Canberra Backyard Poultry


Using an incubator

The incubator needs to be set up in a room with a stable temperature and no drafts.  The temperature for eggs to hatch needs to be at 37.7 degrees for the incubation period of 21 days.  The temperature needs to monitored from the top of the eggs.

If your incubator isn’t auto turning, mark the eggs on one side with the date you put them in, the other side mark with a O.  The date means day and the O is night, then you know if you have turned them.  Turn eggs roughly 12 hours apart.  You can roll mid-day and/or night if you wish but twice a day is the minimum otherwise the chick will get stuck to the inside of the shell and wont hatch.  Broody hens roll their eggs every few hours.

There needs to be water in the reservoir all the time, fill one of the channels every few days at the time of turning.  Tempting as it is, try not to open the incubator unless turning and candling as this upsets the temperature and humidity levels.

To candle, get a strong torch and a full roll of toilet paper.  Put the roll over the beam of light and put the egg in the stream of light.  You will be able to see inside the egg.  It is easy to see inside white eggs, harder with blue or green eggs and very hard with dark brown eggs, so you need a very bright torch.

At day 10 you should see a small blob and with spidery veins coming from it.
If you see a red ring all around the egg then an embryo has died.  If you see a clear egg, then the egg is most likely infertile.  Remove these eggs.
If you are unsure, leave the eggs in the incubator and check again in a few days.

After 18 days, add extra water then leave the eggs to hatch.  Leave chicks in the incubator until they have all hatched and fluffed up.  Chicks absorb the yolk before hatching and this allows them to not need to eat or drink for 24-48 hours.

Using a broody hen

If you have a good broody, this is by far the easiest way to hatch chicks.  A good broody will stay sitting on the nest until the chicks hatch and will then raise the chicks.  Some first time broody hens aren’t always the best mums though, so it is wise to let her have her first go at hatching be one that you aren’t too attached to (rather than expensive bought fertile eggs!).  A good broody hen will be impossible to keep off the nest and will peck and growl (often ferociously) at you if you try to disturb her or take her eggs.  Don’t be alarmed if you notice she has no feathers underneath – broody hens pluck out their breast feathers to line the nest and also keep the eggs closer to their skin to warm them.

The hen will need somewhere safe and secure to sit, away from the rest of the flock, safe from predators and protected from the elements.  This is essential in summer as it is easier for a broody to overheat as she won’t leave the nest to find shade or water.

Ensure access to a good quality breeding food and that water is available at all times.  She should get off the nest once a day to eat and drink and do a big broody poo.  Some good sitters can forget though, so it may be necessary to kick her off the nest once a day to ensure she is eating and drinking though.

Once she is set up, all you need to do is put some eggs under her.  The number she can handle depends on her size.  Big breeds (eg sussex) can handle more (I’ve seen a mama sussex hatch 17 eggs), but a smaller number is better, especially for a fist timer.  Put the eggs under her at night to minimize disturbance.

Once the chicks hatch she will keep sitting until they are all fluffed up and then they will gradually leave the nest and start exploring and eating.

Change the food to a chick starter – it is fine for the broody hen to eat this too.  The mama hen will pick up bits of food and drop them for the chicks making a clucking sound to show them where it is.

It is possible to put day old chicks under a broody hen but there are a few precautions.  It is hard to know how a hen will react to this – some will happily take any and all chicks snuck under her (even up to a week old) but others will kill chicks they haven’t hatched themselves.  It’s not a great idea to put chicks under a first time broody hen, especially if she didn’t hatch any others herself, because you don’t know how she will react to the newcomers.  It’s better to try it with a hen who has happily raised chicks before.

If she’s not going to hatch any eggs herself, it is best if she has been sitting for at least a week already before you try to give her some chicks.  Wait until they are fluffed up and as with eggs, it is best to put them under her at night.  Hopefully she will wake up in the morning and just accept her new babies.  The younger the chicks are the better when putting them under her – chicks are pretty slow moving and sleep a lot for the first few days, so she should happily keep sitting.  If you put week old chicks under her she might get a shock as they are running around by that age and she is more likely to reject them unless she already has chicks of the same age she hatched herself.

The mama hen will stay with the chicks until they are old enough to fend for themselves.  At this point she will be ready to go back into the flock, but the chicks probably need to be kept separate until they are closer in size to the main flock to avoid bullying.  Expect some uproar when the mama hen goes back into the flock as the pecking order is re-established.



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