A few years ago I decided that I would hatch chicks. I don’t where this desire even came from, maybe it was seeing my friend Sarah do it, as she posted photos and videos on Facebook. After my first incubation experience it became a passion and I have now incubated four times. My fifth incubation is currently in progress. We have had good hatch rates each time. Our third round we had 100% success, as seven out of seven hatched.
I read books, found great websites, and other resources that helped me learn how to successfully incubate. I even learned where to buy fertile eggs for hatching online! I will share my resources and some tips with you, so that you can incubate too.
There are lots of incubators on the market. I selected mine for four reasons: I had two friends who had used this exact incubator and they had successful incubation, it had great reviews on Amazon, it automatically turns the eggs (not all incubators do this just so you are aware), and it is a completely clear plastic model so that we get to watch the chicks hatch (perfect for classroom incubation). I purchased the Brinsea Mini II. It only holds 7 eggs at a time, but for our purposes that has been just fine for us. In our least successful hatch we still had 4 out of 7 hatch. Our most successful was 7 out of 7 hatching. We incubated in my twin’s preschool classroom recently and we hatched 6 out of 7. One egg stopped developing, which happens. In the books I have read, you can expect about a 50% hatch rate when incubating. This is because you will likely have some eggs that are not fertilized, meaning they could never develop. Others will stop developing. Most often it is believed there is something congenital that caused them to stop developing. Humidity and temperature of the incubator can also impact egg development. I incubate at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature has worked well for our chicken eggs. We have used Rhode Island Red eggs and silkie eggs.
You can see the Brinsea Mini on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2H1O6SS
If you want to search for cheaper brands on Amazon you can certainly find them. Just be sure to read the reviews before making a decision. I like to know what others think about a product before purchasing. Especially when it comes to something like this where you invest time, energy, and likely money in purchasing quality fertilized eggs. The quality and success rate of the incubator matters. There are some on the market that don’t turn the eggs. Those incubators with no automatic turner require you to hand turn the eggs several times a day for the duration of the incubation. I did not want to be tied to an incubator. We have gone out of town leaving our incubator running at home for 2-3 days and never had any problems with the Brinsea. As long as you top off the water before leaving them, all should be fine….provided you don’t have any storms that cause power outages. That’s always a risk even when you are home though.
Setting Up The Brinsea Mini
The directions on the Brinsea Mini in the instruction book they provide are overly complicated. They really should rewrite them. I did find a helpful video that walks you step by step through incubator set up. I have used this video every time I have set up my incubator: https://youtu.be/4K2PnkLK0K4
Website About the 21 Days of Incubation
The incubation process is fascinating. However, there is a process, including lock down a few before hatching that need to be understood, so that you don’t mess up the incubation process. There is one website has been very helpful to me in understanding the 21 day incubation process. The Raising Happy Chickens website is very helpful with instructions on incubating and then caring for the chicks after they hatch (brooding)- https://www.raising-happy-chickens.com/hatch-patterns.html
The best book on incubating and brooding chicks is called Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks and can be purchased on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2DNhnyE
Speaking of brooding…what does that even mean? It simply means caring for chicks after they are born. There are some very important factors including heat for the chicks. If they don’t have a heat lamp the chicks will not survive. I wrote a blog posting on what is needed for brooding chicks and the supplies we purchased and use: http://livingjoydaily.com/2017/03/26/incubation-was-a-success/
Whether you hatch your own chicks or you go buy baby chicks at a local feed store or Ace Hardware you need brooding supplies. They are too small and fragile to put out in a chicken coop as tiny chicks. Depending on time of the year, temperature outside and at night, my chicks have stayed in their brooder 5-8 weeks. Thankfully with the heat in Texas, moving them outside to the coop in early summer is quite feasible. However, if I were in a cooler climate, or it was winter in Texas when I hatched, then they would be inside growing in their brooder a lot longer.
Since my blog posting about brooding I have purchased a new brooding heater. It is a safe heater that I use in the brooder and it is also used in the coop at night when they are still young and the temperature is cool at night. I recommend this heater over the normal heat lamps, because this one will not start a fire. Heat lamps, like the one in my blog article are inexpensive and work well, but they are very hot and can easily start a fire if anything flammable is touching or too close to the lamp. The price of this Brinsea heater is worth it for the peace of mind I get knowing I am not going to accidentally burn down the house. One of my kids put a chip clip on the ladder that I had the regular heat lamp clipped onto and it melted completely. It had black burn marks on it too. We are lucky we didn’t end up with a fire. After that happened I bought the Brinsea heater. I wish someone had told me about it sooner! Which is exactly why I am telling you about it now. Here is the Amazon link to this heater called the Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder: https://amzn.to/2Vg6kZN
One tip with using this brooder heater. You must lower it enough so that the chicks’ backs can physically touch the brooder heater. The Brinsea heater only produces radiant heat. They need to physically be touching the heating unit in order to feel the heat.
Candling the Eggs
One of the best parts of incubating chicks is looking inside the eggs using a special light. You can see the developing chicks inside! This is called candling the eggs and we do it on days 7, 14, and on the day of lockdown. Here is a blog posting about candling the eggs. You will also find the Amazon link for the special candling light I purchased on this blog posting. http://livingjoydaily.com/2017/03/08/egg-candling-seeing-new-life-in-progress/
Candling the eggs is a great educational opportunity. If you are incubating and have children or students you get to show chicken development inside the egg. Below are some photos from our incubation.
Watching the eggs hatch is the best! It is an amazing thing to watch. I am glad my kids have gotten to experience it with me numerous times. Here is our most recent incubation hatching, which was filmed using Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/groups/245329795925427/permalink/661637940961275?sfns=mo
If you are hatching for the first time, make sure you read up on this part of the incubation process. There are some things to know, such as not taking chicks from the incubator unless they are completely dry and if other chicks have pipped you shouldn’t removed any that have hatched. Removing the hatched chicks when others have pipped (meaning they have initially broken through their shell, but not hatched out yet) is risky. When you open the incubator the humidity is lost and the membrane on the inside of the egg drys out. When the membrane drys out it becomes hard, making it nearly impossible for them to hatch.
Another tip in general is not to help any chicks hatch. There are exceptions but they are rare. In most cases you end up killing the chick because they haven’t absorbed their yolk completely. They know when they need to come out of their shell and that involves absorbing their yolk completely. They will die if it is not completely absorbed before coming out of their shell.
Where to Buy Eggs for Incubation
Maybe you have a friend with a farm. You can always ask for fertilized eggs from friends who have backyard chickens or a farm. How we have most recently gotten eggs is through Facebook. I found a woman in Iowa, Brenda Smith is her name, who breeds Silkie chickens. She sells and ships her eggs all over the country. 100% of the eggs she has sold us have been fertilized. How do I know? Because all of our eggs had development inside them when we candled. Eggs that are not fertilized will not develop. Even with the one egg that didn’t hatch in our most recent incubation (second time our eggs have been from her) that egg still had development until about day 14, maybe even a little longer. It was the same as the rest of our eggs at day 14 when it was candled.
I found Brenda through a friend and she is also in a group called Silkie Chickens on Facebook. There are over 30,000 silkie lovers in this group. I have since found lots of other silkie breeders on this site. I recently ordered more eggs from another breeder I found on this site. We want a black silkie and this last round of hatching resulted in only one black silkie and we can already tell that it is a rooster by its behavior and size of its feet. I found a farm that specializes in solid colored, high quality silkies. We are on the waiting list to get our eggs shipped to us, but they are paid for already, so they should ship soon.
Below is a photo of the eggs shipped from Brenda. They all arrived in tact. She does such a great job packaging and shipping eggs safely.
My friend Norma also gave me silkie eggs. She is the friend who I gave our silkie roosters and one hen to a couple of years ago. We were sad to give up the chickens, as we hatched them and had them for nine months, but then they started to crow. All were roosters with the exception of one hen, so we didn’t want to separate her from her hatch mates. We can’t have chickens crowing. Big no-no. Doesn’t work well to take inconspicuous chickens camping with us when they crow every morning.
Norma gave us some eggs from these chickens we hatched two years ago and I am experimenting with a new incubator I purchased, since the black silkie eggs should be arriving very soon. I have a teacher wanting some of the chickens and another friend who is trying to convince her husband. One thing I do know is that quality silkies are easy to home. Lots of people love these beautiful chickens. They make for great show chickens and friendly backyard chickens, especially the ones I have hatched from reputable breeders. We also socialize our chicks so they like human interaction. I never charge for my chickens. I just want them to go to good homes.
Thus, my advice to educators who incubate in the classroom, please choose a chicken breed that is highly desirable. People go crazy for silkies. It makes it easy to find homes that will love them. The cuter the chicken, the easier it is to find it a home. This is not an easy task with roosters, because many people can’t have the crowing where they live. But there are plenty of chicken sites on Facebook where you can give your chickens away (or for that matter sell them). Just don’t try to sell on regular buy, sell, trade Facebook pages because most ban selling of anything that is alive (dogs, kittens, chickens, etc). Find a chicken speciality group on Facebook to rehome your roosters if needed. I have also been told that many local feed stores that sell chickens will take roosters (even if you didn’t buy it from them). You can always call different locations to find out if they take roosters.
Hens are easy to home. They don’t crow and they lay eggs. People ask if we eat our chicken’s eggs. Yes. Absolutely! Silkies lay nice sized eggs for the size of this smaller breed of chicken. Slightly smaller than standard store bought eggs that are medium or large, but the yolks are bigger. Some silkies lay every day. Others not as often. Ours lays on average 4-5 eggs a week. That may not sound like a lot, but if you have a few backyard silkies, you will find no need to buy eggs in the store anymore.
Back to finding where to buy eggs for hatching. Here is where I purchased my black silkie eggs: https://www.facebook.com/feathersnfur.farm.1/
Their farm sells solid color silkies. Their black ones have won awards. You can see why. They are gorgeous birds! Photos below.
Facebook groups have been very helpful. Recently, I had a chick with wry neck. Most often it’s caused by a nutritional deficiency. I am not sure, but my guess is that it was getting pushed out of the feeder by the other chicks because this one was the smallest. It was about a week old and it’s head dropped between its legs and it struggled to lift it at all. Thanks to help from the Silkie Chicken Facebook group I was able to save this chicken. Someone recommended a gel medicine from Tractor Supply Company that is actually made for goats. It’s called Selenium with Vitamin E. I put a pea sized amount in the chick’s mouth every day, 2-3 times a day for the last week and the chick now has its head lifted high! I will keep doing the treatments for another week based in their recommendation. I thought the chick was a goner. It was stumbling around, could barely stand up, and it could barely lift its head at all. The wry neck came on overnight, so I didn’t know it was happening until it was really sick looking. Thankfully, advice from the group proved very helpful and this chick is alive and well!
Here is a link to the Silkie Chicken Facebook group that has been very helpful: https://www.facebook.com/groups/silkiechichensgroup/
Another helpful group is backyard chickens. There are over 60,000 in this group. It is also a good place to have questions answered: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1702934080017018/
If you run into questions about chicks or have issues, go to one of these Facebook groups. You will likely get advice that a vet would give you and you can implement the treatments at home. We have never taken a chicken to the vet, but I know others have. Backyard chickens don’t require vaccines. Most of their ailments can be treated with products you can buy at a local Tractor Supply Company. So don’t waste your money on a vet when you can find chicken experts in this group who can help you out. I am not telling you not to use a vet…I am just trying to help you save money and treat your chickens at home if needed.
Chickens are easy backyard pets in my opinion. Far easier than a dog. Fresh food and water and locking them in their coop at night are the daily tasks, which don’t take much time at all. Chickens are good at going into their coop at night and putting themselves to bed too. They are smarter than you think. As a matter of fact, I read in a research article that chickens can recognize up to 100 different faces! I know our chickens know who’s who in our family. They all have run from Charlie and flock to Brielle. I caught him today trying to put our chicken Marshmallow down the slide. Needless to say, he is banned from the chickens for a while.
Here is blog posting I wrote about raising chickens in your backyard: http://livingjoydaily.com/2017/10/05/8-tips-to-have-joy-with-backyard-chickens/
Owning chickens is a good way to teach kids about animals and caring for them. Brielle is an outstanding chicken mom. She tends to our Marshmallow every day, twice a day.
We love our chickens! Especially the chicks. I can’t stop….they are like chips. You can’t just have a few. I am thankful I have been able to pass these lovely birds to other homes, and will continue to do so. Who knew that incubating chickens could be a hobby?