Monday, January 6, 2014

Planning ahead for incubating and hatching this season’s chickens

As the new year dawns, and we huddle by the fireplace waiting for the days to get longer (and warmer), it’s time to thumb through the catalogs and think spring!  Here are a few ways to get a headstart if you’re going to hatch eggs this year.  

Spring Cleaning.  For the healthiest chicks, clean your incubator, hatcher, and brooder.   Vacuum out all the accumulated down and dust, then clean with a sanitizing solution.  Make your own with diluted detergent and 5% bleach, or buy a chlorinated kitchen and bath cleaner.  For bonus points, disassemble the incubator to clean all the mechanical parts.  Your incubator will thank you with longer life, and your chicks will thank you for not having to breathe in last year’s crud. 

If you plan to let your hens do the hatching, clean and disinfect the nest boxes and surrounding areas.  Consider fogging to kill any mites that “might” be living in nooks and crevices that you can’t clean.  

Maintenance and Repairs.  While you’re cleaning, lubricate moving parts, clean off rust, repair broken or missing parts, order new supplies, and plug in the equipment to make sure it’s working!  Repair those nest boxes too.  

Prepare for brooding.  Do you have an enclosure or brooder that you use routinely?  We’ve seen lots of creative enclosures!  The simplest one for small flocks is the “cardboard box” brooder.  Save up large cardboard boxes ahead of time, and order supplies such as wingbands.

Plan your matings.  If you haven’t already done so, select which roosters and hens will be used as breeders.  Pullets and hens that don’t make the cut can be kept as layers, just be sure to separate them before collecting hatching eggs.  Roosters that won’t be used as breeders can be kept as pets, or richen the stew pot on cold winter days.  Separate all the mating groups from each other at least one month before beginning to collect hatching eggs. 
o   Use the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection to learn the ideal conformation for your breed, and The Livestock Conservancy’s guidelines for selecting breeders:
What breed will you raise?  If you like to order a different breed each year, or are thinking that now is the time to commit to conserving a single breed, check the Breed Comparison Chart to consider what breed is right for you.  Orientals, Mediteranean, Game, and European breeds of chickens in general are especially in need of conservation.

Finally, here is a handy guide for incubation:  
Wishing you all a healthy and productive hatching season!

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