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Poultry Production


Cindy and Jeff acquired chicks from a variety of hatcheries. They anticipate continuing to order chicks of meat birds (which are hybrids) from hatcheries. They started raising their own layers in 2010 but anticipate ordering layer chicks periodically to avoid inbreeding. Cindy and Jeff experimented with breed crosses but generally stick to mating roosters with hens of their own breed.

eggs in incubator

Farmer’s Perspective: On The Bookshelf

A Guide to Better Hatching

By Janet Stromberg

Cindy and Jeff like this small but useful guide to breeding and hatching your own chicks, published by Stromberg Hatchery of Pine River, Minnesota.

Spotlight on: Hatching Chicks

Cindy and Jeff’s goal is to breed 50 hens every 6 months for year-round egg production. They isolate breeding birds from the rest of the flock by placing about 12 hens and a rooster in a separate, portable hen coop. They start collecting fertilized eggs after 3 to 4 days. They store fertilized eggs until they have enough to fill the incubator. Fertilized egg storage is done in egg cartons kept in a small, cool pantry that stays at about 48o to 50o F. They monitor the temperature in the pantry using a high-low recording thermometer. The cartons are put on a 45o slant and turned daily while in storage to prevent the air sac from getting "stuck". When enough fertilized eggs are collected, then the eggs go into the incubator and are brought up to incubation temperature to stimulate development.

The incubator cost around $40. Although it is not meant for many years’ use, Cindy and Jeff have used it for three incubations so far. They clean the internal parts, including a tray used for holding water for humidity control and the egg-turner, with bleach solution to control bacterial growth. The egg-turner rocks the eggs back and forth about every 5-10 minutes, and the target temperature is about 100ºF.

egg incubator

When the chicks start to pip at about 21 days1, Cindy and Jeff take the egg-turner out and allow eggs to hatch and dry on a wire mesh. Over a 48-hour period, batches of chicks are then moved each morning and evening to a brooder in one of their outbuildings. Of the 36 eggs they incubated in fall 2010, 3 were unfertilized and 5 failed to hatch due to temperature, humidity, storage, or natural reasons. Some producers use more than one rooster to minimize the risk of infertility.

eggs inside incubator

1 Cindy and Jeff followed recommendations in their hatching book on turning the eggs for the entire 21 days of incubation. However, Dr. Jacquie Jacob, small flock poultry specialist at the University of Kentucky, recommends turning the eggs for only the first 18 days.

Farmer’s Perspective: Lessons Learned

Know Your Breeder

Jeff and Cindy have found that it’s important to do your homework about hatcheries to find out where a given breed is actually hatched and, if possible, to learn how the genetics are managed. They prefer to buy chicks from hatcheries that rear their own birds or contract locally. Many hatcheries raise only one or two breeds themselves but offer other breeds through contracted breeders, which can be located far away. For example, hatcheries in Iowa and Minnesota often get stock from Texas or New Mexico. Birds from local hatcheries spend less time in transit and tend to arrive healthier. This approach also supports local or regional growers.

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