The idea of hatching your own chicks is a fantastic idea, but before you take the plunge it might well be worth mentioning that things do go wrong. Can you deal with a sickly chick and despatch it in a humane way? What are you going to do if the chicks when they hatch are all cockrels? Many friendly neighbours soon get annoyed if your beautiful cockrel wakes them at 04.30am or earlier every day.
THINK LONG AND HARD BEFORE CONTINUING
If I haven't put you off then enjoy your hens but beware the pitfalls.
Once you have got your incubator I would advise that you set it up and check that it is all working, then you know that when you get your eggs your incubator will be operating correctly.
If you are in the UK you may not need to add water to the incubator until the final few days of the incubation period, check the humidity with a hygrometer, it need to be around 50+ for the viability of the eggs.
Get your eggs from a reputable source, if you are buying off ebay then check out the sellers feedback. Once the eggs are in your possession you should let them rest for 24 hours with the blunt end pointing upwards at room temperature.
The eggs are then placed in your incubator and follow the instructions on placing and turning.
Make sure the room that the incubator is placed in does not get too hot, or too much sun as this will cause temperature fluctuations
The eggs should be turned an odd number of times a day the minimum being three times a day, 5-7 times would be ideal. The temperature should be operating at approximately 39 c. Try to make sure that the temperature does not fluctuate too much as this will affect the hatch rate.
You should candle the eggs on day 8,12 and 16 it should be obvious which are fertile in light coloured eggs, dark shelled can be more difficult. If you are not sure leave them in the incubator.
Stop turning after day 18 this is the time that water may need to be added, the humidity needs to be approximately 60 to enable the chicks to hatch from their shells. The hatch should start at day 21, leave the chicks in the incubator for 12 hours before transfering to your brooder unit.
Any eggs that have not hatched by day 24 dispose of. If you have eggs that have pipped but are finding it very difficult to get outthen it is up to you whether you help the chick. If you do then what you need firstly spray the egg with tepid water and see if this helps the chick as the membrane will absorb the water and make it easier for the shell to beak..
If there is still no progress then after thouroughly cleaning your hands and on a soft tissue start to pick the shell from where the hole has formed. You must be very very gentle. If there is blood put the egg back in the incubator and try again later. Eventually you will get all the shell off, make sure that the chick is out of the membrane, put back into the incubator or into the brooder and keep your fingers crossed. I helped three chicks out of their shells 6 weeks ago (JULY 09) and they are really healthy chicks.
Chicks need a heat lamp or an electric hen in their brooder, they need to be kept warm approximately 35c for the first week and then refuce the heat.
They should be fed chick crumbs for the first six weeks of life ( you can buy the crumbs that have the medication mixed in for coccidiosis) then onto growers pellets till they are about 16 weeks then they can be transfered onto layers mash.
Remember your chicks are vulnerable to predators and to chills, so make sure that rats, foxes, your pet cat, can not get to them, and that draughts are at a minimum.. Handle them as they start to grow so that they are used to being picked up.