Which hens to buy, how to rear, replacing your flock and the care and upbringing of baby chickens
Raising chickens from a fertile egg to a laying hen can be a daunting task. We'll explore some chook managing suggestions and how to enjoy your backyard poultry flock.
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To Buy Pullets or hatch your own, That's your question
It's up to you, but you need to understand the technology behind incubating, hatching and brooding. And this is after you have decided which breed of chook and where to source the fertile eggs.
You can make a simple incubator out of a Styrofoam container and there's plenty of help on Dr Google to show you how, you can go a little up market and buy something more substantial or if you're going into the big time, you can expect to pay more than $1000. Whatever, an incubator needs heat and humidity.
The eggs are porous allowing Oxygen to enter and Carbon Dioxide to exit so the incubator needs to have ventilation bringing fresh air to circulate, then the little fetuses can breathe. The next feature is that the eggs need to be rotated. In nature, mother hen is constantly fussing about moving the eggs so the yolk doesn't stick to one side of the shell. You'll have to find a way to do this manually or source some egg trays on-line with egg turning function that will do this for you.
Incubating, temperature, humidity and hatching.
The incubator needs to have an initial temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius and a humidity between 45-55%. Put the eggs round side up and just remember if you're manually turning the eggs, they need to be done about 5 times a day. You could candle the eggs at day three and ten but more about that later. Note; humidity can be controlled simply with a bowl of water and a sponge.
On day 19, put your incubator in lock down by turning off any egg turning activity, and if you can, increase the humidity to 60-65%. Note; get a bigger bowl and a bigger sponge. Quickly take out any egg trays you have, replace the floor with a towel or any other non-slip material and avoid opening or disturbing the incubator as its important to keep the conditions stable. Now just wait for day 21.
Hatching the babies but a word of warning, don't count the chickens before they hatch
We all know what happens next, The babies start taking to each other Tweet, Tweet, then they fight to get out (pipping) one by one they emerge as tiny bundles of fluff. We've read all this stuff before, but before we go any further, I want to explain the reality of home incubating versus buying POL (point of lay) pullets.
Let's assume you have an homemade incubator or at the very best a small one purchased through a produce store or on-line, and you've acquired 12 fertile eggs. Chances are, given the very best circumstances, maybe just a handful will hatch, lets say 9 out of 12, and I think that's generous. So you've now consumed some extra electricity for a 21 day period for 9 babies.
Now you have to brood them or "let them grow bigger", for this you need a separate facility, a box of some sort with a heater/lamp going all day and night. You have to make sure they have water and you'll have to buy baby food. If they don't do damage to themselves with the water container, chances are they'll fill it with poo very quickly meaning someone has to refresh the water on a regular basis (unless you buy one of our very own baby chicken waterer) See Here Expect an attrition rate of one or two, so now you're down to seven. There's bedding to change every day, and at some time they'll get too big for the box so you'll need to buy a bigger box. So now, we have expense for watering container, feeding container, Starter Food, and electricity running a heater/lamp 24 hours a day.
Gradually after about 4 or 5 weeks depending on the season they'll be ready to move into an outdoor setting. But, but, if you're going to introduce those small chickens into your flock, you'll need to isolate them for a further 12 week or so in full vision of your older ladies. And then the real truth emerges, out of the seven chickens you've carefully nurtured, its possible three of them are males.
The horrible truth is that for maybe 12 weeks or more, you've been feeding Cockerels instead of Pullets and its cost you electricity in the incubation period, electricity in the hatching/growing period, food in the growing period, all for a possible four babies
So my point here is whilst is so interesting to see the eggs hatch and so interesting to hold the babies in you hand. The truth is you can buy a handful of 12 to 16 week pullets, of various breeds vaccinated and wormed for a fraction of the cost of all the three week incubating and subsequent period hatching and socialising with the rest of the flock. Have I made my point?