Barbara’s Backyard – Hatching Chicks
I’ve written this blog as a reminder to myself of the specifications and times for hatching chicks in an incubator – and when to do what – but it should be helpful to anyone else thinking about hatching chicks.
An incubator is designed to regulate incubation temperature (about 99.5 degrees F for hens), and humidity (between 35-45% until the last two days when it should be raised to 65-75% for hatching) and some also rotate the eggs – if it doesn’t – then you have to do this manually.
A broody hen does not of course know what temperature her nest is – or the humidity – or how many times a day she has turned her eggs – but she seems to get a better hatching rate than my incubator!
Choose eggs ideally up to 7 days old – but they can be up to 14 days old.
Wipe the eggs if necessary – and store pointed end down. Egg shells are porous so don’t wet them.
Mark the eggs – I put an ‘X’ on one side and a ‘O’ on the other side – and I use a felt pen although often a pencil is recommended – but my eyesight isn’t that good!
Turn the incubator on and leave to warm up for a few hours.
Put the eggs in the incubator and leave for 24 hours to settle – day 1. On the following days you need to turn the eggs 3 times a day – this prevents the embryo sticking to the shell.
Turning 3 times a day means that they are a different side up every night. Don’t panic if you miss a few turns – hens can’t count. But it helps if the eggs are a different side up each night. I keep a notebook and mark every time they have been turned with a ‘O’ or an ‘X’.
Candling – is holding an egg against a light to see if a chick is developing – this can be done at day 8 but you can see better at day 14. I don’t do this because I only have a tiny incubator so only have 8 eggs to turn and as an amateur, I am never sure what I am looking at. It also means opening the incubator more which upsets temperature and humidity, so I just turn them three times a day and top up the water – and hope for the best. 50% hatching rate is normal, the most you are likely to get is 80% hatch.
Day 18 – increase the humidity to 65% and stop turning the eggs – just leave them until they hatch – usually 21 days for hens.
Turning the eggs on the 21st day, it’s incredible to think that there might be a little life inside each egg, a tiny heart beating, just waiting for the right moment to break the shell. Life is amazing.
My Silver Grey Dorking chicks never started hatching until day 22 – and sometimes it was day 25 before the last one hatched – so don’t despair. Just wait and DO NOT be tempted to help them. It can be really painful hearing a chick cheeping, but their chances of survival massively increase if you leave them alone. (There speaks the voice of experience.)
One chick took 3 days to hatch from pipping – so don’t worry.
If you try and help, the chick may not absorb the egg yolk properly, and its legs may not develop properly.
And you don’t need to move chicks – they can happily stay in the incubator for 72 hours before they need to be moved to a brooder.
Absorbing the yolk gives chicks enough nutrients for about 72 hours – which allows other eggs to hatch before mother hen leaves the nest to find food and water. Newly hatched chicks spend the first 4 days mostly sleeping – so don’t rush to move them.
Most of what I have read says that the first few days chicks need a temperature of around 95 degrees F – which is nearly the temperature that they hatched at – then it is recommended to
reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week until week 6 – when you get to 70 degrees. In practice, the chicks just move further away from the heat source as they grow.
And temperature depends on a lot of things – the size of the space they are kept in – the number of chicks that hatch – one chick is going to be much colder on its own than cuddling up to brothers and sisters – so the best advice I have read is to use common sense.
If the chicks are all huddled together cheeping then they are probably too cold. If they are asleep together then they are fine.
If they are panting and cheeping then they are too hot. If they are hopping about and drinking and eating then they are OK.
I use hay as bedding but you can use shavings, sawdust, or straw, whatever you use it needs to be changed regularly.
Chicks need chick crumbs for the first 6 weeks, then you can give them growers pellets – it’s a good idea to feed a mixture of both for 2 weeks, gradually reducing the crumbs.
Mother hen will peck corn into tiny pieces for her chicks but your chicks will have to put up with pellets until they can fend for themselves.
At 8 weeks they will have all their feathers and can go outside but they will still need protecting from rain and wind – and predators – and will of course need to be indoors at night.
Introducing them to the hen house can be a bit fraught – and I leave this as long as possible as hens will have a pecking order and the current residents will want to demonstrate this quite forcefully.
Ducklings take 28 days to hatch and the humidity needs to be higher. So I tend to leave mother duck to this task. The most wonderful thing about ducklings is the first time they find they can swim in their water bowl. I have read that ducklings shouldn’t be allowed to swim until they have their feathers – but as long as they are warm and can get dry quickly – and the water is very shallow – I have never had a problem with tiny ducklings having a swim!
When they get older and go in a proper pond, they discover that they can swim underwater and they get so excited splashing from one end of the pool to the other, wonderful to watch.