Hatch­ing spe­cial

Poul­try keep­ers fre­quently de­bate the mer­its of hatch­ing chicks with a broody hen or an in­cu­ba­tor. Hen keeper ANNA TWITTO has tried both op­tions and con­sid­ers the pros and cons

Your Chickens - - Front Page - IN­CU­BA­TOR PIC­TURES: TERRY BEEBE

In­cu­ba­tors v brood­ies

Af­ter sev­eral years of rais­ing chick­ens, and with many broods of chicks un­der our belts, I thought I would out­line some of our ex­pe­ri­ences in hatch­ing chicks us­ing an in­cu­ba­tor and also do­ing it the nat­u­ral way – that is, by a broody hen. Should you go for na­ture or tech­nol­ogy? What are the pros and cons of each op­tion? Read on to find out what has worked for us.

It was in the se­cond year of our chicken-keep­ing that we felt the de­sire to in­crease our flock by means of adding some new chicks. We wanted to ob­serve the en­tire process, from egg to softly chirp­ing ball of fluff to pro­duc­tive adult egg-layer. We also felt that a truly sus­tain­able flock main­tains it­self, by ad­di­tion of a new gen­er­a­tion each year, with­out us hav­ing to buy new pul­lets to re­place ag­ing lay­ers.

How­ever, cir­cum­stances played out in such a way that there were no brood­ies in our flock that year. As much as we de­sired to have at least one of our hens sit on some eggs, the girls just didn’t co­op­er­ate. And so it was that my hus­band launched his ad­mirable pro­ject of a home­made in­cu­ba­tor. It was done very sim­ply and on a very small bud­get – a Sty­ro­foam box with a ther­mo­stat and hu­mid­ity de­tec­tor. I was scep­ti­cal, but what did we have to risk, ex­cept a few eggs? And so an ex­per­i­men­tal batch of five eggs was placed in­side. Imag­ine my sur­prise when, 21 days later, we had five beau­ti­ful fluffy baby chicks!

We have op­er­ated our in­cu­ba­tor many times since, but we’ve also had some brood­ies step up to the plate. Last year, we had so many brood­ies the in­cu­ba­tor ac­tu­ally sat on a shelf gath­er­ing dust, and hatch­ing and rais­ing chicks was done in an all­nat­u­ral way.

PROS AND CONS

I know many peo­ple swear by us­ing brood­ies ex­clu­sively to hatch and rear chicks, while oth­ers love their in­cu­ba­tors.

Per­son­ally, I think there are pros and cons to both op­tions. Here are a few points:

CON­VE­NIENCE: I be­lieve noth­ing beats a broody hen on this one. We put some eggs un­der a broody, wait three weeks, and see the new chicks. We don’t need to worry about ad­just­ing tem­per­a­ture or hu­mid­ity or turn­ing the eggs, nor about pro­vid­ing heat­ing for the chicks af­ter­wards. We don’t need to clean an in­door brooder, change the bed­ding con­stantly, or deal with the smell. The broody hen takes care of it all; she rears the chicks, teaches them to peck and for­age for food, and in­tro­duces them to the flock.

ECON­OMY: By dis­pens­ing with an in­cu­ba­tor and a heat­ing lamp for the young chicks, we save elec­tric­ity. This is im­por­tant in yet an­other sense – we live in an area where power short­ages are com­mon. Just last week, we ex­pe­ri­enced a spell of over 24 hours with no power. This would have been a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter for a run­ning in­cu­ba­tor or young chicks that re­quire heat­ing.

RE­LI­A­BIL­ITY: On this point I do see the ad­van­tage of tak­ing mat­ters into my own hands. We have had sev­eral in­stances when brood­ies sud­denly de­cided they didn’t want to bother hatch­ing the eggs af­ter all, or even broke the eggs – in par­tic­u­lar if moved from their cho­sen nest (which is usu­ally one of the nest­ing boxes) to a qui­eter spot where they wouldn’t be both­ered by other hens. This week, a broody aban­doned eggs in the fi­nal stages of hatch­ing, and a newly hatched chick, be­cause we moved her to the brood­ing area we have in the coop. We had no choice but to do that, since if we had left her alone, the chicks could po­ten­tially be pecked to death by older birds.

Both broody hens and in­cu­ba­tors have their place

ABOVE AND TOP RIGHT: Hatch­ing chicks in an in­cu­ba­tor BE­LOW: A Leghorn mum and chick reared the nat­u­ral way

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