Incubation of eggs commences every second week on the even Julian week. Preparation of all eggs is done every day they are collected to avoid contaminants entering the shell. First they are washed with cold water then with a warm damp cloth.
Storage of eggs is in a cool room in the main shed which is normally below 26 degrees on the hottest of days. This allows for the eggs to keep fresh and stable until they are placed in the incubator. Eggs incubated in this way will normally allow hatches within a 36 hour period from first to last chicken. Most chickens will hatch over a 12 hour period of the due hatching time. Eggs will sometimes start hatching 12 hours before the due date but this can normally be put down to the breed of chook being used. Hatching chickens seems quite easy after you have done so many hatchings; but at first it seems like one poor clutch after another.
All hatching success starts way back with optimum health of the laying hen being of prime importance (next section). Keep the eggs together and cool; the fridge can be used if it is not below 10 degrees. Eggs can be saved for two weeks with not difference in the hatching rates if they are cared for. Keep all eggs clean from dirt and dust from the moment you collect them this also helps to stop feather dust born diseases infiltrating the incubator.
When you first place the eggs in the incubator they must be no younger than 24 hours old, and if purchased from another breeder allow them to settle for 24 hours after travelling. When placed in the incubator it is important that for the first 4 days you turn the eggs at least 4 times a day for the following week 2 times a day is all that is needed. At this point the humidity is the most critical aspect of incubation. For the first 17 days levels of 40% humidity, 37.6C is best and in the last 3-4 days it should be 55% humidity, 37.6C When first starting out in incubating, investing in a humidity thermometer is a brilliant idea to help for higher hatching rates.
If your incubator runs dry of water don’t panic just double the surface area of water in the incubator for the same number of hours it was running dry for. Of course if you have a home made incubator you may have to use trial and error for you incubator.
On very humid spring r summer days the best friend you have will be the humidity thermometer as you may need to run your incubator dry for a day or two. Only during the daylight hours though!
It is far easier to buy a chicken crumble or starter mix rations than to make one, most manufactured feeds are uniform in size and protein levels. The advantage is the coccidiosis formula in the feeds as standard. Unfortunately even though we try for all organic production it is not always achievable with the poultry flocks. Some precautions are taken with the feed additives and drenches as birds fall of a perch from illness faster than our four legged animals.
All chickens are kept in the brooding shed away from any adult or older birds, the chickens are never tended if I clean pens or catch older birds. This is in an attempt to limit the chicken’s amount of exposure to worms, mites and other conditions normally found in poultry.
Keep the hen happy with plenty of scraps from the veggie patch and all the weeds you can find while weeding. Feed her and the rooster a variety of grains and pellets, some of which can be soaked in a diluted solution of seaweed for animals and an occasional cup of molasses. Dry feed is good for the auto feeder so they never go hungry for any time during the day when breeding. A feeder that restricts the rooster from eating too much good food is a good idea if you can find or build one.
Free ranging the hens is not always possible and not really recommended for high fertility of eggs as the hens can stay away from the rooster if they don’t like him. Once or twice a week is just as good as they are so excited to get out they start scratching straight away. Have the nest filled with clean straw or hay as it helps to keep the eggs clean and the hen will stay clean as she lays her eggs.
Having a clean pen is also of paramount importance as dust and mites can build up quickly, it also stops the hen scratching in the manure witch will cause reinfestation of worm eggs. Drenching should be undertaken at regular intervals during the year and not missed at all during the breeding season. Drenching must be done carefully and to the manufacturers specifications as over drenching can cause some chicks not to fully develop in the egg. I find a pour on drench much more effective and easier to control the administration of quantity.
Fertile eggs are for sale for all breeds with availability dictated by demand during the breeding season. When hens are drenched all eggs for 48hrs are not put up for sale or incubated.
Day old chickens are kept in the incubator for a minimum of 12 hours before being placed under the brooders. It is only after the chickens have reached 12 hours of age that they are allowed access to water. There is no benefit to giving chicks water less than this age as they often are not stable on their feet and can rarely tell they are sleeping in or against water dispensers.
Point of lay pullets are sold at the point of lay age for that breed, this can vary a lot between egg laying small breeds to the bigger breeds of meat birds. Most are all given the chance to free range where possible which helps to give them a chance to scratch and mix with older birds but can get away if they feel the need.
Occasionally we have layers for sale if they are excess to needs; this happens from keeping more pullets than needed each season to make sure I have the required numbers of hens each new breeding season. Older hens that are still laying sometimes come up for sale but often go so quickly I rarely list them for sale.