There are two ways of hatching baby chicks
from fertile eggs – using an incubator or under a broody hen. Which is best? Let’s
look at some of the differences. There’s a lot to learn about using an incubator
to hatch chicks – you need to maintain just the temperature, humidity, ventilation, turn
the eggs enough and in the right way and stop turning at the right time. With a broody hen,
she knows all that stuff and does it all for you. So, for expertise, the count goes to
the broody hen. As long as you have fertile eggs available,
you catch hatch chicks in an incubator any time, all year round. But a hen is only broody
when her body says it’s time to be broody. She’s influenced by the season, temperature,
light and darkness, but you can’t make a hen broody, you just have to notice when she
is broody and take the opportunity. And once a batch of chicks has hatched, a hen is pretty
much busy with those ones and won’t go broody again for several months, whereas as soon
as one batch is hatched in your incubator, you can put in the next batch. So that’s
definitely one for the incubator. One broody hen can effectively incubate about
8 – 10 eggs of the same size as her own breed. That is, a big hen can brood about
8 – 10 big eggs and a bantam can brood 8 – 10 bantam sized eggs, while a bantam can
brood only a smaller number of big eggs. Incubators, on the other hand, come in a range of sizes
that can incubate anything from 3, to 12, to twenty, to hundreds of eggs all in one
batch. There’s no doubt an incubator is better if you want to hatch a lot of chicks.
Incubators are expensive, costing anywhere from about a hundred dollars to thousands
of dollars. Even second hand or homemade incubators are still expensive by the time you include
all the thermometers and hygrometers and so on, especially if you want automatic turning.
Now not all breeds of hen will go broody, so if the breeds you want to own are not the
broody kind and you want a broody hen you might need to buy a hen of a broody breed
just for that. So you might buy a hen specially as a broody and she might cost a bit, but
not hundreds of dollars. There’s no doubt a hen is cheaper to obtain than an incubator.
What about running costs? An incubator takes electricity to run so that’s an ongoing
cost you have to pay. And you don’t need electricity to run a chicken! But you do need
to feed and house and care for her, even when she’s not actually hatching eggs for you,
so maybe the running costs are about even. Things can go wrong. With an incubator, you
can get a power failure and suddenly your eggs are not being kept warm any more and
they can die within a few hours if you don’t have a backup plan. A hen doesn’t get a
power cut, but she can suddenly decide she’s not broody any more, she can get frightened
off the nest by something, even a thunderstorm, again leaving the eggs to get chilled and
the chicks inside to die. In both cases it’s a good idea to have a backup plan, whether
it’s a second broody hen waiting for fertile eggs or a warm insulated cupboard to hold
the temperature until the power comes back on. By the way, if you do have to resort to
Plan B, make sure whatever you do you don’t over heat the eggs. The developing chicks
will survive a while at temperatures a bit lower than ideal, but they will quickly die
if you get them even a degree or two too hot. So something like a hot water bottle is usually
not a good Plan B. Candling is the method of looking inside the
egg at the chick developing inside by shining a light through the egg shell, in the dark.
It’s incredibly amazing and wonderful to see the chick develop from nothing to a tiny
spot inside a spider-web network of blood vessels, to a little live thing that moves
about inside the shell and grows until it takes up all the room inside. Of course you
can candle eggs from under a broody hen but it’s disruptive to her and risky as well
as not so convenient, so you really shouldn’t do it often throughout the 21 days she’ll
be sitting on those eggs. Whereas as long as you’re careful not to damage the eggs
or let them cool too much, you can watch the whole miraculous process if the eggs are in
an incubator. It’s wonderful to see this beginning of life.
There is no doubt that it’s more natural for a chick to hatch under a broody hen. Even
before the egg hatches, the hen talks to the chick inside the egg and eventually the chick
even peeps back. The newly hatched chick is cuddled and sheltered amongst the hen’s
feathers in a way that no brooder box will ever duplicate. To be honest it doesn’t
seem to make much difference in the long run – the chicks grow up just as fast and strong
and healthy and well-balanced regardless of how cosy or sterile are their earliest surroundings.
But there’s no doubt that hatching under a broody hen is more natural.
Having watched the beginning of life and the tiny chick grow inside the egg, it’s just
awesome to watch that final struggle to chip away at the egg shell, make at first one small
hole, then crack a line all around the shell, from the inside! With no tools! And not much
muscle either! Until this tiny fragile chick breaks out of the egg shell and into the world.
That’s something you don’t get to see if the whole thing takes place under the hen,
in fact you probably won’t even get to see the chick for a day or so, but if you hatch
in an incubator, you get a chance to watch the whole drama.
On the other hand, once those chicks start to get around, there is nothing cuter than
seeing them poke out from the hen’s feathers or nudge her to get her to make space for
them to crawl underneath. That’s just a delight to watch and you only get that with
a real live hen. So what’s the score? Well, they each have
advantages. One isn’t really always better than the other, it just depends on what you
want, what you have, and what suits your purpose, and I hope you now have a good idea of which
might be best for you. What do I do? I do both. I mostly use an incubator
and raise the chicks in a brooder box. I occasionally have had a hen that did the whole job from
21 days of sitting on eggs all the way to raising the chicks, but often I do a combination
in which I actually incubate the eggs in my incubator and then give the newly hatched
chicks to a hen. So that way I get the best of both. And I can have as many chicks as
I want. I hope you enjoy my videos about chickens
and find them useful. If you do, please hit the Like button – that tells me you really
do like them. Subscribe to my channel – that way you’ll always know when there’s a new
video about the chickens in my garden. And do leave me some comments – I’d love to get
back to you and chat about chickens. Thanks for watching.