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.  

Pavelle’s Babies – Week 1

Yesterday, Pavelle’s wee little chicks celebrated their One Week-aversary.  They are living happily in a cat carrier under the laying beds, with their food in the corner in front of them and a place to go for shelter.   Pavelle being as small as she is, they have room to move around freely in there.  She brings them out in the morning and afternoons, teaches them to dig and scratch in the deep litter bedding and is slowly introducing them to the other chickens.

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Little ‘Feather Butt’ – aka the one with the feathers on his feet.  This one is the biggest of the three chicks.   He/she is friendly and inquisitive, not afraid of the bigger birds or me.  And he/she stood up to Dots when he tried to tidbit with their chick feed.   Ran right up to him and cheeped in Dot’s face.  So he/she has inherited Pavelle’s bravery in the face of birds 50x his size.
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Miini- Pav.  🙂  Mini-Pav is the smallest of the three chicks, and does not yet have as pronounced wing feathers as the other two have.  He/she is also the shyest one, preferring to hang back where Feather Butt and Egger Baby will run forward.
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The Egger Baby.   The somewhere in-between middle chick.  Not the biggest, not the smallest.  Curious enough to stick her head out and look at stuff (me, the Bigs) but not brave enough to be the first one out there.

Feather Butt and Mini-Pav do not have the pronounced foreheads that their mother had as a chick.  A reminder that they are cross-breeds and not pure anything.   Pavelle likely has some Polish in with her Pavlovskaya … and Pip, of course, the Rhode Island Red and sexlink genetics.   So maybe they won’t have crests and funny hair-dos like their momma.   Or maybe they will?  Who knows at this point?

I give you – the Babies!

The weather has been up and down, and Pavelle has yet to decide if she wants to take them outside. I’ve seen her bring them to the door and peek out, but has not attempted to lead them any further.

I’ll admit, I am both excited and fearing that day and a little glad that she has not.  The last chicks I watched go outside for the first time .. vanished, and Abby kept the remaining babies hidden for the rest of the winter.     So caution on Pavelle’s part is not without good reason.

ETA:  Okay, I wrote that part up there *points up*  and then went to the barn to let everyone and THIS happened, just to prove me wrong…

 

Feather Butt was the one balking.  I finally stopped the video and went to put Mini-Pav and Egger Baby back inside because it became so obvious that Pavelle was not able to convince Feather Butt that it was, in fact, safe.   But there you have it… it’s a good bet that she will get them outside sooner rather than later.   To be fair, there is only so much she can teach them inside the coop.  The big wide world awaits!

Today marks Day 14 for Little Dude’s 4-H hatching project.We’ll be candling again tonight and on Saturday.   Sunday-Tuesday are Lockdown Days.    The incubator has been an interesting experience in frustration and balance.  Finding and KEEPING the right temperature and humidity both.  I personally like giving the eggs to broody hens.

 

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.

 

A Dreary Weekend Report

We’ve had a lot of rain the last few weeks, both actual rain and a figurative kind where everything seems to pulling down our efforts.  And weeds of all kind have been growing as the result of that rain.

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See?  Weeds!

The above weeds took up residence in my garden plots, and nurtured by all the rain we’ve had, grew and multiplied in such a way that it look me four days to weed them out.   Not four days straight, mind you, because I was doing other things all day long, too.  But for at least 3 hours every day, during the time I didn’t have to be cooking, cleaning, feeding the chickens, or running to various sports functions for the kids.  The Girl had her last track meet on Tuesday and Little Dude had two baseballs games.  So there was a lot going on in the real outside the garden.

So… four days…

It looks nice now, but I’m better I’ll be out there once more before planting because we’re getting MORE rain and that gives everything I evicted time to grow back.

The chickens benefited from the garden efforts because I would occasionally toss them a grouping of plants where the dirt just wouldn’t shake away from the roots.  (I was trying to keep good soil in the garden, after all.)  The offerings yielded leaves and flowers to nibble, big fat worms, and juicy bugs.  All of which were much enjoyed by the ladies and their boyfriends.

Tuesday was Day 14 for Pavelle and her Baby Eggs.   We celebrated by candling them again and pissing Pavelle off to the point where every time I took away an egg, she bit me.  She’s very devoted, I will give her that!

It was dark because we went later at night but here are her eggs:

Again, sorry that they aren’t as good as the first candling.  It was darker.  We did see bigger blobs inside the eggs and signs of movement.  Even that #2 Easter Egger egg I was certain was empty last time looked like *maybe* it had something in it, depending on which way I turned it.   I’m still maybe 80% sure it’s a dud, but I guess we’ll see.

Today is Day 18, and therefore tonight I will be candling for the last time before leaving Pavelle and her sweet baby eggs to their own devices.  Lock Down this weekend!

Also on Tuesday, after two days of fussing with the incubator and trying to get the temps to even out somewhere between 99-100 degrees, we placed Little Dude’s 4-H eggs in to be incubated.

But not before deciding to make an ‘experiment’ of our own, and put half the eggs in the incubator and the other half under Rapunzel, to answer the question, “which does a better job, hen or incubator?”  I’m betting on hen, because Rapunzel is very very dedicated and the humidity in the incubator keeps giving me fits.  Who knew that there was so much that could go wrong with these things?  I’m so used to just putting the eggs under the hen and letting them do the rest!

We’re going to be candling Rapunzel’s eggs and the incubator eggs today, too, because Little Dude is supposed to do it 4 times on this journey and sketch the results.  Hoping to see something, but they’ve only been in four days and I don’t usually candle until Day 7.

Wish us luck, okay?

And now… onto a bit of sad chicken news.

A few weeks ago, I posted that I was keeping my Easter Egger rooster, Luke, and because I couldn’t decide what to do about Felix, we’d try a go at four roosters.   My logic was that since we’d be doing these 4-H eggs, and would possibly have broody hens raising babies, the flock would be big enough to sustain that many roosters without problems.  And with Pavel sitting on 6 eggs and the 4-H project having 12 eggs, that seemed like a possibility.

And then Jolene got sick, and we had to put her down.

And then Maicey got hurt.  And hassled by the younger roosters who didn’t realize she was hurt and were just trying to make their presence known within the flock.

And then I started noticing that some of younger sexlink hens have started looking … abused…

AND THEN… we had a sudden drop off from 22-25 eggs a day to 14-18 eggs a day.

That’s when I came to the conclusion that my flock is NOT big enough to maintain four roosters.  In all harsh reality, until all these eggs hatch and the chicks grow up (so basically middle to end of the summer), we aren’t even ready for three roosters.  Someone had to go, for the physical and mental health of my flock.  The trouble I was running into was WHO and in what manner.

I am a self-admitted rooster addict. I love them.  I love their bright plumage and handsome faces.  I love their bold as brass attitudes and the little nuances of their courtship rituals.  I love the duality of a bird who will rush to defend his hens with harsh cries and sharp beak, wings beating the air like a male ape beats his chest and yet turn around and eat feed from my hand one piece at a time.  The savage and the gentleman all rolled into one beautiful creature.  I love their awkward first crows and every crow that follows… and a happy morning begins with a chorus of multi-voiced “Rr-r-Rr!!!” loudly proclaiming that the sun is up and so are we!

Knowing this, and reading my blog regularly, you know how much I love my roosters.  How could I possibly decide?

I had four roosters:

Double Dots, the Flock Papa who has been here since the very beginning.

Pip, our first born chick and the 2IC.

Felix, Pip’s skittish and flighty son.

Luke, the Easter Egger I fought so hard to get and wanted to be a hen so this wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

I’ll start by saying there was NO WAY ON EARTH it was going to be Double Dots on the chopping block.   It ought to be, given him being the oldest, and father/grandfather to all of my Gen 2-ers.  He’s too good a rooster, too well behaved, too well liked by his ladies, to just get rid of without a LOT of thought.

Someday, it will be his turn, if health and/or predators don’t get him.   But that day was not this weekend.

Even still… this leaves Pip, Felix and Luke to consider.

Well… Pip and Luke to consider, because Felix?   I have known for a while that I wouldn’t be keeping Felix. He’s too skittish and flightly and around me.  Not mean, but not accessible.  I began to worry that if we kept him, with age and hormones, would he be the one to someday turn on me in the barnyard?   Could I trust him not to hurt me or Little Dude?   Also, I can’t pick him up, which makes checking him for injuries and caring for him harder.

But Pip?  And Luke?

I agonized and agonized over the whole thing for days, weeks even since the rain made it impossible butcher roosters.

I made lists on paper and in my head of both their pros and cons.  Who was the “nicer” personality wise. Who worked best with Dots and other hens.  They both brought something different to the table, each valuable in their own way.   I asked Mom, Dad, DH, the Girl and Little Dude for input and preference. I agonized some more.

Yesterday, DH said he wasn’t going to take care of the roosters until today.  Last night, he decided to do it then, so he could hunt turkey this morning.

While he butchered Felix, I agonized over Pip and Luke some more, and almost started crying.  DH came back inside the coop and I told him “I can’t do this.  You decide.”

So he walked into the coop and grabbed Pip off the roost.

I couldn’t even watch, and writing it right now is the hardest thing ever.   My little Pip Chick is gone.  I know I’d be feeling the same way about Dots, or even Luke given how much I’ve been invested in the little non-Sith, and I’m trying to remind myself that we needed to do this for the hens.   Because we did, because they are being stressed too much, that’s not fair to them.

But Pip is gone and I want to cry.

Farewell, Baby Boy.  Gramma will always love you.

And good-bye, Felix/Felicia, the little cinnamon colored chick who managed to live despite his hatch-momma’s crazy child-rearing methods.

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.