Broody Hen versus Incubator

Broody Hen versus Incubator… which is better?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?  And if you’ve been following my blog for the last two years, you know that I love to give my broody hens eggs and take pictures of them with their babies.  

But this year, we did something different.  Little Dude wanted to hatch eggs for a 4-H Embryology project, so we ordered him some eggs from My Pet Chicken.  (I have ordered from them before, when Abby got her Easter Eggers.   I should do a blog post about both experiences sometime soon, for those who might want to check out their services. Or not.)  But for this project, he had to incubate them rather than our usual method of just giving the eggs to the broody hen.  

As luck would have it, however, we also had a hen go broody at the same time as we purchased the eggs.  Rapunzel, a one year old Buff Orpington hen.  She’s the bigger of my two Orps, and a little standoffish around me, but not mean or skittish.  

It was decided that we would give Rapunzel ½ the eggs and the Incubator ½, in an attempt to see which method yielded the better hatch.   And then, since supposedly, they were all hatching at the same time, we could give Rapunzel the ‘bator chicks, by sneaking them under her at night while she slept.  

I’m going to tell you… it’s been a LONG twenty-two days for us.  

Before I go into the details, let’s discuss the pros and cons of  both hens and incubators.  

Using A Hen to Hatch Your Eggs

Pros:  

  • The hen does ALL the work for you.    For real.  The mother hen uses her body to control temperature and humidity, sense when it’s too hot, too cold, and plucking out feathers to regulate humidity by skin-to-shell contact.   She can also tell when an egg won’t hatch, so you don’t really need to candle unless you’re curious.  
  • The hen then raises the chicks for you.   That’s a no-brainer.  Unless you get a hen who has no mothering instinct (it happens) or is violent to the chicks (it also happens), then your mother hen will raise the chick after hatches.  
  • Chicks raised by hens have better natural chicken instincts, integrate better with your existing flock, and tend to be smarter and healthier.  

Cons:

  • Risk to eggs.  With a hen, there is a risk of the egg getting broken, knocked out of a nest, stolen by a predator, or soiled (poop, etc) which could cause hatch problems.  
  • Hen abandons the nest.  Just like that.  She goes broody one day, you give you eggs, she sits on them a while… and then she hops off and won’t come back.  It happens sometimes.  You should have an incubator as a back-up plan.
  • Hen could kill the chicks.  This also happens sometimes.  A new mother or a mean hen could kill the babies after hatching.  Always have a brooder and heat lamp/heat source ready and waiting if your hen doesn’t accept her chicks.  
  • Predators.  Self explanatory.  The eggs, chicks and hen are all vulnerable to the same predators.  Especially if they are together.  

Using an Incubator to Hatch Your Eggs

Pros:

  • Freedom to hatch eggs whenever you want.  No need to wait for a hen to decide to go broody.  No sneaking fake eggs into the nest to trick one into it, either.
  • Freedom to hatch as many eggs as you want. Or  rather, however many your incubator can hold.  
  • Safety.  Egg is safe from predators and accidents which could cause breaking.  
  • You can watch every step of the hatching process.  Because, let’s face it, that’s the cool part.  Watching them pip, and break their way out of the shell.  
  • You can control the environmental factors.  Temperature and humidity are things that need to be maintained to have a good hatch.  Even the best broody hen could be off the nest too long or some cold weather could chill the air too much… or some very hot weather heat things up too much.  A lot could happen, but an incubator?  You control.

Cons:

  • You control the environmental factors.  Yes, it’s a pro and a con.  Because we, as humans, can screw up.  Get the temp too high or the humidity too low?  Bad hatch in the making.  
  • $$$$$  Incubators, especially good ones, cost money.  And if you don’t have an egg turner, you have to buy one yourself, which costs more – OR – turn the eggs twice a by hand.  Which means opening the incubator 2x a day until Lock Down and losing much needed  heat.  With a hen, she does the turning by instinct.  
  • You need a brooder to raise the chicks in when you are done.  So after you raise your 300 chicks in your 300+ egg ‘bator, you need a brooder big enough to house them for 6 weeks, unless your intention is to sell them off as day-olds.  
  • Unforeseeable Accidents Happen.  Like your incubator malfunctioning.  Or losing electricity due to a storm or equipment failure at the main power source.  Anything that lowers the temps in that incubator can kill your chicks.  

I tried to keep the pros and cons pretty much even here, and there may be some I missed.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.  I like healthy discussion.  

Now, let’s talk about Little Dude’s eggs… like I said, we ordered him eggs.  Ten of them, and then added two of our own to round off for twelve eggs.  We gave six to Rapunzel and gave six to the incubator.  

I spent three days prior to that testing the temperature of the incubator to make sure it was heating correctly and our thermometer was working accurately.  THEN I realized that we needed to gauge the humidity as well, so we purchased a digital thermometer that also did humidity.   

After the eggs were inside, I realized that keeping the humidity steady at the right temperature -(and different websites and different ‘experts’ say different things are to what humidity is right, btw.  I, however, was aiming for 45-50% humidity.  But that’s HARD to achieve when you don’t know what you’re doing, so there’s that) – was going to be the bane of my existence every day.   

Meanwhile, in the coop, other hens kept trying to lay their eggs in Rapunzel’s nest.  At least every other day, I found her with a couple new, non-fertile eggs.  

And then, the weather went from ‘high-70’s and 80’s with sun’ to mid-50’s and 60’s with rain’ and more rain and more rain.  And wind.  

The incubator eggs were pretty much unaffected, but because the rain was forcing my chicken-shit chickens into the coop all day, Rapunzel actually for forced off the nest several times between Day 14 and Day 18.  

On Day 17, however, disaster struck the Incubator in the form of a 6-hour long power outage.  I was smart not to open the incubator during that time, but the temp went from the required 99-degrees to 72 (room temp for that night).   I was on the verge and taking them out and putting them all under Rapunzel when the power came back on.  

I have been biting nails ever since.  Will they hatch, any of them?  ‘Punzel’s cold weather woes, the nest snatchers, and then an ill-timed power outage could have killed all of them.  

On Day 18, Little Dude and I candled them as per the 4-H project book’s instructions, and found 3 duds – two of Rapunzel’s and one from the ‘Bator.   We removed those, and waited for Lock Down to begin.  

Day 19… Rapunzel left her nest TWICE and I was worried that meant her ‘mother hen instincts’ were saying that the eggs were dead.   But then she rallied and hatched three of her four eggs on Day 20 and the last one yesterday on Day 21.  

The incubator wasn’t that efficient and those didn’t start pipping until late in the evening yesterday.  The first one officially hatched at 3 am on Day 22.   Two more, followed, and two…  well, at the time of writing this post had not done anything.  No pipping, no hatching.  (I’ll probably wind up tossing them out tonight.)

I’ll be honest, it was neat to watch them actually hatch – and yes, I checked every hour on the hour all night last night for pips and zips and babies.   BUT… I think I like my broody hens best.   There is nothing like knowing those eggs are in safe, confident hands.  Feathers, I mean.  

Rainy Tuesday Update

So, it’s raining today, with little patches of sunshine here and there.  The weekend was pretty much the same, but the week was pretty exciting around the barnyard and pasture.

First off… we’ve had visitors of the nasty variety.   Two fat brown woodchucks who think they own the place.   Dad shot one sneaking around the garden and caught the other in a trap he placed by their hole.

A couple of days later, we caught this opossum in the same trap.  Which means they are sharing the holes under the barn.

Dad wasn’t targeting the possum, because he read somewhere that they eat ticks. I don’t know if that’s true, but the DO eat eggs and young chicks, and can also kill adult chickens. I’m glad we are one possum less this week.

The neighbor’s white turkeys also paid a visit (which I didn’t get a picture of), but the chickens are getting used to them being around.

Ashley decided to go broody, and spent most of the weekend in Broody Jail.

Now, I know I have said in the past that I wasn’t going to use the Broody Breaker method anymore and just give my hens eggs.  But this hen is a special case.  This is Ashley – she who lost her babies 2 times in the fist week of their lives, kept leaving nest and getting too confused to go back to it, and then raised them to be neurotic weird freaks.  (example, Felix… and Perdie who STILL doesn’t trust me.)   So… no eggs for Ashley.

Besides which, Pavelle’s babies are two weeks old today and Rapunzel’s hatch/incubator babies are due to be hatching today.  Remember?  The 4-H project?   So yeah… I don’t need more babies just yet.  Especially not from a hen I don’t trust.

And while Ashley cooled out in Broody Jail, DH and Little Dude made another attempt to dry out the swampy areas in the middle of the chicken pasture.  Last year, DH made a pond.  This year, he’s spent days (and days and days) digging trenches trying to find where the underground springs run.

The chickens LOVE it because trenches mean mud, dirt, worms, bugs… stuff for them to do and see and EAT.  So they really love helping DH with his trench project.

And lastly what post would be complete without something about Pavelle and her babies?

This past week, Pavelle decided that she didn’t like the cat carrier as a nest, so she moved her babies out of it and up into one of the laying boxes.  They only sleep there at night, because the other thing they REALLY discovered this week was the great outdoors.  She takes them into the tunnels, the run and even into the barnyard.  They have not yet ventured into the greater chicken pasture, but still, the spend a good portion of the day outside, getting whatever yummies nature has to offer.   Whatever it is, they always have full crops when I see them, so it must be good.  🙂

This is Feather Butt, aka The One With The Feathered Feet. If you look closely…
… I *think* Feather Butt might also have a mini-crest. It’s not as pronounced as Pavelle’s was, but it sure looks like one to me, there on the top of his/her head.

 

Happy 2nd Week-aVersary, little Pavelle-Babies!

Broody/Baby Watch – the One With the Feathered Toes 

This will be the last “broody watch” post, as there are no more babies to be had. Pavelle’s wee little ones were getting restless so I went and candled the remaining two eggs. You could see something watery sloshing around inside each. Rotten yolks. Yuck! Rather than risk them breaking overnight, we chucked them and moved Pavelle and the babies to their new nest on the floor. Which, happily, Pavelle accepted. Hopefully, the overnight sleep will help her to feel at home there with the little ones. It has food, water and shelter. All the things a momma and her babies need.

And now to the title of this post – the One with the Feathered Toes.

One of Pavelle’s babies had feathered feet. For those of you who do not know, my little Pavelle is a Pavlovskaya hen, or partial Pavlovskaya.

The Pavlovskaya hen is Russia’s most ancient chicken breed. Its origins are lost in the murky depths of history, but by the time Russians began to take stock of their native chicken breeds in the late 1800s Pavlovskaya hens were already virtually extinct. Many centuries ago this breed emerged in the town of Pavlovo, a small enclave of peasants and craftsmen about 200 miles east of Moscow. The town was known for a number of unique agricultural specialties including the breeding of fighting geese, canaries, and the cultivation of lemons. Some poultry historians believe that the Pavlovkskaya hens are the foundational breed that gave rise to more recently developed crested breeds like the Polish, Barthuhners, and Brabanters.

~ Greenfire Farms – Pavlovskaya

Pavlovskaya’s have feathered feet and the very originals had five toes, it is said.  Somewhere in the recent attempts to bring them back from extinction, the fifth toe has vanished from some blood lines.

Pavelle came to me as an egg from a breeder who had a pair of what she was told were Pavlovs, but she believed them to be not-quite pure because they lacked the feathered feet.  Pavelle also has no feathers on her toesies.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw this:

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Little tufts of yellow feathers on the ankles of this wee little chick!

It means that, whatever else she is, my little Pavelle is definitely in some part Pavlovskaya, and so is this wee little babe who looks nothing like her momma in every other way.

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You can even see some feathering on her legs, too.
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Although, even close up, it looks like she’s just got wood chips stuck to her.
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I’m cute little Pavlovskaya/RiR/Comet cross, aren’t I?

Totally adorable!!! I can’t wait to see how she grows into those feathered feet!

Broody/Baby Watch – Breakfast with Momma 

Proof that Pavelle and the Mini-Me look alike.   On the left… Abby, with wee little Pavelle sitting in front.  On the right… Pavelle and Mini-Me.

The two remaining Easter Eggs have not done anything. I tell myself that today is Day 21 and official Hatch Day, so they could still do something, but there aren’t even pips, and Pavelle has pushed them to the back of the nest. I’m thinking these three might be it, but I’m willing to give it another day just in case.

Broody/Baby Watch – Pavelle’s Lock Down 

Yesterday was Day 19 for Pavelle and her sweet baby eggs and that means Lock Down.

For those of you who do not know about hatching eggs, a chicken egg takes twenty-one days to hatch. The last three days, Days 19-21, are what people who use incubators call ‘lock down days’ because under no circumstances are you supposed to open the incubator on those days, until the last chick has hatched.  This is because in those last three days, the babies do the most growing in preparation to come out of their shells.

When I let my hens sit on eggs, I make sure not to mess with them during those days, so they can do their own thing.

Yesterday, I went to check for eggs and discovered that Pavelle had a brown egg sticking out from under her.  She frequently steals other hens eggs from neighboring nests.  She had TWO brown eggs, actually… but was also missing one of her her six eggs.   I didn’t see signs of eaten shell, but one of the brown eggs I had retrieved from under her had yolk on it, so I assumed the worst.

I know what happened to it now, and I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first…

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I found this little Easter Egger chick this morning, on Day 20.  It is a bright yellow with brown/black on the top of it’s head, with puffy little EE cheeks.

I found this

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I know I am a cutie 🙂

Pavelle actually had a total of three chicks under her this morning when I left the coop – two of her Pavlov-mix babies and one Easter Egger. There are two EE remaining. Given this is Day 20, and hatch day is technically tomorrow, I won’t worry too much about the other eggs until Wednesday or Thursday.

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I set her up with some food and water, in the nest with her to discourage other hens from trying to sit with her in the nest (because that is another reason she keeps getting other hen eggs. They are trying to ‘share’ the nest with her.)

Hopefully, at least one of the other eggs will hatch. The one is EE#2 and we all know I have been iffy about the contents of that one.

This morning when I removed the broken eggs shells from under her, I discovered the missing Pavelle-egg. It apparently tried to hatch YESTERDAY on Day 19, and died. I found it half-buried in the bedding under Pavelle and the live chicks. 😦

I’m used to having them hatch on Day 20 or 21. Day 19 might be a little too early?

I will report back tomorrow with (hopefully) the last chicks and pics of all of them.  Pavelle is a bite-y momma, so it’s hard to get pics of them right now.

 

Your Eggs Have Shipped

4Heggs

The hatching eggs for Little Dude’s 4-H hatching eggs have shipped.  According to the tracking information, they will be here sometime Tuesday, via USPS.  So… probably between 1 -2 p.m.

I have set up the incubator and am testing it now. It needs to be at 99.5 degrees fFahrenheit and I’m not sure about the humidity.  We don’t have a humidity tester, so I couldn’t tell anyway.  I’ve read that if you’re using shipped eggs, you should let them sit 12-24 hours before putting them in the incubator.   So this means I have a couple days to successfully test the incubator we borrowed, and if I don’t like how it runs, head out to Tractor Supply to get a new one.

 

 

Broody Watch – Candling Pavel’s Eggs 

Today marked the end of the first week for Pavelle and her eggs.   With the exception of Abby’s first-time hatch, I have been candling once a week leading up to Lock Down, to give me a better idea of how many chicks to anticipate.   Nothing was more disappointing than finding out Ava’s egg was infertile and that Pip was destined to be a singleton chick. (Of course, he has made up for it by being a good big brother to Abby’s subsequent hatches, so there is that.)

In preparation for Little Dude’s 4-H eggs, I have made a first time attempt at photographing the eggs as we candled them.

It’s only a week out and it’s kind of difficult at this point to accurately predict.  Also, the darker the egg shell, the harder it is to really tell what’s going on in there.

Luckily for Pavelle, her eggs are white-shelled and came out fairly clear.  You can see signs of development in all three eggs, which is promising.

Padme’s Easter Egger greens, however, are difficult.  I had a hard time with them when we gave some to Abby, too.   #1 and #3 are dark, with an outline.  This is how Abby’s EE eggs were, the ones that hatched.  I didn’t see much in the way of veins or anything with those very dark ones, but I got babies out of them.  I’m going to say, for now, that they have babies.  #2 — appears to be clear and empty.  I don’t see anything at all going on in there.  I’m going to wait until next Tuesday to level a final verdict on it.

But for now, I’m predicting five chicks.