On my homestead, the answer to that question was the chicken. However, hatching eggs is part of the perpetual equation. On July 9, 2020, my chicks arrived from The Cackle Hatchery of Lebanon, Missouri. I chose The Cackle Hatchery because I listened to some advice Dad gave me some advice about purchasing chickens when I was growing up. He said to always buy my chickens from the reputable hatchery nearest my home. This way the chicks don’t have far to travel and will have less stress on them. I found that to be true. Out of the 50 chickens that I ordered, I received 55. Of that 55, I had 53 survive to adulthood. I have butchered (with help) a few of the roosters (with more to harvest) and still have a large flock. This past week we added five more.
On December 21, 2020, the shortest day of the year, my hens started laying their first eggs. From then on, all winter, the hens have been laying like it was summer.
On February first, just before the coldest weather so far this winter (and hopefully the coldest overall) I started incubating eggs. To incubate eggs, of course, I needed fertile eggs. Hens can lay eggs without a rooster, but they cannot get fertilized eggs without one. Because I had my chickens and oodles of roosters with them, I am certain that I had fertilized eggs.
I chose other criteria for the eggs I chose. One criterion is that I needed eggs that were as clean as possible. I chose the cleanest because eggs have a natural coating on them that protects the embryos in the egg from bacteria so I don’t want to wash them.
Also I like to choose eggs that are as round as possible. According to my Dad, his mother used to do this and 80% of the eggs that hatched were hens. I don’t know how true this will be for me, but I believe it is an experiment worth trying.
For what should be obvious reasons, I didn’t refrigerate the eggs I used for hatching. However, I needed to keep the eggs more than 24 hours before incubating, and I turned them from side to side every twelve hours until I was able to get them into the incubator. This will keep the yolk from being stuck to one side for too long. I also made sure the eggs were stored pointed end down. The pointed end should be down at all times during storage and also while in the incubator. The reason is that the chick inside will need the air pocket that is on the rounded side.
In the past, I had an incubator that did not have an egg turner with it. I had a large mortality rate with the chicks because I had to manually turn them and sometimes, I would forget. I set up the incubator in a quiet location and then plugged it in, ready for the eggs, but I ran my incubator for a few days to make certain that everything was working properly. I kept tabs on my humidity levels and be certain that the humidity levels don’t go below 50%. Next, I put the eggs in the incubator pointed end down. I put an “x” on one side and an “o” on the other so that as it turns automatically, I’d be able to tell if the turner was working properly. I kept this up until the eggs had been incubated for 18 days. Also, I checked humidity and temperature levels daily.
On day eight, I carefully took out each egg and used the candling light on the incubator in a dark room to check to see if a chicken embryo was growing. If I saw a large mass inside the egg, it meant that an embryo was growing if I saw air pockets through the egg, there was no embryo, and I discarded that egg. Also, I removed any broken or cracked eggs.
On day 18, I stopped turning the eggs and around day 21 I started hearing some peeping inside the eggs. However, I knew that I did not want to open the incubator anymore for any reason. I didn’t lift the incubator hood because I didn’t want to get any cold air or any bacteria in it and I didn’t want to bother the chick either.
I left the chicks alone and knew not to try to help the chick peck its way out of the shell. I knew that it won’t survive if I did. In some cases, hours pass before a chick busts through its egg completely. I allowed them to dry completely before I put them in the brooder box.
I wasn’t worried about keeping the chicks in the incubator too long, especially since the weather had been so cold lately. Chicks can remain in the incubator for up to 48 hours. I, however, kept them in there only about 24 hours after hatching.
On day 18, I set up the brooder in a packing box next to the incubator. I put several layers of newspaper at the bottom of the box and set up a heat lamp. I filled the chick waterer and had it at room temperature before moving chicks into the box. I also filled the feeder with food in it ready for the chicks.
Yes, five chicks hatched from this first batch. The youngest didn’t hatch out until day 24 and unfortunately he did not survive. This first batch I am keeping for our use, but from here on out, I hope to hatch chicks to sell as well.
I have the second batch of eggs in the incubator right now. My ability to raise chickens perpetually has now been made possible.
The Perpetual Homestead Series
As mentioned in my first post Becoming a Perpetual Homesteader, one of the books that I will be writing for The Perpetual Homesteader series is The Perpetual Chicken House. Feel free to ask any questions because I would love to help! Ask your questions in the comments below.