Category: Incubation

chick update

2015 chicks
more older chicks

We ordered 25 unsexed chicks from Cackle Hatchery this year.

Australorps, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Buff Orpington, and Dominque were the breeds we selected.

Why didn’t we hatch them ourselves? Because we only have two good breeding hens and it’s always fun to experiment with a new breed.

We’ll probably use Cackle Hatchery again the next time we don’t want to incubate due to how strong and hardy these chicks are.

Lessons learned with broody hens

Broody hen

It seems like every spring, one of our hens goes broody. Unfortunately, our success rate with those broody hens has been close to nill.


One year, we learned the hard way that the broody setup needs to be perfect. The nest box should be on the ground so chicks can pop back inside easily if they’re chilled, and it definitely shouldn’t be in a spot that can get wet during rains.


Another year, a Cuckoo Marans did an admirable job hatching eight chicks in an area she chose for herself in a little-used corner of the barn. But  we couldn’t catch the hen and her chicks to move them somewhere safer…and slowly but surely the chicks got picked off by a black rat snake.


Broody henDuring several other years, we’ve missed the boat, watching a hen start to go broody…and then watching her relinquish her mothering instincts when
we failed to set up a good nesting spot in time. So this year, I decided to be proactive. Even though it’s January and surely a terrible time to be incubating eggs, when one of our Australorp mixes began hopping the fence to hide her eggs in the garden, we set her up in an isolation coop complete with nest basket, food, and water.


So far, she seems to be settling in — not clucking angrily about being separated from her fellows, but instead spending time on the nest. I currently have five golf balls in the basket to simulate a clutch, but if our hen begins setting seriously, I’ll replace the golf balls with fertilized eggs. Perhaps this will be the year a broody hen comes through for us?

Maintaining high humidity in an incubator during hatch

Wet, new chickAround day 19, when the first chicks could potentially start to pip, it’s time to raise the humidity in your incubator to 65% or more.  High humidity during hatch is essential to lubricate your chicks as they do the hard work of wiggling around, pecking their way out of their shells.  At the same time, you need to keep the vent at least a third of the way open because these hard-working chicks need more airflow to feed their struggles.  But the open vent tends to lower the incubator’s humidity, so that’s the solution?

Increasing humidity in an incubator with a wicking clothYou can buy evaporating card to stick in your incubator’s wells, but the cheaper method is just to use a piece of cloth. If you place part of the cloth or evaporating card in the well and let the rest sit along the bottom of the incubator, water will wick up into the extra surface area, resulting in more evaporation and higher humidity.

For an even bigger dose of humidity to counteract the vapor lost when you open the lid, heat up some water until it’s steaming but is still just cool enough to stick your hand in.  I poured some of this warm water into the wells every time I opened the lid of my Brinsea Octagon 20 incubator, which meant that the humidity rebounded within a minute of me opening and then reclosing the lid.

Opening the incubator lidMost websites will tell you
to be as hands-off as possible during the hatch, opening the lid only once every six to eight hours.  Now that I’ve had a bit of experience, though, I disagree.  I’ve learned the hard way that if a newly hatched chick rolls a neighbor egg so that its pipping hole is facing the floor, the chick still in its shell can expire before you’re allowed to open the lid again. Knowing some tricks to maintain high humidity while still being allowed to open the lid seems to be key to higher hatch rates.

Incubating chicken eggs

After several rounds of trial and error, I figured out the best way to incubate chicks. You can browse through old posts, or splurge on my ebook for the more refined solutions.