Introduction: How to Hatch Pet Chicks (For Beginners!)
Hey everyone! It's springtime again, which means that my local animal feed stores are selling cute, fluffy, chirping BABY CHICKS!!! Since I have a backyard flock of chickens and rooster, as well as an incubator, I decided to hatch my own this year, instead of letting the feed store guy send me home with a box full of live pom-poms, and I'm thrilled to share with you guys how to hatch your own chicks at home using an incubator! :)
Step 1: How It Works
Here's a general run-down of what it takes to hatch eggs into chicks:
~An egg must be fertile in order to produce a chick.
A fertilized eggs contains sperm and is capable of producing a chick. An infertile egg is not.
~A chicken egg takes 21 days to go from being a fertile egg to a hatched chick.
~In Nature, a mother chicken would sit on her eggs for those 21 days. However, this Instructable is about how to do it without a mom chicken.
~That 21-day period is called incubation, and incubators are what we use when a mother chicken isn't readily available :)
~The egg needs to be kept at a constant temperature (99°F) with as little fluctuation as possible.
In Nature, a mother chicken sits on her eggs to keep them warm and her body temperature stays the same.
~The relative humidity of the incubator air needs to be held between 50 and 70% RH (relative humidity).
As above, the mother chicken's body regulates humidity. If the RH is too low, the embryo can stick to the shell and die. If it's too high, the embryos can grow too fast which will cause problems.
~Sanitation is very important!
Incubators need to be kept very warm and humid, which is a perfect enviroment for bacteria to grow. Sanitation is a good way to prevent infection from occuring in the eggs.
~ The eggs need to be turned or rolled over several times a day. As little as 3 times a day is fine, up to once per hour.
A mother chicken turns her eggs several times a day with her feet to make sure that the embryos don't stick to their shells, which could cause them to die before hatching.
~After a week of incubation, you'll nedd to determine which eggs have a developing baby chick inside and which eggs do not. You can do this by shining a very bright flashlight into the egg and looking for signs of a chick. This is called candling.
Incubating infertile eggs is useless, because it will never produce a chick. If the infertile eggs are not removed by day12-14, you run the risk of rotten, possibly exploding eggs. Gross!
Step 2: Everything You'll Need:
This step will walk you through everything you'll need to successfully hatch chicks! Yay!
~A working incubator
~Thermometer and Hygrometer
~A strong flashlight
Some people are great with building things themselves. I am definitely not one of those people. My homemade incubators have never hatched a chick. Therefore, my incubator is a store-bought, pre-assembled one with an accurate thermostat, built-in thermometer and automatic turner.
Homemade-DIY incubators usually cost far less, though! Depending on your skills, a homemade 'bator could be just as reliable as any good bought one. This Instructable for a diy 'bator looks very thorough.
If you're willing to spend a bit more on a reliable bator, Brinsea has some of the best ones out there! They make incubators that range from a 7-egg to a 580-egg capacity. Here are some of theirs that are made for home or classroom use: Brinsea's mini and maxi bators. When deciding what size you'll need, remember that not all eggs that you set will hatch. You can expect about 80% to hatch.
(If you're overwhelmed by all the options, I reccomend the Brinsea mini advance. It's simple digital features are very user-friendly)
Keep in mind that, in general, the more you spend on an incubator, the less attention, time, and finicking on your part it will need. For example, if your incubator has a manual turner, then you won't be running to turn eggs 3 times a day by hand. The most hands-off versions (like this one) you can get only require you to re-fill the water containers every 5 to 6 days.
Thermometer and Hygrometer:
Even if your incubator has a built-in thermometer (reads temperature) and hygrometer (reads humidity), it's best to have at least a second thermometer in the bator to make sure that you really have the right temp. I used this handy thermometer, which is built like an egg so that its' readout is exactly the temp your other eggs are feeling. Cool, right? :D
I've also used this 2-in-1 thermometer-hygrometer and I've been really happy with its performance.
You can get your eggs for hatching from few different places. For local options, some farmers list their *probably* fertile eggs on Craigslist. Seriously, search Craigslist for "hatching eggs" and you might be surprised at what you find. Some may be really fancy breeds, some not. If you're not sure about the breed, just ask! Most people will love to talk to you and explain the differences between their chickens and others.
Otherwise, multiple hatheries across the US will ship eggs for hatching to you! A good reputable hatchery that sells *probably* fertile eggs is Murray McMurray Hatchery. They have sooo many different breeds to choose from. Small pet breeds, big pet breeds, rare fancy breeds, good egg layer breeds, you name it, they have it!!
If you have a strong flashlight with a small enough head that an egg can rest on it, that will work. The ideal flashlight is on the smaller side, like a pocket light. The flashlight I use to candle eggs is this this one and I LOVE it. It makes candling so much easier than with a heavier light.
Step 3: Setting Up Your Incubator
The first thing to do before and after every hatch is to clean the incubator! Eggs are naturally very porous and can easily harbour harmful bacteria in the warm humid enviroment. To prevent this, wash all surfaces inside the incubator (except any fans, heating elements, and elelctrical stuff:) with your choice of an anti-bacterial disinfectant. Dish liquid or diluted bleach work well and most people have them at home already. After washing, allow everything to air-dry. (DO NOT WASH THE EGGS, however! They have a natural protective coating which you don't want to remove by washing. More harm is done by washing eggs)
Next, you'll need to find a safe place to set the incubator for the next 21 days. Don't under-estimate the powers of curious kids, scheming cats, or other household pets :) Pick somewhere that it won't easily be knocked over or bumped into, but also somewhere it won't be forgotten. I put mine on my bedstand.
Also, it's a good idea to lay a folded towel under the incubator in case of a potential water spill. The last thing anyone needs is a water-warped dresser-top. Better safe than sorry!
Especially if the incubator is new, I usually like to run the bator empty for a day or two to make sure that everything is working. If you have more than one thermometer you plan on using, now is a good time to make sure they agree on the temperature. Adjust the vents so that they're not closed all the way. The eggs need to breathe as they grow!
YOU WANT IT TO REACH AND HOLD 99°F for the next 21 days.
Also, during the test run, fill the water reservoirs.
YOU WANT THE RELATIVE HUMIDITY TO REACH AND HOLD 50-70% RH for the next 21 days.
Step 4: Day 1
So. Your incubator is running, up to temp. You just received your eggs. Now, you're ready to positon the eggs and begin!!
Remember to wash your hands before and after handling the eggs, to avoid transfering bacteria to or from the eggs.
If you'll be turning your eggs by hand, it's a good idea to mark the eggs with something like an X or an O so when you turn them, you know you're turning them completely. X side up, next time you turn, X side down, etc.
If you decide to mark any eggs during the incubation period, do it with a blunt pencil. Markers will penetrate the shell and the chemicals can harm the embryo.
Now, positon the eggs with the blunt-est or widest end in a higher postion than than the more pointed end. The blunt end is where the air sac is located which the embryo will draw from.
Once you leave the eggs in the now-warm incubator and close it, congratulations! Your eggs are set! The hardest work is behind you! Now, we wait...
Step 5: Days 2-7
These days don't require any special care except turning. If you're turning the eggs by hand, turn at least 3 times a day.
If you notice the humidity % begin to go down, add water to the water container in the incubator.
You're probably going to be curious what's happening while you wait...
Day 2: blood vessels apear on the yolk
Day 3: lungs, nose, legs, wings, and tail form. (Still very, very tiny, though!)
Day 4: tongue starts to develop. The eyes begin.
Day 5: leg bones and circulatory system begins to develop. The eye becomes larger.
Day 6: the wings and legs bedn at the elbow
Day 7: Feathers begin to form; the toes develop; the chick begins developing an egg tooth, which is a special tip on its beak to help crack through the shell come Hatch Day.
Step 6: Day 8: Watch the Embryo!!
Day 8 is always exciting to me. Using you hand-dandy litlle flashlight in either a dark room or in the late evening, shine the flashlight into either end of each egg. You should see a black dot surrounded by faintly visible blood vessels, which look like spider webs. The dot you see is the baby's eye. How cool is that?!?!
Some of your eggs will likely not show any signs of a dot or blood vessels. This isn't uncommon, don't worry. Not all eggs are fertile and no on e can be sure that they are until you either crack them open or incubate them. The infertile eggs will just look sort of clear inside. See the second picture. It's always a little disappointing, when you were hoping to see an embryo and its empty. The eggs NOT producing a chick will need to be thrown out. If you're not absolutely sure about whether an egg has an ambryo or not, you can give them a few more days in the incubator to let them develop some more and compare.
Day 8 is when the neck and beak lengthen; the third eyelid begins to develop; skeletal bones begin hardening
Step 7: Days 9-11
Day 9: The beak continues to lengthen and mouth opening develops
Day 10: the toes develop claws; flight feathers grow;the beak begins hardening.
Day 11: The toes curve and the legs develop scales; the embryo becomes exremely active.
Check the water level in the water container!
Step 8: Day 12
Day 12: The toes harden; the lower eyelid covers the eye; most of its body is covered with feathers.
Today, we're going to candle the eggs again. We need to determine which eggs having embryos and are staying and which ones need to leave. You can see the web of veins very clearly now, and the darkness occupying the lower third of the egg, which is the baby. It's truly amazing to see it move around and respond to your tapping on the shell!
On Day 1, I set 22 eggs. Unfortunately, only 6 had embryos :( So I threw away all but those 6 eggs.
You can see in the second picture- I put an X on the eggs I knew I had to take out, so I didnt confuse the good eggs with the bad. Once I candled, I put the ones with an X on them into the bad-egg bowl.
Step 9: Days 13-18
Day 13: Leg scales begin to overlap; the skeleton is nearly complete; the embryo produces heat and uses increasing oxygen
Day 14: The skull starts hardening; the embryo tuns its head toward the blunt end of the egg (where it will break out); the chick is fully formed and becomes less active as it grows.
Day 15: The embryo fills the shell
Day 16: The intestinal loops retract into the body
Day 17: The embryo moves into hatching position
Day 18: The blood volume and hemoglobin decrease
Check the water level in the water container!
Step 10: Days 19 and 20
Day 19: The intestinal loop finishes retracting; the beak breaks the air cell and the chick takes its first real breath, iside the egg. You might be able to hear faint chirping from the eggs today!
STOP TURNING THE EGGS TODAY. Because the embryo is getting into position for hatching, any turning from this point on will confuse the chick and could delay hatch. Day 20: The embryo had completely filled the egg, except for some of the air cell; the yolk sac is half enclosed on the embryo's body
Step 11: Day 21- HATCH DAY!!!!
Day 21!! We made it! The baby's neck begins to spasm and breaks the shell. This took so much energy to do, the baby then rests for up to 8 hours before it.... Rotates clockwise cutting a cap of the shell off. This again, can take a few hours- between 3 and 6 hours is common. Baby pushes, he gets his head out of the shell, and rests again. Then, with one big kick, baby kicks the shell off, and sleeps for a little while in the incubator while drying off.
Step 12: Finishing Up...
Once everyone has hatched and puffed up, sanitize the incubator and store it for next year, and ENJOY YOUR PET CHICKS! Within the first day after hatching, the babies will need fresh water and chick food. If you don't have an animal feed store nearby, you can order it online here!
Step 13: Conclusion
I'm thrilled to have written this Instructable, and I hope it inspires some of you to try incubating and hatching yourself! Watching a baby chick develop and hatch is such a miracle! Thanks for reading. :)
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