With the idea of having backyard chickens becoming more and more popular, you may want to start with chicks. Here’s a guest post from The Homesteading Hippy on how to get ready for them:
Getting ready for new chicks requires some equipment. If you are mail ordering the chicks from a company, the best time for northern climates is usually late March -May. You will want to order them approximately 4 weeks before the day you want to start them. Pullets need about 6 months of growth before they will start laying, so you will want to keep that in mind.
If you are ordering from a mail order company, you will want to notify your local post office to expect a live animal shipment. In my area, they will not deliver these and you have to pick them up yourself. It’s usually very early in the morning, and they would prefer you get them right away to avoid any issues.
Hatching a clutch, or group, of eggs yourself sounds more difficult than it really is. You will need one of two things: a broody hen, which is a hen that is ready to sit on a clutch of eggs until they hatch, or an incubator. Of course, you will need to have fertilized eggs to be successful in this. And the only way to get fertilized eggs is by having a rooster. If you don’t have a rooster, check and see if a friend who has one will be willing to swap eggs with you. You will need to grab the eggs and NOT put those in the fridge. As little as 2-3 eggs can be a clutch.
If you have a broody hen, she will most likely hatch them for you, and you will not need to do anything, except make sure she has food and water. A way to tell if a hen is broody is that she likes to sit in the nesting boxes for loooooong periods of time, gets rather crabby with you when you go to collect eggs, and generally stays away from the other birds at times. Silkie and Cochin hens are best known for their brooding ability and willingness to sit on a clutch of eggs to hatch. It takes 21 days to hatch a clutch of eggs, and if the hen is doing it for you, your job is easy. We actually have an old dog house that is our broody home, and when our Silkie girl (Ace is her name) gets broody, we put her in there with food and water so she has quiet. We’ve done this 3 times now, each Spring. Unfortunately, Ace gets bored around day 17, and refuses to sit any longer. Or the eggs were not going to make it. Whatever the reason, we have not successfully hatched a clutch of eggs by hen ourselves.
I have known several people who do it this way, with great results, so don’t give up trying. I have talked with them, and they say the success rate is about 75%, meaning if you want to have 3 new chicks, you should probably have 4 eggs under the hen. Contrary to older cartoons, hens are not always able to keep up with more than 5-7 eggs in a clutch.
Using an incubator is just as easy, although it does require electricity. You just put your fertilized eggs in there, start the machine, and it automatically turns the eggs for you, keeping it at the proper heat and humidity to hatch.
Of course, there are going to be eggs that aren’t fertilized, and there are going to be eggs that just won’t hatch. Around days 7-14, you can candle the eggs to see if there is anything growing.
Just completely darken the room you are in, and hold a flashlight in one hand, and cup the egg over the light. You should be able to see right through the egg, and know if you are going to have a chick or not. If you don’t see a chick forming by now, you can toss that egg, and start over with a different one.
You can read more about backyard chickens in Heather’s ebook The Urban Chicken.