Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hatching Baby Chicks This Spring?

Hatching baby chicks using an incubator is an awesome experience especially, I think, for the whole family to take part in. Seeing those tiny babies emerge from their shells inspires such reverence for life!  Soon, it'll be March, and that officially begins hatching season. If you've never had this experience, might be a good idea to learn some of the basics about hatching chicks using an incubator so the result will be a happy and fulfilling.

First, let's make a list of everything you'll need to have on hand:
  • An incubator
  • Fertile Eggs
  • A brooder for after the babies are hatched
  • Cleaning supplies
  • The knowledge of what to do with all of the above,when to do it, and how to do it
Okay, let's begin with the incubator. You can get incubators that automatically turn the eggs (more on that later). They are a bit more expensive than the older models, but the convenience factor is great. It's pretty difficult for busy families to coordinate a new and necessary task so that it actually gets done right and at the required time. Consideration needs to be given to where you locate the incubator. The temperature in the room where you keep the incubator should be between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, shouldn't be be exposed to direct sunlight, and needs to be free of drafts and wide temperature variations. Always, even if the incubator is brand new, check to make sure it's in great operating condition before getting your eggs. I'll write a follow-up post in a couple of days with some examples of incubators and their features; you can compare costs and workmanship.

So, where do the fertile eggs come from? Obviously, if you already have chickens, with at least one rooster, they'll come from your back yard. But, that's likely not the case. If it were, you'd probably let one of your hens set and raise a brood - more difficult to see the babies hatch, but still a great experience. A reliable source, especially if you have your heart set on a specific breed, is to order hatching eggs from one of the hatcheries. Or, you could get them locally from someone who raises chickens and has at least one rooster on the premises. You could also contact your county extension office or a local avian veterinarian for references to the right resources.

The eggs shouldn't be more than 7 days old when placed in the incubator. They should be handled as little as possible. Before placing them in the manual incubator, be sure to mark each one. Most people mark one side with an "X and the other side with an "0". That way, if you keep track you can tell whether each egg was turned. The ideal temperature in the incubator should fluctuate between 99 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit for the eggs to hatch. Overheating is more often a cause of failure than under-heating. Humidity is also very important - a new incubator will come with all the necessary instructions. It'll take 21 days before the eggs will hatch. After the 17th day, they should no longer be turned. The air opening of the incubator will need to be adusted from time to time, as the closer the chicks are to being hatched, the more oxygen (and less carbon dioxide) they'll require.

After the baby chicks have hatched, they'll need to be transferred to their brooder, which should be set up and turned on so it'll be at the proper heat for them in time for the transfer. One they're removed from the incubator, it will need to be thoroughly cleaned. This will be a lot easier if you've spread some cheesecloth on the rack on about day seventeen so the egg shells can be picked up. Wipe the incubator down with a sponge and soap and water. Leave the door open so it can air out for a few days before putting it away. It'll be all ready for the next time.

The brooder will need to have been pr-heated to a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and each week that is lowered by five degrees. The babies will need fresh water and feed, but restrain yourself from handling them for a couple of days - they've been through a lot and need to recover. They'll grow quickly and will be ready to be put outdoors by the time they're about six weeks old, so make sure you have a home waiting for them.

There, you have an overview of what's involved with hatching baby chicks in an incubator. You'll want to read about it more to ensure you're aware of every detail before setting out to enjoy this adventure, but this covers the basics. Enjoy.

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