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First hatch blues...

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
I just finished my first hatch today,, did I make some mistakes.

I've wanted chickens for years, so I set out to convince my wife it would be a good idea. "Oh Honey, they have little personalities, and they can be kinda cute, and think of all the eggs we won't have to buy..." I know I'm preaching to the choir with you guys, but she really was a hard sell. In the meantime, I'm fantasizing about my future chickens jostling around the run in the mornings, crowding around the door and sassily clucking as I shoo them out of the way so I can step in and scatter some scratch. There will be eggs galore which I'll collect in the bottom of my shirt just like Granny used to, a door to the pen that will drag slightly and be a bit of a pain to close, and in time, a freezer full of harvested roosters and old hens.

In time, my wife gave in and I found some Australorps locally. I picked up five hens and a rooster, and became a gentleman chicken farmer.

It was everything I ever imagined it would be. The chickens started laying straight away, the rooster was friendly, and the door to the pen was a little sticky. Life was good. I knew I wanted to hatch chicks at some point, more out of a desire for a self sufficient flock than an affinity for raising chicks, but I've read that Australorps aren't the broodiest of breeds, so I fully expected to purchase an incubator at some point, just not anytime soon.

And then one of these reluctant brooders went broody. For two months she sat on eggs, and I diligently penciled on the date, and removed the new eggs, and disappointedly discarded the soiled straw every time she decided an egg wasn't fit to be a chick, all the while becoming accustomed to the idea of little chicks following Momma Hen around the yard....for nothing. Momma Hen didn't hatch a single egg. I guess she longed for the wild and carefree lifestyle of the childless once more, and she stopped sitting just as quickly as she started.

I wasn't over it as readily. I needed some chicks. I started browsing incubators, and egg turners, and fans, and one day, my neighbor finds a perfectly fit Little Giant incubator, with all the fixin's, at a thrift shop where she works.

After a few days' test run, it proved reliable, and I was ready to go. I had 26 eggs between new and three weeks old which I cleaned, disinfected, and loaded into the egg turner. I was now baking some eggs, 100 F for 21 days.

I candled at day ten, discarding six eggs that failed to show any development, marking the air cell of the viable ones, and waited.

Day 18 arrived, and I candled again, marked the air cell once more, noting growth, added water to the incubator, removed the egg turner, and locked it down...sort of.

Whatever mistakes I had made up until this point pale next to what follows.

I started to worry about the humidity in the incubator, as the digital hygrometer just would not climb above 50%. This led to reading stories of people adding wet rags and sponges to help increase the humidity. It also led me to realize that the digital thermometer and hygrometer were not to be trusted, as practically everyone relied on additional sensors they had calibrated prior to starting. My wife picks up a combo thermometer/hygrometer, like you would use in a reptile tank, and I open the incubator on day 19 to put this in. Both the temperature and humidity reads low after a few hours of acclimation time, so I increase the thermostat to 101 F and open the incubator once more to add a wet rag.

Day 20 passes. And so does day 21. And day 22. And day 23. I'm beginning believe the entire clutch is done for, oh well things happen, better luck next time, and I read some post about eggs hatching well into the 25th day. Some hope stirs that night, and I decide to perform the water test the following morning.

Much to my elation, we had two eggs pipping first thing. I water tested all but those two, finding two sinkers and eleven very active eggs. I wet the rag using warm water through the ventilation port to bring the humidity up again, and waited. Egg No. 8 hatched first, in about 2 hours. Egg No. 18 was on track behind 8, but it grew quiet and still about 4 hours after pipping. No 14 pipped, and continued trying to unzip, but it was taking forever, and his small progress was slowing. I was worried about 18, and opened the incubator to discover it was not moving. I removed the partially open egg, and proceeded to shell it, discovering a dry membrane in the process. I turned to the Internet for answers, prompting me to pip the air cell on some of the other eggs just to have a look.

Shrink wrapped, all of them, with the exception of one. Shrink wrapped and dead, even the ones who moved during the water test earlier. Some had managed to pierce their membrane, others hadn't gotten so far. I assisted 14 so it wouldn't suffer the same fate as 18. The only other survivor that I found in the shell appeared to be underdeveloped with a large yolk sack. We'll see how it does over the next day or so.

I have two hatched chicks drying and flopping around the incubator, and one lightly wrapped in a rag while it hopefully absorbs the rest of its yolk. I doubt it will survive.

So...lessons learned.

• Get an accurate and reliable thermometer and hygrometer BEFORE starting the hatch.


• Perform research fully before starting a project.

In retrospect, I probably could have saved most of the 11 movers if I had acted sooner, but who knows.

Does anyone have recommendations or links for accurate sensors, or any other advice before I start my next hatch?
post #2 of 2
I think the first thing that should be acknowledged is that you have recognised you have made some errors.. I don't think anyone has escaped similar experiences.
You are right. Research is important and good quality, reliable equipment is vital.
I can't help feeling that the temperature was too low if your chicks were not hatched by the end of day 21. Humidity may have been to be too low after lock down if the chicks were shrink wrapped. Having said that I have found that if I do eggtopsies after day 23 chicks can appear shrink wrapped because tissues start to collapse after the chick dies.
So for next time I would stabilise the machine using at least 2 thermometers and hygrometer.
All the very best for next time.
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