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Incubating and raising baby chicks: five things you need to think about.

So you want to try incubating chicken eggs? Great! It can be an amazing experience. But if you're not prepared, it can turn into your worst nightmare. 

5 questions to ask before you incubate and hatch your own eggs - link.

So I'm going to start by trying to put you off.

Why?

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.

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 "Awwwww" factor. 

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.

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.

Everyone loves a baby chick!

A gold coloured light Sussex chick at three days old - what's not to love?One of my Light Sussexes at 3 days old - what's not to love?
The same Light Sussex chick at 5 weeks.The same baby just 5 weeks later, losing down and growing feathers. How she's grown!

But are you ready for this?

Watch my short video for the reality of what it's like to have a chicken brooder in the house.

It's a shame video can't communicate smell because, trust me, the smell in my bathroom was not pleasant. So watch the video, listen to my words and decide whether you could put up with this in your house!

Think you could deal with that? OK - then let's move on!


Question 1: what will you do with chicks who turn out to be male?

Do you want to have roosters in your flock?

You may be lucky and hatch nothing but hens. Wonderful!

In all the time I've been incubating and hatching, that has never happened to me. Ever. At best, I've had 70% hens and 30% roosters. Once, I hatched a clutch of 6 chicks, of which 4 were male.

Remember that cute fluffy chick in the pic above? We called "her" Sassy, because "she" was. And then, one morning, she began to make the strange, strangled sound that can only come from a rooster developing his crow...

This is Sassy. That cute, fluffy little chick grew up to be a handsome, noisy roo.

  • You cannot tell whether eggs are going to turn out male or female. At hatch, if you incubate sex-linked breeds like the Speckled Sussex, you'll be able to tell which is which. Then what? 

And then there's the time when the hormones kick in.

  • How do you feel about your hens being constantly damaged by an over-zealous male? How would you react when your amazing-looking rooster decides he needs to guard his flock - which he's genetically programmed to do - by attacking you every time you go into the run?

Because, trust me on this, it hurts. A lot. Those spurs are sharp, and strong. It can make collecting eggs and spending time with your hens a much less pleasant experience. Not every roo becomes a guard-chicken - but many do. That's their job. They're not "bad" or "aggressive" - they're protectors.

This is one of the most serious issues with hatching your own chicks. Before you start, be very, very sure that you can either keep them or find homes for them.

Culling males because you haven't thought things through properly is not acceptable.

If you don't have an answer to this please - don't even think about incubating!


Question 2: time and money.

My next question for you starts before we even look at the process of incubation. It is:

"Are you absolutely sure you have the time, patience, energy and money 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?

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...

What about money?

Eggs: a backyard flock can produce a good number of eggs - but they don't come free!

Incubating can be costly - and so can eggs!

Leaving the eggs or chicks themselves aside for a moment - there's all the things you have to buy for a successful incubation and for life after hatching, in the brooder.

Think about it.

  • And everyone wants to give their baby chickens treats...
  • Then there's the brooder, bedding, 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.

And 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!


Question 3: Are you prepared for when incubating goes wrong?  Have you prepared your children or grandchildren or students?

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.

Are you ready, when candling an incubated egg, to find a blood ring? How will you explain it to your children?

Sometimes a chick hatches but has severe physical problems. Are you willing to cull a chick if her problems are just too overwhelming for her to have a good quality of life?

And sometimes a chick can die at the very point of hatch, or soon afterwards. Hatching is 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?


Question 4: What about problem hatches?

There are those who hatch successfully but are too weak to stand, or who arrive with a spraddled leg, or wry neck, a crossed beak, or develop "pasty butt". 

A chick with 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?


Question 5: What about brooding?

Think back to that video I shared earlier. If you didn't watch it, watch it now.

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.

A bathroom 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. Depending on breed and weather, it can be closer to eleven weeks. 

They need to be too large for birds of prey (or even crows) to take, large enough to withstand bullying from the rest of your flock, and they need to have enough feathers to keep them warm without a heat source

Moving outside in summer months can be an issue if there's extreme heat. Chicks have more trouble than adults controlling their temperature.

Chicks can quickly die of cold, too. So unless you have somewhere warm for them to live you'll have a problem on your hands.

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? 

Because trust me, as chicks start to grow, they smell. A lot.

Does it worry you if the bathroom you thought would be a nice, warm place for your chick-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 as I pointed out earlier, in the in the video, I cleaned this place. Every. Single. Day.


The decision is yours!

Now, if you've thought about all this and it's fine with you, that's great - let's prepare 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 more. Take my quiz to see whether your family is really ready to keep chickens.

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!

Baby chicks

Want to incubate?

Click this link to find out more about my 'Hatching Happy Chickens' page.

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 pic.  


More information about preparing to incubate chicken eggs.

How to prepare properly for a successful hatch - link.

So you've made the decision that you want to hatch some chicks of your own. Great! Now you need to know what to do to prepare.

From choosing and buying eggs to knowing how to choose the best quality for a successful hatch, this series of articles is where you need to go next.

Don't start to incubate before you read them!


If you liked this page, you may also be interested in these.

Incubating eggs - faqs - link.
How to find fertile eggs for incubating - link.
How to choose your perfect chicken egg incubator - link.
Over 100 possibilities for chick names - link.
Chicks in the brooder - link.
What do baby chicks eat? Link.

If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, I'd love you to let me know by clicking this button - thank you!


Thank you for sharing the chicken love! 

Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.