Incubating and hatching your own chicks is an interesting an educational journey, rewarding and beautiful. If you do not have a hen laying fertilized eggs, one can order fertilized eggs from a hatchery or purchase them locally from a farmer with a rooster (and, of course, a flock of hens). Now that you have your eggs on the way, what next? Read on and discover the basics of incubating and hatching chicks.
The Importance of Incubation
Within 7-10 days after they are laid, fertilized eggs must be incubated in order for the chicks to develop and hatch. After 10 days, the likelihood that a chick will hatch quickly deteriorates. In this short period of time before incubation, such as when the eggs are shipped from the hatchery to your house, the eggs should be kept in a secure carton at 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit (with a range of 40 to 70 degrees). If the eggs must be stored for 3 or more days before incubation, rotate them daily. For best results, arrange for your eggs to arrive 1-2 days before incubation.
Choosing the Right Incubator
There are a wide variety of incubators for sale, both online and at your local farm supply store. If you have the time and some basic construction ability, you can also make your own incubator. A box, heat lamp, thermometer, and reflector shield are all you really need to make an incubator.
Buying your first incubator may lead to the most success, as your temperature gagues are already in place and there is less guess work. Your incubator will control humidity and will maintain the necessary temperature of 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Ventilation can be adjusted too.
The Incubation Process
Place your eggs into your incubator on their sides and turn them three times daily. The chicken incubation period lasts about 21 days. The last three days, the eggs won’t need turning. It may be beneficial to place a cheesecloth under the eggs in the last few days before hatching to make cleanup easier. Once the chicks begin to hatch, wait until they have dried off and fluffed up before removing them from the incubator. Clean and sanitize your incubator completely before putting it away so it will be ready for your next hatching experience.
Newly hatched chicks must be kept warm and safe. A cardboard box serves this purpose quite well. The chicks will need access to water, not too deep because they can drown, and food. A heat source is very important and a heat lamp and a thermometer will serve your purposes well. A light bulb works well too. For the first week, chicks need a constant temperature of 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week after that until your chicks thrive at room temperature.
During this time, keep your chicks warm and fed. Keep their water clean, keep away predators, and make sure that eager little hands don’t handle them too much. Keep out drafts. Clean their living area. After four weeks, your chicks shouldn’t need the heat lamp any more and may be ready to join your regular flock. Keep an eye out for your growing chickens, keep them safe, and watch them thrive.