Hatching Eggs and our New Incubator

Candling Day 4

Candling chicken eggs at day 4 – embryo and vascular system

Chickens are part of my design for sustainable food and fertilizer on our farm. To be sustainable though, I need to be able to breed our seed flock. That means incubating eggs and growing chicks!

I started a clutch of 14 Buff Orpington eggs in our incubator 5 days ago. This is our 3rd use of this new model. Our first attempt failed miserably when we couldn’t keep the temperature and humidity levels constant and the incubator got so hot that all the embryos died. We did further research, corrected the problems and ran the incubator for a week before trying again.

Chick

Miracle chick 24 hours after hatching

Our second attempt was progressing great until day 18 when there was a power outage that lasted 48 hours! I had just put the eggs on lockdown after I candled all 6 eggs and confirmed each held a baby chick ready to hatch. Awesome Hubby hooked up the bator to a battery and generator but the power was out for so long we just couldn’t keep the incubator running. When the power returned I candled the eggs again and was amazed to see some movement so I turned the bator back on and hoped for the best. The first chick (pictured above) hatched 3 days late and was perfect. A second little chick hatched after another 3 days but didn’t survive its first week. The remaining chicks all eventually died in their shells 😦 Our miracle chick is sleeping in Awesome Son’s room in the ‘newborn brooder’ box that Awesome Hubby made for the Olive Eggers. I’m keeping it in the house because it’s all alone and doesn’t have the body heat of other chicks. We gave it a teddy and a little mirror and our kids have been acting as ‘mom’ by cuddling it throughout the day, talking to it and letting it fall asleep in their hands.

Hen in full moult

Mama hen went into a very hard molt after hatching her chicks. Here she is when her new feathers were coming in.

So back to our current hatch. It’s recommended that you candle the eggs (using a flashlight) around day 10 to remove any infertile or non-developing eggs. You can candle them at anytime though and its one of my favorite things to do. According to my research you can sometimes see the developing embryo or spider veins by day 4/5 so I grabbed a flashlight and checked them one by one. Every single one of those 14 eggs has a visible embryo and veins, yay! There were no infertile eggs in this batch. Our breeding rooster, The King, sure takes good care of his girls! The photograph above was taken last night and I was amazed at how clearly I could see the embryo and vascular system so early.

Buff Orpington Chicks 6 weeks

8 week old chicks in broody coop and mom watching them from the adjoining main coop

Besides using an incubator, you can also hatch out chicks under a broody hen. Buff Orpingtons are known for natural broodiness and we had 5 hens go broody this summer and hatch out a couple chicks for us. One hen played mom to the chicks and protected those little babies, cuddling them and clucking softly to them. I moved the mom and chicks into the broody coop that Awesome Hubby built when her chicks were 2 weeks old. I had 5 chicks that were 12 weeks old that needed to be integrated with the main flock but they were getting pecked so much I moved them back to the broody room. The mommy hen paid little attention to the older chicks except to peck them if they got too close to her babies. She turned their favorite roosting spot into her spot and it was so funny watching them circle around not knowing what to do. Eventually they settled on a spot close to her and each night they got a little closer until they all slept cuddled up together. I also moved the orphaned Olive Eggers in but gave them a separate brooder and heat lamp with their own food and water. After a week or so the Olive Eggers started to use their little escape hatch to come out of the brooder and into the main coop but as they didn’t have the broody mom’s protection, they would run and hide from the others and return to their safe brooder to eat. When the mom’s chicks were 8 weeks and the older chicks were nearing Point of Lay I moved them all in with the main flock. They settled in fine as the 2 coops are adjoining and they had been able to see/hear each other all along. The remaining chicks and the Olive Eggers made friends and now roost together rather than sleep on the floor with mom.

I’m looking forward to hatching out more babies in 17 days 🙂

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