Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hatching Chicks in an Incubator



Believe it or not, for as long as we have had chickens (7 years), we have never hatched any chicks using an incubator. This is the first year!



In the past we have always let one of our hens go broody and sit on our fertile eggs OR we have purchased baby chicks from a breeder we knew. In my opinion, if you can let a broody hen do all the work of sitting, hatching, and raising the chicks it is WAY easier and I tend to think the birds end up being a bit hardier that way--something the Dominique breed already has but it never hurts to have extra hardy birds.



This year due to our shortage of available laying hens (only 3) we did not have very many eggs and our rooster isn't too good about fertilizing the eggs either, haha! We probably would have had a pretty unsuccessful hatch if one at all using our own flock. Fortunately, I was able to get some fertile Dominique eggs from a breeder friend I know who has some great stock. He gave me 15 fertile eggs which was so generous!



Fertile eggs take approximately 3 weeks to hatch using an incubator. The temperature needs to be set according to the incubator's instructions--ours at 100 degrees and water added periodically to keep the humidity level where it should be. We candled them a couple of times to check the development of the eggs but tried to not open the incubator more than once or twice.


Once the eggs begin to pip then it gets pretty exciting!! The hatching process takes a little bit of time and can occur over the course of 2 or 3 days. Do not open the incubator once the eggs begin to hatch unless you are removing already hatched chicks to the brooder. Ours almost all hatched within 24 hours of each other--we had 14 chicks! So many babies!!


Eventually the chicks will fluff out and be ready to be removed into the brooder. They can survive for 24 hours or so without food or water in the incubator by absorbing the rest of their yolk.



For our brooder, we used a large plastic tub lined with puppy pee pads, a chick "nipple" waterer, an egg carton filled with chick feed and a heater designed so that the chicks can sit underneath for cover and warmth like they would a mother hen (see image below). You can move the heater higher and higher which allows the temperature underneath to drop 5-10 degrees each week as the chicks feather out. We will also eventually switch to pine shavings for brooder bedding once the chicks get a little older. All of these items can be found either at your local feed supply store or available online.



The pee pads will need to be changed every day or so in the beginning until the transition to pine shavings. We have been handling the chicks daily but they are still quite afraid of our presence and do not like being picked up. It is important to check for "pasty butt" at this stage and clear any blockages up to prevent illness. Fresh water and food every day (or multiple times a day if food dish is small) is critical.

You may need to make some adjustments depending on how the chicks are doing--especially if some of the appear to be sick or having trouble thriving. For example, we had to separate two of the chicks who were much smaller than the others and getting a bit trampled on. I put them in a separate brooder and babied them a bit more--I added a little water dish with pebbles and this helped one of the chicks with drinking tremendously. Adding a nutrient supplement to their water can save a chick's life as well at this stage if they aren't eating and drinking much.

These two chicks were not thriving as much as the others
and needed to be separated to their own brooder

We recently moved our brooder to the screened-in porch and hopefully around 4-6 weeks of age they will be able to go outside permanently into their brooder coop with the weather being so warm now. We could probably put them outside already with a couple of heat sources available for them. Until they go outside, we have been letting them enjoy the outdoors in a "play pen" set up so they can't roam very far but enjoy the grass and sunshine.



4 of these chicks will go to some relatives that live nearby who are raising chickens for the first time (and who I've made partial to the Dominique!) and the rest of them we will keep. In addition to all of the pullets, we will likely keep 2 of the best cockerels and either sell, give away for breeding, or process the others.



It was a fun experience to hatch the chicks in the incubator and nice to know that we have that option if necessary. However, I will say it's way easier to just let the broody hen do all the work herself and I think we will try to go that route the next time :)

cute little fuzzy butts!

Baby chicks can be time consuming and a little needy at first--especially if you have one that gets sick or stops thriving. But they sure are adorable and sweet!




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