Backyard Chickens 101: Our Disappointing Hatching

Monday, January 20, 2014

Backyard Chickens 101: Our Disappointing Hatching

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Have you ever wondered about raising backyard chickens?  Next up in our Backyard Chickens 101 Series - you will learn how to hatch live chicks, how to set up your incubator, where to get your hatching eggs from, the huge variety of chickens and egg color you can get, and what happens when your chick eggs don't hatch - mail ordered sexed baby chicks!

Backyard Chickens 101 Hatching Chickens and what to do if it all goes wrong - sexed mail order baby chicks

Why we decided to Hatch Baby Chicks!

On our journey to “real food” we decided it would be a good idea to get our own chickens.  Now we can eat delicious, nutritious eggs from our very own backyard!  To make it as educational as possible we decided to hatch the eggs ourselves. We looked at various places for getting our eggs, but Gabbard Farms seemed to have the best pricing, availability, and varieties so we went with them (please see end of post before you decide to order from them!).

Learning about Raising Chickens

As a city girl I had never even touched a chicken so I had a lot of learning to do – quick! If you want to see more about what we learned check out my Backyard Chickens 101: Should you Get Chickens post. You’ll find great resources on best breads, coop ideas, cost analysis and so much more!

So we had done a LOT of reading! We knew to expect a 50% hatch rate on shipped eggs so we got a really good incubator to ensure we had as good a hatch as possible. After reading lots of reviews we decided on the Brinsea 20 incubator. There was plenty of room for our eggs and it was adjustable so you could hatch quail, turkey, etc. eggs if you wanted to too!

Setting up our Chicken Egg Incubator

Brinsea 20 Incubator for homeschool science chicken egg hatching
We set-up our incubator 4 days before our eggs were scheduled to arrive to make sure we could maintain the temperature correctly – crucial in hatching chicks!
Pre-Egg Checklist:
  • Temperature: We had a forced air incubator so wanted to keep the temperature at the top of the eggs at 99.5 F (it is 101.5 if you have a still air incubator)
  • Humidity: We needed to fill both ditches 2/3rds up with water to get the humidity up to  40-50%.
  • Where to put it:We put our incubator on the kitchen counter so we could keep a good eye on it. It was out of direct sunlight, drafts, and where no one would bother or accidently upset it.
  • This hydrometer was super helpful in checking the humidity. We were able to turn it on & leave it on for 22 days and the batteries are still going strong!
Note: In the Brinsea 20 you open a panel at the top to adjust the temperature as needed. There is also a built in mercury based thermometer that is incredibly accurate.

Hatching Chicken Eggs Arrive

Hatching Chicken Eggs Arrive  Hatching Chicken Eggs Arrive
We are so excited the eggs have finally arrived! The eggs were carefully packaged individually in bubble wrap pockets.

Note: Always wash your hands before and after handling eggs throughout the entire process. Eggs are porous and germs from your hand can get in through the shell and infect the chick!

Our First Disappointment: Lots of errors in Shipment - UGH!

Out of the 20 we ordered there was 1 cracked egg, all 3 Black Austrolorp eggs missing, and all 5 Easter Eggers Missing.YIKES that is 40% of our order they messed up! This is the first time I realized their website did not have a telephone number listed – oh no! Luckily I found their facebook page and the person did get back to me quickly. They messed up.

They offered to reship everything, but it would have been another couple months, that would have meant throwing away all the eggs we had, the kids would have been so disappointed,  and the new hatch timing wasn’t good. And honestly, who’s to say they’d get it right the next time! They also offered to just refund me for the missing eggs, but now what!  They need to all be within weeks of each other to work well as a flock and set-up their pecking order without a lot of hassle of introducing them and having two areas to do that (which I don’t in my small suburbia backyard).

We decided to take the partial refund and hatch what we got. Then I ordered day old chicks from My Pet Chicken to arrive the week of our hatch. (They were very knowledgeable and helpful! More on the day old chicks next time!)
hatching chicken eggs at homes

So here is our {partial} egg order. We placed the eggs in our tray with the pointed end down. See the pencil markings on the top? Those are from Gabbard Farms so we’d know what egg was what breed.  Now we were to leave them sit on the counter undisturbed for 18-24 hours to allow the eggs to acclimate and rest.
hatching chicken eggs at homes

It’s finally time to stick the eggs in the incubator! If everything goes right…. in 21 days we’ll get to watch the miracle of watching them hatch. Here is Goofy, super excited about those eggs!

Taking Care of Chick Eggs in an Incubator

  • Maintain temperature 99.5 F and humidity at 40-50% for day 1-18
  • Turn the eggs 3-5 times a day (this helps the yolk to stay centered in the egg. A mother hen naturally knows to do this when she is brooding her own chicks!
  • You can candle your eggs with a small flashlight to see if your chicks are growing. This is not mandatory, it is FUN! You can candle on day 7, 14, and 18 (before lockdown). Remember your eggs want to be warm & cozy so don’t go overboard.scoping the inside of a chicken egg to look for signs of growth
We had a Brinsea Ovascope which was fantastic for easy candling with kids. It even had the ability to attach to your computer to project the image for a classroom setting! Unfortunately, we never saw anything. I had convinced myself it was just me…. but after our hatch I know the reason we saw nothing was there was nothing developing =(

Day 18 :

  • Temperature – same as the entire hatch 99.5 F for forced air
  • Humidity - we filled both the ditches up all the way with water and even had to add 2 moist sponges to get the humidity up to 70%
  • STOP TURNING! You want to leave the eggs alone so they can get in the right position and prepare to hatch.
  • Don’t open the lid unless absolutely necessary! You don’t want the temperature or humidity to drop and chance hurting your chicks!
January 2013 1117

Hatch Day: (aka Disappointing Hatch Day!)

Well, Day 21 came and went – no piping……. no chicks! I still held out hope as sometimes a hatch can be a couple days later, but finally called it. We opened up every single egg hoping to at least see something. Nothing!

We knew a successful hatch was 50%. We knew you had to be super vigilant with your temperature and humidity settings. We knew to not ‘bother’ the eggs. 

So our only conclusion is that we received infertile eggs or the eggs were irreparably shaken in shipping. Either way, I will not be ordering from Gabbard farms again. Too many issues to warrant another go around with them. 

If you do decide to hatch eggs:

  • Get them locally (less shipping is better) if possible
  • Get them in the Spring - I’ve also read that spring eggs have a better hatch rate (stronger) - so try to get eggs in March/April
  • Get mailed eggs from My Pet Chicken - We’ve been very impressed with them. They do get backed up quickly so you’ll need to order your eggs by January if not sooner to get your pick of dates/breeds.

Don’t worry, our dream of having backyard chickens isn’t done!

Next up…. Backyard Chickens 101: Caring for Chicks

Backyard Chickens 101 Series - Step by step directions on how to raise your own backyard chickens

Additional Hatching Chicks Resources:

1 comment:

  1. just a thought on this, try a dry incubation next time, much higher success rate. not sure why, but the outcome has been much better.