The tale of the $40 chickens.
June 21, 2011

A few months ago, Donald and I decided to order hatching eggs.  We could have borrowed one of our neighbor’s roosters for a week, BUT! but we received our first hens from our neighbor and we had no idea who sired each of those hens.  Since we weren’t really interested in poultry incest, we decided that ordering a batch of hatching eggs from a variety of chicken breeds would be the best situation.  We thought we would end up with a bunch of birds from different genetic pools who we could breed independently.

We ordered twenty chicken hatching eggs.

At the same time, we ordered twelve turkey hatching eggs as well.

It cost somewhere around $80 for all of the hatching eggs.  We received the twelve turkey eggs on a Wednesday and the twenty chicken eggs two days later.  Of the twenty chicken eggs, we placed a dozen beneath a broody hen.  We placed the other eight in the incubator alongside the turkey eggs.

The first thing that went wrong was, quite literally, the incubator.  We borrowed an incubator, looked up the set-up instructions online, and generally found it very difficult to moderate temperature and humidity.  One minute it would register at 99.2F with a humidity of 47% and the next minute it registered at 102.3F with a humidity of 15%.  We were forever adding and subtracting water, twisting the little knob on the top, and crossing our fingers.  If a snail hiccupped within a mile of that incubator, it went on the fritz.

LESSON NUMBER ONE: If you are going to use an incubator, find a quality one.  That works.  And that isn’t sensitive to snail hiccups.

The second and third things that went wrong began with a power outage.  A week into the incubation period, our power went down for several hours.  By the time I noticed, the eggs had dropped to 62F, nearly forty degrees below their optimal temperature.  I took them outside intending to place them underneath a few brooding hens we have who, at the time, were sitting on empty cedar chips.  When I got there, though, I realized that I had not properly labeled the eggs that I’d placed under the first hen.  It took me nearly half an hour to label each of the incubating eggs and take out each of the infertile eggs that our other hens had laid so that the brooders would sit on the hatching eggs and not the infertile eggs.  I have no idea what temperature the eggs were by the time I slipped them under our hens, but they were cold to the touch.

About ten minutes after I was done, by the way, the power came back on.  I placed the incubator eggs back in the incubator, but it took nearly two more days to re-stabilize the crappy incubator.  When I went back to the henhouse to pick up the eggs, one of the hens had moved to empty cedar chips again.

LESSON NUMBER TWO: If you are going to use an incubator, it needs to have an uninterruptible power source.

LESSON NUMBER THREE: Chickens are really, really dumb.

The fourth thing that went wrong is that I thought I needed to turn the eggs even though the incubator had an automatic turner.  From whence this idea sprang I will never know, but I flipped the eggs upside down in the incubator and they stayed that way in the incubator until Donald came home and chastised me.  It turns out that turkey eggs especially need to stay situated in one particular position in the incubator so that the air pocket is consistent.  So I inadvertently suffocated a bunch of developing chicks. LESSON NUMBER FOUR: Do your homework.

Of the twenty chicken hatching eggs, only two hatched.  Both came from the brood we’d placed beneath our brooding hen.

LESSON NUMBER FIVE: A broody hen is always the best incubator.

The fifth thing that went wrong was our turkey hatching.  We had one poult hatch a day early – and it was all wrong.  Turkeys, like chickens, use their egg tooth to peck a semi-circle.  Then they pop out of their shell, dry off, spend some time sleeping, and in a day or two they’re on their feet.  Our first poult did something wrong, started bleeding profusely, and got stuck.  It ultimately bled to death.  The following day, our second poult hatched just as it was meant to.  It used it’s egg tooth, popped out, dried off – and then we placed it beneath one of our broody chickens in the hopes that the chicken would raise it.

All afternoon, our hen acted very maternal toward the turkey poult, and then at last minute rejected it.  The poult went missing and our best guess is that a rat took it.

LESSON NUMBER SIX: Hens need to feel the egg hatching to effectively raise the chick unless they are particularly maternal.

LESSON NUMBER SEVEN: No matter what you do, sometimes things go wrong and hatchlings die.

It cost somewhere around $80 for the twenty chicken hatching eggs and the twelve turkey hatching eggs.  We have two chicks to show for it.  We joke that they are the most expensive chicks in the universe.  If we do not have $80 worth of hatchlings to show for our investment of time and money, however, we have probably learned $80 worth of lessons.

Still, the hardest part of homesteading is failing and I have never found this to be more true than when it involves animal lives.

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(12) Comments | Permalink
Filed as Chickens Food 

  1. By Katelyn on June 21, 2011

    Someone, somewhere, gets these things right :)  We hatched eggs in 4th grade.  One egg for each of us…so around 25ish….they hatched on the weekend so we didn’t even get to see it.  Only three hatched and they all died within the hour.  Good luck next time!

  2. By christy on June 21, 2011

    awwhh, what a bummer!!! :(  you live and learn! and i bet you’ll do it again!!!

  3. By Sarah Christensen on June 21, 2011

    Christy - Hell yes, I will!  Although next time I think I’ll separate the brooding hens into cat crates with food and water and let them sit there.  That way I don’t have to worry about them wandering off the eggs!

    And I’ll have to think of a better situation for turkeys because the incubation period for them is longer…

  4. By Sarah on June 21, 2011

    I grew up on a dairy farm and I think no one understands how hard it is on the farmer when one of their anumals dies. There have been many times I have seen my father sit with his head in his hands crying over one he couldn’t save. Charlotte will learn valuable lessons from this homestead experience. good for you all for allowing her to expereince true life.

  5. By Elly on June 21, 2011

    Oh lady, I had NO idea that raising little chicks from eggs would be so difficult! And good on you for looking at it as $80 worth of lessons, that attitude is so rare and so so brilliant. :)

  6. By Courtney @ Bundle of Wonder on June 22, 2011

    Sarah, thank you for posting this!  I have been doing some reading on selecting, buying, and raising chickens as we are thinking about buying some in the future.  But there’s nothing like reading first-hand experience!  I’m so sorry you all had to go through this, even if it is a learning experience.  When we do eventually get chickens I’ll be sure to come back to you with all of my questions!

  7. By M. DeLury on June 22, 2011

    Your broody hen looks so much like our hen we call Banty- she’s a Jersey Giant/Americauna cross that lays olive eggs.  Love the little turken baby.  We have 3 that are 10 weeks old.

    Sometimes these lessons are learned hard.  Right now we are learning the lesson of always keep your feed locked up tight so the goats don’t eat it all up and get sick lesson.  Its approaching an $80 lesson, but so far (crossed fingers hurt when you try to knock them on wood) they are looking well, just gassy. 

    Enjoy your $40 chicks :)

  8. By on June 22, 2011

    M. DeLury - Our neighbors learned that same lesson with their goats recently.  Bummer! =(

    The broody hen (we call her Puffy Cheeks, and the weird thing is that she’s actually co-parenting now with the other broody hen who rejected the turkey poult - cool to watch, but totally unexpected) is an Americauna.  Her eggs are a very light green.  The reason we ended up with her is because her egg color isn’t as pure as the olives or the blues.  We take other peoples’ cast-offs lol.

  9. By Mom24 on June 23, 2011

    Oh wow.  I am really sorry.  If it helps at all, my daughter’s second grade teacher has been hatching and raising chicks for years with her classes with not even a hiccup.  This year?  The year my daughter is finally in her class and can! not! wait! for chickens?  They all died.  They either did not hatch at all or hatched and died.  Complete disaster.  Try explaining that to 25 8 year olds. 

    Hope the next round goes better…for both of you.

  10. By Christy on July 10, 2011

    Oh how sad!  It is very impressive that you attempted (and succeed in small part) at all.  Good for you.  I’m sure your next back of hatching eggs will go much better.

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