If you long for the excitement and joy of hatching your own chicken eggs but don't have or want to wait for a broody hen, then you may decide to go down the route of hatching some chicks yourself using an incubator.
Some of the benefits to artificial incubation are:
- You can choose when you want to hatch out your chicks.
- Depending on the size of the incubator, you can often hatch out more chicks than a hen could.
- The chicks will be hatched free of lice (not always the case with a natural hatching).
- Watching and hearing your ‘babies’ break free of their shells can be a very exciting and proud moment.
Some of the downsides to artificial incubation are:
- Incubators require regular monitoring - the eggs will need turning at least once a day, unfertilised and bad eggs have to be found and removed, the humidity and temperatures have to be maintained at suitable levels (these can vary so always follow the manufacturers instructions). A lot can go wrong. . .
- It can be quite stressful to feel responsible for these new little lives, particularly if several are lost along the way or they seem to be having trouble hatching out on the big day.
The natural time for hatching eggs is in the spring / summer but with an incubator you can pretty much choose to hatch your fertile eggs out at any time, although you may still wish to consider the practicalities of brooding chicks at the various times of year. It is possible to brood chicks in the colder weather, but obviously they may need more attention and resources to keep them warm enough.
There are many varieties of incubators available from small ones capable of hatching out two or three eggs to large industrial ones that will hatch out hundreds of chicks at a time. In many ways you get what you pay for, and a cheap incubator may not prove very economical in the long run, but all should be capable of doing the job they are intended for. You will probably just have to be a lot more ‘hands on’ in terms of monitoring and regulating the temperatures and humidity of a cheaper incubator than with one of the more advanced models.
It is the ‘hands on’ aspect of hatching using an incubator that can cause the most stress, because you do end up feeling directly responsible for the hatch rates. Poor hatch rates can be caused if there is too much heat in the incubator during the last few days of the hatch, or too little moisture at the time of hatching (both of which can cause the skin of the shell to dry too quickly and harden on the chick making it almost impossible for it to break free of the shell). Sometimes chicks are just too weak to hatch properly because they come from poor quality hatching eggs. It generally is not advisable to help, because even if they can be helped out they may be too weak to survive or will not have developed fully, but it can be torturous to watch them struggle and perhaps ultimately ‘not make it’.
One of the biggest benefits of hatching using an incubator is that you can choose when you want your chicks to hatch out. Most breeds start to lay at around 6 months old, so by choosing your hatch dates you are also effectively able to ensure a steady supply of eggs all year round.
Regardless of how and when you choose to hatch out your new chicks it will be an exciting (and addictive) journey. Good luck!
© 2008 Gina Read
Gina is the author / editor of the free online poultry magazine ‘The Keeping Chickens Newsletter’ which is full of articles and tips about raising chickens as well as subscriber coops and photos. You can subscribe at http://www.keepingchickensnewsletter.com