Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hatching chicks, sustainability, and ingenuity

There is nothing more agonizing than watching a chick hatch. You just want to reach over there and rip open the shell so the little bird can be free. But lots of sources tell you not to do this. Some say that the struggle is vital in building the chick's muscles, and if you "help," the chicks won't survive. But if you watch closely, it's obvious that at some point, the chick exhausts itself to death. I've learned over the years not to watch the process too closely. Most chicks take hours and hours to hatch -- anywhere from four to twelve hours or more.

Part of our drive towards sustainability includes hatching our own meat birds and replacement layers. The chicks hatching now should be mostly New Hampshire reds with a barred rock cross here and there. After all we have about forty NH hens and three roosters. We only have six barred rock hens and one barred rock cross rooster. However, when I look at the nine black chicks and eight red chicks, it makes me think that barred rock rooster has been pretty busy.

If you think the inside of our incubator looks a lot like the inside of a refrigerator, that would be because it is an old refrigerator. We had an under-the-counter refrigerator that kept croaking, so after having it fixed three times, I suggested that Mike turn it into an incubator. After all, it is a big insulated box, right? He's an electrical engineering professor, so he understands thermostats. He put a light and a fan inside the frig to create heat and circulate it, and he made a thermostat that turns the light on and off to keep it between 99.5 and 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

It looks like we have a lot of eggs that are not hatching, but I think that has to do with egg husbandry, rather than electronics. We collected the eggs and then couldn't find our old Styrofoam incubator, so the eggs sat and sat for about a week while Mike repurposed the frig to make a new incubator. I didn't think they would hatch, because if you are holding eggs to put into an incubator, they should be turned regularly, but they were pretty much left to sit in one position the whole time.

Next up -- turkey poults! We've only collected about eight turkey eggs so far, but we'll hopefully find another dozen or so and get them started in the incubator by this weekend. They take 28 days to hatch (compared to 21 for chickens), so I'll give you an update in a month.


LindaG said...

We have a small fridge. I am pretty sure hubby could turn it into an incubator.

Do you need to do anything about the seal? Or it's not air tight after you make the modifications?

Have you ever let the chickens hatch the eggs or do you put the chicks out with the hens after they hatch?

Yes, I am naive, sorry. Just curious.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

About the seal -- you open it two or three times a day to turn the eggs, and they don't need that much oxygen, so it works fine.

We always let mama hens hatch babies if they're in the mood. Unfortunately, many of today's chickens rarely get broody, so we need to hatch them ourselves in we want to be sure to get enough. There is a hen setting in the barn now. Out of the 50 or so hens we keep, we don't normally have more than three or four who get broody every year. :(

When we hatch them in an incubator, we have to brood them. A mama hen can only raise seven or eight, and unless she was already setting and feeling motherly, she would reject them if we just put them out there.

Velva said...

I loved reading post. Very informative. Also, the idea of using the frig as an incubator is genius. :-)

LindaG said...

Okay. Thanks for the information, Deb! :)

Donna OShaughnessy said...


Your refrigerator incubator is ingenious ! Love it. Over the years we've had a group of chickens in our barn that are fairly wild. They bum grain and water from the hogs and hatch out groups of 10-12 chicks every year. Some we will catch towards fall for our coop near the house, others stay in the barn and do a great job of eating flies etc, helping us maintain our certified organic status. (No pesticide use against bugs) Chickens rock.

Blackhorse Hill said...

We have chicks hatching now and yes, I have to walk away or I start agonizing over the whole process. We only had one broody hen this spring, and she is worth her weight in gold!

momanna98 said...

You are so lucky to have such a handy husband!!
Our ducks and guineas go broody. We havn't had a chicken go broody, but they aren't clever enough to hide eggs from us like the ducks and guineas are. :-) We have Americaunas, so they are "supposed" to go broody. I might leave some eggs out in the fall and see what happens.


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