Incubating Chicken Eggs – the First 17 Days

We discussed how to prepare for an incubation in this previous post.  Now we are going to go over the first 17 days and how to manage your incubation during that time.

Once the eggs are in the incubator it is important to monitor the temperature and humidity throughout the day (or at least twice a day) and keep it in the right range.  The recommended temperature for chicken eggs is 99.5, and the recommended humidity is 45-55% for the first 17 days.  Here at high altitude, hatching is more difficult.  We have found through trial and error and many many incubations that keeping the humidity lower here at high-altitude increases our success.  So we keep ours at 30-45% for the first 17 days.  Also, if you don’t have an automatic egg turner, you need to be rotating the eggs as well.

You can candle for fertility as early as day 4 or 5, but with the darker colored eggs and our green eggs I prefer to just wait until about day 7 to candle for fertility so that I can be very confidant of what I am seeing.

You can buy special candlers, but we just use a strong flashlight.

We take 12 eggs out of the incubator at a time, very carefully load them into an egg carton, and take them to a dark room where we can candle.  We work quickly so as not to let them get chilled.  The mama hen leaves the nest for a few minutes each day to eat, drink, and relieve herself, so it is not tragic for the eggs to come out of the incubator for candling.  But don’t dawdle because you don’t want them out for too long.  If you can’t get through 12 fast enough then only take out 6 at a time.

It is very difficult to photograph candling eggs, but Young Man helped me out and figured out how to get pretty good pics.  You likely will need to click on the pics so you can see them closer to see the details I discuss.

At seven days an infertile egg will look like this:

It has a lot of light coming through the whole thing and you can see the round yolk.  As you carefully roll it the yolk moves around quite a bit.

And a fertile egg will look like this:

It lets less light through and the darker portion is bigger than just the round yolk.  As you roll it it wants to stay put more than the yolk in an infertile one.  On lighter colored eggs you can even see some veins and the chick itself.  In the photos above you can see some of the veins, and the dark spot on the bottom right is the chick, in the first photo it isn’t there, and then in the second photo it is there.  It was moving around during the photos.

Remove any infertile eggs from your hatch so you don’t have rotten eggs in the incubator.  If you are not sure, err on the side of caution and leave them in, it will become much more obvious within the next week and you will be able to know for sure.  Sometimes it is helpful to get an egg from the fridge that you know is infertile and look at it so you can have a clear idea of what an infertile egg looks like.  If you do leave some questionable ones in the incubator, you should candle again at day 10 and/or day 14.

Another thing to look for is what we call “early deaths,” meaning the egg was fertile and began to grow, but then died very early in the process.  You can remove these too.  Again, err on the side of caution and leave them if you are not sure.

There are two main things to look for when looking for early deaths.  The most obvious one is the blood ring.  Be careful not to confuse veins with a blood ring.  Veins look like branching veins.  A blood ring is a clear ring of blood.  If you are not sure – leave them in the incubator.

This is what a blood ring looks like, you can see the chick (dark spot on right towards the top), and the blood ring very clearly in this one.  Another things that shows very clearly in this one is the air cell on the right:

The other thing that shows an early death is that the egg is cloudy and has brown streaks.  It will not have any branching veins.  This can be harder to see, so again I say if you are not sure, leave it in.  Here is a picture with the brown streaks.

You can candle again on day 10 and/or 14 and remove any infertiles and early deaths that you missed previously.  The healthy eggs will get darker and darker as the chick fills more and more of the egg, and it will be harder and harder to see anything except the air cell.

Day 17 is the last time that the eggs need to be candled.  You need to remove any obvious early deaths and leave all the rest.  There is not much to see in a Day 17 egg, all you should see is the air cell (which will be a lot bigger that it was originally) and most the rest of the egg should be dark.  There is sometimes a tiny area at the tip (opposite end of the air cell) where light can get through.

Once you have candled on day 17, it is time for lock down on day 18.  We will discuss lock-down and hatching in our next post.

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been a nice quiet week on the farm.  Not much going on – it is always nice to occasionally have some weeks like that.

Incubation

We are now on day 9 of our incubation.  We candled eggs and had 10 infertile out of 75 (87% fertility) which isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either.  We have had 9 early deaths so far, which seems very high for our norm, but we are dealing with first-generation birds from low-altitude hatching at high altitude and we found previously that our hatch rates are much lower with the first generation than with later generations.  So that leaves us with 56 eggs still alive in the incubators.

Basement

We have an unfinished basement and we are beginning to slowly work at finishing it how we want it.  This week we started by building the first wall of the pantry/larder/root cellar area.  Last year we built some really nice shelves in this area

then in the fall we added the root cellar veggie racks…

and now we are working to close the room in.  We got the first wall up and hope to get the next wall and door in soon.

Heritage Arts

The girls and I have continued forward with our projects.  I have been knitting some dish cloths, and Little Miss is making matching scrubbies to go with them.

Little Miss is also cross stitching a bookmark.

And Sunshine is working on a long-term cross stitch project of a garden ABC sampler.

Yay for nice laid-back winter weeks!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had a very productive week around the homestead.

Outdoor Project Day

Throughout the winter we occasionally get days that are 45+F and sunny.  These are good opportunities for us to work on projects outdoors while we can, and we take advantage of them as much as possible.  We had one this week and were able to get some things done.

Our lumber was finished early, so we picked it up and used it on the projects.  This lumber is from several trees we had to cut down last year and we took it to the local mill to have it made into 4×4, 2×6, and 1x lumber.

We split up into three groups, working close to each other, but on separate projects.  Young Man and Sunshine built the onion patch retaining wall.  It backs up to the main garden, but is on the outside of the fence since wildlife don’t bother the onions.  Here is the before picture from the onion patch side:

And the after picture:

And here it is from the garden side, before and after:

Braveheart worked on our mantle log.  It is a large aspen log…

…that needs to be stripped and sanded so it can become our mantle.

Mtn Man and I ripped logs, with Little Miss helping gather the wood scraps for the kindling pile, and Mr. Smiles in his stroller watching us all.  The bark slabs from the outside of the trees are cut off as they make it into lumber.  We find these slabs very useful for our version of a privacy fence – a Rocky Mountain solid fence.  The slabs are all different widths and have uneven edges.

We run them through the table saw to get the edges mostly even so they fit nicely together.  It is not a perfectionist thing…we want it to have some character, but still fit pretty well.  Depending on the fence, we are more particular or less particular.

We used it to build the 3 foot garden fence many years ago.

But this week we were using it to attach to a section of the barnyard fence.  We first hooked up a big canvas tarp along the fence, and then put the slabs over it.  This will make for a nice windbreak for the upper corner of the barnyard.

Most of our fencing is not solid, but when we do want some that is I really like this look because it blends in with the area well.  I don’t like buildings and fences in the woods that stand out from everything.

Chickens

We started our incubation!  We are using both of our incubators this time because we wanted to set a large amount of eggs.  Hatching at high-altitude is complicated, especially when the birds laying the eggs didn’t themselves hatch at high altitude.  Although studies show that hens laying at high-altitude lay eggs with less pores to make up for some of the challenges caused by the altitude.  But we have found that our first generation of birds always have very low hatch rates, and our hatch rates go up as we get into the next few generations of birds that have been selected and hatched at altitude themselves.  Because we had to cut our flock way back due to our son’s medical issues, we are now starting back at square one so-to-speak with our breeding and hatching program, so most of the breeding birds come from lower elevations and are our first generation.  In the years to come our hatching success should increase with the second and third generations of high-altitude birds.  Because of all that, we will likely have a low hatch rate.  Thus we wanted to set as many eggs as possible to make up for the lower hatch rate.

We were able to fit 75 eggs in the two incubators.  We have a Hovabator 1588 and a Top Hatch TH130.  We prefer the Hovabator, but they both perform pretty well.  And when we want to set a lot of eggs it is nice to have them both.

We will candle for fertility later this week and see how our roo is doing at his part of the job.

English Paper Piecing Quilt

The EPP hexagon quilt has come out to be worked on again.  I talked about how special this quilt is and what it is about in this post last year.  Because the pieces are so tiny, and it is completely hand stitched, the girls and I only work on it for a few weeks at a time and then put it away and bring it back out later.  It has been almost a year since we worked on it though!  How time flies around here.  But Little Miss was in the mood for it so she dug it out and the two of us have started working on it again.  We will see how much progress we make this time before our hands get tired of all that tiny stitching.

How to Prepare for an Incubation

No matter what type of eggs you are incubating it is important that you begin to prepare everything several days ahead of time so that the incubation goes as smoothly as possible.  Proper care of the hatching eggs and proper preparation of the incubator will increase your success at hatching.

Collecting Eggs

You can collect eggs for up to 10 days before the incubation to get the amount you need.  We tend to go closer to 7 days of collection because we have done many incubations and kept track of how the eggs did and the hatchability decreased with the eggs that were 8-10 days old.  If you are only doing a small amount of eggs, then it may only take you a few days to collect all that you need.

Store your hatching eggs in a carton with the tips down, fat end up, so that the air cell can settle in the right location.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell which end of the egg is the fat end and which is the tip.  Like this one.

When that happens we candle the egg to find the air cell.  The air cell is the end that needs to go up.

Also, set one end of the carton on a book or something to elevate it and switch which end it is twice a day to help “rotate” the eggs while they wait.

Store the carton in a cool room in the house, ideally around 60 degrees.  We store ours in the basement.

When you are ready to put them in the incubator, first bring them to room temperature by letting them sit in a warmer room (70-72F) in the house for a few hours.  Then put them into the prepared incubator.

Preparing the Incubator

You should get your incubator up and running 3-5 days before you plan to put eggs in it.  It can take time and many adjustments to get the temperature and humidity just right and you don’t want to rush it.

Get it set up and first get the temperature setting right.  Always use two thermometers to confirm your temperature.  We have, sadly, had to learn this the hard way and had an incubator full of eggs die at about day 7 because the thermometer we were using was inaccurate and it wasn’t warm enough for them to develop properly.  Don’t make that mistake – always have two thermometers.  For chicken eggs you are aiming at 99.5F.

Once you have reached the right temperature, then add water and use a hygrometer to get the right humidity.  You want 40-50% humidity for the first 18 days of the incubation and then 65-75% for days 18-21, or until the hatch is complete (can go to day 24).

If you have never used your incubator before I would suggest that once you get the humidity right for the first stage then try to bring it up to the higher humidity for the last stage to give yourself an idea of how much water you will need and whether or not you will need to use other methods to bring it up high enough.  Then bring it back down to the proper starting humidity before you put the eggs in.  This is another reason it is good to start days in advance so you can be sure you know how to use the incubator and achieve the different humidity levels you need.

Once you get your temperature and humidity right and holding steady the incubator is ready for the eggs.  If you have not finished collecting them you can just leave it running and it will help you get an idea of how much effort is needed to keep the humidity stable each day.

One last thing to do is to be sure that if your incubator uses a light bulb to heat, such as our Top Hatch in the above picture, be sure you have a second spare light bulb of the same size and wattage.  That way if something happens to your bulb you can quickly replace it and not risk all the chicks dying during the incubation.

Properly preparing ahead of time is a very important key to a successful incubation and hatch.

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been cold here lately, highs in the 30sF and lows in the teens and single digits.  Winter is setting in and taking hold.  These two know the best spot to be on the cold winter days…

We have continued to be productive around the homestead despite the cold.

Firestarters

We heat our home with two wood-burning stoves, one in the living room and one in the dining room that also heats the kitchen and school room.  Most days from the late fall through to the early spring we light fires in each one twice a day because we let them go out midday when the sun is warming us through the windows.  On the coldest days in winter the fires are kept going all throughout the day.  So that adds up to a lot of starting fires.  We love to have firestarters to help make it go quickly and easily.

We make two types of firestarters, one type is made with a pine cone placed in wax in a cupcake liner.  You can read how we make those in this post from 5 years ago.

We also make them using egg cartons.  People often give us their used egg cartons because they know we have chickens – and thus we end up with a lot of extras.  To make them with egg cartons we simply pour the melted wax into each cavity and let cool.

Once hard we cut the carton apart and use each individual cavity.  It is easy to light the parts of the carton that stick up on the edges and that gets it going nicely.

So this week Braveheart and I made a bunch of them and got ourselves stocked up for the next few months.  It is so nice the have them available again!  It makes it much easier.

Chickens

Yesterday was the last flock cut-back day for this year.  We cut back our flock to lower numbers in the winter for a few reasons.

First, they spend more time in the coop over the winter and thus it is more crowded.  I am a stickler when it comes to over-crowded animal housing.  It is not healthy for the animals and it causes more frequent cleaning and thus is more expensive.

Secondly, they aren’t as able to forage through the winter months so they eat more of the store-bought feed.  Lower numbers saves us money because we aren’t feeding so many through the winter.

Lastly, it is good for our breeding program to cull regularly to keep our breeding stock cut down to only the best of what we are selecting for.  It can be easy to just slowly begin collecting chickens and keeping “just this one” over and over until our breeding stock is peppered with birds that are not as good quality for what we are breeding for.  Aggressive and frequent culling leads to good breeding stock, and thus great next generations.

So we gathered our nail clippers, scissors for clipping wings, lice dust, leg bands, and my flock tracking paperwork and headed to the coops.  We handled every single bird on the farm.  We trimmed their nails, made sure they still had one well-clipped wing, gave them a new leg band if they had lost theirs, and checked for lice – treating if necessary.  They we evaluated them for the breeding program.  There are certain characteristics we are selecting for in our chickens and we graded each bird based on those selective criteria.  Then we sorted them out into keep, butcher, and sell.

Our final over-wintering numbers include 19 hens, 5 pullets, and 1 rooster in the big upper coop, and 5 silkies in the small lower coop.  We also decided to keep one young cockerel in with the silkies temporarily because I think I want to do a mix breeding with the silkies and him this winter in the incubator just for the fun of it.

It feels good to have yet another thing taken care of as we close in on winter.

Hypothermic Chicken

We had a chicken incident this week.  When the chickens were closed into the coop for the night, somehow one of the hens was missed and stayed outside overnight in 15F temperatures.  When the kids found her in the morning she was huddled in the corner by the coop door and not moving.  They picked her and up and she didn’t fight or move, but was alive.

It was Young Man and Little Miss doing chores that morning and they immediately did exactly the right thing, without even coming to get help from Mtn Man or I.  They took her into the barn and put her in the broody coop (a 3ftx3ft, 2ft-tall enclosed nesting area with a fully installed heat lamp in it that we use for setting hens), turned on the heat lamp in there, and gave her food, water, and some hot mash.  She drank a bit, ate a little hot mash, and then cuddled up under the heat light and put her head under her wing.  They finished the rest of the chores and then came in to tell us what had happened.  I was so proud that they figured out what to do and did it immediately without help.

We have never had a hypothermic chicken before.  They have never been told what to do with a hypothermic chicken.  But our kids have been working beside us on the homestead since they could walk (and before that they were strapped to our backs) and they have seen many medical incidents with our animals and watched and helped us deal with them – learning right alongside us.  And because of that, they are able to figure out a situation like this on their own and help an animal that needs medical attention.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to live life with your kids right next to you, watching and helping.  It builds strong bonds, family unity, and teaches them so much.  It gives them self-esteem that is rooted in actually doing something to be proud of.  It gives them confidence to handle things on their own and make decisions.  They find pleasure in their successes and learn from their failures – just like we do.  I think too many kids these days are left to screens while the parents do the projects and jobs that interest them.  And the results of this type of raising are seen in the news and research studies every day, and it’s not good at all.

We are so blessed that we were led to raise our kids this way early on, and now we are able to reap the beautiful benefits of it as they grow and mature and are so eager to help and be involved and continue to work alongside us, but also be able to do it on their own when necessary.  Our kids may never have their own homestead or go into an industry that involves the specific skills they are learning, but the broader character traits they are building, the confidence, and the basic concepts and skills involved in keeping a homestead will serve them no matter what they do or where they go.  If I could give one piece of advice to a new parent it would be to keep your kids by your side and involved in what you are doing-whether it is homesteading or something else completely doesn’t matter, what matters is doing it together.

As for the hen, she is still isolated and is improving, thanks to the quick action of the kids.  We are hopeful to get her back with the flock once she recovers, and we are all being more careful to be sure all the birds get put away each night.

Indoor Winter Garden

We are trying something new this winter – we are planting lettuce and spinach under the grow-lights in the basement in hopes of having fresh salad through the winter.  We have been very disappointed with the greens at the store the last year or so, and we have the grow-light shelving unit that we use to start our seedlings each spring, so we thought – why not?  I planted the first round of seeds this week.  I plan to succession plant one tray each week for 4 weeks in a row and see how it goes.

Knitting

I have focused all my knitting attention on three Christmas presents.  I can’t show two of them because the receivers read the blog.  But I can show you the progress on what I am making for Little Miss.  Three years ago I made her this dress and she wore it at least once a week (usually more) for the last three years until it was so ridiculously small I had to tell her it was time for it to go.

But since she loved it so very much I agreed to make her another one for Christmas this year.  I love this pattern and the dress turns out beautifully.  But it is knit with fingering weight yarn and when you knit an item this large with such small yarn it is A LOT of stitches and takes a lot of work.  So I am doing my best to finish it in time, but I know she will happily accept it on the needles if I can’t get it done.  So here is my progress so far…

I am in the super-boring thousands of stockinette stitches part, so I have committed to knitting 7 rows on it a day, which takes almost an hour because each row has over 200 stitches, in hopes that by doing that I will get it done in time.  It helps me when I give myself set daily amounts like that.  I know she will love it, so it makes it easier to put in all the work.  🙂