If you’ve never hatched your own chicks at your farm, you should think about doing so. There is something so rewarding about being with a chick from its first moments, and you also will have much healthier chicks.
Did you think that you could not hatch chicks without a rooster? You can get “hatching eggs”, which are confirmed fertile, from most hatcheries and from breeders who maintain much more control over their bloodline than hatcheries will. I received eggs from a friend with a few roosters. If you don’t have a broody hen, you can hatch the eggs yourself using an incubator, which come in sizes for several dozen eggs, or only two or three, and everything in between.
If you decide to put your hatching eggs under a hen, make sure you’ve got her set up in a comfortable, quiet place to brood. It is best if she doesn’t need to be disturbed every day by the other chicken’s laying, and she will prefer a dark spot with little human traffic. Make sure she has food and water within easy reach, and change her bedding regularly (with as little disturbance to the eggs as possible). Another reason not to leave your hen in the normal nesting boxes is that when chicks hatch you don’t want to risk them falling out. You can move the hen shortly after hatching, though this sometimes is more disruptive for her.
Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. You can keep an egg over a week before putting it in the incubator or under a hen, and it will still be viable. You should not expect 100% hatch rate, however, this varies between 55% and 95% depending on the genetics and the year.
If you put in a batch of eggs they usually will hatch within a week of each other. A mother hen will continue to set for at least two days more after her first chick, in case more chicks are coming.
Once your batch of chicks has hatched, make sure they have fresh grower mash to eat and clean water to drink. If you are using a hen to raise your chicks, she will show them many of the life skills they need. I am not sure there’s anything cuter than a mother hen teaching her chicks to forage for worms, dust bathe, or groom themselves. In my experience, chicks raised by a mother hen are much bolder, partially because they know that she has their back. Another advantage to having a hen raise your chicks is that they can be integrated into your flock much sooner, because she will protect them from bullying adult chickens.
However you decide to raise your chicks, no doubt you will enjoy the cute balls of fluff as they grow up. Raising them from the shell can make the experience that more unique and if you engage a broody hen in raising them, you will also be making her very happy.
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Questions? Feel free to leave a comment!