by Jennifer Sartell
It’s that season again! Pictures of baby chicks are popping up all over my Facebook Farm Page, as fellow bloggers, homesteaders, and chicken enthusiasts share images of their new little peepers. It’s an exciting day when chicks arrive, whether they come from a store, a breeder, through the post, a broody hen, or from an egg in your own incubator. Baby chicks are a miracle I never tire of.
In the first post of this four-part series on incubating, I’d like to talk about some different reasons for raising your own chicks from a hatching egg. The advantages, the disadvantages and some tips that I’ve learned along the way.
My favorite way to add chicks to our flock is by allowing a broody hen to do the work for me. Mother Nature really does know best, and it takes the guesswork out of egg care for us humans. To read more about my first experience with a broody hen read my post Bath Time at the Lavender House.
If a broody hen isn’t an option, my second favorite way to acquire chicks is by hatching them myself with an incubator.
The main reason I started incubating my own eggs is that some years ago, I was able to purchase some good-quality stock from a serious and reputable breeder of Blue Laced Red Wyandottes. I couldn’t afford to purchase new chicks of this type each spring, but I wanted the lines of these quality birds to continue each year.
We purchased three fertile hens and two cockerels, beautiful birds but quite expensive. We collected the eggs from our hens over the next week, ordered an incubator with rush shipment, and hatched our first incubated eggs.
From this experience on, I was hooked. This was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. I also felt that this experience needed to be shared. So with the next batch of eggs to be incubated, I set up a live cam so our blog readers could watch the miracle as well. The response was overwhelming! We weren’t alone in our amazement … So many people were watching that it bogged down the online connection and I had to keep re-booting the system!
There’s a lot to think about when making the decision to bring an animal into the world. Other than the pure joy of watching chicks hatch, there are some advantages and disadvantages of incubating eggs. Below are a few things to consider.
Some things are extremely important to our farm and our own rearing practices. If you can think of more, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment!
1. Hatching eggs open up a whole world of breeds that would otherwise be difficult to find. A lot more breeders are willing to ship eggs than they are live chicks. Incubators can also be used to hatch other species of birds such as turkeys, geese, guineas, peafowl, swans, etc. Our model even came with directions for parrots and other tropical birds!
2. Raising rare breeds of chickens is not only interesting, it’s also a great thing to do for the historical integrity of all livestock breeds. Through incubation, we can help some of the disappearing heritage breeds make a comeback. For more information, visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
(I will have more information on choosing birds to breed in my next post in this series, Part 2: Choosing Birds to Breed.)
3. It is usually less expensive to buy hatching eggs of a rare breed than live chicks or adult birds.
4. It’s less stressful for a bird to be shipped while it’s still an egg versus a live chick. You cut back the chances of the chicks being chilled in the shipping process, which can lead to pasty butt, or death. There are also regulations as to when chicks can be shipped. Many times it must be within the first day. Hatching eggs open up this short time restraint.
5. You don’t necessarily have to order large minimum numbers. Many hatcheries will have a minimum order of 25 chicks. They do this for a number of reasons, one of which is in order for the chicks to stay warm in the shipping process. More bodies equals a warmer trip. For a small backyard collector who only wants a couple of chickens of a particular breed, this number can be a bit daunting. Some hatcheries will sell a smaller number of chicks, but many charge you for a heating device that is mailed along with the birds. This device can tack on more than $50 to your shipping price.
6. You know where your chicks have been from the beginning, what care they’ve had, and who’s handled them. I cringe sometimes when we go to large chain stores that get in chicks to sell. I’ve seen chicks chased, squeezed, dropped and handled by every Tom, Dick and Harry that wanders over to the brooder bins.
7. You also have the choice to vaccinate or not vaccinate.
8. And finally one of the best reasons is that it is an incredible thing to witness and be a part of. It is a great learning experience for children and adults!
While hatching chickens can be loads of fun, it might not be for everyone. Here are a few things to think about.
1. One of the few disadvantages of hatching your own chicks is that you can’t order pullet eggs. If roosters are a problem in your area, bear in mind that you will more than likely hatch out a male bird amongst your eggs. But don’t despair. While re-homing a rooster is classically harder than re-homing a hen, it’s not impossible, especially for some of the rarer breeds. Have a few people or ideas in mind before committing to a hatch. There are forums for chicken enthusiasts that help people find homes for birds. For more helpful suggestions on dealing with roosters, read my post Keeping Roosters Together.
2. The second problem is less of a problem and more of a test of patience. Incubation takes planning and preparation. In my third post I will touch on issues like choosing an incubator, prepping for your eggs and other helpful tips. With home hatching, you won’t have the instant satisfaction of driving to the store and getting your chicks that day. You will have to wait for the breeder to ship you your eggs, and then of course, there is the 21 days of waiting. Which to an excited chicken person like myself can seem like an eternity! But there are fun things to keep the impatient monster at bay. Like candling. Which I will also talk about in my fourth post. (link below)
For more information on incubating and raising chicks, check out some of my other posts:
Do you have a favorite incubator, or hatching story? I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave comments or photos on Iron Oak Farm’s Facebook Page or Blog and I’ll do a Reader’s Response after the series has posted, celebrating all our new babies from Spring 2012!