Tips for our first hatch

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by alaskanchickens, Jan 21, 2014.

  1. alaskanchickens

    alaskanchickens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I am a stay at home mommy of 7 that decided to homeschool a couple of years ago. I didn't grow up with ANY animals! My hubby was raised with every kind you could think of. Because of his stories, the kids convinced me to try out chickens (we were buying 5 dozen eggs a week). Now we have 14, 13 hens and 1 roo. The girls want to hatch out some chicks this spring and have acquired a HovaBator (styrofoam kind) from a family friend. The instructions are very vague and I want to make sure I really know what I'm doing before we put all those little lives at risk if I don't do things right. I get the basics, its takes 21 day, sometimes a day more/less, you have to have water and keep it at a certain temp and turn the eggs 3 times a day. But what I don't know is how much water, what temp and if I really need to do the candling? I cant find any info on the Styrofoam incubator, just the newer plastic ones, are these basically the same? Do I need to get a different thermometer than the one it came with? And lastly, the girls would like to hatch out 12-18 chicks for their grandmother who recently lost her small flock to a fire, how many is a good amount to try to hatch out in this kind of incubator and for our first time?
     
  2. HEChicken

    HEChicken Overrun With Chickens

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    Ideally, you want the temperature to be at 99.5 if there is a fan circulating the air (a degree or so higher if it is a still air model). The incubator probably has a thermometer but it is not unheard of for a thermometer not to read accurately and there is nothing worse than setting it to 99.5 and incubating for 21 days and when nothing hatches, finding out the thermometer is off by several degrees. Some people like to add a second thermometer that they know is accurate, just to be safe. I prefer analog to digital - they tend to be more accurate.

    For humidity, you want it to be at 45% for the first 18 days, and then bump it up to around 65% for hatch. If the incubator doesn't have a hygrometer, you can get one for a few dollars at any pet store or online. Again, I prefer analog. You can calibrate the hygrometer using the salt test: Take ½ cup of salt and place it in a mug along with ¼ cup water. Place the mug and the hygrometer in a ziploc bag and seal it. Leave it for 12-24 hours. At the end of that time, the hygrometer should read 75%. If it is higher or lower, you know it is off by a few % and can adjust accordingly while incubating. For example, if it reads 70%, you know it reads 5% low so while running the incubator, you will know that if it reads 60%, you are probably pretty close to your desired 65%.

    When adding water, keep in mind that it is surface area that has the biggest impact on the humidity. I'm not familiar with the Hovabator but whatever it uses to hold water (channels? bowls?) you may not need to fill all of them to reach 45% but will need to add water to an additional receptacle in order to bump it up to 65%.

    One of the most important factors is ventilation. There may be plugs to plug up the air holes and it can be tempting to plug the holes in order to keep the humidity where you want it, but I would recommend leaving them open. Hatching is hard work for the chicks and they need as much oxygen as they can get, or they can suffocate inside the shells. Free air exchange throughout development is important but at hatch time it is vital.

    How many eggs does the incubator hold? If it were me, I would tend to just put in as many eggs as you can. There are no guarantees of how many will hatch, though your ratio of rooster to hens is good, and your own eggs will have a higher hatch rate than shipped eggs. Even so, it is likely that not all will hatch, so filling it up makes it more likely you will end up with as many as you really want.
     
  3. alaskanchickens

    alaskanchickens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you so much for such an informative reply! This is a whole new world for me! We've had our chickens since April and I'm now understanding what all this "chicken math" talk is all about! lol. So was the 65% humidity you talked about for the last 3 days (18 on) or was that a typo? I heard you are supposed to increase towards the end when you stop turning. As for turning, I'm assuming that is something I should do myself? And is that rolling the egg over or picking up and turning over? I'm so scared to rupture any of the blood vessels or do something wrong! I'm a worrier! I like to research every little thing I can and get as much advice as possible before going through with practically anything! I researched breeds and anything dealing with raising chickens for almost 2 years before I went through with ordering the ones we have now. Sometimes I look too much into things, like incubating, and worry myself too much. The incubator box says up to 70 chicken eggs, I don't see how that many would fit! but it also has 3 different model numbers with 1 circled so I assume that number is for the bigger of the 3. Do you want the eggs pretty close together, not touching, or spaced a bit apart, a couple inches or so, for airflow? If this hatch goes well, we have friends that want some chicks and we will continue to hatch our own every couple/few years to replace our own hens instead of having them shipped 3000+ miles from MO!
     
  4. HEChicken

    HEChicken Overrun With Chickens

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    You have that right: 45% for days 1-18, then 65% for days 19-hatch.

    If the incubator doesn't have a turner, you will need to hand turn. A tip: mark one side of the egg with an X and the other with an O. That makes it easy to see when you've turned (or rolled - it doesn't matter as long as you are gentle) it a full 180 and also makes it easy to see if you forgot to turn one of them.

    You can place them pretty close together - I've even heard of people stacking them in several layers. You had asked earlier about candling and while it isn't required, if you candle at the same time you raise humidity and stop turning, it can help to clear a little space, as you can then remove any eggs that aren't developing, leaving more room for the remaining to hatch.

    To candle, you want to be somewhere there is no light - an internal bathroom is ideal if you have one, or a walk-in closet with the door closed and lights out. Use the strongest flashlight you have, and make an "O" with your thumb and index finger. Place the egg in the "O", then hold the flashlight up to the underside of it. The light shining through will help you to clearly see the air cell. (You can do this now with eggs you aren't incubating, and you should be able to see easily through the egg, and see a slightly darker area that is the yolk.) An egg that has developed, by day 18 will be black except for the air cell. An egg that has not developed will be as clear as the eating egg you practiced on.
     
  5. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    I might add a few more comments: Your incubator will do best if you place it somewhere in your home where the temp. does not fluctuate much. Also, although it is tempting to open the incubator frequently to check on the eggs, especially as they get close to hatch date, don't do it. If the thermostat control is any where near where your younger children can get to it, you might want to tape it, or tape a cup over it, anything to keep little fingers out of trouble! If you cram a lot of eggs in there, you'll be able to tell by day 10 if some are not developing. Those can be removed. Don't go crazy with thermostat adjustments. It's easy to over adjust, then you get into wild temp swings, and go crazy trying to bring things back in control. I found a piece of aquarium tubing attached to a syringe to be a useful tool to adjust humidity without opening the bator to do it. Remember the comment about water and surface area? A sponge works real well to manage humidity. If you have any eggs that don't develop, and if you are not squeamish, you might open them up (outside) to see how far they developed. If you can correlate this with how your incubation has gone, it will help you with the next batch. Often chicks die for no particular reason. It would be a good opportunity to teach your kids about embryonic development if they're not too upset by the experience. Hats off to you as a HS mom! What a wonderful experience for your family.
     
  6. alaskanchickens

    alaskanchickens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I was planning on placing the incubator in the basement which is cooler than our main floor but won't be bothered by anyone and will be away from drafts. Also, it will be up off the cool floor. My kids are very interested in the process but know they can't be involved too much except for my oldest daughter who's 10. I never thought about cracking open the eggs! I was just going to show them what it looked like through candling if it stopped developing. Duh! Not for all of them but a few would be interested for sure! I read that candling should be done on days 7, 10, 14 and 18. Is this right? Or should I keep that to a minimum because the eggs are getting removed from the incubator?
     
  7. HEChicken

    HEChicken Overrun With Chickens

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    There isn't really a "should" when it comes to candling except that I avoid doing it too much and I don't candle in the first 7 days when the embryo is the most fragile. However you may find candling to be a little addictive, especially when you can see the fetus moving around, and be tempted to do it too much! I recommend first candling for first-timers at 10 days. At that age it is very clear which are developing because they are so much darker, and the "clear" eggs are very obvious. I would skip the 14 day candling and do another at 18 days, right before you increase humidity and stop turning. That will allow you to remove any that are clearly not going to hatch. If in doubt about the hatch ability, leave them in though - there is no worse feeling than discarding an egg that it turned out was developing just fine.
     
  8. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    The eggs won't be harmed by taking them out to candle. Remember, Momma gets off the nest for at least 10 min. every day to eat and poop. I agree with HEChicken re: early candling, due to fragility of those delicate structures. That being said, what a learning experience! The first blood vessels can be seen at around 4 days. You could candle all of them at the milestone dates, and do an occasional candling of a single egg occasionally. Yes... it is terribly addicting!
     
  9. alaskanchickens

    alaskanchickens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm finding that poultry in general is very addicting! With our hens being so young we decided to hatch them ourselves but would also like to try letting the hens do it too eventually. Just wondering how 24 other hens would react to fresh baby chicks, I can't stand the thought of them being pecked at by the hens! But I know that's how it was done before incubators lol. We are really looking forward to the experience but have to wait until mid April because of temps, I don't really want 8 week old chicks living in my basement!
     
  10. HEChicken

    HEChicken Overrun With Chickens

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    "Letting the hens do it" has way more to do with them than you, trust me! I went my first three years desperately wanting a hen to go broody but not one of them did. Last year I had a dozen or more at a time - all summer long - sitting on clutches of eggs here, there and everywhere. Broodiness has been largely bred out of many breeds, particularly hatchery birds. Bantams are somewhat more likely to go broody than large fowl. That said, ANY hen can go broody - but they do it on their own timetable.

    Your concerns are valid, but I worry less about other hens pecking the chicks (in my experience they leave them alone) and more about bonding. It seems to take a few days for mama and chicks to bond as a family unit, and when I have allowed my hens to hatch in the coop, the result is often that the chicks stagger out from under Mama and then can't remember which of the many hens is Mama and end up crying, alone, in a corner of the coop, terrified. Meanwhile, Mama is sitting tight on the nest in case any other eggs hatch, so she doesn't get up to go and rescue the poor little tyke. Fortunately for me it was summer and the chick did not freeze to death and what I learned from the experience is to segregate them into a small coop/run for a few days until they know each other. Once they do, I can let them out into the main flock and the chicks by then know the sound of Mama's voice and will stay close to her.
     

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