Last chicken post for a while….I have two chickens sitting on hatching eggs, which I am ridiculously excited and impatient about. Clearly, I am new to this, but this is how it went for me:Gertie sat longer than usual on the nest, mostly refusing to move of it, even at night to roost, and when I went to see what was going on, she hissed and pecked at me, especially if I tried to move eggs from under her. She also had her sweet fat little belly and feathers all flattened out over the nest (see above), covering the (totally infertile!!) eggs that were in it. My original plan was to try to stop her brooding, so I shifted the eggs, kicked her out of the coop and shut the door so she couldn’t get back in.
I did also notice there were a lot of feathers in the run (I originally thought maybe one of the other chickens was being a monster, and pecking the Pekins, but once I realised she was broody, it was obvious she’d been plucking her own feathers to line the nest – bless). Lastly, there was broody hen poo which looks, to me, like a mini cow pat – nice!
After about a week, when she was showing no signs of giving up, I did begin to think it might be fun to try to hatch just one set of eggs. I was a bit stressed about the idea of them all hatching and possibly having to dispatch the boys, if I couldn’t realistically find homes for them (I knew I could manage to keep two roosters myself, more of they were happy to live together which I read sometimes Pekin Bantams can, although I hear they also often turn once they reach maturity, even if they appear OK together when younger).
I tried to make her a separate nest in the end of the big run, but that clearly wasn’t going to work out, plus I’d read a lot that she would have to be moved away from the other hens, so I moved her into a run of her own. I used one of the cats plastic carriers, with a plastic box on top for her nest (it’s still quite cold in the mornings so I figured the double insulation would be best). I put some diatomaceous earth in the bottom of the cat carrier, as I figured she wont come out for her usual dust bath, then I put both sawdust and straw on top and popped in quite a few existing eggs so she might think she had enough to settle for hatching.
Choosing eggs. God there are just soooooooo many. In the end, slightly by mistake, I double ordered and got 6 mixed Pekin Bantam and 6 mixed Orpington Bantam eggs. I was planning to only put 8, max, under her, but then Audrey turned broody too, so I made her a little house in the chicken maternity hospital, next to Greta, and put six eggs under each (I mixed them up, for insurance).
Clearly, I am a total novice so I read up lots and lots about how best to deal with posted eggs and setting them under broody hens and here are the guidelines, as far as I can work them out:
- Unpack the egg box carefully and inspect each egg for hairline cracks etc. Discard any that are damaged (obviously).
- Wash/do not wash the eggs (if dirty). Lots of conflicting advice here. Some say do not, under any circumstances, wash the eggs, as you wash off the protective ‘bloom’. Others say you must, if dirty, to remove as much possible contamination before setting them under the chicken. I went for washing on the ones that were especially dirty but then immediately wished I hadn’t. I did heed the advice to use only very tepid water so as to not change the temperature of the egg too quickly.
- Sit the eggs, pointy side down, in cartons, at room temperature for 12-24 hours, so the air sack can stabilise at the top of the egg (it needs to be here, apparently, for the last part of the chicks development, when the chick pierces the air sack so it can develop its lungs before breaking out of the shell…..or so I read).
- When letting the eggs stabilise, make sure they don’t warm or cool too quickly. Put them back in the carton they came in (once inspected and washed….or not washed!) so they gradually come up to room temperature over the 24 hours. This bit varies, again, as some people say they need to go into super clean new cartons to cut down on possible bacteria and infection. What is this??? Chicken World War Z…do they become zombie chickens if they touch a tiny speck of dirt?? I know, I know nothing and do bow down to those that do know best.
- If you are storing the eggs for use later, the possible storage time, again, varies according to what you read. Most say a week, 10 days max for a viable hatch, other places say you can go as long as three weeks. If stored, they need to be in a room, not too warm or dry, ideally between 10-15 degrees celsius. Some say turn the eggs regularly and store then at an angle, others say don’t touch them once stored and others still say simply flip the box they are stored in twice a day. Make your mind up people, I am a novice 😉
- Ideally, put the ready eggs under the broody hen at night, clearly marked with pencil, so you know which are the fertile ones you’ve set and what’s what (mine came clearly labelled by both sellers, as they were a mixed batch, and I removed all the regular eggs when I put the new fertile ones under).
- Candle them to see what’s going on at day 7 and day 18 and remove any that aren’t developing correctly. Again, lots of conflicting advice about this one so I’m not going to even go into it all.
There are lots of amazing online sources for info on all of this, written by people who know what they are talking about, some good ones are:
and this site for candling the eggs is just awesome:
The girls started off a bit crap, to be honest, they weren’t great at keeping the eggs covered, I ended up giving Greta 7 and Audrey only 4 (one got chucked out, at this stage, as it’d been left out for too long and was freezing cold when I checked). Interestingly, I read on a forum from someone very experienced (sorry, can’t remember who) that they believe you can ‘re-set’ incubating eggs once in the process, as long as it’s before day 15. They reckon that the eggs go into a kind of stasis so they can get cold for quite a long while, but then be put under another broody hen (a more reliable one) and will still hatch, just a little later than the original hatch date. It’s a thought, anyway. They also both managed to poo in their nest and walk it all over the eggs, which I decided to gently and quickly try to wipe off. Could be a mistake, but there was just too much chicken muck to leave it. They have settled right down now, though, and are both doing a great job, they’ve also been moved into an Eglu that I’ve split with cardboard so they get half each.
I’d planned to wait until day 9 to check the eggs, but as I’m rubbish, and couldn’t wait, I candled them on day 7 instead. I used my trusty torch with a bit of foam taped around the top and sat in the dark, in the cupboard under the stairs, as you do. I really thought only half were likely to have started to develop but was surprised to see veins in 8 of the eggs, with 2 maybes and 1 doing not a lot (that got removed). I’ll check the 2 maybes tomorrow (day 12) then all of them, for the last time, on day 16 (you normally do day 18, before ‘lock down’), as I’ve read that Bantam eggs sometimes pip early, on day 18 or 19, not day 21 as for regular chicken eggs, so they shouldn’t be moved after 16 days. I’m also going to move the Bantam eggs all under Audrey and the rest under Greta, so if they do hatch early, it doesn’t prompt the chicken to abandon the other eggs too soon.
On the gardening front, the kitchen table has been turned into a greenhouse ,so I can get everything started indoors. I’m a bit behind on my list, but I’ll get there 🙂