Successfully Hatching Chicken Eggs
Devices are designed specifically for candling eggs and these can be purchased, but you really don’t need one. You can do it on your own with a bright (preferably LED) white-light flashlight and a dark area. The end of your egg should “seal” against the light – if the flashlight lens prevents this from working, make an adapter tube from cardboard.
Illuminate the egg from below and look for a web-like network of blood vessels surrounding what is the chicken embryo. You may even notice embryo movement. Clear space and a yolk, or a ring of blood, show the egg was not fertilized or that it died during early stages. It’s not unusual to lose 50 percent of your eggs. Eggs that aren’t developing properly should be discarded because of the high risk of exploding in the incubator.
Once chicks hatch, leave them in the incubator or hatcher for a day before relocating them to a brooder. Newly hatched chicks get sufficient energy from the residual yolk. All they need for the first few days is a warm environment – there’s no need to rush them off to a brooder.
Once you have day-old chicks, you need to show them their brooder. A brooder can be as plain as a circular pen made from corrugated cardboard with an infrared heat lamp or two suspended above it or, if your design is rectangular, insert curved cardboard in the corners to prevent chicks from piling up. Add an inch or two of clean wood shavings or other absorbent material to the bottom of the brooder. When placing the chicks into their brooder, dip their beaks into the water trough and set them down. If they huddle together beneath the lights, they’re too chilly. If they disperse into a ring around the light, they’re too hot. Adjust the lamp(s) until the chicks are evenly dispersed – content chicks will peep softly.
Besides warmth, chicks need a continuous supply of clean water and free choice food. Select a chick starter feed containing 20 percent to 23 percent protein from your local supplier. At around five weeks, switch to a growing ration containing about 15 percent protein. It’s important to supply grit for the gizzard and crushed oyster shell as a source of calcium. If your chickens are confined, you may offer them some fresh alfalfa, clover, grass clippings or even leftover salad greens. Make sure the salad greens are salt-free and contain no dressing.
Cleanliness is important in rearing a brood of chicks. Their feed will get moldy if it gets wet. Always keep the waterer clean, as parasites and disease will spread rapidly through contaminated water. Remove wet bedding immediately and restore dry bedding to the brooder; add more as the manure builds up. Keep in mind that chicken litter and used brooder bedding can make excellent fertilizers – they work best when composted.