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Incubating chicken eggs

In the past we have had varying success with incubating chicken eggs. This time last year I really wanted to improve our hatch rate and I did some research, which I summarised here. What I found out was that there are lots of things that can affect the hatch rate. Here's how we changed the way we did things and increased our hatch from 5 out of 48 to 34 out of 48, based on the points I raised in the last post.

I should also say, that it would be more in keeping with permaculture principle "obtain a yield" for us to let a broody hen do the work of hatching and raising chicks, but incubating gives us more control over the process, even if it is more work.



Temperature control is the most important aspect of incubation, it must be 38degC to half a degree.

Humidity should be 55-65% for the first 18 days, then 80% for the last 3 days (stop turning at day 18 as well, so the chick can get ready to hatch).

The eggs should be turned 2-3 times per day, more often if possible, either tapered end facing down, or egg on its side.

We suspected that our incubator temperature control might have been a little dodgy, so we put a digital thermometer in the incubator as well. It always pays to measure things in a couple of ways. It still might be a little hot, as all the chicks popped out two days early, so that is something to adjust for next time. Our incubator controls the humidity based on the day counter, and one of our bad hatches was when I accidentally reset the counter half way through, so the humidity was never increased at the end of the incubation. If your incubator doesn't have a humidity control, it helps to buy a digital humidity meter so you can get this part right. Our incubator rocks the eggs in a cradle, every 2 hours, so that is plenty of turning.

Label the eggs with date and rooster to make fault-finding easier.

Candle the eggs to check for embryo development - remove clear eggs after around 10 days - also candle eggs that didn't hatch to check if they had any development.

We didn't have a chance to label the eggs this time, as my father-in-law collected them while we were on holiday.

Make sure your chickens are getting all the minerals and nutrients they need for fertility.

After we figured out that the hens were eating their eggs due to lack of minerals, I have been making a real effort to give them shell grit and minerals.  The egg shells are noticeably thicker, which means the shell can protect the developing chick.  The extra minerals may have also helped with fertility and viability of the chick if there was a deficiency previously.

Some other aspects that I have since thought about and didn't cover previously:

Have enough roosters for the number of hens - just to make sure that no hens are "missing out"

We currently have three Rhode Island Red roosters and 16 hens (8 Rhode Island Red, 7 White Leghorns and 1 cross).  Previously we only had one rooster for this many hens, so I'm sure that has made a difference.
Choose only clean dry eggs to incubate.

Previous bad hatches have been after we returned from weekends away to find nests full of eggs and just chucked them all in the incubator, sometimes they had been damp from rainy weather.  The eggs have a better chance if they are clean and dry.  I have been trying really hard to keep the nest boxes clean, so that the eggs stay clean, and we only put the best clean eggs in the incubator this time.  As my father-in-law collected the eggs regularly through the day, they didn't have a chance to get wet or dirty in the nest.

Do you have any tips to improve hatch-rate?



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Comments

  1. I don't have an incubator but sometimes think about getting one. So far I have relied on the chooks, ducks and turkeys to do it themselves and it generally works well. We did realise that one of our roosters was a dud after two failed seasons with him an no embryo development whatsoever.
    Sorry , no hints from me today.

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  2. Three Roosters - A) dont they wake you up in the morning and B) dont they fight over the girls?

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    1. great questions Lynda! Occasionally they wake us up, but they are about 500 m away in the paddock, and we keep the window closed if they disturb us. In the past we had trouble with roosters fighting, but 2 of these grew up together, so they get on ok, and then then other older one can't gang up on two of them. They all seem to just take their hens off in different directions and leave each other alone. I am amazed after seeing some of your previous roosters fighting! I hope we can continue this harmonious existence.

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  3. well one day, I hope to have some tips to offer. For now I just enjoy your fluffiness!

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  4. I agree, the temperature is really important and the thermostats that I have been getting are low in quality. I had good results with the thermostat off of baseboard electric heat and used a digital thermometer as well. It seems easier for me to wait until the humidity is naturally high which isn't a problem in Virginia after spring.

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  5. Hi Liz, thanks for this info. You mentioned on my blog that you had the same incubator as I have bought, and that the temp seems to be a bit high, what temp was showing on your incubator when your digital thermometer was reading the correct temp? Thanks, Deb

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    Replies
    1. Hi Debra, it was around 38degC on the digital thermometer and 37.5degC on the incubator. I'm not sure if it is a sustained over temp that's the problem or if it fluctuates. I don't even know if the thermometer can be trusted! But ours hatched early, so that has to mean the temp was too high.

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  6. Great info! Thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop! See you Thursday on the next hop!
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/04/the-homeacre-hop-13.html

    We'll be announcing a new giveaway!

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  7. We have only ever used a broody bantam so no pointers from me. What minerals did you give the chickens and how did you give them.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Fiona, I give them a little megamin with their shellgrit - same as what the cattle get. But if you're feeding pellets you probably don't need to worry about it.

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  8. In your post about incubating eggs you always say to incubate tapered end up.This is backwards. I hatch about 7 to 10 thousand bobwhite quail each year with a 85% or better hatch rate, pointy end goes down. There is an airspace in the blount end of an egg this must be up else the developing embryo will drowned. While saving eggs to fill an incubator store them smallend down as well and tilt them once or twice a day to prevent the embro from sticking to the side of the egg. When you stop turning the eggs after 18 days you then lay them on their side so the chick can orient itself to break out. Kerry from Tennessee.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment Kerry, I can't find where I said tapered end up, we always put it down, or eggs sideways in our other incubator, as you suggest. Actually I can't find anywhere that I mentioned one way or the other, so I'm glad that you brought it up. Thanks also for pointing out that you should lay the eggs on their side from day 18, we do this too, I just forgot to say.

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    2. march 27 third sentance below picture.Also thanks for all the work you do keeping up the blog. Its facinating to get a glimpse of what life is like down under.Best wishes for you and yours.Keep up the good work. Kerry

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    3. Thanks Kerry, don't know how that one slipped through the proof-reading! I've fixed it now in both posts so I don't give anyone bad advice. Really appreciate you pointed it out. What do you do with all those quails!?

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