I actually started this journey of hatching chicks at the beginning of March 2015 but didn’t get round to setting it up on this site. Many thanks to Ken at Pear Tree Poultry for the incubator hire and support. More info on his services on his website www.peartreepoultry.co.uk So here it is, hatching chicks, with a few complications, but I guess that’s how you learn. Enjoy!
It seems strange that although I have kept hens for almost 7 years now and into my fourth year of running chicken keeping courses, I have shied away from hatching chicks from eggs. I have always wanted to do it of course, but its the whole cockerel thing…like the majority of us, I live in a residential area and a cockerel crowing in Radcliffe suburbia is going to go down like a lead balloon. So the fact is, no one wants cockerels but nature is still going to dish them out. An experienced chicken breeder once told me, “ If you’re going to breed them, you have to be prepared to kill them.” Okay, so I’ve not got involved with the breeding part – maybe another time – but being a softy with all my pets, I wasn’t comfortable with choosing to euthanise healthy animals in my care. And THAT’S why I’ve never hatched my own chicks.
On the subject of euthanasia, I am faced with the sad fact I will be losing my original hen Tallulah soon. She is nearly 7 and my favourite but in the last month she has deteriorated. Being Tallulah, she still enjoys going out with the other hens, who still respect her as the matriach, and nibbles at the huge selection of treats I prepare twice daily for her. She is slower now, eats less and sleeps a lot. At one point I made that fateful phone call to the vets to have her put to sleep…but then Steve pointed to her pottering round the garden with the others and I decided to let her continue living her days out as a hen while she’s still got the spirit.
So, probably not the best basis for making a decision to hatch chicks! I figured that I needed a project to offset some of the sadness I was going to face (temporarily forgetting that hatching chicks have their own problems too!) Also, I was going to be left with just 4 hens….it was at this point I started googling and came across Pear Tree Poultry in Preston.
The deal was £75 to hire an incubator with 7 eggs and a returnable deposit of £75. After the chicks have hatched I can choose to keep or return them. Surely after a week with the chicks I can easily give them back – cockerel problem solved!!
“Ha! You’ll never give them back!” I guess people know me too well.
And Ken at Pear Tree Poultry was confident I would probably want to hold onto the babies and at 6 weeks I would tell the boys from the girls. But he would take back any cockerels at £5 charge each.
The flipping chicks haven’t even been born yet and I’ve already decided to keep them!! I’m just going to have to man up, so to speak, over this cockerel dilemma and try not to get too attached.
DAY 1 One of those…and one of those….
Picked up the hatching kit from Pear Tree Poultry, Preston and felt like a child in a sweet shop as I chose the eggs I would be taking home;-
Silver Laced Wyandotte
Blue Laced Wyandotte
The eggs are placed pointy end down and are to be left to settle at room temperature for several hours. Meanwhile, Steve and I debated on where to keep the incubator. It needed to be away from sunlight in a room where the temperature was constant. “Under the stairs is ideal” said Ken.
There is a toilet under the stairs. Any guests will be convinced I’ve lost the plot when they see an incubator and eggs while they’re on the loo. Undeterred, I badgered Steve to dig out an extension lead.
Once the incubator was topped with water and plugged in, it needed to be running for a couple of hours to reach the optimum temperature of 37.5 degrees C before we put the eggs in. Which we did; me, Steve and Dan, kneeling by the toilet like we were performing an egg ceremony. Here goes!
DAY 2 The Eggs Under The Stairs
Ever now and again, I go and have a peek at the toilet’s new residents, not that anything was happening visibly. Ken had said we could just ignore them till day 18 but being a control freak I really had to check everything was in working order.
The incubator is a Brinsea Mini Advanced. The temperature is fairly constant although it was surprising how leaving the door open for a short while would cause slight fluctuations, but should there be any danger of extreme temperature changes, an alarm sounds. The eggs are automatically turned by a rotating base. If I could have the privilege of hatching as many eggs as I wanted, I’d love to invest in one of these (£129 Ebay). But then again, I’ve heard that a Silkie hen would be equally good. Maybe next time!
DAY 3 Tallulah
Sadly this was the day I had to send Tallulah to heaven. She had stopped eating and was stationary for much of the time and she needed help to send her off. I am grateful for the sensitivity shown by Pennine Vets, Tottington, for all the hens I have brought into the surgery, and particularly today as I was a complete blubbering wreck.
I knew there was a method to my madness when I decided to hatch these eggs. At least I can look forward to new life which will help take my mind off things.
DAY 4 Present for the Eggs
A parcel had arrived yesterday but I hadn’t got round to opening it till today. It was my latest Ebay purchase, a candling torch. It shines a bright light to show what’s going on inside the egg, so if nothing is going to hatch, you can tell early on. I can start candling from day 7 or 8 so not long to wait.
DAY 5 Humidity
Topped up the water in the incubator. Although we are fairly humid in the UK and apparently the eggs would be ok if the incubator ran dry (until day 18), I was going to follow everything to the letter and make sure there was some water in the well. It’s a quick job with some cooled boiled water and as I need to lift the lid off, there will be a drop in temperature. But eggs are quite forgiving when it comes to short temperature drops, after all, mother hen has to get off the nest occasionally to eat, drink and poo. When the lid of the incubator is replaced, you can see the temperature rise back to 37.5C on the display.
DAY 6 Egg Turning
Amusingly, I seem to be the only one who has seen the eggs being turned! And I don’t use that toilet much! They are timed to turn every 45 minutes alternating each time left and right with a whirring noise. There are some incubators where you physically turn the eggs yourself although realistically you wouldn’t be doing it as regularly, and not during the night! Just goes to show what a good mother a sitting hen can be.
DAY 7 To Candle or Not to Candle
Strictly speaking I could candle the eggs today, but I’m hoping I see more if I leave it till tomorrow!
DAY 8 Confused
Hmmm, disappointed – or confused? I candled one of my own hen’s eggs to see what an unfertilised egg would look like and then candled the incubated eggs, only to find there wasn’t much difference!! I put it down to inexperience and decided to continue incubating and candle again in a couple of days.
DAY 10 1 out of 7
Tried candling again…and no change. There was just one viable egg, a green Aracauna egg. When candled, it clearly showed the red veins inside, a black dot which represents the eye and air sac space, which would increase with time. There was also movement within the egg, just like a foetus in a womb! Unfortunately all the other eggs just showed a shadow of the yolk. I apologise for the lack of pictures – I did take some but for some reason, they weren’t great.
So, what now? Do I continue incubating and see if I get the one chick to hatch? Rearing one chick isn’t the ideal though. Time to email Ken….
DAY 11 Round 2
Ken was great and offered me some replacement eggs and extra hire time with the incubator. So, we took the 6 ‘clear’ eggs back so he could double check their fertility. He agreed, some were not fertile (there is sometimes the chance of that) but some eggs had shown white spots in the shell when candled which would have affected their ability to develop. Bad quality shells, eg porous or fine cracks can allow bacteria to get in.
As it was mid March, Ken’s fertile eggs were in demand and I could see the diminishing trays behind him. 6 new eggs to choose;-
Gold Laced Polish
and 2 Pekin
I was determined to hold on to the existing Araucana egg even though it would have been easier to start from scratch with 7 new eggs. This means, if the chick hatches, it will be on its own for approx 11 days before the newbies (hopefully) hatch. Not ideal, but we’ll cross that bridge, and there’s no guarantee that chick will hatch. Ken said it was the first time he had heard of less than 50% fertility and he regularly posts his eggs out. Trust me to draw the short straw!
The new eggs came home with me and later that night I put them safely in the incubator.
DAY 16 A Quick Peek
I left the eggs alone for a few days before I finally gave into temptation and got the candling torch out. The Aracauna is still fine, filling up more of the shell and the airspace is increasing. I can also see 3 fertile eggs even on the 5th day! Technically its possible to candle them daily and record their development, but as the first week is when the foetus is at its most fragile (just like the first 3 months in a human pregnancy), I am going to leave them be till their 7th day and check again to see any further development.
DAY 18 Confirmation
Yep, as I suspected, 3 out of the 6 new eggs are viable – the Wyandotte, Silkie and one of the Pekin eggs. Day 18 is also a big day, sometimes known as ‘lockdown.’ This is when the humidity well is filled up, the turning function is in the incubator is turned off and we wait for chicks to hatch. Or in this case, chick. With this particular incubator, the turning function automatically stops after the 18th day. I took the base ring out and replaced it with a rubber net matting which Ken had provided as it helps newborn chicks to get their footing. It wasn’t ideal that the remaining 6 eggs would miss out on being turned as often during this period. Provided there was no egg hatching yet, I was going to continue turning them manually whenever I remembered, but if there is a hatching chick, the less the incubator was opened the better.
DAY 19 Pip!
Late tonight, just before going to bed I checked the eggs and saw a tiny indent in the Aracauna egg and I’m sure I heard some cheeping! Very excited!
DAY 20 Desperately Seeking Chicks
A bigger hole greeted me this morning and I can see the tip of the beak and hear the cheeping. It would take at least 24 hours for the chick to hatch out and it was important that I don’t help the process as the chick is still absorbing nutrients from within the shell. My main problem is that this chick will be on its own till the others hatch 11 days later which isn’t ideal. I managed to find a local lady who had some week old Silkie chicks, so tomorrow Steve will have the pleasure of choosing 2 babies to bring home.
It was around 24 hrs since the first pip when I became concerned there didn’t seem to be much progress in the hatching. A bit of a worry for my first hatch and especially when you read on forums how some chicks have popped out within 10 hours. Generally speaking chicks should be left to hatch on their own as enthusiastic peeling away of the shell and membrane could cause bleeding. I had seen on an expert’s website that there are some cases where help may be required if the chick is too big to manouvre round the shell but removal of the shell needs to be careful. I picked away cautiously, unlike the boiled eggs that I am expert at peeling and left half the egg intact which made the chick look like a Weeble. I was hoping the chick would make the rest of its exit himself. Not long afterwards he did and I managed to film it, although the lighting wasn’t great. He was still attached to the egg shell with an umbilical cord, which I left, but removed the majority of the shell. I can now leave him to dry off in the incubator while I get some sleep.
DAY 21 Early Bird
I had to be up early for a meeting so had a quick look at our new chick before I left for the day. He was unsteady on his feet, which is expected but actively making his way round the other eggs. His umbilical cord had come off so I cleared that away to reduce any bacteria. The plan today is that Steve will be picking up the new chicks who are a week old and putting them in the brooder. Our new chick will be ok in the incubator till I get back later. He will not need any food or water for up to 48 hours as he has absorbed all he needs to survive from the shell and he seems fine – born just a day early from the expected 21 days.
I have referred to the chick as ‘he’ and will be calling all the chicks boys until we find out what sex they are. I’m hoping that will help me cope if I have to part with them.
I returned later that evening to see our two new Silkie chicks happily settled in the brooder. They are partridge coloured and apparently quite sought after in the show world. One is a black and gold variety and the other blue and gold. I was quite envious of Steve going to choose chicks from a box of various colours, while I spent the day hours away at a business meeting!
I put our newborn chick in with the Silkies with no dramas. Definitely a lot easier than introducing adult hens to each other. Hope that will still be the case when the other eggs hatch. Now there are only eggs in the incubator, I took the opportunity to give it a quick wipe with disinfectant and to reset it for the next hatch date, which happens to be Easter Sunday! Its not ideal to have eggs of varying hatch dates as each time a chick is born, there is bacteria produced which could potentially affect the remaining hatch. However, under the circumstances it was the best I could do, seeing as I didn’t want to give up on the Aracauna chick, and I’m glad I didn’t!
Our Aracauna chick seems quite happy with the larger Silkies, although quite sleepy at times and clumsy. The first few days I put the blue non slip mat Ken had supplied over some newspaper, so he can get a grip, as newspaper on its own can be slippy and can cause spraddle leg in chicks. This is anything from a wide leg stance to the splits, but can be corrected, if not prevented. The Silkies liked to climb into the crumb dish and scratch at the food, and sometimes sleep in it, so that was cleaned regularly too. Their behaviour and mannerisms were just like adult hens and over this first week, I can see the Aracauna learning to do the same things. By the 3rd day he was drinking and pecking at the chick crumbs and also getting into the dish. His attempts at preening at first ended up with him falling over but as he got stronger, he became more adept.
Over the course of the week, I could see the tips of the Aracauna wings feathering up so he had more length to them. The Silkie chicks were growing at an alarming rate, to a point where I think I will put the Aracauna in with the newborn chicks when they pop out. Still he seems quite happy with his bigger siblings and between the three of them, they produce an amazing amount of poo! Not great when they are living in the conservatory and centrally heated by an infra red bulb! I am cleaning them at least twice a day but the non slip mat wasn’t particularly easy to deal with. I ordered some spare ones, and then read on a website that someone raised their chicks on kitchen roll, which isn’t as slippy as newspaper alone. Ahh, eureka!!
I candled the remaining eggs in the incubator – there looked to be movement in all the 3 fertile eggs and I discarded the rest. Now its lockdown! Again!
Easter Saturday evening, the Pekin egg pipped! Lying next to the incubator, I could see the broken shell move ever so slightly and hear cheeping! And on returning from church later, the Wyandotte egg had also pipped! Brilliant! Shortly after midnight, I gave up egg watching and went to bed. I dreamt that the chicks were hatched and running around the incubator, and when I woke I joked to Steve about it. When I got downstairs, it seems my dream wasn’t far wrong…both the Pekin and Wyandotte were out of their shells and looking well! This was within the last 8 hours, which made me think that I was right to help the Araucana chick in hatching. Just goes to show the different outcomes in this project.
The White Silkie egg hadn’t pipped yet.
Hmm, I thought, Easter Sunday was the due date and its still early afternoon…curiosity got the better of me and I grabbed the candling torch and the egg. Sadly, all seemed still within the egg despite having seen movement a few days. I broke the shell and saw the dead chick, with a partially absorbed yolk. It really is a lottery when we incubate a clutch of eggs – not all will make it to the hatch.
After a quick burial, we prepared the brooder for the newbies and put the Araucana chick in with them, while we separated the Silkies to a cardboard box with a hang down infra red lamp. This was all done quite hurriedly as we were having an Easter get together with the family that evening and the chicks were going to get a lot of attention!
So, the chicks got cooed at, talked about and photographed for much of the evening. When everyone had gone, I noticed the Araucana, who had spent most of the evening with the new babies was looking quite fed up and vocal (despite him being in the warm brooder). The Pekin chick had tried to cuddle up to him but he cheeped angrily at him so he backed off! I placed the Aracauna back with the big Silkies and he was instantly happy again, feeding, scratching and generally feeling part of the gang again! I guess he has spent the first 11 days with them and they were the nearest to parents he was going to get.
I had initially thought of separating the Aracauna as the Silkies were turning into big delinquents now, and he was quite small in comparison. They were starting to flap and jump and the blue and gold one in particular seems to be developing faster as he is bigger and his feathers are starting to change. He is also fearless – I’m pretty sure he is a cockerel!
So we now have 5 chicks of different ages and no idea of what sex yet. My next blog is based on them developing and me finding out who’s who. Plus their transition to the big world outside with my other four hens. See you then!