We just hatched out 6 beautiful little chicks. It’s been our first indoor brood in a few years. I’ve been letting our broody hens take care of hatching for the past few springs, but this year I had a specific breed I wanted to give a try. Hopefully some of these little babies are pullets and will grow up to be Olive Eggers. They are a cross between a green egg laying hen (Araucana/Easter Egger) and a chocolate egg layer breed of rooster (French Black Copper Maran). I’m excited to see what color eggs these little chicks produce. But that’s many, many months away and for now I get to enjoy their cuteness.
As I said, it’s been a while since I fired up the incubators and I had to refresh my own memory on what makes for a successful hatch day. It’s takes roughly 21 days for a chick embryo to hatch. Preparation for hatch day should start taking place around day 18. Gather supplies together, and do a lot of reading if this is your first time so you know what to expect. The best piece of advice I can give a first timer is be prepared to WAIT! Before I started incubating chicks, I thought that hatching happened in a matter of minutes, when in fact it can take up to 48 hours from first pip (or first break of the shell) to complete hatch. Most of the time, chicks pretty much take care of things on their own. All that is required of us is a whole lot of patience and a few simple things that I discuss below.
1. Increase Humidity
Toward the end of the 21 days you will want to increase the humidity levels in your incubator. This aids in hatching and keeps the outer membrane pliable and easier to stretch and break for the hatching chicks.
2. Stop Rotating
On day 19 stop rotating the eggs. If you’re using an incubator with an automatic turning mechanism. Remove this, or change the settings so that the turning stops.
3. Paper Towel
We use the Brinsea Mini Advanced Incubator to hatch our chicks. On the day before hatch day, or when I see the eggs start to wiggle, I slide a piece of paper towel cut to fit the inside of our incubator. This helps with clean up after the chicks have hatched and assists with drying and fluffing out their feathers.
To cut the paper towel I fold a square into 4ths. Then with the folded corner in the center of the circle, I press the paper against the raised edge of the rotation disk (which you no longer need at this point).
This creates an indent that can be easily followed with scissors.
Carefully remove the eggs, quickly put the towel in place and carefully replace the eggs.
4. Set Up Your Brooder
I like to set up my brooder area around day 19 or 20. That way I’m set even if I have a few early hatchers. I get the heat lamp in place and check to make sure that one side of the brooder stays at about 95 degrees. I clean the chick waterers and feeders, fill them and place them inside. I like to use newspaper and a thin layer of pine chips on the bottom of a newborn brooder. The newspaper and the shallow bedding provide a flat surface with traction that will help support leg development. Right after hatch, the chick’s legs are pliable and awkward. Providing a solid walking surface can encourage proper leg formation and help prevent splay leg.
5. Be Patient
It might be tempting to open the incubator and assist a chick from it’s shell, but there’s a reason hatching takes as long as it does. Within the time frame of the slow and tedious hatch, things are developing within the chicks body. The last bits of blood are being absorbed from the outer veins, the last of the yolk is being absorbed and the chick needs to take time to separate itself from it’s eggshell home.
This is often frustrating to watch as the chick almost always looks as though it’s struggling and as keepers, we want to help. But being born is tough work and the thrashing and kicking by the chick alternated by exhaustion and immediate sleep is all part of the necessary process of hatching.
There are times when a chick might benefit from assistance, but this is a touchy and sometimes dangerous process which I plan to cover in a future post.
6. Let Them Dry
Don’t be afraid to leave the chicks in the incubator until they are fully fluffed out. Depending on your humidity levels, this could take up to 12 hours. The chicks will be fine as far as food and water are concerned. They still have the yolk sustaining them nutritionally. I do remove the broken egg shells to lend a little extra room.
7. Separate Newborns
If you already have a brooder box with chicks and you’re adding newborns to the mix, it’s a good idea to separate them for the first 24 to 48 hours. Older chicks can be a little bossy and stomp or peck freshly hatched babies. Until the newborns get their leg strength, they have little defense as far as running away, or standing their ground. I wait until all the new chicks are sturdy and walking sound before adding them to mix.
|6 newborn chicks and our two 2 week old Jersey Giants waiting to meet them in the brooder|
To separate newborns, a plastic shoebox container or a cardboard box work well. You can place this in the existing brooder close to the heat lamp. Be sure to take the temperature of this boxed area.
8. Dip Beaks
Once the chicks are standing on their own, their beaks should be dipped into their water container. You are Mamma Hen now, so you have to show the chicks where their water and food is. Hold the chick firm but gentle in your hand and dip the beak tip. This may have to be repeated a few times a day until you see all the chicks drinking on their own.
I like to hold newborn chicks often and make sure I’m present a lot in their first few days. A chick will assume the first thing they see is it’s mother, so you want to leave a good lasting impression for friendly sociable chicks.
I would hope that everyone gets to see a chick hatch in their lifetime. It is an amazing experience and one that I feel blessed to have witnessed.
For more on Incubating Chicks check out my 5 part series below, which covers everything from selecting chickens to breed all the way to day 21 and setting up the brooder box.
Part 1: Incubating Advantages
Part 2: Choosing Birds to BreedPart 3: Choosing an Incubator, Setup and Collecting EggsPart 4: The Long Wait, Candling, and Hatching DayRaising Chicks