Lessons In A Bad Hatch Year

Well, lessons all around this year in the chick hatch at Leafhopper Farm. It seems the “chicken gods” are telling us not to rear chicks this year. Out of 18 eggs 7 have successfully hatched. Two died after hatching, and one of those three were hindered, with one fatality, after cracking their egg and then drying up in it. There is something wrong with humidity read in the incubator, because though it said over 40%, the little birds were still getting stuck. I think partly because of the freak positions of their eggs. They ended up with their eggs pinned to the side of the incubator, not allowing them to push off the top and break out. I’ve never had that happen with three birds! Also, only 10 out of 18 eggs were even fertile! I should have caught that, seeing as how a rooster can only service about 12 girls well and we have a flock of almost 40 now. *Sigh*

This is one of those very tough learning moments. Here are the solutions-

  1. Separate out the rooster with the girls you want him to breed a few weeks before collecting fertile eggs for incubator, that way you know he’s covered those girls and the eggs they are laying are fertile.
  2. When the rotation of the eggs as done (stopped right as they signal hatching with chirps) also take out all spacers to allow eggs free rotational motion.
  3. Candle eggs still not hatched after the first few days and remove unfertilized from incubator to make more room.
  4. Don’t open the lid of the incubator unless unloading a mass of chicks at once. And only then after those chicks are fluffed up and ready to come out.

Looking closer at the two deaths-

Chick A was taken out of the egg to quickly for convenience one night to get it under the brooder. There was no reason for this other than my worry that it would be in the incubator overnight- which is fine! My mistake in rushing the hatch. The consequence was the chick not having her little butt fully closed. When I tore her from the shell, I ripped her little bottom and it never had a chance to fully close. She fluffed out, but died because of the open wound on her backside which would never heal once dried.

Chicks are not always fully formed as they are hatching. Giving them time to seal up any open places and slowly dry out as they form is important. By rushing them out of the egg, you are taking an extremely vulnerable little life and causing great stress to the still developing embryo. Just leave the hatched chick alone until it is dry and fluffy.

Chick B was trapped in its egg after cracking the top, unable to free its self because of low humidity or being pinned in some way. Eggs should be allowed to free roam the incubator, rolling around as the chick breaks free. This takes some amount of spacing, so free up that space by taking out broken shells when you take out a clutch of chicks. Also make double sure there is enough humidity in the chamber, and to retain it, don’t open the lid at all! I also think I left the incubator vent open too much. I’ll do some reading up on that in the manual.

I did save two chicks dried out in their eggs. To do this, gently carry the bird and its egg shell to the sink. Run WARM (warm to your touch is fine) water over the chick and egg parts. Add a little soap and gently message the egg shell off the chick. By adding the warm water a soap, you are re-hydrating the liquid viscus of the egg which surrounded the chick and allowing it to release from the tiny feathers on the bird. You’ll feel the slick goo letting go and soon the baby bird will be free of its shell parts. Gently wipe off any remaining viscus and use a hairdryer on low to dry the bird or better yet, put it back into the incubator to finish fluffing out.

These are some of the hurdles you’ll face in brooding your own chicks. This was a strange year of hatching at the farm, as we had ALL of the challenges at once and only got seven living chicks out of our hatch. Let’s hope they all make it to adult hood! Baby animals are a challenge, and I’m not going to beat myself up too much over this learning experience, as I’ll have that much more experience in chick rearing next time. I can also start over this season, as it’s still early on in the year for rearing chicks.

Why do I start now? Well, in the commercial laying world, birds are usually shipped out to big egg farms in January. This leaves time to grow them out so that by mid summer, you have a laying flock. Commercial layer and meat farms don’t usually hatch out their own chicks because it’s a complex processes that takes all your time. Professional hatcheries spend all their time on proper breeding and incubation, then ship all those day old chicks to customers around the country.

Here’s a good hatchery video to learn more about what goes into commercial hatcheries- https://youtu.be/83LJtk8T3Co

I like starting my birds in February/March, not because they will be ready to lay by summer (they won’t) but to ensure they are old enough by fall to endure the damp cold weather. When my hens “rouge brood” aka, wandering off to make a next somewhere on the land where I can’t find them to hatch their own clutch, I find them by late summer, which is very close to the cool down time of fall. Baby chicks struggle in cold weather outside, so I end up having to bring them in and raise them through the fall indoors, which is not fun for me or the young birds.

If I hatch out my chicks by March, they will be on pasture by April, and outside thriving in the warm spring sun. This makes for better chicks, as they learn to forage on the grass and enjoy bugs and fresh greens more than grain. That makes for a healthy bird and healthy eggs for us in future.

Why not let the chickens hatch their own eggs? For the reasons mentioned above and- it’s hard to manage eggs in a coop because hens keep laying in the nest box of the brooding hen, so continuity of hatching is difficult. I could block off that hen’s next box, but then she’s trapped too. There are more elaborate ways to secure a natural hen and egg situation, but right now, I’m not equip, and prefer to select and brood my own chicks for best timing and the personal connection I make with the birds. This allows me to be momma hen and teach the chicks to come to my voice. It helps so much in controlling the flock on the landscape and gaining trust and easy handling of otherwise flighty birds.

When you incubate and brood your own birds, you have eyes on them constantly, you learn their habits, can spot a weak chick and cull it, and provide maximum nutrition, protection, and care to the whole clutch. Though it is not the most holistic way of rearing chickens, it is a more successful way of forming your flock, and long term health within it. We’ll continue to learn and evolve our chick systems, and welcome your input. How do you raise your chicks? Why have you chosen that method?

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