I’ve been wanting to do a post on incubating since it is such a fascinating experience. There is a lot to learn with incubating and I am no expert, we are just starting, having had 1 failed batch, and one very successful, hatching out 5 healthy khaki Campbell ducklings. So this post will be our trials and errors, and our current batch of 9 Barred Rock hatching eggs…2 of which I can already see will not make it.
Our first batch was really acquired as a surprise, there were 12 hatching eggs attached to a couple chickens we got at a local auction. We brought them home and made a makeshift incubator, utilizing a heat lamp, a soft sided cooler, a thermometer, a spray bottle and hand turning them 2-3 times a day. We were surprised when we “candled” them (more on this later) and found that they were indeed developing. We had a couple of viable eggs right up until the last day, but unfortunately they did not hatch. We believe this had to do with the humidity, and them not developing so they were strong enough to hatch. It was unfortunate but it was a good learning experience.
We looked into incubators but they were much too expensive for our small farm. So my Dad (being very clever) came up with his own idea for a homemade incubator using an automatic heat register (found at the dollar store) as the turning device, a light bulb hooked to a thermometer, a computer fan, and a tray of water in the bottom. The box is made of pine framing and cedar shingles, insulated with ceiling tiles. (See photos below_ We had some duck eggs from our very productive Khaki Campbell ducks so we decided to give it a try. I think out of 7 we hatched 5… so we were pretty happy!
Incubating can be quite useful if you can get hatching eggs, either from your own stock or other resource. Considering our 1 remaining Plymouth Rock hen is not laying this winter, I had to find another resource. I was able to get a dozen Plymouth (barred) Rock hatching eggs from a local breeder I found on Rare Breeds Canada for just $5. With many day old chicks heritage breeds costing around $5 each, you can save yourself a considerable amount of money by hatching your own, providing they hatch of coarse! I was only able to fit 9 in our incubator, and unfortunately later found one of the ones I chose was cracked
When I first came across the term “Heritage Breed” I had to do some research as to what this meant. I found out that many birds such as the Cornish X (bought from hatcheries) are hybrids, and they are genetically modified to the point they are unable to reproduce naturally. This was one of the big reasons I decided to go with heritage breeds, not because I am a naturalist or concerned with organic/free-range titles (although those are good reasons) but because I am well…cheap! If I buy chickens or pigs, or turkeys etc… I would like them to be able to reproduce and earn their keep. Especially if you have an incubator, it just makes sense to hatch your own eggs, rather then go back to the co-op each year to buy more. I hope to also be able to sell some chicks, to offset the price of feed, etc.
As I’ve mentioned before, I also like the idea of keeping some of these breeds going. I had a bit of a hard time finding the breeds I have wanted to acquire in Nova Scotia, and would like to be able to make it easier for people to have access to these great breeds.
Anyways, I’m rambling, onto the incubating!
The technical bits are as follows: 21 days to incubate, 99-99.5 degrees F, 45-50% humidity
However, we always allow 3-4 days past day 21 for late bloomers, our incubator range is more in the 95-100 degree range, and our humidity is simply a tray with water in it at the bottom of the incubator. I think sometimes we can stress too much over these things, in the wild things vary slightly more, I have even read there are times eggs can be out of the nest for up to an hour if they roll out… so keep your perimeters as close as possible, but don’t stress so much that you worry they are all doomed if you miss turning them once 🙂
If you want to know more technical information about incubating Backyard Chickens has a good article.
When we incubated our first batch, we “candled” (the exercise of holding a light to the egg in the dark to see the embryo) several times a day. We weren’t really sure what we should be looking for exactly, so I am going to post some pictures of each day. You won’t see anything until day 4 or 5, then suddenly you will! It’s really exciting, and fascinating watching the embryos develop 🙂
A few days ago I dropped an egg when I was putting it back 😦 I wanted to cry! After quickly googling a solution I covered the crack with candle wax, and replaced it, it seems ok so far, fingers crossed! My advice, only candle once a day, 1-2 eggs to prevent accidents.
Day 1 of 21 – all set up (lid not pictured)
Day 4 of 21 (Photos edited to increase detail)
You can see the center, and veins starting to emerge.
Day 5 of 21
Very similar to day 4, but you can see the dark spot (the eye) in the center is more pronounced, and the egg is slightly less translucent.
Day 6 of 21
Hard to get a clear picture, but the center is larger, and the embryo is moving at this point!
Here is an egg that is NOT developing properly…
Day 7 of 21
The embryo is moving, and looks a bit like a little seahorse at this point. (Sorry for the BR, the breeder marked it for Barred Rock 🙂 ) You can clearly see the eye here.
Day 8 (we had a massive snow storm, and I forgot to take pics!)
Day 9 of 21
It might start to look like there are twins, but it is just that the head and tail/bum are more prominent, so it looks like 2 parts. Watch a video of it moving here.
Day 10 of 21
Pictures are getting harder and harder to capture as the embryo fills more space in the egg, but you can see a faint “C” shape about 1/3 the size of the egg or so, I believe the pronounced looped vein is the umbilical cord as you can see it moving when the embryo moves. I tried to take a video, but with 1/2 the egg now filled with mass from the growing embryo it would not take 😦 It is just crazy to me how fast these guys grow!
Here are a few pictures of eggs that are NOT developing…
The first egg pictured is the one I noticed was already cracked on day 4, it has what is known as a “blood ring” about 1/3 of the way up the egg, this is known as a tell-tale sign that an egg is doomed, however I always give it a few days to wait and see. The second egg is the one I dropped a couple days ago, it doesn’t appear to be moving anymore, and has this really dark mass that almost looks like a contusion… sorry little one! 😦 I will leave it for a couple days and see if it changes. The first egg however I have decided is no good, and have put to good use, figuring out a mystery on our farm. Our hens have not laid 1 egg all winter, it may just be the weather and short days (chickens need 14 hours of daylight for optimum laying) but I have been beginning to wonder if they are possibly eating their eggs, which can be a big problem. So I have put this egg in with the chickens to see what happens! Everything has a use on a farm, right?!
I will continue to update you on the progress of this batch, watch for my next post!