It only takes 21 days for a fertile chicken egg to develop and hatch into a fluffy little chick. That window of time stretches out to forever when the incubator ‘needs’ checking every few minutes.
Between periodic adjustments to get the temperature and humidity right, there is a certain amount of just plain obsessive watching that goes on. This was our first go at hatching our own chicks, so maybe the novelty will wear off with future batches. I certainly hope not.
For the first 17 days we tried to keep the incubator at 99.5F and humidity in the 35-45% range. Days 18-21 are called ‘lockdown’, because the incubator should only be opened when absolutely neccessary while the chicks prepare to hatch. The humidity gets raised to 60-70% so when the chicks pip through the shell they don’t dry out before emerging.
There are a lot of variables involved with incubating eggs. Anything from the nutrition of the parents, egg temperature before incubation, porosity of shells, and so on. We started with 27 eggs, 3 failed to ‘catch’, and of the remaining 24 viable eggs that went into lockdown, 8 didn’t hatch. Most of the non-hatchers were eggs that had been shipped from Tennessee. Even with careful packaging, many eggs just don’t do well after being subjected to a cross-country road trip. Yolks break, air cells get bubbly, membranes are punctured….
But private breeders are often the only source of interesting and unique genetic strains, so the losses are worth it. We’re planning to breed for interestingly-colored eggs from interestingly-colored chickens, good layers, good foragers, and ultimately, good stewing hens.
The 6 ‘foreign’ chicks that made it to the brooder stage will hopefully grow up to provide us with unrelated bloodlines from which to choose future breeding stock. Most flock-keepers don’t want roosters, but we need at least one more to work with, and look forward to watching these peepers grow and feather out.
We also hatched a few of our own special blend – Black Copper Marans x Barred Rock and Black Copper Marans x Easter Egger. These mixes should give us chickens that lay big darker brown eggs year-round and grow into good-sized birds for the freezer, and chickens that lay olive green eggs. The hard part is telling them all apart at this fluffy stage. As they grow feathers we’ll be able to sort them out better, but it won’t be until they start laying next spring that we can really decide which is which (and which we’re keeping).
We’re hoping to get a rooster from the shipped chicks, most of which are a dark grey color called ‘blue’. It’s been fun putting different color combinations into the Chicken Color Calculator, but we definitely have a lot to learn about the nitty gritty of breeding for certain colors. Luckily any ‘mistakes’ are still useful for eggs, eating, or selling to other breeders.
Chewy and his ladies are enjoying this long stretch of dry weather. We let them in the corn patch to clean it up before we till and plant a cover crop.
The dry soil is just right for dust bathing. Chewbacca was so into it, the dirt clods he kicked up hit me in the face while taking this picture.
Rain is finally back in the forecast later this week. That will give us a chance to till and reseed grazing areas for over-winter foraging, and plant cover crops in garden zones. The flock really enjoys access to quality forage like clover and vetch, especially when the weather starts to turn and there are less bugs and garden treats.
For just about everything you’d ever want to know about every aspect of life with chickens, BackYard Chickens is the place to go. Their forums are chock full of experienced and helpful folks, and it was very reassuring to be able to ask noob questions during our hatching experience. There are also breed profiles, informative articles, coop design galleries, and so on.