Moved to the country? Want chickens right?

And if you have kids, then you want them to see the miracle of chicks hatching. Only 21 days after putting fertilised eggs in an incubator and you’ll have an amazing little clutch of fluffy bums!

Well that’s only if the Gods align with the moon and sun! So here’s the reality of hatching your first clutch.

Three of our latest arrivals.
  1. Borrow the equipment – For the first time chicken breeder don’t go all out on equipment. Once you’ve hatched out a clutch you may decide it’s not for you and never do it again. I borrowed a 12 egg incubator, bought a cheap heat lamp (reptile section of pet stores have great cheap lamps) and picked up a large old cracked fish tank from the recycle shop at the local tip. My biggest splurge, only for the first couple of weeks, is dog wee pads in the bottom of the tank. It makes clean up so simple when they just eat and poop. 

2. Recommended egg suppliers – our first batch was from an unknown quality breeder! Candling the eggs at 10 days showed the rooster was clearly not working that hard, we had 4/12 unfertilized eggs. Our second batch had 6 eggs from our chooks, of which all were fertile, no real surprises there if you’ve seen our roo Kevin in action. The other 6 were excess stock from a workmate, I think he’d bought them and I’d be upset if I’d paid. From 6 only 2 were fertile! Ask around your area who supplies fertile eggs. You may have to mail them in if you are after a particular breed. As gross as it may seem you need to be scientific about non-hatching eggs. I carry out eggtopsy’s on all that I identify as infertile and also any that don’t hatch at the end. I do this by double bagging, sandwich clip seal inside larger clip seal. Then gently tap egg till it cracks, unfertile’s will just be yoke but the smell is a bit much (hence the double bag). Non-hatchers are sad but it gives you an idea of how far they made it. Last batch only had 1 non hatcher, a late stage death. But first batch had 3 non-hatchers and given their development I believe I didn’t keep the humidity at the right level. It’s all lessons learned.

3. Have a hatching plan – The first batch I just kinda winged it (no pun intended) and it wasn’t great results. The kids and I were just too eggcited (yeah I know) to see what was happening in the incubator, so we kept opening it. Not great for the consistent heat or humidity, the 2 things vital for eggs to hatch. Results were of the 8 fertile eggs we only hatched 5, which was still ok for a first attempt. Our second batch I used a 21 day hatching plan from Pinterest (link here, I only opened the incubator to add water and candling on days 8 and 10. When hatching time came I tried to limit the number of times the incubator lid was raised, however unlike some suggestions I did open it to check progress and remove chicks who were ready for the brooder. Of the 8 fertile eggs, we hatched 7! 


4. The hatching – After waiting 21 days the hatching can either go amazingly quickly or incredibly slowly. No two chicks are the same when it comes to hatching. So far we’ve had the shortest hatch time at about 2 hours from pip to out, right through to nearly 24 hrs! Believe me I was nearly ready to help that chick even though my thoughts are let nature do its thing. Firstly you will see a pip, a small crack in the shell, then the chick with “unzip” the shell from the inside. The unzip line is usually 3/4 of the way around the egg and can take some time, hours in fact, but I have seen one impatient chick only go half way and then go into push mode. While the unzipping is occurring you will hear the chick chirping. Other chicks will chirp back which encourage the chick to keep going. I try to leave a chick in the incubator while others are unzipping to egg them on (yep and again…). Once they start trying to push the egg-shell apart the hatching is pretty quick, and you’ll soon have a skinny, drowned rat looking bird. Don’t worry they fluff up once they dry. Don’t removed the egg-shell until they detach from it completely, this can take anywhere between 2 to 10 minutes.

The unzipping of one of our Aruacana chicks.

5. Have a brooder ready – We bought an old fish tank from the recycle shop at the tip. I think I paid $20 for it and the heat lamp was $90 from pet store. We use dog “wee” pads on the bottom of the tank until the chicks are at least 4 weeks old, then we use straw or sawdust, but this is only because we start the chicks outside during the day around this time. As soon as the first egg starts pipping the brooder lamp goes on, so we are ready to move the chicks. I always move as least 2 in first go. Chicks are so sociable it wouldn’t be fair to move them on their own. For water we bought a rodent water bottle that they tap on to get water and I use an olive dish (its long and thin like a food trough) to put their chick starter in. We also have a feather duster suspended in the tank for them to stand under, just like a real mom.

6. Caring for your day olds – Once you start moving chicks to the brooder be ready for the mess, they are little poop factories! Most important is heat, food and clean water. The heat lamp will need to suspended low to start with and then raised as the chicks grow. Cleaning the tank is as needed but we start with once a day and by the end of the week its twice a day, they really can poop. Food and water checked twice a day. And we give ours lots of hugs, with both my kids needing to be reminded regularly not to squeeze them too much.

Seven chicks in our second-hand tank/brooder.

7. So have you got roo’s or hen’s – The age-old question? There are so many myths surrounding this one, wings, tail feather, hanging them upside down. The only absolute is if you know how to tell the difference by looking at their vent. I am nowhere near that clever. So I use the next best method, covert and primary feather length. These are the feather on the tips of the wings, you do need to be careful extending the wings as they will wiggle in protest. In females the covert is always shorter than the primary. In males the opposite is true, with covert and primary starting at same length and then covert can be slightly longer that primary. 


Female on the left, Male on the right.

8. Moving them outside – Everyone varies on this and certainly time of year and climate will have some impact on when and how. I start by moving mine outside in a larger hutch during the day for an hour at a time around 2 weeks age, weather permitting. I then increase time out side around 4 weeks of age until by 8 weeks mine are out all day and in only at night. By 10 weeks they are out all day but remain in the large coop.