So you’ve got hens, a rooster, and not enough chickens. Should you order more chicks in the mail? Sure, that’s one solution. But if you’ve got all three of the above, its turns out nature has a free solution for you. Read on for a how-to on hatching your own chicks.
Step 1: Feed
The first thing you’ll need is … well … some eggs! Set aside a few eggs you want to hatch in a layer box. Provided you have an active rooster, all or most should be fertile. As some will inevitably be roosters, if you’re hatching chicks for egg production, it is often wise to set aside at least a quarter more eggs than the number of chickens you eventually want. Label all eggs with a sharpie so you don’t end up mixing them up with fresh eggs for the kitchen. (Depending on how far along the embryo is, this can be a disturbing experience …)
Step 2: Brooder Hen
Almost as important as eggs, you’ll need a brooding hen to hatch your chicks (at least without the use of an incubator). Watch for a hen who sits all day on a clutch of eggs, and resists (sometimes violently) being removed. It is under her that you should deposit your eggs for care. As a brooding mother will barely leave the nest, make sure to leave some feed and water within pecking distance. Her sit will be a long one–much longer than you could probably go without food, and certainly without water. Heritage breeds like Buff Orphingtons, Sussex, Silkies and Langshans tend to take to brooding the quickest.
Step 4: Wait
That’s right, for step four, patience is all that’s required. While in an incubator you need to turn the eggs, when you have a brooding hen, she will not only turn them for you, but will even cycle different eggs to the middle to achieve maximum warmth. In fact, these are the only times she will leave her seated position on top of the eggs. For chicken eggs, hatching generally takes around 21 days. Start listening for peeping around day 18 though, just in case you have some early escapees. While it’s okay to help the chick once it begins cracking its way out of the shell, never attempt to crack an egg just because you hear peeping from within.
Step 5: Caring for Your Chicks
Once the chicks have broken their way out of the eggs, it’s important to give them a healthy start. Provide them with a starter feed composed of 20-percent protein, and provide them with a nearby source of clean water. Sometimes it even helps to dip their beaks in the water, so they get the idea what to do. Yes, they will instinctively figure it out eventually, but a helping hand never hurt. Also check their rear vents. Sometimes runny feces can clog them, which will lead to complications if not cleaned away. Simply wet a rag and wipe it off for them, if this occurs.
Follow the steps above, and you should have a healthy young brood in no time. Happy hatching!
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”