Chicken incubation tips

Eggs pippingOur
first set of chicks of the year came of the shells vigorous and
perky.  I learned little bits and pieces during this hatch, none
of which are worth whole posts to themselves, but all of which are
worth sharing.  So here is a disjointed series of tidbits that
might help intermediate hatchers.  (For beginners, I recommend
first reading my
to incubation

eggs grow quality chicks
.  I spent most of last
year incubating
order hatching eggs
which I thought yielded up pretty good chicks.  However, the
difference between those eggs, which had been shuffled around by the
post office for several days, and my carefully selected eggs straight
from our henhouse was phenomenal.  As I type this, there are three
duds and one still in the pipping stage
out of 21 eggs — an 81%
if the late
pipper doesn’t
make it, and an 86% success rate if he does.  For the sake of
comparison, my hatch rates last year were 17% (eggs from old hens),
25%, 58%, and 55% (power outage).

eggs vertically cuts down on improper chick positioning
.  Our incubator allows
you to manage your eggs vertically (big end up) like they’d come in an
egg carton, or horizontally (lying on the floor of the
incubator).  In the past, I’ve put some eggs each way to make them
all fit, but my gut feeling was that chicks
on the narrow ends of their shells
mostly from eggs that had been incubated horizontally.  So this
time, I incubated all of the eggs vertically, using crumpled newspapers
as spacers to fill in the gaps.  (I couldn’t just add in extra
eggs because all eggs have to lie flat on the tray for the last three
days before hatch.)  My experiment paid off — absolutely no one
a hand out of the shell
, compared to last year’s
hatches where there was always at least one chick who struggled to get
past the pipping stage.

Pipping orderEggs with
brighter yolks result in chicks that pip sooner
.  It makes intuitive
sense that a healthier hen would lay an egg that results in a more
vigorous chick, so I’ve been keeping an eye on the color of yolks from
our three breeds of chickens (a simple task since each breed has a
different egg color or size).  Australorp yolks are always the
brightest, followed by marans and sussex.  I didn’t have nearly
enough eggs in the incubator to get a statistically significant result,
but the graph shows that the australorp eggs tended to pip sooner than
eggs from the other chickens.  (The line in the middle of each
rectangle shows the average pipping order — much lower for
australorps than for the others.)  As a side note, my late pipper
is a sussex and my three potential duds are two marans and one
australorp, depsite the fact that australorp eggs were most numerous in
the incubator (48% versus 43% for marans and 10% for sussex).  Of
course, that could be because our rooster prefers brunettes — I
haven’t checked to see if the duds were fertile.

Australorp chickWry neck might sometimes be a
simple sprain

One of the new problems I ran into with this hatch is that two of our
chicks came out of the shell with wry neck.  They tended to point
their beaks toward the sky and had a tendency to fall onto their
backs.  Most chicken keepers believe that wry neck is due to a
micronutrient deficiency and they treat the sick chicks with
vitamins.  However, I didn’t have any on hand, so I just popped
the chicks under the brooder.  By the next day, they were
indistinguisable from their brethren, which leads me to believe that
wry neck can sometimes be an injury from struggling out of the shell,
quickly relieved by rest and heat.

Our incubator definitely does heat unevenly.  I didn’t try any of
the tricks to move heat around because I wanted confirmation, but my
numbers make a pretty clear case for different parts of our incubator
having different temperatures.  Two of my duds and the
Incubator locationlate pipper all came from the
very center of the incubator (with the last dud having been incubated
in a corner).  Of the eggs that survived to pip, the chicks
in  the corners made it through their shells fastest, followed by
those in the enter of the long edge, the ones that actually survived in
the middle of the incubator, and finally the chicks on the edges of the
two middle rows.

My hatch was also very
strung out, with seven chicks coming out of their shells on day 20,
eight chicks on day 21, two chicks on day 22, and one (and counting) on
day 23.  This is a classic symptom of having
Chick drinking clean waterdifferent
temperatures in the incubator since eggs in the hottest zones hatch
fastest while those in the coolest zones hatch slowest.  I think
the problem was probably exacerbated by incubating eggs at a chilly
time of year since the incubator had to work harder to keep the eggs
warm, which tends to cook the central eggs right under the fan.

Of course, I nearly
counteracted my successful hatch by
the first chick out of the incubator
, but that’s a story for the
other blog.  On the plus side, our fuzzballs took to their
chicken waterer in minutes!

Leave a Reply