brooder boxes, which enables me to be able clean them immaculately daily, and a large apple crate brooder for outside I also clean their drinker and feed containers many times throughout each day. The chicks then get transferred into my larger brooder box with a heat lamp after a week or so which gives them a larger area.
The small boxes are used when they first hatch and are easily kept nice and warm indoors.
These little guys are so laid back with us that this little guy fell asleep in our hands! soooo cute! i loved watching his little tiny body going up and down as he was snoozing! just innocent perfection!
Its so important to handle your chicks and teach them that human contact is fun.
After a couple of weeks in the larger brooder box, i transfer the chicks to a small pen out on the grass when we have warm days.
I feel it is very important that incubated babies are taught to scratch and act like "real" chickens in the outside environment. At first they are scared and tend to hide inside the house area of the little coop, but quickly find that outdoor life is fun and they play in the sun and start to understand how wonderful life is!
I also tend to let my bigger hens scratch and cluck around the pen so they can watch and learn, and socialise which is a very important thing for chicks that know nothing more than what they have learnt on their own.
gradually as the days get warmer, i can leave the chicks in the outside coop longer and longer until they stay overnight. Make sure they have their full feathers before this is done, and a good indication is about 6 weeks (weather permitting).
After 6 weeks, change their food to the PULLET GROWER until point of lay (approx. 6 mths)
HANDY TIPS BEFORE STARTING:
- Chicken eggs will take 21 days (give or take a day) to hatch.
- Ducks and turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch
- Ideally your eggs should be no more than a week old – they can be older if you rotate them
regularly but your hatch rate may reduce as they get older. Fresher is better!
- As you collect them store in a cool, dry place, pointy side down in an egg carton.
- If you order fertile eggs through the post try and get them sent on a Monday so there’s
minimal risk of them getting stuck at the post office over a weekend. When you get them home
unwrap them, and let them rest pointy-side down in an egg carton for a day before putting in
- Clean eggs if they’re grotty – I use a damp paper towel to wipe them clean. Although I prefer not
using dirty eggs at all as they can quite often harbour disease.
- Set up your incubator at LEAST 24 hours before you put your eggs in to make sure that the
temperature is set and stable, as well as the humidity.
Make sure the incubator is located away from risks like dogs or children being able to pull out the power cords mid-cycle. Also, don’t put it anywhere where it will have direct sunlight on it, or in a humid place like near a clothes dryer, as both these conditions may effect the temperature and humidity within the machine.
- If you put the eggs in the incubator later in the day, then Day 1 starts the next day.
- Temperature should be 37.5 degrees Celsius
- Humidity 45% for the first 18 days, then on Day 19 raise to 60%
- If your incubator is not digitally controlled get a thermometer to check temperature and a
hydrometer to check humidity. It’s worth having each of these handy even if your incubator is
digitally controlled to ensure that the incubator is calibrated correctly
- I candle the eggs to check for growth and fertility; those that are not fertile should be disgarded
from the incubator. This also helps you know that all remaining eggs after day 15 are fertile and
growing correctly ready for hatching.
- Don’t open the incubator in the last three days of the hatch – the humidity needs to be maintained
to allow the egg-shells to soften before the chicks need to hatch through them. If you do open the
incubator at this point you are risking the eggs not being able to hatch at all and could have chicks
die in their shells
- Leave hatched chicks for at least a day in the incubator after hatching – they need to dry off
completely, and they don’t need food and water for at least 24 hours. Do not be tempted to grab
the first couple of chicks that hatch out of the incubator in excitement - you are risking all the
remaining eggs not being able to hatch
- After 24 hours place them into a brooder (a box/pen with a warming light suspended above it),
make sure the light you use is set up properly before putting chicks under it. Proper "brooder
lamps" with infra red globes are available in our SHOP - do not use one of the new type of
halogen globe as these do not emit heat to keep the chicks warm. The older style globes used to
let of heat, but if you choose to use this method of heating please be aware of the fire risks of a hot
globe and litter in your brooder box - especially if you are using a cardboard box!
Provide water and chick crumbles.
- I switch the incubator off 2 to 3 days after the date they should have hatched
NOTE: this is what works for me and others will no doubt have different opinions and the above is just a very simple view of incubating. There is many things that can alter your hatch rate and success - more on this on EGG FERTILITY HERE– I’m just sharing what I’ve learnt (and formed opinions about) in the years that I’ve been hatching chicks. There are lots of factors involved in a successful or unsuccessful hatch such as the fertility of the eggs, and whether the incubator has worked as it should etc. Humidity in your incubator is a major contributing factor - too much and the growing chicks drown in their shells and too little and their shells will be to hard to crack out of.
Incubating eggs is quite an amazing thing - taking mother nature into our own hands!
and even though our quick guide above makes it sound so simple there are so many variants on the outcomes of incubating eggs - some good and some bad and you need to be aware of all the things that could happen.
We suggest getting your eggs from a breeder that feeds quality feed and provides you with fresh eggs. Breeding parents that are not kept in good condition or fed a pellet based feed without forage or greens are likely to be deficient in various nutrients that can lead to deformed chicks, Some diseases can also be transmitted to your existing flock from the parent stock and egg layers of your new young chicks - This is not a situation you or your children would like to be placed in so think carefully before taking on the very addicting and marvelous journey of incubation! ....
THIS IS A GREAT READ: STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO ASSISTING HATCHING: particularly to those that have limited experience in hatching eggs. Most assisted hatchings end in disaster and dead chicks. People new to incubating quite often do not realise how long it takes for a chick to hatch from the pipping stage to hatch and try and assist chicks by opening the shells when the chicks are not ready to hatch and the yolks have no been absorbed ending in dead chicks - PLEASE READ THIS GREAT ARTICLE
Broody Hen? simply add eggs .......fertile eggs that is!
The first thing you need to do is to find a broody hen. A broody hen is one that wants to set on eggs and the way you tell this kind of hen is by the fact that she is on the nest all the time and she is making a clucking sound that is different from the usual cackling chickens do after they have laid eggs. She may or may not let you take any eggs out from under her. Breeds that often become broody and are good mothers include most of the old time breeds like Rhode Island Reds but the best setting hens are of the bantam varieties. I love using my light sussex bantam hens. I find them to very dedicated mothers.
A broody hen wants a quiet place to set and often you will find your hen in some out of the way location in the yard and you may be tempted to leave her there to set her eggs but don't let her. Make sure she is in a safe pen where you can keep an eye on her and where she can be protected from predators and the elements. We have A frame cages where our hens are moved into for broodiness and these are excellent safe location for hens to set. Where you set your hen must be also on one level, no split level rabbit hutches or the like or your chicks may die falling. Be sure that she and the eggs are placed in a nesting box with plenty of clean nesting material. This way the eggs will be cushioned and will have adequate insulation from the cold.
Once you realize that you have a broody hen and you want to set eggs under her, and you have her in a safe location, it is now time to get the number of eggs you want her to set. Place 8-12 fertile eggs under her. The eggs don't have to be her own eggs and don't have to be the same kind of chicken eggs but the hens that laid the eggs all have to have had contact with a rooster for the eggs to be fertile.
Place food and water near the hen's nest and be sure that she has fresh food and water daily. The hen will take care of the rest. She will turn and tend the eggs. All you need to do is attend to the needs of the hen. In 21 days, the eggs if fertile will begin to hatch and soon you will begin to see chicks raised in the manner which nature intended.
A couple of days after hatching you will find the mother hen will leave the nest, this is a great opportunity for you to remove all the broken egg shells and any unfertile or unhatched eggs. Remove all the nesting material and put fresh nesting material down for your hen and chicks. Sawdust is ideal as it is fine enough that the delicate little chick legs do not get caught up in it. Ensure that you supply chick crumbles and a small poultry drinker for your chicks to eat and drink from. Resist using lids or containers for drinkers as chicks easily drown in them or turn them over. Small poultry drinkers are a very small cost, and should be kept clean at all times.
As the chicks grow their food requirements change. At 6 - 8 wks of age you should change the chick crumbles to grower crumbles. They are a courser version of the chick crumbles that contain the correct vitamins and minerals for growth and a good immune system, along with anti biotics for disease such as coccidiosis.
Many people vaccinate for MAREKS disease at hatch - here is more about Mareks along with lots of other nasty chicken health issues: http://www.birdhealth.com.au/flockbirds/poultry/diseases/mareks_disease.html