The main reason most people raise chickens is for the steady supply of fresh eggs. But at some point your chickens’ production will begin to dwindle and you will have to replace them with new birds in order to keep getting eggs. Some choose to buy day-old chicks from a local farm or from a mail-order hatchery and others choose to hatch their own. Today I am going to focus on the 2 ways to hatch out your own chicks- a broody hen or an incubator.
Hatching Chicks Using an Incubator
In order to hatch your own chicks using this method you will need:
- Fertile hatching eggs. Either your own or from a reputable source.
- An incubator. We use a Hova Bator.
- A thermometer, if your incubator did not include one
- A dependable electricity source
There a few other supplies you might want, but those are the essentials. Before placing your eggs inside the incubator you will want to turn it on and allow the temperature to even out. You want it hovering between 99-100F. You will also want to add water according to the incubator’s instructions for the required humidity. Once the incubator is set up, place the eggs inside. If you are not using an automatic egg turner, it is a good idea to mark one side of the eggs to help you as you turn the eggs manually.
Hatching chicks is a involved process and you cannot just set them in the incubator and forget them and expect to have chicks in 21 days. You will need to turn your eggs ever couple of hours- either manually or with an automatic turner. You will also have to keep an eye on the temperature to make sure it stays at a steady 99-100F. If the temperature is too high or too low to very long you will not have a successful hatch. You will also need to refill the water trays throughout the incubating period to keep up the humidity levels.
It’s Hatching Day!
Around day 19 you will want to increase the humidity in your incubator. This is usually done by adding additional water, but read the directions on your incubator for full instructions. You will also stop turning the eggs at this time, so if you have been using an automatic egg turner you will want to remove it at this time. Do not open the incubator at the end of the incubation period if at all possible. Usually the first sign of hatching is peeping coming from inside the incubator. This signals that at least one of your eggs is beginning the hatching process. Most chicks will hatch on day 21, but it is not uncommon for them to be a bit early or late. Hatching is a long and exhausting process for a chick; resit the urge to help the chicks along. Once all of your chicks are hatched, move them to your brooder box with a heat lamp, food and water. You will have to dip each of their beaks into the water to show them how to drink. They will need to be kept at a temperature of 95-100F for the first week, and then reduce the temperature around 5 degrees each week.
The Pros and Cons of Hatching with an Incubator
There’s a good and bad side of every option.
- With an incubator you will be able to hatch more eggs at once. The Hova-Bator we have can hold 4 dozen eggs- which is about 4 times as many as a broody hen can hatch.
- You can hatch your chicks anytime you want, no waiting on a hen to go broody.
- You have complete control over the process. This can be a good or bad thing!
- An incubator is more time intensive and involved for you. You are essentially the broody hen.
- You will have to “mother” the chicks once they’ve hatched
Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen
If you decide to use a broody hen for hatching chicks you will only really need 2 things: a hen and eggs. And the process is pretty simple too- place eggs under the broody hen and wait 21 days to chicks to hatch. It really is that simple, but there are a few other things you might want to do to ensure a good hatch.
- Know your chickens. Not all hens will make good mothers and not all broody hens will stay that way. If we have a broody hen, I always let her sit in her nest a good couple of days to ensure that she is, in fact, good and broody before I give her eggs. There’s nothing worse than a hen giving up on half developed eggs! And if your broody bird is a known egg eater…well, I’d steer clear of her.
- Give the broody hen her own space. Chickens like to share nest boxes and chances are that your broody bird is taking up prime real estate in the coop. Not only does this mean you will run the risk of other chickens stepping on your hatching eggs, but also that new eggs will be added daily to your nest. Giving the bird her own nest in a safe place is best. We have build a small “chick coop” within our larger coop. That is where broody birds go to hatch and raise their young. We have also used a large dog crate in the past.
- Don’t let her sit on too many eggs at once. A dozen is all most birds can handle, and less than that for smaller birds like Silkies. If they have too many they will not be able to keep them all warm underneath them.
- Keep track of your hatch day. Like I said, not all hens will make good mothers. Once we had 2 hens broody at the same time and one pecked 2 of her chicks to death and severely injured the third before we caught her. Luckily the second was a good mother and we were able to give her the ‘bad mother’s’ chicks and all was good. We’ve also had some very clumsy birds who stepped on their chicks as they were hatching. So if you end up with a bad mother hen, you will need to step in and bring the chicks inside to a brooder- or hand them to a surrogate if you have one.
I find I much prefer using a broody hen to an incubator. It’s less work for me in almost every way because the mother hen is both the incubator and the brooder box. She will take over:
- Turning the eggs. She will rotate the eggs under her numerous times per day.
- She is the heater and the humidifier. You won’t have to watch temperature or humidity levels.
- She is the heat lamp. Unless it is the middle of winter you will not need to provide a heat lamp for the chicks. They will nestle under their mother to stay warm. It’s amazing how many chicks can fit under the belly and wings of a hen!
- She will teach them. Mother hens are fascinating to watch. They communicate with all sorts of different clucks. There’s the “you’ve strayed to far” cluck and the “Come and eat this” cluck and the “DON’T DO THAT!” cluck. They all sound a bit different and the chicks will learn how to eat, drink, scratch and forage from their mother.
Have you ever hatched your own chicks before? What is your preferred way?
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