Hatch­ing ad­vice

It pays to be re­al­is­tic, says Sarah McKen­zie

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month - Sarah McKen­zie runs Sus­sex Gar­den Poul­try at Pul­bor­ough: www.stopham­gar­den­poul­try.co.uk

Spring is nearly upon us and signs of new life are emerg­ing all around us. It is just the time to think about hatch­ing our own chicks. They will sit in our hands and cheep hap­pily, they will be so tame and fol­low us about…

To an ex­tent this can be true. But while hatch­ing your own eggs is a fab­u­lous ex­pe­ri­ence, it not al­ways as easy as na­ture would have us be­lieve.

It’s a won­der­ful sight to watch Mother Hen cluck­ing around with her chicks, keep­ing them warm, feed­ing them and look­ing out for dan­ger. But I have also known hens to dili­gently sit on their own eggs for the re­quired 21 days, then

kill ev­ery chick they hatch. It may be un­think­able… but it does hap­pen.

So what if we take Mother Hen out of the equa­tion and hatch ar­ti­fi­cially? Well, then you’re go­ing to re­quire some kit. Along with an in­cu­ba­tor you will also need a brooder box. The idea that you can keep a chick warm in the bot­tom of the Ray­burn or in an air­ing cup­board is a sweet one, but they will need food and wa­ter and will also make a mess. Do you want that on your clean laun­dry?

Brooder boxes can be adapted from many things: an in­door guinea pig cage or a large plas­tic box, but they need to be ver­min proof and al­low a heat source.

The safest heat source is an ‘Elec­tric Hen’, ba­si­cally a warm shelf the chicks dive un­der, as they would their mum. Some peo­ple pre­fer a red lamp that re­quires hang­ing over the broody box. To check the chicks have ad­e­quate heat, you need to ob­serve them. Chicks that are cold will cheep and clus­ter to­gether while ones that are too hot will spread out to the edges of the box. An even scat­ter­ing of chicks is just right.


So you’ve got the the kit and the eggs are gently be­ing turned in the in­cu­ba­tor at least three times daily at a con­stant body tem­per­a­ture. At day 7, it’s best to ‘can­dle’ them to check for fer­til­ity. You hold the egg to the beam of light and check for signs of life. A clus­ter of spi­der-like red veins should be vis­i­ble. This means the egg is fer­tile and the chick is grow­ing in­side its shell. Any in­fer­tile eggs should be thrown away at this point.

How many eggs does one hatch? Now here’s the tricky thing. In six months time your chicks could have grown into pro­duc­tive hens and be lay­ing de­li­cious eggs. Or you could be un­for­tu­nate and have all cock­erels. If so, what do you do with them? Raise them for the ta­ble, dis­patch them at first crow, keep them all and hope they don’t fight, or try and give them away?

When you think about hatch­ing your own chicks, you also have to be re­al­is­tic. The other thing to re­mem­ber is that there is no guar­an­tee how many eggs will hatch. There are so many things that can go wrong. You may suf­fer a power cut at just the wrong time, your eggs may be in­fer­tile, the hu­mid­ity level may be in­cor­rect, and so on.

Al­ways hatch more than you need, just in case only one chick pops out at day 21. And never for­get there’s a 50/50 chance it will be a male! I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom. When it goes right it’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence. But you may just con­sider it makes more sense to have all the hard work done for you – to go to a good breeder, get a few hy­brids, guar­an­tee your­self lots of eggs with­out the wait and have no cock­erels to deal with.

If you de­cide to go down the hatch­ing route, you are in for some mag­i­cal mo­ments. Ev­ery time a chick un­curls it­self from its shell I’m in awe. A whole life made in an egg in just 21 days – its amaz­ing! But just go into it with your eyes wide open!

If you go down the hatch­ing route, you are in for some mag­i­cal mo­ments.

Day-old chicks

Hatch­ing equip­ment

Na­ture or nur­ture?

Hatch­ing from an in­cu­ba­tor

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