By Frederick J. Dunn
When it comes to chicken ownership, most new comers purchase their birds from local hatcheries, receive them from friends, or buy in as day olds from mail order companies such as Murray McMurray, Stromberg's game birds, or any number of long standing respected names in the business.For the chicken, duck, guinea or other poultry enthusiast, once you own your birds and they are mature, you have other options to perpetuate your flock, or increase its number. If your birds are healthy, of pure stock and not too far from the APA Standard of Perfection (assuming your breed is in the standard), you may consider hatching your own. Selective breeding is how we preserve the traits we find most desirable. The flock owner has a responsibility not to breed from young, or stock demonstrating disqualifying/undesirable traits. A flock is strengthened or weakened by this informed selective breeding process.
Many of those reading this article, have some early memory of watching a chick hatch, possibly in pre-school, or elementary school. It's a memorable event, and for me, one that is as fresh as yesterday... watching that chick break from its seemingly lifeless encasement. A chick hatches and each time, it seems a miracle to those who've seen it. I hatch every week during the hatching season, here at Fred's Fine Fowl and it never gets old. Few things are more fascinating than witnessing the emergence of new life. I love handling warm bright eyed baby chicks!
YOU, can do it... there are two methods for hatching fertile eggs, one is to make use of a broody hen, the other and topic of this article, is artificial incubation. My Grandfather in Vermont, used a gas heated incubator and brooder, this gave way to something called the Electric Hen and now, more popular units like the Little Giant, Brower Top Hatch or Lyons incubators. Hobby incubators are widely available and very affordable, averaging from $45.00 for a still air unit, $75.00 for a forced air unit and extras like automatic turners may be added, bringing a fully outfitted forced air, automatic turning incubator, for $110.00 (prices are approximate).
What incubator is right for you? Well, budget is probably your primary concern... a table top incubator like the Lyons may run over $600.00 and not necessary for the hobbyist, styrofoam units may provide years of service, if properly cared for.
When looking at incubators, you may be baffled by some of the terms, so I will review the basics. A still air incubator will be the least expensive... still air, simply means that the air within the incubator is not moved by a fan, but by convection, heated air rising and fresh air coming through small vent holes. This is the least complicated and least stable incubator. Normally incubating at 102 deg. F. Air is stratified, with variances in temperature, depending on the level within the incubator. The top of an egg may be at 103, while the bottom of the same egg may be at 98 or 99 deg. F.
Next up is the forced air incubator; forced air units have internal fans, which re-circulate the heated air, maintaining even temperatures at every level in the incubator. The source of heat may be a light bulb, or heating element with solid state controls. These units are operated at 99.5 deg. F in general and utilize more electricity than the still air units.
Incubating eggs requires that the eggs be turned circa 180 degrees several times each day. If this is a hatching unit at school, someone will have to come in several times a day during weekends and days where there is no school in session. At times, there is a custodian available? Or, you can purchase a unit with an automatic turner, automatic turners turn your eggs by rolling, or tilting them generally once each hour 24/7 and is the most dependable method for preventing the embryo from sticking to the side of the egg interior.
For complete and detailed guidance regarding incubation, I refer you to the DVD Regarding Chickens. Click the link to purchase.
Frederick J. Dunn is a retired Navy man and a life long poultry man. He raises bees, emu and chickens in rural PA and is the author of the DVD Regarding Chickens. Fred is a contributor to Mother Earth News. Check out his website: www.fredsfinefowl.com to learn more about him.
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