Hatching has been underway for some time here on the farm, and is one of the most important and time consuming jobs on the farm, thankfully David is fully in charge of all our eggs and incubators and has been rolling eggs, and hatching chicks out for the last few weeks. Our incubators hold about 1500 eggs at a time that is roughly 126 dozen eggs! We have five cabinet incubators and four Styrofoam incubators.
Incubating eggs is pretty time consuming, many people think you can just place the eggs in the incubator and then they hatch, however temperature, humidity, and careful rotation are all needed to help the egg incubator properly. On our farm Dad and I collect and label every egg that we are going to incubate. We’ve developed a code to tell us which egg is which breed so that David can record every egg that goes into the incubator, and we can monitor fertility and hatch rate for each of our various breeds. When eggs are collect we do not wash them unless they are very dirty, which are almost all our duck eggs as they lay all over and in the mud especially, they are then marked with a pencil that particular breeds code (RI for Rhode Island, PS for porcelain silkie, etc). Each egg is then placed small pointy end down in an egg crate, each crate labeled for what breed of eggs they hold. These eggs are rotated for the next few days until Saturday when they are placed in the incubator.
When David is ready he takes the eggs and marks on his inventory sheet how many eggs of each breed were placed in the incubator, as well as which incubator and which shelf the eggs were placed on. Every morning and night David rolls every egg so that the developing embryo does not stick to the shell and cause abnormal growth, as well as monitoring and adjusting for temperature and humidity within the incubator. At about day 10-15 David, and I shut off the lights and candle each egg with a light. What we have found works for us is to use a pen light and hold it up to the larger end of the egg and it will shine through the egg. The below video shows a beautiful growing chick inside an egg.
What you see is the air sack by that large end of the egg, and then the veins starting to grow for the chick. As the chick grows it becomes darker inside the egg until you can no longer see through the egg. If by day 10 you see no veins and the light completely shines through the egg then the egg is a dude (infertile) and you can toss it.
At this time if room allows the eggs will be sorted out into our Styrofoam hatching incubators. Each Styrofoam incubator only houses certain breeds so we can tell what breed each chick is. For example our Bantam Cochins and our Large Fowl Cochins look the same at hatching and we can’t tell who is who, so although the eggs are marked the chick sometimes pecks through the egg right at our identification mark, or many different chicks hatch at the same time (we’ve had dozens hatch between checking them at 11pm at night and 6am the next morning), thus separating into completely different incubators has help us keep everyone straight.
A couple days before the egg is about to hatch David stops rotating the egg so the baby doesn’t get damaged and can complete its last stages of growth. Some people put their incubators on lock down when it is hatching time, meaning they do not open their incubators at all, and wait until almost all the eggs have hatched before taking the chicks out. For us we wait until the chicks, ducks, or any baby is dried off, and then we take it out of the incubator and place it into one of our chick tubs.
Each chicken tub is marked by which breed it contains so we can keep the breeds separated. Every chick has its beak dipped into water follow by the chick starter so they get a taste for water and food, and then we let them settle in under the heat lamp and watch them grow.
We try to keep our waterfowl and non-waterfowl birds away from each other as the ducks and geese get the pens wet quickly and chicks can’t take the constant water baths. Some will say that you should also keep your turkeys and chicks separated, we have not had a problem with housing them together, and actually prefer to put a couple chicks in with the turkeys to help teach them to eat and drink (turkeys aren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch). As for our quail they are typically housed in their own tub although once in a while we will put a chick in with them temporarily. Quail are teeny tiny when hatching and can easily be trampled if in with more than a couple chicks, however they are very vigorous and with in a week are bouncing of the walls and can actually trample newly hatched chicks that haven’t quite got their legs yet.
Our particular Coturnix quail hatch at 15 days, chicks hatch at 21 days, ducks & turkeys hatch at 28 days, and Muscovy ducks hatch on day 35. We have had some hatch early, and some hatch late, and usually allow for about a 5 day window for everyone to hatch out before tossing the eggs.
Hatching eggs and watching any of the baby birds grow is an amazing experience, and it surprising how quickly everyone grows! At about a month old chicks start having a good amount of feathers coming in and depending on how cold it is weather wise can start to come out from under the light. Our quail start laying at 8 weeks of age if you can believe that, two months and already laying!
We will continue to incubate through June, and then start to slow down, incubating only some of our specialty birds, such as our polish, and silkies though the fall when everything will be shut down for another winter and we finally get a break- sort of.