What No One Tells You About Hatching Chicks – Down on the (Sub)Urban Farm

So we’ve had a project ‘brewing’ for a few weeks. At the beginning of June, I noticed that Henrietta (our hen that internally lays) was broody. It was a bit of a surprise, because she’s four years old, and she’s  a red sex-link (a hybrid breed) and they rarely go broody.

Looking back, I realized she’d probably been broody for quite some time before I noticed it. So in my enthusiasm, I shoved seven eggs under her and let her get to setting! 

Broody hen! Our first one ever. This is Henrietta, a 4 yr old red sex link. Also, she's the ideal hen of the flock to go broody because she's our internal layer. 'Internal laying' means that for some reason, the contents of her eggs deposit in her abdominal cavity instead getting covered in shell and passing out the cloaca. Being broody will a) give her reproductive system a break for a few months, because they don't lay while sitting on a clutch or while raising chicks, and b) we won't lose any egg production from the flock because we don't get eggs from her anyway. I did order an incubator yesterday in case she decides she's done halfway through or something. But I'm hoping and praying for a succesful hatch with more pullets than boys. Hatch date should be June 28/29, somewhere thereabouts. Eggs were fertilized by an Australorp roo, and we have a White Leghorn hen, another red sex link, and then Australorp hens. So this might be an interesting mixture. #backyardchickens #chickensofinstagram #broodyhen #babychickscomingsoon #hopefully #urbanfarming #myoklahoma #chickens

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Well… she gave up after two weeks. It takes three weeks for chicks to develop to the point of hatching. Fortunately, I’d had the good sense to buy an incubator (Amazon affiliate link) just in case something happened.

And so, we waited. And Day 21 arrived. And Day 21 went. And there was no sign of babies hatching, but they were still alive when I candled.

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And so it went… until Day 24. Yes, Day 24.

The first one hatched about 9:10 am on Friday, July 1st.

Number One was the easiest. Everyone else would have some complications with hatching – all the remaining ones would have umbilical cords still attached (though fortunately yolk sacs were completely absorbed) requiring special care to keep them from disemboweling themselves or others are things finished closing up and drying out.

The final one to hatch, Number Seven, was by far the worst with the umbilical cord, which it tore off itself frantically skittering around just after hatch. Before hatch, it had also ‘pipped’ through the internal membrane that contains all of its blood vessels used for development and yolk absorption prior to hatching, instead of through the air cell at the end of the egg for breathing. I’d been monitoring it closely since then, and it by far took the longest of them all from pip to hatch. At the time I’m writing this post, it’s still struggling some, but has started to perk up, so I’m hoping it will have made a near full recovery by the time the post goes live. We’re not through the first 48 hours yet for Seven, but it’s getting closer, and I’ll breathe quite a bit easier then.

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(Note From Rebekah: As of Monday evening, Seven is doing great! Sometimes I can barely tell it apart from the other black and white chicks.)


What They Don’t Tell You About Hatching Chicks

So what have I learned this last 4 weeks? A LOT.

  1. Broody hens can be utter idiots. Not only did Henrietta give up 2/3 of the way through, but she also pooped in the nest twice. That’s why there are dirty eggs in some of the pictures, and I wonder if that contributed to any of the issues we had by introducing some bacteria into the eggs.
    Broody hens can be utter idiots. #backyardchickens #hatchingeggs #raisingchicks Click To Tweet
  2. You’re apparently supposed to disinfect your brand-new incubator. I did not even realize this, and so… I guess I got really lucky with the amount of things that DIDN’T go wrong with chicks.
  3. Hands-on hatching is totally a thing, and I’m glad I found a group of helpful people who could help me figure out when it was necessary.
    Hands-on hatching is totally a thing. #backyardchickens #hatchingeggs #raisingchicks Click To Tweet
  4. Hatching eggs is incredibly stressful if you are a compassionate person in any way, shape, or form. Especially if there have been problems already – like inconsistent incubation temperature.
  5. You will get emotionally invested in these things while they still look like eggs. I imagine it’s kind of like having an actual baby – the first time I candled the eggs and saw moving chicks inside of them (this was about 11 days into incubation, while Henrietta was still sitting on them) was an incredible moment and I almost cried.
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8 thoughts on “What No One Tells You About Hatching Chicks – Down on the (Sub)Urban Farm

  1. mariazannini

    I often wonder about all the expert advice on disinfection. I can guarantee you if they were hatching under a mother hen, it wouldn’t be sterile. 🙂 But then it doesn’t hurt to make it as clean as possible.

    We’ve got a few chicks on the ground now and more on the way. I’ll probably keep a few to replenish my stock and sell the rest.

  2. Wow! I had no idea this much went into incubating eggs. You’re now officially on my short list of animal experts. You’re starting to make me think that I could raise some chickens myself…

    1. Do eeeeeeeeet. *ahem* Chickens are totally not addicting. And they have so much personality. And honestly, they’re easier than dogs. Just make sure they have food and water and a spot to nest and roost, and they’re pretty happy.

        1. Put them in a sturdy enclosure with hardware cloth, not chicken wire. Chicken wire is made to keep chickens in, not predators out. Hardware cloth keeps predators out. You also don’t need a rooster to get eggs, just fyi. Because if you’re going to have a rooster, you really need at least 6 hens, but double that is better. And you two probably only need 3-4 hens tops, depending on how many eggs you eat.

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