A Guide to Keeping Chickens Part 6-Hatching Chicks

The penultimate post in my chicken keeping series is raising chicks.

There are two ways to do it.

With a cockerel in your flock, if a hen goes broody and wants to sit on eggs, you can let her and let nature take its course. In three weeks, fertility dependant, you could have a clutch of little fluffies.

The other way is artificial incubation.

Again, with a cockerel you can put your own eggs into an incubator but if you want to bring new blood into your flock or want to try a different breed (or a variety of different breeds), you can buy eggs in from someone else.

I have done this a number of times now with varying success. I am by no means and expert and hatching is a learning curve.

The first time I hatched, I bought a cheap incubator off eBay and purchased some relatively expensive hatching eggs to go in. Only one hatched.

In my opinion, one hatchling is worse than none. With chickens being a flock animal, one chick is not ideal so I had to buy a chick off someone so that Cheepy (orgiginal, I know) would not be alone.

After that, I bought another incubator (second hand) and my hatch rate was better.

Many years passed before I had another go.

My first bit of advice I can give you is to by the best incurator you can afford. Preferably automatic with an LCD display showing temperature AND humidity inside the incubator.

I say that because my latest one, you have to put a thermometer in for regulating the temperature but there is no humidity gauge so, I feel my hatching is still trial and error rather than a more measured event should the humidity be measured.

Automatic turners are a miracle. Otherwise you have to open your incubator three times a day (again affecting humidity) and turn the eggs.

In the coop, a sitting hen uses her feet to turn the eggs several times a day and it promotes a healthy chick by ensuring the embryo doesn’t stick to one side of the egg.

Eggs only need to be turned for 17 days. At day 17, you remove any egg separators your incubator might have (depending on the make and model), let the eggs lay flat, stop turning the eggs and wait.

When the chicks are born, they will be ok in the incubator for 24-48 hours after hatching, sustained still on the egg.

After this, they will need heat for the first four to six weeks. We have used a heat lamp in the past-the type you use for pet lambs or reptiles. This season I bought a purpose built brooder which the chicken sit under and it acts like a hen.

Hatching chicks is probably the cheapest way to acquire really expensive poultry but obviously, there is always the risk that you will only hatch cockerels but that is the chance you take, I suppose.

As I said before, much of hatching eggs is trial and error but it really is the most magical experience. I love it myself-the anticipation, the cute, fluffy chicks and then watching them grow at an alarming rate.

For children, it is a magical experience too but heed my mistake when, with my first eggs this year, I told my three year old that we would be getting chicks

Three year olds are notoriously hard to gauge time and 21 days must have felt like an eternity away. Many melt downs were had those three weeks.

I learnt my lesson though with hatched one and two and only told him on hatch day.

Part 1-Plans and Housing
Part 2-What You Will Need
Part 3-Choosing Your hens
Part 4 Cockerels
Part 5-The Bad Bits

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