Hatching eggs why and how

Fragile boxAfter learning that our old
hens lay eggs with limited fertility
, we opted to buy hatching
eggs online for our third incubator run of the season.  The
concept is new to me, so I figured some of you might be asking the same
questions I had, like:

buy hatching eggs instead of chicks?

Hatching eggs can be a
bit cheaper than mail order chicks, but not by much.  Recently, I
spent $35 (shipping included) to buy 20 black australorp hatching eggs,
which I hope will turn into 10 to 15 chicks, and previously I hatched 7
cuckoo marans from a dozen eggs purchased for $25.  (Hatch rates
tend to be a bit lower for eggs ordered online than for eggs that
haven’t spent several days jiggling around in the mail.)  For the
sake of comparison, 12 straight run black australorps from a major
hatchery (plus shipping) would cost me $40.26, but I was able to buy
australorp chicks locally for $2 apiece earlier this spring, which
would beat the hatching eggs rate.  I definitely got a good deal
on the rarer cuckoo marans, though, since those 7 chicks would have
cost me $42.63 as mail order chicks and no one keeps this breed in our

Newly hatched chickThe main reason I chose to
buy hatching eggs is because I wanted to learn my incubator better, but
I was also sold on several other factors.  Most importantly, you
can often buy just a few hatching eggs at a time, which is helpful for
folks who can’t handle 25 chicks (the minimum for most hatchery
orders.)  I was also able to pick and choose the genetics of my
parent birds, focusing on chickens raised on pasture with — hopefully
— good foraging genes.  In contrast, hatcheries tend to select
birds using traits I’m less interested in, like how closely a chicken
matches certain appearance standards and how well those chickens live
in a hatchery setting.  Finally, buying hatching eggs allows me to
keep hatchery diseases out of my flock (although there’s always a
slight chance disease will carry over on eggshells.)

Of course, you also have
to keep in mind that home-hatched eggs won’t be sexed.  For us,
that isn’t a problem since we want to rebuild our laying flock and also
want to raise males for meat, but if you’re squeamish about doing away
with extra roosters, hatching eggs might not be for you.

can you find hatching eggs?

Since you’re probably
looking for a specific breed, I won’t recommend any one egg
source.  Instead, try out these three options:

  • Google for “black australorp hatching eggs” (or whatever breed
    you’re looking for)
  • Head to ebay and search for the same terms
  • Look on your local Craigslist (and put up a wanted ad)

Hatching eggsYou’ll probably find several
different options, so you’ll need to decide which factors matter the
most to you.  I figured that price was less important than the
photos of the parent birds and was won over by a small farm that raises
the parent chickens on pasture.  A source closer to you is likely
to have chickens better suited to your climate (and shipping will also
be faster, which will increase your hatch rates.)  Buying hatching
eggs is all about having more control over the new members of your
flock, so be a bit choosy.

do I treat my hatching eggs?

Eggs settleYour eggs should arrive carefully packaged,
often with an extra egg or two in the box to make up for eggs cracked
during shipment.  In my limited experience, only one egg out of 46
arrived cracked, but several came with small smears of poop or
dirt.  It’s best to either discard these dirty eggs, wash them
with a special solution that maintains the protective coating on the
egg, or sand the dirt off.  Then arrange your eggs in a carton
(big end up or flat) or in your incubator and allow them to settle for
at least twelve hours before beginning incubation.  After that,
you can treat your hatching eggs like any others.

Our chicks got off to a
healthy start with clean water from our
chicken waterer.

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