Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hatching Baby Chicks

Hatching Baby Chicks – Year 2

About 23 days ago I decided it was time to start incubating some eggs.  I began watching for cleanly laid, and healthy looking eggs from my 7 hens.  It only took 2 days to get 8 viable candidates.  A lot of the eggs have some kind of soiling on them so are not a good choice for incubation.  When I found clean, perfectly ovoid eggs from the hens that I wished to hatch from, I did not wash them off, but placed them in the fridge. The reason you do not wash them off is because when hens lay eggs they leave a protective coating on them  You don't want to wash it off as it will be more susceptible to letting germs get inside. Once I reached my quota of 8 eggs I placed them in the incubator and began the process.

My incubator is a Brinsea Mini eco.  It will hold 8 chicken eggs, a few more quail eggs, or a few less duck eggs.  It’s a great little unit.  The upside is the cost and easy use, the down side is that you have to manually turn the eggs. 


The first order of business was to plug the unit in and then watch the temperature.  It needs to be calibrated to around 99.3-99.7 degrees Fahrenheit to hatch hen eggs.  I let this run for about an hour before adding eggs.

Then I placed the 8 eggs around the perimeter of the incubator, filled 1 side of the water well in the center and replaced the cover. As I put each egg in I used a pencil and marked an “X” on one side and a “0” on the opposite side.  I watched for the next few hours to make sure that the internal temperature hovered just over 99 and just under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It took a few little tweaks over the next few days before the incubator temp stabilized. I just did my best to keep it steady. 

Once you start incubating in this unit you will need to turn the eggs 3 times a day.  I would typically do this when I first awakened in the morning, after I got home from work at 5 pm and then once more right before retiring for the night at around 11 pm.  It is important that you do this very gently as you could break the fragile blood vessels forming inside.  You should also turn the egg over on the smaller pointed side, not the wide end as this is where the air sac is forming. The “X” and “0”s really help when turning the eggs.  I always knew that I had fully turned them and which eggs still needed to be turned. Turning 3 times a day is important because you want to alternate each side for the longer night sitting time. Every day or so I would take the little water guard off the center well and fill up one side.  This keeps the humidity level inside the incubator at a correct level.

On day eight I candled the eggs.  Some of them were very easy to see through and others nigh unto impossible.  My brown, tan and white eggs I could readily see that the air sac and blood vessels were forming, except one egg which looked to be infertile.   My green eggs were impossible.  I just had to accept that they were on their own. My method of candling was the same and looked just like this.

I just kept turning and adding water for 19 days.  2 days before the expected hatch you stop turning the eggs.  You also start filling both sides of the water well to raise the humidity inside the incubator. Always remember to put the guard back on the water well so that when the chicks hatch they won't flop into it and drown.  Once the eggs start hatching the humidity has to be high or the egg membrane will dry out too quickly after the first shell breach and essentially trap the chick inside.




Last night when I arrived home from work I could hear peeping.  It was very exciting when I checked on the incubator and saw 3 of the eggs had pipped. Pipping is when the chick breaks through either the shell or into the air sac and begins breathing. 


Here you can see the shell on the tan egg is broken just to the left of the “0”.  The white egg right behind it is broken through on top.

This was very fun to actually hear the baby chick peeping and announcing her arrival before she actually made an appearance. 






After a long time (hours) and mighty struggles one chick breaks out.  When a chick hatches it is not the cute little fluffy thing that you usually see in pictures. It’s all wet and looks very straggly. Sometimes it takes a long time for it to wiggle itself up onto its feet.  I placed a little mat under the eggs when I was preparing for the final 2 days.  If you don't put something in there for them to grab onto they could end up with splayed legs.





It takes a few hours for the chick to dry out and start looking normal.  This one was the first to hatch out.  I call her Mother Hen because she took it upon herself to encourage all the rest.  She seemed to know which egg would hatch out next and somehow maneuvered herself around that cramped space inside the incubator until she was next to the hatching egg.  She would lay her head on it, nudge it with her beak, and peep at it.  Sometimes she would bump it around a bit.  Every time she did this the hatchling would get a little burst of energy and try a little harder to break free from the shell.

This morning when I woke up I had 3 baby chicks and one chick that had “zipped” its shell.

Zipping is when the chick has essentially pecked a line around the shell from the inside, breaking it into 2 pieces.  Then it can kick itself free.  It is a very long process.  This chick had worked at it all night long.





 Mother hen knew that the time had come and had flopped herself over to the next hatching egg.  She sat like this for almost 30 minutes encouraging and offering her support. 


I managed to capture this egg in the final stages of hatching.  The video is 12 minutes long, but you can see Mother Hen doing her thing, and the mighty struggles of the chick breaking her head out of the shell.


I learned a lot the first time around.  Last year I put 8 eggs in the incubator and hatched out 6 chicks.  I did a post-mortem a couple of days later to see what the problem was with the 2 un-hatched eggs. One of them had died early on in the incubation process, but the other one died just prior to hatching.  I did some research and have come to the conclusion that I was the one who killed it.  I moved the egg and inadvertently turned it over half-way through the hatch.  I’m pretty sure the fluids moved inside the egg and drowned the baby chick who had pipped internally into the air sac. I feel badly about my part in its demise, but glad I learned something in the process.

I still have 3 more eggs in my incubator.  I'm pretty sure one of them never developed as it was infertile, but the other 2 could still surprise me with chicks.  They were green eggs and for some reason this color is extremely hard to see through when candling.

Hatching out your own baby chicks is very easy and satisfying to do.  I would recommend you try it.


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