Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A Small Scale Hatchery

As my stock of garden poultry was somewhat depleted last year (don't mention the fox) I thought I would have a go at raising some of my own chicks this year. I've done this before and it's always an exciting thing to do, although it can be disappointing and a bit sad if all does not go well. I would very much prefer to use the services of a broody hen, who would happily sit on the eggs for three weeks, and then look after the chicks until they were big enough to manage on their own, but since I don't have one, the incubator is the next best thing.
Cleanliness is definitely next to godliness with incubators - it's amazing to me that hens produce healthy hearty broods of chicks in general farmyardy unsanitariness, whereas if you tried to replicate that in an incubator you would almost certainly fail dismally. Everything has to be sanitized properly before you start. I use Brinsea Incubator disinfectant specially made for the purpose, and I don't recommend using anything else.  Switch the incubator on at least a day before you need it, so that it can get up to an even temperature. My Brinsea Octagon has a rocking cradle integrated into it, which is not to rock the embyos to sleep or anything, but to ensure that the eggs are turned regularly which is essential to their development. (Another job the broody hen does on her own).

So that's the incubator. Now you need some eggs. Lots of people who keep the older breeds of chicken will sell hatching eggs in the spring. Unless you're seriously into breeding you probably won't want to keep your own cockerel so it's easier to buy fertile eggs when you want them. Ebay is a good place to look and I've had some good eggs via ebay in the past.

This time I was looking for some good birds that would provide me with a supply of lovely brown eggs, and possibly the odd cockerel for the pot, and having looked on the Over the Gate country forum, I found a nice lady called Sue who keeps a lovely strain of English Cuckoo Marans, (as opposed to the French Marans, which can be discerned by their tendency to have hairy legs. Well they're feathery legs really but who can resist a joke about the french). If the eggs are clean, and these were, you can put them straight into the incubator. If they arrive in the post, as mine did, you need to allow them to rest in a cool, but not cold room for 24 hours, before setting them. Some people like to dip them in the sanitizer, and some people don't. I dipped mine breifly and dried them carefully before setting them in the incubator
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All that I have to do now is to check on the eggs each day, to see that the temperature and humidity levels are correct, and keep my fingers crossed for three weeks time when there should be a patter of tiny feet, or a tapping of tiny beaks, or something. I've had failures before though with the incubator,and I would feel a lot more confident with a broody, so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

Thanks for everyone who wished us well for the Community Garden Open Day. I'm pleased to say it went very well and we are working towards getting the project launched in the coming months. Updates to follow. 

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