Incubating and Hatching Chicks

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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.

What Next?

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.

What are Sex-Link Chickens?

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When one orders a batch of young chicks, they can generally expect at least half of the birds to be male. For those who wish to raise chickens for eggs and don’t have the space or desire to deal with roosters, this can be a problem. Out of 25 chicks, who wants to deal with 12 roosters? Sex-link chickens take the worry and guesswork out of raising chicks. If you want to buy five hens, you’re practically guaranteed to end up with five hens should you purchase sex-link females.

Sex-link chicks are cross-bred chicken breeds whose color differs upon hatching according to their gender. Black sex-link chicks are a cross between a Barred Rock hen and a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster. A Red sex-link chick is a cross between a White Rock, Delaware, Rhode Island White, or Silver Laced Wyandotte hen and a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster.

The distinct color differences between male and female sex-link chicks takes a lot of guess work out of raising chicks. In large factories, chicken sexing is done to distinguish the genders and separate male from female chicks. An egg farm might use sex-link chickens to distinguish between future egg-layers and unwanted roosters. Unfortunately, chicks of the wrong gender are often killed because they are of little use to the factory or breeder.

A small-scale chicken farmer or backyard enthusiast can benefit from sex-link chickens because they can choose to purchase only hens if they desire a brood of egg-layers. Or, they could choose to add rooster or two and would be certain of their choices. When one orders a regular batch of chicks, it’s a mystery which babies are male and which are female for a while.  Sex-link chicks make their gender apparent from the beginning. If one hatches sex-link chicks, they’ll immediately know the male-to-female ratio and can plan accordingly.

What many people don’t realize about their sex-link chickens is that when they breed, their offspring won’t be sex-link birds. The third generation may possibly have sex-link chicks within its rank. Genetics is a fascinating thing. Sex-link is not a breed, but a hybrid gene combination with interesting results.

Sex-link chickens make fantastic layers, known to produce over 300 eggs annually. Males make great fryers. The birds commonly bear the best traits from their parent breeds and are docile and calm. While not recognized by the American Poultry Association because they are not a unique breed, many people love raising sex-link chickens. These hardy, attractive birds would make an excellent addition to any backyard.

The Truth About Roosters

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If you order or hatch a batch of chicks, you’re likely to end up with a mixture of hens and roosters. While that may be the natural outcome, many backyard farmers prefer hens to roosters. Some cities even ban roosters! Loud, aggressive, and territorial, roosters don’t offer many of the benefits of their egg-laying, quieter female counterparts. Do you want a rooster in your backyard? Here’s what you should know.

If you want fertilized eggs and therefore a larger flock, a rooster is a vital part of your farm. He’ll also serve as a watchful eye, keeping the hens safe from most predators.  He will cry loudly to warn the flock from dangers. In fact, crowing is one of the rooster’s most distinctive features. Crowing begins around the time he is 4 months old and continues for the duration of his life, multiple times a day. The belief that roosters crow only as the sun comes up is a farce. Roosters crow whenever they feel like it. They crow to claim territory, assert dominance, or just because it appeals to them in the moment. The noisy nature of the rooster is one main reasons why they are not allowed in many towns.

While a rooster is not required for a hen to lay eggs, it’s required for her to lay fertilized eggs that will hatch into new chicks. This is a fantastic benefit. You most likely won’t want more than one rooster for a small flock, however. He’ll provide adequate fertilization and protection. Roosters can be aggressive and territorial, especially toward other roosters. They can also be aggressive toward people and other pets. Their beaks and spiny legs  can do a lot of damage, so be careful! Poultry live in a social hierarchy, and a dominant male will make it well known that he is the head of the coop.

What’s one to do if they end up with a handful of roosters along with their hens? Egg-producing facilities kill males shortly after hatching. There’s no need to be that cruel. If some of your chicks are male, raise them for meat or list them for sale in the classified ads. There may be someone else in your area who would like a rooster. Raising dual-purpose birds will give you excellent layers as well as meat birds. If you order a fair quantity of chicks, expect a good portion of them to be male. It’s best to have a plan beforehand.

Roosters have been vilified in modern culture, but they can be very rewarding and wonderful animals to raise. Do your research, use common sense, and keep the number of roosters in your flock low. Raising roosters is a whole new experience.