Backyard Chickens, Part 7

In the previous installment, I addressed allowing a broody hen to set fertile eggs and then mother the resulting chicks.  There are times when that won’t work, though.

Hens are usually not triggered to broodiness until the weather warms up and the number of daylight hours increase in the spring.  If that doesn’t fit your timetable (you are offered hatching eggs at a time when no hen is broody or your hen has recently become a raccoon’s dinner-  which has happened to us), you may opt to use an incubator to hatch them.

Which One?

There are lots of brands and price ranges for incubators.  Feed stores often sell them.  I can tell you from experience, though, that you may as well not bother with one unless it has an automatic egg turner, a thermometer, and a fan.

How Do You Use One?

Eggs must remain at a pretty steady temperature and humidity.  They also must be turned several times a day, usually an odd number of times.  That is a lot of work without a turner.

Our Experiences

Early in our chicken-raising experience, I bought some fertile eggs for a beautiful rare breed of chicken.  I very dutifully kept the water reservoir filled and turned all the eggs (36 of them, I believe!) three times a day since I had bought the lowest end model that had neither fan nor turner.  After 21 days of devotion, nothing hatched.  I was so disappointed.

A couple more days later, a few began to “pip,” (crack through the shell with their “egg teeth”), but not a one survived.  Some never fully emerged from their shells before dying and a couple were very spraddle-legged and died soon after.  I was very frustrated and sad.

I tried it again with turkey eggs, determined to turn them faster each time so I let out less heat.  (Turkey eggs take 28 days of devotion!).  Exactly one hatched.  Poor little thing was so lonely.  They are flocking birds and he had none of his own kind.

I tried putting him in with some chicks, but he was always quite imprinted on me.  This was sweet in a way, but could also be inconvenient.  More than once when I was out in the driveway about to leave, he suddenly flew up to land on my shoulder with dirty feet.  Changing shirts when I had somewhere to be was not ideal.  It would have been a much bigger problem if he had continued to want to do this as he grew into a 20 lb adult.  Unfortunately, a hawk got him right out of the yard in broad daylight.  (Predators of one kind or another are a constant issue, but that is a topic for another time).


Some people I know have had good success with incubators and I would be willing to try one again if it had both fan and automatic turner.  Short of that, I will save myself the aggravation.

Final note

One thing I will mention is that using a broody hen, I have even had success with hatching out eggs that were shipped to me from halfway across the country.  As long as they are kept at a medium temperature and not jostled too much, the tiny embryo can remain in a state of suspension for a few days after being laid.  This allows the mother hen to amass a nestfull before getting down to the business of setting.

I have purchased eggs on Ebay and from  The seller wrapped each egg in bubble wrap and also lined the box with more bubble wrap.  Some of the hatcheries sell fertile eggs too.

In the next installment, I will discuss the qualities of a good rooster and reasons why you may want to have one if your zoning allows it.

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