Occasionally when I go to the coop to be with my chickens, I have the opportunity to witness one of my hens laying their eggs. Such was the case three weeks ago when I witnessed my sweet, inquisitive Maicey laying her egg.
I had a broody hen (Briar Rose) whom I intended to give eggs to that night, so I picked up Maicey’s egg and tucked it away so it would not get mixed in with the other eggs. So I knew who that egg belonged to.
When I gave Briar her eggs, I labeled them, and Maicey’s egg became known as #1.
Number #1 turned out to be the fourth egg of five to hatch. (We are still waiting to know the fate of the fifth.)
It is a tiny little baby, with red downy feathers, a small crested-looking head and, much to my surprise when I picked it up to say “hello” … slightly feathered legs.
For those of you keeping score at home… I have three crested birds. Pavelle, the little Pavlovskaya, and her two children, Heather and Phillip.
Phillip, who is Pavelle and Pip’s offspring, is the only rooster I have right now capable of siring a crested (or in this case, partially crested) chick. He is, himself, a barnyard mix of Pavlovskaya, Rhode Island Red and Golden Comet, which would make this little chick 2-parts RiR, Comet and Pavlov. With feathered legs like its Auntie Heather.
I’m excited. I really am. Not only is Maicey one of our favorite hens, but this is also Pip’s grand-baby. You all know how much I love(d) and miss my little Pipsqueak. And Phillip acts so much like his papa. I’m so excited!
There is one more egg we’re waiting on to hatch. I’ll let you all know how it goes in the morning.
So this is my little Pavlovskya-mix hen, Pavelle. You’ll all seen pictures of her before, because she is a very unique little bird.
Back in March, Pavelle went broody, but I refused to let her have eggs then because it was still too cold and snowy for little wee things. She went broody again last month, and after a few days of watching her, we decided to let her have a couple of eggs.
Which hatched into the cutest little babies…
This one was the first one to hatch, a brown and yellowish chick that came from one of our olive egg layers.
The olive egg layers are all the children of last year’s Easter Eggers, Padme (the hen) and Luke (the ill-fated rooster. Yes, he did father three little hens and one rooster before we sent him to freezer camp). Best guess as to which hen supplied the egg? The size of the egg suggested Iggy (the EE cross Pavelle raised last year) or Cocoa and Nutmeg. Cocoa and Nutmeg I call my “Rhode Island Eggers” because they are the color of my RiRs and have EE cheeks. I suspect their bio-moms were RiR with Luke as the father.
It will be interesting to see how this little one feathers out, won’t it?
And this little precious came from a small brown eggs. I have a lot of smaller brown eggs right now, because all of the chicks from Little Dude’s Hatching Egg project are laying now. This one, as you can see, is all-black and tiny.
I have only one all-black hen, little Bella, the ‘Mad Scientist’ chick that My Pet Chicken slipped into our order.
Bella must be the bio/egg mom to the little wee black baby.
As to who sired them? I have three roosters, and haven’t been around much to see who has been hanging out with whom. I know what Philip (my little Leapy Boy) and Sylvester both have small followings and they are mostly the younger girls. But it’s hard to tell right now. Neither of them have feathered legs, which is possible with both of those two roosters.
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
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 henshave better natural chicken instincts, integrate better with your existing flock, and tend to be smarter and healthier.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.