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Incubator

 
Ken Peavey
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Picked up an incubator a few weeks ago.  As I would find a warm egg, I put the egg in.  Egg #5 just hatched from a Rhode Island Red hen.  Baby doing fine, mother in the barn completely oblivious.
 
Ken Peavey
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Another egg is hatching.  Judging by wingtip feathers, the first chick is a rooster.  He'll likely see the inside of a solar cooker one day.

An incubator is not exactly a permaculture tool, but it gives me a chance to increase the flock.  The hens are not yet attentive enough to hatch a brood.  Only 4 hens survived the hawks and fox and local dogs.  Nonetheless, they give me more eggs than I can consume.  Seemed like a good idea to hatch some eggs.  The incubator gives me just a little boost in the direction I want to go.

I picked up a Little Giant Still Air Incubator at Tractor Supply for about $40.  For another 40 I could get the automatic turner.  I figured I could save the money, skipped the turner.  I can afford to allow some chicks to perish for lack of turning.  Those which do survive should be a little stronger.  I turn the eggs myself a couple times a day when I am able.

The first 4 eggs have not hatched.  It took a couple of days to get the thing holding at the right temperature, conditions were not ideal for the first 4.  I candled them, the first eggs was clear, wasnt going to hatch regardless of conditions.  I expect some failures at the start, with fewer as I get more acquainted with the rig. 

 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I've thought about getting an incubator, but didn't want to be dependent on electricity for flock replacements.  So, a couple of years ago, I crossed a Silkie rooster on some Easter Egger hens -- two of the hens went broody and hatched out half a dozen pullets for me, and a couple of cockerels (that was a good ratio!).  I gave away one of the cockerels, but kept one and all six of the hens, and most of those hens have gone broody at least once.  Two of them are setting right now on some cross-breed eggs.  A couple of my Wyandotte hens have also gone broody, and one is broody now.  So, hopefully, I'm all set for a while.

Kathleen
 
Burra Maluca
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Incubators are fun, aren't they? 

Turning the eggs by hand a couple of times a day is all that's necessary.  We've only lost eggs through not turning when we tried to use an automatic turner which didn't work as well as it was supposed to and we failed to notice for a few days.  We gave up on it and went back to turning everything by hand.  Ultimately we'll be using broody hens for hatching stuff, but until you have the right sort of broody-blood-lines, you have to improvise. 

You don't have to put the eggs in while they are still warm, you know.  A hen will normally lay an egg a day until she has a full batch, and *then* she'll start sitting on the whole lot of them.  That way they'll all hatch at roughly the same time. 

We have a friend in the UK at the moment who is going to bring back a  whole load of fertile eggs for us to try to hatch, so the next few weeks are going to be exciting.  We've ordered silkies, cream legbars, light sussex and silver sebrights and my friend is getting some different sorts as well, so we'll have all four incubators on the go.  The hatch rate is usually pretty low after all that traveling, but it's still exciting waiting to see what will make it. 
 
John Polk
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Incubators can be a lot of fun, but in general they lead to non broody hens.  A chick born and raised without a mother is much less likely to have mothering instincts than a chick reared by Mamma.  Most commercial egg hens are now at least 100th generation motherless hens.  Add to that the fact that broodiness is a crime, punishable by stewing, it is no wonder that broodiness has been bred out of most hens.
 
Burra Maluca
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But you don't have to incubate eggs from commercial egg-laying strains.  You can incubate anything you can get your hands on. 

I'm really hoping that the silkie eggs we ordered turn up and hatch - it should mark the end of our dependence on incubators!

I suspect that it's the genetics of the hen rather than the fact it was reared by Mamma that controls whether or not it will go broody.  We  bought two baby geese last year from an big agricultural merchant which were presumably raised artificially.  They grew into the most adorable pair and are happily sharing sitting duties on their first batch of eggs.  I'd no idea that the males would help, but after the first couple of weeks he would take over if ever the female stood up to stretch her legs and have a drink or a bite to eat. 

I see incubators as a bit of a necessary evil, a bit like getting in heavy machinery to dig your ponds and swales, or shipping in mulch to kick-start your soil building, or using irrigation to get your first round of fruit trees to survive.  Long term, you aim to do without, but at the beginning you have to cheat a bit if you want to get results within your own lifetime. 
 
Tim Canton
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Burra,    I must admit I am new to chickens.....but are you saying you ordered fertile eggs that you will hatch    or are you just getting them from a friend?    I just never heard off ordering eggs before, must be cheaper than buying chicks.

Be well
 
Burra Maluca
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There are loads of breeders in the UK who will post fertile eggs to you, and we've bought loads of them to be shipped to my friend when she's in the UK, and, assuming they all arrive in time, she will bring them back to me in her car.  I wouldn't say it's *cheaper* than buying chicks - by the time you've paid the shipping, and most of the eggs have been shaken around too much so don't hatch, and you've run the incubator for weeks, then it would probably have been cheaper to just buy chicks.  But there aren't any suitable chicks around, so we improvise. 

I've no idea how it works in other parts of the world, but I just hit ebay and search for 'hatching eggs'.  But if we have them shipped by air, they never hatch, so we've given up on ordering them direct and wait til we have a friend making the journey by car. 
 
John Polk
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I agree that incubators are a good way to build a flock.  It is a much more controlled environment than just letting the hens do their thing.

Artificial incubation has been around for hundreds of years in some parts of the world, and it is a proven art.
 
                  
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Organick not only have I heard of and hatched eggs shipped through the mail I have sold and mailed eggs others have hatched. That said shipping hatching eggs can be risky and depending on temperature extreems, handling, and even someone in the postal system x-raying them even though they were labled correctly it's a risky venture.

My first incubator was homemade out of an old cooler, light socket and bulb, and a hot water heter thermostat. Then I got a styrofoam incubator with a turner and diffrent tray sizes.  I have used it to hatch quail, chicken, and duck eggs in varrious sizes from button quail to Kakhi Campbel ducks. I have even considered turkies and geese. Now a days though it's packed away but on hand in case there is a time I want to hatch chicks and do not have a broody hen which these days is never. I have had lots of success with having a broody hen when I decide I want a few chicks running around. In fact one of my silkies I have simply shown a cluch of eggs and she settled down as if to say "okay boss I'll hatch em". I even used broody chickens to hatch duck eggs (and watching a hen worry that her babies are playing in the rain is comical). It is my personal preference to use a real live hen when possible because quite simply put she does the work including raising and I don't have to. That said I will never get rid of my incubator because I like to know if I want I can fill it with fertile eggs from the guy down the road and replace my flock if something ever goes majorly wrong.
 
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