So, here's me. Although I read like crazy, my experience is quite limited.
This is some background, which you can skip over, if you're not interested, and just get to the questions:
My first attempt at hatching eggs was a few years ago. I ordered five eggs off ebay and some sort of mini incubator (abt. $20) to fit them. It was a nightlight sized lightbulb in a flimsy plastic container and nearly impossible to keep at a stable temp. Still, one egg was showing veins. Realizing the incubator sucked, we borrowed a huge galvanized metal dinosaur from my husband's boss. One pitiful red frizzle hatched. And we didn't know how to care for it. I put it in a ten gallon fish tank and kept it to 95 degrees with the hood lights. I am now quite certain this chick died of pasty bottom. We had it for a couple of weeks.
Then last October, I ordered some day-olds from My Pet Chicken. All arrived gorgeous and healthy. Feeling awful about my previous mistake, I studied like crazy and these chicks thrived.
So, I decided it was time to incubate again. I ordered 3 dozen "Our Best Heavy Breeds" assorted eggs from MPC (they sent me 4 dozen) and another dozen mixed silkies from an ebay seller. I also wanted to incubate a few of our own eggs, Because this put the bator past capacity, I pulled out a few eggs I was less interested in and put them out to see if my Orpington would sit on them (no). For an overloaded bator (I had 42 eggs on the turner and 7 hand-turned along the edge) we ended up with 16 chicks. So, we have lots of room for improvement. As of this posting, those chicks are about 2 1/2 weeks old.
Next attempt was a total bust. I received nine Serama eggs from ebay and added six of my own. My own were only added in case I had one lonely Serama hatch -- wanted to ensure it had company. A few of the Serama eggs were smeared pretty heavily with poop. I am normally very generous when it comes to leaving feedback for sellers (I sell online, too, after all), but I did feel obligated to leave her "neutral" and mention the heavy soiling. Not sure if it was the poop, shipping damage, or some fault of mine that none of the Seramas developed (I know they're hard to hatch), but my own eggs were all growing when I shut it off at day 10.
Forward to NOW. I have eggs from 4 (!!!) ebay sellers on the way next week. There will be 12 Black Copper Marans, 12 Wheaten Marans, 12 Ameraucanas, and 4-6 Cream Legbars. I want this hatch to be the best it can be. The eggs will probably be scattered out over a couple of days in arriving. I'm excited because the seller I won the Legbars from lives in my state, so I'm feeling hopeful that they won't suffer too much of a beating from the shipping trek. Of all of these, the Legbars get preferential treatment, if a decision must be made that favors one or the other.
Now, to my questions:
1) Placing my eggs. Is it best to hold onto the eggs that get here first while I wait for the rest? Or should I go ahead and place them right away and plan for a staggered hatch? I have generally come to the conclusion that letting shipped eggs settle is of no value -- that it only means the eggs I'm putting in the bator are a bit older to start out. But I can see why it would be good to start them up together... can't make up my mind here!
2) Auto-turner, versus hand turning. Thoughts on this? I had a couple of eggs stick to the turner quite badly when I used it and have shied away from it since. Because I am never gone from my eggs long enough to be at risk for missing a turn (I have a six month old baby waking me up during the night, so sometimes I even turn in the middle of the night...), I am not sure which is best.
3) Candling. I have noticed some people don't candle till lockdown. Because I am concerned that my overzealous candling led to a greatly reduced hatch a few weeks ago, I am looking for a good balance here. How much damage is done by candling (referring to the handling, not the light)? Can frequent, gentle candling cause significant damage? I don't want any funky eggs exploding in my bator. What's an ideal balance for an impatient-for-chicks newbie? It's hard to eliminate eggs at seven days... is there a "magic" day at which you feel confident that an egg truly is not going to develop?
4) Humidity. So, this will be a bunch of standard size chicken eggs. I have seen comments all over the place on this. I ordered a pretty hygrometer that seems to show no rhyme or reason in its readings, but my incubator shows humidity on its display (once I got past the styrofoam construction, the Hova-Bator won me over). Does 40-45% sound like a good range till lockdown? 60-70% for lockdown? If I am dealing with some eggs being placed up to two days later than others (last time I did this, most of these just hatched a bit early), should I be concerned that I might damage them by hiking up the humidity?
5) During the hatch. During my last hatch, I am certain that I lost a couple of chicks near pip phase, because they got knocked around by my new hatches -- seemed they got rolled over and drowned. I want to prevent this from happening again. Do you have a special set-up to help avoid this? Would it help to make small containers of some kind to isolate each egg?
6) I helped a few chicks out during my last hatch. I see a lot of people suggesting this is a bad idea, for various reasons. I carefully researched how to do it and had no trouble, but am wondering if others who have done the same have found that help-outs are a genetic flaw. Should I take care to not breed those chicks I helped out? Or have you found it to make no difference in their offspring?
Thanks for any wisdom you have to share! I am *so* wanting to have a great hatch this time!