Always a popular activity in Spring, the year 2020 has seen a record number of people wanting to hatch chicks at home. This increase is partly due to the COVID-19 lockdown, which has had parents tearing their hair out looking for projects to entertain children in their homes, and hatching chicks fits the bill. A fun project, yes, but not without its pitfalls.
We would like to share our vast experience of hatching and rearing chicks at Durham Hens to ensure hatching is a good experience for you.
Firstly, you’ll need an incubator to keep the fertile eggs at a constant 37.5°C for 21 days until the eggs hatch. This is often where the biggest mistake is made. You can find incubators online for as little as £20 including delivery, which sounds great, but many of these do not keep a constant temperature, and some are fire hazards. You’re likely to waste all the money spent on the incubator and eggs, and have disappointed children. It is worth investing in a reliable incubator, such as the Brinsea range which starts at £79.
Where you place the incubator in your home is important. It should not be in direct sunlight, near a radiator or in a draft. The room should be kept at a pleasant temperature and should not fluctuate between day and night. Any one of these factors can prevent incubators from keeping the constant temperature that eggs require.
Test your incubator is working correctly. Place a medical thermometer where the eggs will be placed and check that it is the same as the reading on the display. If not, adjust the thermostat so that the medical thermometer inside the incubator reads 37.5°C. An incorrect display reading is a frequent problem encountered by novice hatchers.
Once you’re happy with your set up, you’ll need to source some fertile eggs. Durham Hens is the largest supplier of mail-order fertile eggs in the UK, sending out hundreds per day at peak times. The eggs are posted in cardboard boxes, with purpose-made soft foam inserts which cushion and protect the eggs from damage. We constantly check the fertility of our breeding stock by candling their eggs in our hatchery, and only send out eggs that we know have a good chance of developing into chicks.
When you start out, you need to have realistic expectations. Even with a good incubator in a suitable place, you may find that not all of the eggs will hatch. Some eggs may not have been fertilised, some may not develop properly and some chicks may not make it out of the egg.
A 100% hatch rate is exceptional, a 75% hatch rate is good, a 50% hatch rate is OK. Less than 50% points to a problem with either the eggs, the incubator, or its setting. When the incubation process works well, we expect customer to hatch four or five live chicks from six eggs.
If things go badly wrong, such as a power cut or incubator failure, Durham Hens usually have young chicks available for sale.
It is probable that some of the chicks you’ll hatch will be male. Male chicks grow into cockerels – that will crow. If you are unable to keep cockerels where you live, please ensure that you can either rehome them or dispatch them humanely. If you can’t deal with this, consider buying female chicks to rear rather than eggs to hatch.
Once the chicks hatch out, they’ll need to be kept in a secure container with air holes, but no drafts. The floor surface should be non-slip as they can easily damage their legs when they are young. They’ll need a heat source, such as the Brinsea Ecoglow brooder, to keep them warm. Please note that normal room temperature is not warm enough for newly hatched chicks. They’ll also need a chick drinker with fresh water, and a chick feeder with chick crumb. Ensure the container is safe from other pets – cats, and some dogs, will kill chicks. Durham Hens stocks a brooder kit that includes everything you'll need.
Children will obviously be excited by the arrival of fluffy chicks. Show them how to handle the chicks gently and always supervise young children when they hold them. Holding too tightly or squeezing can cause internal damage.
When done properly, hatching chicks at home can be an incredible experience for the whole family, and the memory is one that will stay with children for a lifetime.
For further reading, our website contains advice pages on hatching and rearing chicks.