Hatching Chickens • extremechickens.com

Hatching Chickens


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To Brood or Not to Brood?

With all the genetic alterations and cross-breeding within the poultry industry, many chicken breeds have lost their instinct for brooding and hatching eggs.  Hatching chickens today, often means more about getting as much as possible out of the chicken, such as more meat and eggs, despite what may be best for the chicken itself.

Hatching Chickens

There are many considerations one must think about when deciding to hatch chicken eggs, with one of the most obvious questions being whether to go mechanical, or side with mother nature. 

Hatching Chickens

Here are a few reasons that may help you decide To Brood or Not to Brood!

Mother Nature Incubators

In some birds, the instinct to brood and hatch their eggs still exists, and a good broody hen, is essential.  A few established favorites are Buff Orpington, Wyandotte, New Hampshire Red, and Cochin.

Using broody hens for reproduction has some advantages such as lower electrical power cost, minimal human involvement during the laying period, and care of the chicks after hatching.

Hatching Chickens

One down-side to the natural form of reproduction, a hen cannot be forced to become broody, so one must depend on mother nature to turn on the brooding clock.  Also, free-range hens only become broody during springtime or late summer.

The capacity of a standard size hen is 15-20 eggs that she can adequately cover and heat with her body.  Hatching chicks using a brood hen is perfect for the smaller homestead, where a small number of chicks is sufficient to refresh the flock.

Hatching Chickens

While human involvement is minimal, it is fairly common that an egg or two will break when a mother hen sets her eggs, so care must be taken to remove any cracked eggs as soon as possible, before it can contaminate the other eggs.

After hatching, a good mother hen will keep her chicks warm, lead them to the food and water, even defend them from any potential danger they could get into, all of which help prepare this new generation to become good mother hens to future generations of baby hatchlings.

Unfortunately, not all brooding chickens make good mothers, and may not take care of her chicks, or worse, may actually hurt them.  In cases of abandonment, a backup mechanical brooder must be employed or face losing the whole batch.

All things considered, a good brooder hen can save a significant part of the budget that would go towards a mechanical brooder, bedding, a brooder heat lamp, multiple feeders, and, the monthly electric bill that powers all this equipment!

Hatching Chickens

Mechanical Incubators

With the ever-growing need for chicken meat and eggs, machines were designed to simulate the natural conditions needed to hatch eggs.  Since the early 1900’s, incubators have been developed to regulate the perfect temperature and humidity environment necessary for an embryo to grow, and ultimately hatch baby chicks.

While technically speaking that a machine is replacing the mother hen, it is still a human who must control the proper functions of the machine.

Hatching Chickens

Temperature and humidity regulation is a sensitive factor and must be checked several times a day, adjusting parameters as needed.  Any interruption of power, even by only a few drops in degrees over the course of several hours, may ruin the entire load. 

Incubators that are not fully automated may require regular turning of the eggs, and incorrect handling may also ruin the load.

Having the proper equipment to hatch eggs, is only the start to incubating eggs.  There is the selection process, where only the healthiest, and most importantly, fertile eggs must be chosen.

Hatching Chickens

Collected eggs must be stored at room temperature and never stored in a refrigerator.  Eggs must be as fresh as possible, no older than two weeks, before starting the incubating process.

Selected eggs must be clean from any dirt to avoid contamination, yet handling must be kept to a minimum, to avoid damaging the embryo.

Industry has hatching eggs in incubators down to a science.  Incubation takes 21 days @ 99 to 100 degree F, with relative humidity @ 50 to 65 percent.  The only deviation being the last 3 days, by lowering the temperature to 98.5 and keeping the humidity on the high side @ 65 percent.  Lowering the temp keeps the fully developed embryos from overheating, and the higher humidity aids the new hatchlings break the membrane.

To Brood or Not to Brood?

Determining what you enjoy about chickens, and what you expect in return, will ultimately help you decide whether or not to hatch your baby chicks by mechanical means, or utilizing mother nature.

While mechanical incubators may hatch many more times the number of chicken eggs, depending on the size of the incubator, new hatchlings must be monitored very closely for their well being, including temperature control, feeding and housing, and eventually transitioning them to “the real world”.

Hatching Chickens

With mother nature, the broody hen takes care of her chicks quite naturally, by keeping them warm, protected and fed, all without significant added expense, and with minimal human involvement.

Hatching Chickens

But, no matter which method you choose to hatch your chicken eggs, whether it’s by a mechanical incubator or utilizing a good broody hen, there will be lots of joy witnessing new life coming into this world in the form of precious fluffy, little baby chicks!!

Resources for Hatching Chickens

Find local resources for hatching your own chickens in our directory!

Vicki Slanina
Author: Vicki Slanina


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