So you want to try incubating chicken eggs? Great! It can be an amazing experience.
But I'm going to start by trying to put you off.
Because as the saying goes (almost) : "With great chickens comes great responsibility". And with baby chicks you can multiply that by at least ten.
Now, it may be that you think you've thought about this all you need to. But bear with me - I still want you to read on. Honestly - it could save you a lot of heartache in the future.
One of my Light Sussexes at 3 days old - what's not to love?
Everyone loves a baby chick in the same way that everyone loves a cuddly
kitten or puppy. They're cute. They small. They're fluffy. And they have a definite
And then, they grow up.
They become large, often noisy, hungry, very efficient poop machines who need looking after - and they reach that stage incredibly quickly.
Here's that very same baby at 5 weeks old. How she's grown! She looks a bit messy because she's losing her down and getting her feathers.
It may be that you've thought about keeping poultry for years. You've considered everything, you know what the legal implications are and you've asked yourself all the right questions about how a flock will fit in with your family.
That's great too. But I still want you to read on.
My very first question for you in this series about hatching starts before we look at the process of incubation at all and it's this :
"Are you absolutely sure you have the time, the patience and the energy for chickens?"
Not the tiny little fluffies who hatch from your eggs, but the adults who will depend on you for their food, water, health and a safe place to live for several years?
Here's that same chick at just 9 weeks old - trying her best to empty the food bin!
I don't really want to put you off. I just want you to be sure. I love incubating - it's one of the most fascinating and satisfying experiences you can have, and if you have children or grandchildren it's a wonderful experience for them too. But.
Incubating can be costly - and so can eggs!
But leaving the
eggs or chicks themselves aside for a moment - there's all the things
you have to buy. Think about it.
The incubators. The candlers. The waterers. The feeders - and the feed. The brooder and the heat lamp for when the chicks have hatched, not to mention the coop for when they're old enough.
Add to that the potential veterinarian bills and you have a drain on your money which you'd have to have a lot of eggs to make up for.
A quick word of warning here - if you are thinking of having chickens to give you free food, think again.
Home-laid eggs are wonderful - and far healthier for you than the mass-produced factory farmed ones - but they do not come free!
Incubating can be heartbreaking. Successful hatches don't
automatically happen, even if you do everything right. Sometimes eggs
just aren't fertile. Sometimes they're fertile and start to develop but
die very quickly afterwards, for reasons which aren't always
understandable. Sometimes a chick hatches but has severe physical
And sometimes she can die at the very point of hatch, or soon afterwards. It's a complex process and a newly hatched chick is fragile. A lot can go wrong, even if you're experienced. Are you ready for that? Are your kids?
There are those who hatch successfully but are too weak to stand, or who arrive with a spraddled leg, or a crossed beak, or with wry neck or "pasty butt".
How do you feel about having to try to correct those things? Are you squeamish about cleaning off a chick's poop? Have you researched how to deal with problems? Could you deal with your childrens' tears?
Those tiny balls of fluff soon grow. Within a few days they have started to grow wing feathers and within two weeks at most, they'll be experimenting with flying. Not far, and not for long - but they will, eventually, fly out of your brooder.
If you have several chicks at once you'll discover that within three weeks (at most) they will have outgrown the brooder which you thought would last them for at least a couple of months.
And they can't safely go outside until they're a minimum of eight weeks old, usually closer to eleven.
They need to be too large for birds of prey (or even crows) to
take, and they need to have enough feathers to keep them warm. It's not so much a problem in warm summer months but unless you have somewhere warm for them to live you'll have a problem on your hands.
So where will you keep them until then? Have you got somewhere outside which you can keep warm? Or will you have to keep them in your house? And if so, do you really mind your lovely house smelling of chicken poop?
Does it worry you if the
bathroom you thought would be a nice, warm place for your babies becomes
a place you don't want to look at?
Here's a picture of how my bathroom looked when one of my hatches were at last able to go outside at eight weeks.
It was a scene of devastation - and trust me, I cleaned this place. Every. Single. Day.
It's a shame video can't communicate smell because, trust me, the smell in my bathroom was not a good one. So watch the video, listen and decide whether you could put up with this in your house!
Now, if you've thought about all this and it's fine with you, that's
great - let's start to incubate. But if there's any single part of it
you're unsure about, my advice would be - wait. Think about it some
more. Talk to your family. Ask what they think. And then think some
I know you might feel frustrated with all this thinking - but trust me with this - it's absolutely critical. Whatever your final decision is, you'll thank me for it one day.
And if, after due consideration, you decide that despite everything it will all be worth it then - let's start incubating!
If you're not used to incubating, or you have done it before but you could still use some more information, this series could be just right for you.
I take you through the process of incubation from start to hatch using expert and very detailed information, pictures, diagrams and videos - one day at a time.
To learn more, click on the picture to your left. You'll be glad you did!