After reading up on good conformation for egg-laying breeding stock, we did a quick check of our current flock and realized we need to upgrade. Some of our gals look pretty, but aren’t built to be the best layers. And roosters also contribute good conformation to their offspring, so we need to have a few new candidates from which to choose. Blue egg layers crossed with dark brown egg layers are the basic ingredients for Olivers, so we might as well start there…
Enter the Backyard Chickens hatching eggs listings!
We bought a batch of Ameraucana eggs and a batch of Marans eggs to hatch along with some that are crosses of Sasquatch and some Welsummer and Cuckoo Marans hens. Both ‘bought’ eggs came from quite a distance – Alabama and Georgia. Shipping fertile eggs is always risky. Most sellers do a great job of packaging, and most eggs are shipped to arrive in 2 days. But the postal service doesn’t always manage to keep from breaking a few in transit.
Our hatch last fall involved 16 eggs shipped from Tennessee. One arrived broken, two were duds, one was a quitter, and 12 went into lockdown (the final 3 days of incubation). Out of those 12, only 6 hatched. The low final percentage could have been due to any number of things, from shipping complications to our own inexperience.
Broken/leaking eggs can contaminate the rest of the eggs in shipment, and rough handling can cause the air cells inside to scramble or detach. It’s always a good idea to let the unpacked eggs sit 24 hours at room temperature before putting them in the incubator. This allows them to warm up a bit, preventing condensation that can cause bacteria to enter through pores in the egg’s shell. It also gives time for the air cell to move back to where it belongs, so the developing chick can hatch without drowning.
Once these eggs have been in the incubator a week or so, we’ll candle them to check for development. Clear eggs are duds and will be removed before they go bad and risk exploding in the incubator. We’ll wait another week and candle again, to check for ‘quitters’ and more signs of development.
Since we’re turning over a scientific new leaf in breeding chickens, we thought we should extend the scientific method to hatching as well. This time we’ll also be weighing each egg to gauge moisture loss. They will need to lose about 13% of the ‘white weight’ by day 18 to make sure there is enough air for the soon-to-hatch chick to breathe as it breaks through the inner membrane. Too much moisture and the chick can drown at this point. Too little and it can stick inside the partially-opened egg.
A not-so-scientific part of this hatch will be incubating a pullet egg. Eggs from newly-laying hens are much smaller than usual, and will hatch a smaller chick. A healthy chick will quickly catch up in size with the chicks from full-sized eggs though, and how could we resist hatching this lovely little egg?
It takes about 21 days for chicken eggs to hatch, giving us plenty of time to pore over the excellent book that just arrived from the Netherlands – Genetics of Chicken Colours.