FIRST HATCH- Actual Date written 9/1/2022
I did not plan on getting an incubator this first summer on the farmette but I didn’t plan on a lot of things. I purchased a moderately sized incubator off of Amazon. One of the companies where the instructions are translated so poorly you cannot even read them. I did this because a couple of our golden comet hens had gone broody – despite the fact that their breed is not known for it. They were sitting on eggs for a while, but once Stephen and I went in to candle them (see how far along they are in the sitting process) the hen’s abandoned those eggs and made a new nest. Now I had to buy an incubator. It was totally my fault that those eggs were half incubated. Had I not gone in there to candle they would still be sitting on them, right?
So as a perfect animal husband, I went online and bought our first incubator. And shoved as many eggs as I could fit into it. I took all the eggs that were half sat (and then some) and started it right up. The first few days I had no idea I needed to add water to it to make sure the humidity stayed up in the 60s. The next few days I added way too much water and the humidity was way too high. So much for the directions that came with the machine. Of the 24 eggs that I put in there, at least some had to hatch. Chicks are resilient.
The problem with taking half sat eggs from the hens was that I had no idea how long I needed to incubate them for. Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch, but some of these had been sat on. Our first eggs started pipping (cracking a small triangular like hole) at about 2 weeks incubation. Guess what? I was a away on a work trip, across the country. I was so disappointed that I was missing my first babies! Five chicks hatched while I was away.
When I came back we still had more eggs to hatch, and another 5 days max in the incubator. I was going to be home for these! When day 21 came around those eggs started pipping and I did not want to miss a second of it. I even abandoned my phone during the workday to record what I was going to miss. My phone was recording for over seven hours.
If you are wondering what that does to a two (almost three) year old iPhone, well, it basically shuts it down. I did not have an extra twenty-two gigabits available on my hard drive to support this video. I can forget about trying to edit it down into smaller videos until I get the mess cleaned up. I deleted old text conversations and old pictures, attempted to get all my pictures on the cloud (unsuccessful). For being in the tech industry one would think that I would be a little bit more tech savvy. Eventually I was able to get a seven-minute video saved out of the huge file and then moved it to warp speed, which was actually really cool.
From the second hatching of the first-time use of the incubator, we got another seven chicks! The most surprising thing about all these chicks is that they were a million different colors. I figured with the Rhode Island red rooster and golden comet hens, they would all be similar but with pattern variations. Not true. We have some white, some buff and a few all-black chicks! I did some digging online and found out that Rhode Island Reds have Maylan in their genetics which is where the black comes from.
Hatching chicks is one of the coolest things I have done to date. Especially the first time around. It is just so amazing that chickens can lay these eggs, you put it under heat (and humidity) and twenty-one days later a real live chick starts pipping out of the shell. The pip into the zipper is also fascinating! How do those little bird brains know that after they pip they should start going in a circular pattern in order to break out? I really just cannot put into words how fascinated I am by the whole process. Did you know that chicks are born with what is called an “egg tooth” that falls after a couple days of life? This egg tooth helps them pip and zipper out of the shell. After the zipper, the chicks start to push with their legs and eventually flop out of the shell with wet feathers looking a mess.
After this first bath was finished hatching and they spent their first 30ish hours in the incubator in order to dry off and fluff them up to a point where they look like what you think just hatched chicks look like, I got right to cleaning that incubator in order to put a new batch in. I am immediately addicted. Incubator is cleaned and in goes another 26 eggs.
The second hatching was just as cool as the first, but easier since I now know about the humidity, and all my eggs are fresh oppose to the half-sat eggs I used the first time. Something about knowing when your eggs are supposed to hatch makes the process a little less nerve wrecking and predictable.
This time around I was able to candle the eggs seven days in and remove the unfertilized eggs from the incubator. There were six unfertilized eggs; Now I am down to 20 eggs in the incubator. Often fertilized eggs will start to develop but will stop, for about the same reasons that us humans might suffer from a miscarriage. Something is just not right, and that chick was missing something that would allow it to develop any further. Of these twenty remaining eggs, I am not expecting all of them to hatch, but still hoping for a good hatch rate! Over the course of the next three days, I patiently waited and watched several chicks hatch. There was a point that I could no longer count how many were already hatched in the incubator since there were so many! I moved a pile of them into the brooder after the first thirty hours to make more room for any more late hatchers.
What I did not foresee was the humidity in the incubator dropping suddenly after removing the hatched chicks. I believe this affected the remaining eggs and I only got one more hatch. There was one chick that had pipped and failed on the zipper from what I believe is known as shrink wrapping. With the drop in the humidity, the membrane inside the eggshell can dry out and stick to the chick, making it incredibly had to get out of the shell. In this example, the chick did not make it out even though I started to give him sprits of water to rehydrate the membrane. I just did not catch it in time to help him get free.
I got seventeen chicks from this second round in the incubator. Seventeen! Out of twenty-six eggs going in and six unfertilized, I’d say this was a pretty great hatch rate on my first full round of incubation.
From the first batch that went in I decided to give seven of them to a friend who has wanted chickens for quite some time. As soon as her coop was ready, she came by and picked them up. I didn’t charge her, instead I asked her to bring the roosters back after they announced themselves. We currently have one rooster for our twelve laying hens. Roosters need to have a bare minimum of four hens, but six is better. One rooster can service up to twelve hens. On a hatch you will usually end up somewhere around that 50/50 mark on roos to hen ratio. That is too many roosters for the bunch. We plan on sending the roosters to freezer camp to help feed our family and bringing them back is what I think a fair trade is on giving the chickens away. She will have to feed the roosters until she knows who is who, which costs money.