THE NATAL NEST Eggs need humidity to develop and hatch. This is why when one of your hens steals her nest away from prying eyes she almost always lays on the bare ground but in some dark and, secluded place. Your nest boxes should give a hen both of these options. Take a shovel or square pointed spade and dig up a strip of grass or turf with about 1 – 2 inches of dirt hanging onto the grass roots. This strip of turf needs to be slightly bigger than the interior of the nest box. So make it about 10 – 11 inches wide by 20 inches long. Slide this turf strip into the nest box with the grass side facing DOWN and the root side facing UP. The slightly larger size of the turf strip will result in a natural bowl or nest shaped depression. Slowly pour enough water into the nest box, to soak the strip of turf. The next day put a good hand full or two of straw or hay in the nest box, and pat it down. Sight your nest box the same day where the hens will see and use it, lower is better, then add one to three nest, bait, or decoy eggs to your nest box. Try making a hens nest depression in the straw at the BACK of the nest box (remember hens like seclusion) These eggs may stay in the nest box for a month or more so mark them well and clearly so you don't mix them up with the fresh eggs and try to cook or bake using a spoiled nest eggs. The other eggs laid in the nest can be saved for hatching or used for eating. The purpose of the turf strip is to help maintain the humidity in the nest while the eggs are incubating. All ground nesting birds (quail, pheasants, geese, ducks, chickens, emus, etc.) lay large clutches of eggs so humidity is important for keeping the eggs viable and getting a good or successful hatch. HATCHING Chicken eggs need 21 uninterrupted days of incubation more or less to develop into chicks. Pipping or internal hatching usually starts on day 19 or 20. By the end of day 21 most of your chicks should be out of the egg and getting their strength built back up from the hatching ordeal. The chick must use its egg tooth to cut its way out of its eggshell, breaking through the shell membranes, and the outer shell. Then the chick must kick and stomp its way into the world by forcing the two eggshell haves apart. When the chick is born it has a small balloon shaped sack of egg yoke still attached to its belly button or navel. If you can keep the mama hen and her chicks in a safe, cool, dark, and quite place for day 22, 23, and even into day 24 it will help your chicks tremendously. If however the hen becomes restless open the nest and the hen will exit and call her chicks to her. A restless hen can and will stomp and crush her chicks if she becomes agitated. Therefor I recommend that you set her yourself and note the day, date, and time of day you set her so that you have no uncertainty about when to expect chicks. THE EGGS YOU WISH to SET Gather the eggs you wish to hatch but NEVER save an odd shaped egg, a grossly soiled egg, an egg with deformities like double pointed ends, an egg with noticeable ridges, waves, cracks, checks, weak spots, or thin shells. Don't wash your setting eggs, ever. If you want to clean up an egg buff or sand it lightly with fine sandpaper or steel wool. Always gather your eggs once a day or more often if temperatures lower than 50 degrees are expected. In that case gather them more often. The last time say just before nightfall. Always have a good soft lead pencil handy and mark every egg like this: put a big X on side one. Turn the egg half way around and mark that side with a big O. Finally date the egg with the month and the day on which it was laid. So an egg laid on independence day would be marked 07/04. You will need an old picnic cooler or other insulated device to store your eggs in. They keep best at 55 degrees and about the same humidity. Put your hatching eggs in a clean used egg carton. Be DOUBLY sure that all of the LITTLE ends of every egg is pointed DOWN and that all of the BIG ends of every egg are pointed UP. Furthermore all the Xs and Os should be facing one direction or in other words towards the same end of the egg carton. Now set one end of your cooler on a brick with all the Xs on the eggs facing the same direction as the brick. The following is VERY IMPORTANT! The following day, after adding the current days eggs and after being sure that every X and O is still facing the same way, pick up the entire egg cooler and move the low end without turning or spinning the cooler and set the other end of the cooler that was lowest to the floor onto the brick, making that end of the cooler the highest end now. Congratulation, with a single movement you have just rotated or moved every egg about 90 total degrees from its former position and that means that every chick embryo must move or reorient in response to the Sun and to Earth's gravity. This keeps the embryos in motion and prevents them from sticking to the inter egg membrane and dying. The air cell in the egg is also in the big end and the big end is where the chicks head will develop and the peep must take its first breaths of air from the air cell or else die in the shell. Thus it is important that the air cells stay in their proper place. Most hens can incubate 15 eggs as long as the eggs she is sitting on are the same sized eggs as the eggs that she normally lays. When one of your hens starts to sit, give her one or two days to be sure she is serious and after dark remove any nest or decoy eggs she is sitting on and gently and without too much disturbance slip 15 of your FRESHISTS and most perfect eggs under her to be incubated. Under no circumstance give her any eggs that are 21 days old or older. Also do not under any circumstance slip more eggs under your hen after you set the original 15 or so eggs under her! Clearly mark the month, day, and time on your nest box, on your calender and also on the wall of the coop. When you check on your hen or candle her eggs toss any egg that you find that isn't marked. Setting hens need their own little pen so that she will not be disturbed by other hens and also so no other hen tries to lay in the nest with your setting hen. So be sure that you have a safe little pen in a clean place that is high and dry for your hen AND her nest while she is setting and also for after her biddies hatch out. A 4 foot x 4 foot pen 3 feet high with a solid tin roof is perfect. THE CHICKS Until the 3rd day after hatching your chicks do not require food or water. During this time Mother Nature has a plan for your chicks to dry off, rest, and recover the energy that they spent hatching. This is also the time for baby chicks to bond with, and soak up some of the mother hens' warmth. When you do give them their first food I recommend plain old dry Old fashion oat meal and a hard boiled egg chopped up real fine. If the hen can get to this food she will spill it in her instinctive but misguided attempt to feed her clutch. Give it to them separately but preferably in a place and manner that the crazy old setting hen can't get at it and scratch in it, thus making a mess. I have seen setting hens pick up the chick feeder and turn it over, spilling every bite. A cup of sugar water that is two parts water and one part sugar for the first day or two is also good. Or you could just give them butter milk. By day 3 all of the chicks' yoke sack should be absorbed and the danger of a chick dying from an infected navel is greatly decreased. Feeding chicks while they are too young delays the yoke sack absorption putting your chicks at greater risk for navel infections.. Chicks are prone to drowning or getting wet from their drinking water then chilled and dying. Put some toy child's marbles or small clean gravels in the chicks drinking water bowl so that they can only get water from between the gravels or marbles and they are unable to go skinny dipping. By day 5 or 6 your chicks are plenty old enough to eat baby chick starter/grower. Chickens however are never to old to eat crumbled up hard boiled eggs and dry old fashion oatmeal. Don't worry about teaching a chick what to eat. Every baby chick is born with an inbred pecking response. They'll even try to pick up or eat the news print off of a newspaper, even going so far as trying to eat the period from the end of a sentence. Things that chicks sample and find out that they like, they eat. Things that chicks sample and find out that they don't like, they ignore. I hope that this helps some of you. Ideas and comments are welcome.