Let’s talk about chicks, man.

Big Fat Mike

Today I started expanding our chicken family to meet one of our 2014 goals out here at Primrose Station. It’s important to us to incubate, hatch, and grow our own chickens for a few reasons. First of all we love the chickens we have, a good mix of different types leaves our egg baskets looking like easter all year. Second, we want this project to be sustainable (and somewhat self-sustaining), I feel that saving some of your eggs to sprout new chickens from your “root-stock” is just like saving seeds from your favorite heirloom tomato. It doesn’t hurt that if half of my first batch of eggs hatch, it will be cheaper than buying that many chicks, and now I own the equipment to hatch subsequent sets of chicks at no cost.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to “roll your own”:

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First off you’ll need an incubator. Farm Innovators offers a few options, I chose the 4200 model because it regulates the temp better with an element and fan, plus it includes an automatic egg turner. Egg turning is something you have to remember to do every day up until three days before hatching, this auto-turner will save me from having to remember to turn them, but more importantly will keep me from having to open the incubator as often and causing temperature fluctuations. Mark the sides with x’s and o’s to keep consistency and see which ones you’ve turned already that day, you can even put x’s and o’s on your calendar to see every day what side is supposed to be showing.

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Let your eggs get to room temperature, if you stored them in a cool place, so that the incubator can get them up to the proper temperature faster.

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You’ll need to bring your incubator up to your ideal temp and let it run while you make small adjustments to the temperature knob, then let it run for a few hours to make sure it’s set correctly. For chicken eggs you’re shooting for 99-100 degrees, and the analog thermometer built into the incubator lid isn’t calibrated or accurate enough to rely on. Get a probe thermometer that shows tenths of a degree, there are plenty of little holes in the lid to probe all over inside. I picked up this little number at Target (and used cash so my identity didn’t get stolen).

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Before adding the eggs you need to put water into the troughs molded into the bottom of the incubator, this will help keep the humidity up for your eggs. Use warm water so once you get the eggs in the incubator will get to operating temperature faster. Once you put the eggs in the auto-turner it will be impossible to see the white troughs in the white base under the white egg turner, so I put some food coloring in with the water to make the troughs more visible (and patriotic!).

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Set the egg-turner into place being mindful to line the corded corner up with the notch. This egg turner can hold 42 regular eggs, and you can order different sized trays to accommodate different types of eggs.

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Put your eggs into place!

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At this point it will take a while for the incubator to get back up to temperature, just remember to keep checking and make sure it doesn’t need more adjusting. Add water when you need to, monitor temps, and in 21 days you should have chicks hatching! In 18 days take the egg-turner out and let the eggs rest on the screen inside so the chicks can settle into place and get ready to bust out of their shell!

Pretty simple, although I did leave out some things that are covered in-depth in the instructions that come with the incubator. Three weeks from now I’ll post a follow-up with some fresh pics and the success rate for our first hatching. Fellow chicken farmers, please share incubating pro-tips in the “comments” section below!

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