How to Choose Chicks for Your Flock

choosing chicksIs it time for you to choose chicks to add to your flock? Maybe you are going to choose chicks based on egg laying, or breed characteristics. Perhaps you are looking to increase one particular breed in your flock. When you get to the feed store, how do you make a decision on which chicks from the bin, should go home with you. What breeds will serve your purpose? And, what if you choose a rooster!?

The Purpose of the Chicken 

Chickens serve more than one purpose on a farm or homestead. They are kept for fresh eggs and for meat. When you choose chicks, keep in mind your purpose. Many egg laying breeds are available in most feed stores and garden centers. Popular egg laying breeds include, Buff Orpington, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, Barred Rock, Speckled Sussex, Ameraucanas, Welsummers, Leghorns, and Australorps.  

Meat breeds include Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers. These breeds gain weight quickly and within ten weeks you are ready to butcher. 

choose chicks

Dual purpose breeds can be kept for both egg laying and meat purpose. These breeds are often heavy weight, large breed chickens. Some choose chicks from the following breeds when looking for dual purpose chickens: Brahmas, Buckeye, Jersey Giant, White Rock, and Delaware. 

Sometimes people choose chicks based on appearance. Chickens are enjoyable to watch. Fancy breeds are sought by people who are interested in showing chickens, breeding, and just because. Who can resist a fluffy silky, a comical Polish, or the rare Olandsk Dwarf.  There are so many beautiful breeds to choose chicks from and that is before we even consider the wide range of bantam breeds available.

How to Choose Your Chicks at the Store

When you begin looking in the brooder bins of chicks at the store, it can be somewhat overwhelming at first. They all initially look alike! But watch them for a few minutes and you will see some differences. Look for chicks that are easily and frequently moving to the food and water areas. The chicks that are not finding water and food may just need a bit more time or they could be sleepy. All chicks wake up at different times after hatching. The chicks that are freely moving around the brooder are you best bets at this point. 

choose chicks

Some stores won’t allow the chicks to be handled for safety and sanitation reasons. If you can hold the chicks, do a quick tip to toe health scan on the chick before choosing it for your flock. Look for the following traits:

  1. Clear eyes
  2. Straight beak, not twisted or crossed
  3. Dry and fluffy downy feathers
  4. Legs are straight and strong, feet are symetrical and the chick can stand easily
  5. Vent area is clear of droppings. Chicks commonly get a day or two of clogged vent from sticky droppings. The vent area should be cleaned with a warm wet cloth to soften and carefully remove the clot of droppings. As long as the chick looks otherwise healthy, this isn’t a reason to leave a chick behind. 
  6. Pecking order starts young. Don’t be overly concerned if one seems to be a little bully. Wait ten minutes and it might be a different chick doing the same behavior.

Can You Rely on Vent Sexing and Wing Sexing?

Hatcheries rely on trained employees examining the chicks and determining if they are pullet or cockerel. Although some people are quite good at this, the margin for error is still present. Most hatcheries will give between 90 and 100% accuracy. Although you may order and pay extra for a batch of pullets, receiving a rooster can happen. 

Choose Chicks Based on Egg Color

White egg laying chickens include over 20 different breeds. The most popular or commonly available breeds are 

White and Brown Leghorn, California White, Ancona and Blue Andalusion. 

Brown egg laying breeds include, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, Red and Black Sex Links, Barred Rock, Partridge Rock, Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and the production hybrid breeds.

choose chicks

Heritage Breed Chicks vs. Hybrid Breeds 

Heritage breeds, hybrid breeds, Bantams, Dwarf, what do all these terms mean to you when you choose chicks for your flock?

Heritage breeds are purebred chickens of a specific breed. The heritage breeds must adhere to the American Poultry Association standards with a traceable genetic lineage. The chickens must be from naturally fertilized, heritage breed eggs. These breeds are slower maturing, and true to breed standards as stated in the American Poultry Association.

Adding Bantams to the Flock 

Bantam chickens are popular with many people. The Livestock Conservancy defines Bantam chickens this way,
“Most bantams are scaled down models of large fowl and were developed for the pleasure of show”. The Bantams may be smaller but the eggs are still delicious. Use an extra egg for every two eggs called for in a recipe. Many chicken keepers with smaller properties appreciate the small sized Bantams. They don’t need as large a chicken coop and they are extremely beautiful birds, just like the full size chickens. 

Most of the time, adding a few bantams to a large sized flock will go smoothly. If you see pecking order issues, you may want to consider separating your Bantams from the larger chickens. In most cases, chicks of both sizes, raised together will do well. 

choose chicks

Hybrid Chicken Breeds 

Hybrid chicken breeds are a result of crossing two or more heritage breeds. Many of the breeds referred to as sex – link are hybrid breeds, created to be extremely good egg layers. These are the breeds many people will choose for high egg production.  Many of these breeds can be sexed at hatch because they are a certain color only found on one sex. 

choose chicks

What Methods Do You Use for Choosing Chicks?

Everyone is looking for their own special flock of chickens so it’s a good idea to choose chicks that will work for your purpose. Egg laying rate and temperament differ from breed to breed and chicken to chicken. A little research into the breeds before heading to the store can make the decisions easier.



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Emergency Chicken Health Care

Emergency Chicken Health CareEmergency Chicken Health Care

It’s a feeling of helplessness when you find one of your chickens hurt or ill and you don’t have anything on hand to begin treatment.   Many first aid kits for livestock or general purpose first aid kits will have some of the items necessary to help emergency chicken health care.  However, its better to build a kit that will meet the needs of your chickens. 

 What to Look For

First, it is important to recognize normal behavior for your flock members.  Chickens are almost always busy going about their daily business of eating, scratching and searching for more to eat and more to scratch.  They interrupt this activity to take a dust bath or bask for a moment in the sunshine. Each member of the flock will have its own personality that shines through in these activities and it pays to take note of this.  Now when you notice a marked different behavior or lack of activity, you can be alert to a possible health problem or injury.

Initial signs of illness can include, droopy appearance and standing off from the flock, lack of appetite, absence of egg production, loose runny poop, swelling of crop or other body part, discolored or pale comb or wattles. 

Early Care is Essential!

Providing early care is critical because chickens will hide the signs of illness as much or as long as possible to not look like easy prey. It also protects them from being picked on by flock members. Because they hide the signs of a problem, chickens can go down hill quickly. It pays to be prepared with a first aid box or kit that provides quick aid the chicken. You will lose precious time if you need to run to a store or wait for the veterinarian to return a phone call. For any life threatening emergency though, I would still recommend placing that call to the vet and then administer first aid while you await further instruction.

emergency Chicken Health Care

Start by having a safe and secure place to isolate a sick or injured chicken while you treat the problem.  The patient will need peace and quiet, access to water and food and the freedom from being harassed and bullied by flock mates.  Have this spot in mind ahead of time.  We never know when an emergency can occur. Electrolytes in the water can help at this point but use caution and do not force liquid into a chicken because you can cause the liquid to get into the lungs.  

Learn how to pick up and carry a chicken. The best way is to use two hands, covering the wings so they aren’t able to flap wildly in your face. Lift the chicken and turn it facing backwards while tucking it under one arm. Now you have control of the wings and the feet for carrying and examination purposes. 

When examining an injured bird, handle the chicken securely and firmly so it feels safe and not threatened. Avoid loud noises and sudden startling movements. 

Cleaning wounds

I start by cleaning out the wound with a sterile saline solution. Once clean of dirt and debris I can assess whether the wound will need a veterinarian’s care or if I can treat and bandage it myself. Next, give the wound a good rinse with hydrogen peroxide and/or Veterycin Wound Care solution. If bleeding is not controlled, try packing the wound with cornstarch which should slow or stop blood flow in the area. Plantain leaves can also slow the bleeding.

Leave shallow wounds open and not bandaged. Coat with an antiseptic like Blu-Kote to prohibit pecking by flock members of the red bloody area. Bandaging chicken anatomy takes some creativity. My favorite method of bandaging a wound uses  antiseptic ointment, covered by a gauze pad, followed by wrapping with gauze.  I finish the wrapping with a length of vet wrap, a stretchy self sticking wrap sold in farm supply stores.

How often you need to re-wrap the injury will depend on if you can let the chicken out to roam around with the flock or if it has to stay isolated to recover.  I suggest at least a daily check and apply clean bandages, which will allow you to check for healing or signs of infection.

Broken bones

Broken toes and legs can be splinted and wrapped much the same way as a wound.  Make sure to not wrap so tightly that the blood circulation is compromised.  Pipe cleaners, stiff cardboard, Popsicle sticks are all items that might work as splints for toes and legs. 

chicken health emergencies

First Aid Kit

These are the items I keep handy for chicken or any poultry emergency. 

Saline Solution

Hydrogen Peroxide

Gauze pads and gauze wrap

Vet Wrap

Corn Starch to control bleeding

Antibiotic/Antiseptic ointment 

Blue-Kote – blue colored antiseptic spray to coat the area and prohibit picking

Vetrycin Wound Spray

Cotton swabs



Electrical tape to secure bandages because it doesn’t lose its stickiness when wet.   Emergency Chicken Health Care

And a large towel is helpful when holding a frightened chicken.  Use the towel to wrap around the chicken to prevent it from flapping and trying to escape.

emergency chicken health care

Hope this helps you become more prepared for chicken health care emergencies on your homestead.  Emergency chicken health care plays an important role in the bird’s recovery and prognosis.


Can Chickens Eat Mashed Potatoes?

can chickens eatCan chickens eat mashed potatoes? Believe it or not, too much of any food can upset the delicate balance in the chicken’s digestive tract. Being Omnivores means that technically, chickens can eat anything they want to eat. Their diet in the wild would consist of varied plants, bugs, dead animals, and live rodents. However, they have some of the choice taken away from them when we keep them in coops and runs.

Faced with a delicious plate of mashed potatoes, next to the regular dish of layer feed, the chicken is going to binge eat those potatoes! In the wild, they wouldn’t have this handed to them in such a great quantity. And there’s the key to the question, can chickens eat mashed potatoes.  They can, but everything should be offered in moderation. Offering too much of any food besides layer feed, free range grasses and bugs, can lead to stomach upset. 

Can Chickens Eat Vegetables Fresh From the Garden?

What about other foods commonly left over from our family meals.  Cooked vegetables are almost always ok to serve to your chickens.  Can chickens eat all vegetables raw, right from the garden? The answer to that would no. Some raw vegetables contain chemicals that are toxic to chickens. Vegetables from the nightshade family includes, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and eggplants.  The solonine in these plants is the toxic substance that can build up in the chicken and cause toxicity and death. The fruit of the tomato and the pepper is fine in moderation, when it its fully ripe. Never allow your chickens to feast on the tomato plants, pepper plants or any of the green leaves from the nightshade family.  

can chickens eat

Note* Sweet Potatoes are not from the nightshade family. They are from the morning glory family and the sweet potato and the leaves are both safe to eat.


Greens – Most greens are good for chickens. The exception would be spinach which contains a heavy amount of oxalic acid. This compound, in large quantities can interfere with the absorption of calcium. Small amounts of spinach aren’t a problem but large or frequent feedings of spinach, beet greens or Chard might lead to soft egg shells.

The leafy lettuces, kale and other greens are great treats for the flock. 

Can Chickens Eat Dairy Foods Like Cheese, Milk, Yogurt?

During a recent episode of viral information on social media, a discussion was going on about whether or not chickens can have dairy foods without consequences. There was a huge response with people again arguing that they do so all the time, and have no stomach upset in the flock. Others mentioned that chickens lack the enzyme necessary to digest milk protein (lactose). Yogurt can provide a boost of calcium, protein, energy, and probiotics and yes yogurt is a healthy food for humans. Chickens can benefit from small amounts of unsweetened plain yogurt. It does provide some probiotic benefits. 

However, it is a dairy product. Large amounts of dairy are not good because it can lead to loose stools and upset stomachs. So again, we come back to that age old rule of moderation and small amounts. Feeding a large bowl of yogurt might not kill your chickens or lead to toxicity but it probably will cause some digestive upset.

can chickens eat

Most Chickens Don’t Like Citrus Fruit

There are differing opinions on feeding citrus. There isn’t any definite evidence that it is harmful. Too much citrus and vitamin C, can lead to weaker egg shells because it interferes with Calcium absorption . I am not too worried about this because mine reject citrus fruit anyway. I have heard this from many other chicken owners. 

can chickens eat

Meat Scraps

Being omnivores, chickens can handle eating meat protein. Have you seen the excitement when they catch a field mouse? Even a snake is a delicious form of meat. So feeding them the carcass from a roasted chicken, if you aren’t making bone stock, is fine. Fried or fatty meat should be avoided and anything cooked in a heavy sauce could lead to diarrhea.   

can chickens eat

Legumes and Beans 

Fully cooked beans can be fed to the chickens. Raw beans of all kinds contain hemaglutin which is a natural insecticide and toxic. The cooking or sprouting of beans or dried beans destroys the chemical and then the beans are safe to feed to the chickens. So your leftover green beans and other legumes from dinner are perfectly fine to give as a treat.

A Few Other Foods to Mention 

Onions and Garlic are from the same family but contain different chemical make up. The allium family, particularly onions, contain large amounts of thiosulphate, a toxin. It is interesting though, that garlic contains very little thiosulphate. Garlic is completely safe and extremely healthy to add to the chickens diet.

Chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol are three of my favorite treats. But the chickens should have none of these substances.

Avocados– These actually do contain a fatal toxin in some parts of the avocado. I do not give any part of this to my flock.

Apples– Some people may mention that fruits with seeds and pits can be toxic, too. They can but it’s a much lower toxicity and mostly the chickens will just eat the fruit. To be safe, cut up the apple and don’t feed the cores. Remove the peach pits.  This is not a problem with watermelon which is a favorite treat!

Rhubarb – This is toxic in so many parts that I wouldn’t take the chance of feeding it to my flock. The leaves are toxic to people too so be sure to avoid them in your foraging.

can chickens eat

Toxin Build Up in Chickens

I know many will read this and argue that they or their grandparents always fed the chickens green tomatoes, or onions, or any number of things, and no chickens died. And they would be correct. Very few toxins will kill people or animals immediately. However, toxins eaten on a regular basis or in such an amount that buildup occurs over time, will die or become sick. You may not tie it back to the potato peels you fed to the chickens three times a week. Or the free ranging in the garden where they had access to pepper plant leaves and potato vines.  

It’s the same with people. Toxins in our food build up in our bodies over time. We are just beginning to realize that plastic packaging, chemical dyes, and other contaminants can cause problems with kidneys, nervous system, and the heart. The liver is a prime candidate for toxin build up leading to disease too. Our poultry and livestock are no different. They can eat many different foods that we share with them. It doesn’t mean it is without risk or without an effect further down the road.

What to do 

My final point to answer the question “can chickens eat…?” is this.  As our grandmothers said, everything in moderation. In the past, few farmers kept a large flock of chickens over the winter. The best layers might have been kept but most were processed for food so they didn’t have to be fed through the winter when free ranging food was scarce. Not keeping hens past a year or two probably didn’t show the toxicity symptoms that might show up in older hens. This is your flock. You get to make the decisions. Remember that not every bad decision will have an immediate consequence. Also, not everything you do is not going to endanger the life of your chicken.  

Feeding a good quality layer feed, supplemented with safe foraging and free ranging, and delicious safe treats from your kitchen will help you keep a healthy flock. Meal worms and dehydrated grubs are tasty treats that normally don’t lead to problems. Remember that the answer to “can chickens eat” this food is, only in moderation. 


can chickens eat

Chicken Gardening for You and Your Flock

chicken gardeningAre you chicken gardening? What kinds of vegetables should you plant in order to supplement your chicken’s diet? Chicken gardening is slightly different than gardening only for people. Our flock of chickens, ducks, turkeys and guinea hens, love all sorts of vegetable products and scraps.  In the winter months,  I ask the local grocer for the trimmings from the produce and then a feast occurs. During the rest of the year, we are able to grow fresh garden produce and herbs for our chickens, ducks and rabbits.

chicken gardening

Beginning in early spring, we plant the cool weather leafy greens such as romaine, kale, spinach, and cabbage.  Also, broccoli and cauliflower like cool temps.  Getting these plants started before hot weather hits is a must if you want them to survive a hot spell.  Greens are one of the favorite treats for our flock and we save every bit that is not consumed by the humans, for the flock. If your property lacks abundant grass, feeding some other leafy greens can add essential vitamins and minerals into your chickens diet.  Don’t over do the greens however.  large amounts of fresh greens can lead to intestinal upset and runny feces.  Cucumbers are a refreshing treat for the flock.  Placing a large chunk of cabbage into a wire basket and suspending the basket at beak level adds a boredom buster the the flock’s day. 

Herb Gardening for Chickens 

I grow as big an herb garden as I can each year. Starting in the early spring with some seeds and some started plants, I tend the herbs and frequently harvest and disperse to the flocks here on the farm. Since some herbs are tender I grow them in raised beds or container gardens away from the chicken flock. I don’t want them trampled or the roots destroyed by a scratching chicken. 

There are very few herbs that your chickens can’t have as a treat or a health boost. In addition to garlic, pumpkins and dandelions, herbs will do the most good for your flock if fed fresh in small amounts frequently. 

Gardening with Chickens, by Lisa Steele provides many ideas of what to grow in your herb garden for the chickens. In addition to herbs, many other plants are safe for chickens to consume.  The herbs can be used to make infused oils, salves and teas to help correct health issues in the flock, too. 

Many herbs will lend specific benefits to your flock. Check the chapter “Gardening for Orange Egg Yolks” to read more about marigolds, borage, carrots, and parsley. 

Don’t forget the benefit of growing herbs for the coop environment, too. Not only will the herbs freshen the air, calm the hens,and relax the egg laying mechanism, herbs are great at repelling rodents and insects naturally. I love snipping herbs on the way to the chicken yard.  Sprinkle the herbs on the nests, in the feed bowls, and even in the water! An herbal “tea” will add many health benefits to your flock.

Edible Flowers for Chickens 

A great addition to your vegetable garden are edible flowers. Not only are some garden flowers good for insect repellent in the garden but chickens can eat some of the flowers too.  Violets, roses, mallow, daisies and sunflowers are good choices for a garden that you share with chickens.

Pumpkins Take Room to Grow,

But the Chickens will Love the Treat

Pumpkins are an essential treat on our farm.  Last year was a great year for pumpkins and markets in our area were selling pumpkins at the most reasonable price I have seen in years.  I supplemented what we grew ourselves, with a huge box of small pumpkins from the farmers market.  We had fresh pumpkins to give the chickens up until March. 

An added, essential benefit of feeding fresh pumpkin is the natural worming properties.  The seeds of the pumpkin contain a substance that renders the worms paralyzed.  The worms are then expelled with the feces.  We do not have a worm problem in our flock, but I still prevent it with fresh pumpkin.  Eating pumpkin seeds may not cure a heavy presence of intestinal worms but feeding pumpkin can help the gut stay healthy and unwelcome to future worms looking to stay. Pumpkins are also high in Beta carotene which helps promote good overall health.  Make sure you give your pumpkins plenty of room to roam while they grow and provide well draining soil and almost full sun.

chicken gardening

Cool Treats for Hot Summer Days 

By far the favorite treat we plant is watermelon.  Cool and refreshing to humans and flock members alike, nothing beats it on a hot, sultry summer day.  I chop the watermelon into large chunks and they dive right in.  The ducks will gobble up the sweet melon center all the way down to the thinnest rind.  The chickens will eat the entire watermelon, rind and all.  So the pieces the ducks leave behind eventually end up in the chicken run for the chicks to finish off.  No waste here!  If you have leftover cut up melon from a cook out, you can freeze the leftovers to bring out on a super hot day.  Water melon Popsicles!   It’s a nice way to keep them hydrated during the heat. Watermelons also contain valuable vitamins.

chicken gardening

chicken gardening

Legumes – Cooked First!

Beans, such as green pole beans or peas are another item to plant in your garden for both humans and chickens and ducks.  My ducks particularly love cooked green beans. (Feed only cooked or sprouted beans!)  Oh the quacking it brings on when I show up with leftover green beans.   Tomatoes and Corn are also welcome treats.  We have trouble keeping the racoons out of the corn.  They seem to know exactly when we are almost ready to pick the corn. The night before that, the racoons start partying in our corn field.  

chicken gardening

Other Chicken Gardening Cautions 

When you are chicken gardening, you may be tempted to throw the entire plant to your chickens. This is not a good idea.  The fruit of the tomato plant is an acceptable treat, but the green plant is toxic and can lead to illness in your chickens.  Err on the side of caution and only feed the fruit and then compost your plants after garden season is over.

Plants from the nightshade family are toxic.  These include potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.  The chemical solanine is contained in the plants and green fruit of the plants in the nightshade family.  Potato skins are toxic. Some people will cook the skins and feed them to the chickens.  I have always erred on the side of caution and not given the potato peels to them, cooked or raw.  If I feed the chickens any potatoes at all, it is cooked first and probably left over from our dinner! We love potatoes too! 

For an even more in depth discussion of harmful plants that you should not give your chickens, read Gardening with Chickens, chapter 4.  Do you know the difference between sweet potatoes and white potatoes?

Other Potential Problem Veggies 

Eggplants – Again, not a big favorite of my flock, maybe because I just don’t give it to them.  

Tomatoes- This is a tough one for me because my chickens have always loved tomatoes. The green tomatoes and the plant itself are potentially hazardous because of the solanine contained in the plant.  I try to limit the amount of tomatoes to a few a week mostly because the flock seems to get some digestive upset from over indulging in tomatoes.

Onions have a different chemical in them that can prove to be toxic to chickens.  Raw onions and the thiosulphate chemical can lead to anemia if fed to the chickens regularly.  I don’t give them onions unless there are some cooked onion in a bit of leftovers from our kitchen.

Peppers- Again, fruit is fine and enjoyed, the plant and any unripened fruit should not be given to the flock. Avocados should be avoided and the leaves from the rhubarb plant are toxic. 

Fruit Trees 

If your chicken gardening efforts include fruit trees, you should know that large amounts of the seeds of apples can cause toxicity and death.  The chickens will enjoy some apples for sure but skip the seeds containing naturally occurring cyanide, to be safe.

Many in the chicken raising community feel that it is acceptable to feed all compost items to the chickens.  The argument has been that chickens will eat what is ok and stop or avoid foods they shouldn’t eat.  In my flock observations, I have not found this to be true.  My raptors will eat everything in sight, and they have free choice layer feed, two times a day of free ranging time and occasional treats from the garden and produce aisle. 

Chicken Gardening and Destructive Chickens 

If you do not fence in the garden with some material that keeps the chickens out when you aren’t watching them, you will not have a garden for long.  Yes, the chickens will do a fantastic job of eating garden pests, aphids, tomato worms and will  help with some weed control.  Unfortunately, their ability to know when to stop scratching, and when to stop taste testing every tomato on the vine is limited.  When using your flock for true chicken gardening, I suggest supervision!

These are just a few ideas to get you started on your chicken garden.   The list of potentially toxic plants is not complete but is based on the more common garden grown produce. There are plenty of sources  available on chicken gardening.  Here are a few more references to help you get started.


chicken gardening

Other Suggested Resources on this topic:

Gardening with Chickens by Lisa Steele

What Herbs Keep Chickens Healthy

Free Range Chicken Gardens  by Jessi Bloom available through Amazon.

Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow


Using Hatching Eggs to Grow Your Flock

using hatching eggsUsing hatching eggs is one way to grow your backyard poultry flock. Hatching eggs are eggs from poultry that are suitable for incubating or placing under a broody hen. If you hang around chicken people long enough you will hear the term using hatching eggs being tossed around, as they consider which breeds to add to their flock. Increasing the flock can be accomplished a few ways. You can let your broody hen hatch eggs herself, if you have a rooster in your flock to fertilize the eggs. Purchasing day old hatched chicks is another way to add to your flock or get started with chickens. If you prefer a certain breed of chickens,  purchasing and using hatching eggs may be the most economical way to proceed.

Reasons to Use Hatching Eggs 

Rare or extremely popular breeds may only be available this way.  Shipping live chicks is costly. If you have access to an incubator, hatching eggs can save you quite a few dollars. Once you decide which breed you are interested in, check with local chicken groups or clubs to see if anyone is selling fertilized eggs from that breed. The less time and travel involved, the higher the viability and hatching rate. If no one local is selling, internet searches, posting in groups that discuss chickens, and emailing a breed group may result in someone selling hatching eggs. Many people use Ebay to find the right seller. Look at the customer feedback and selling history before parting with your money.

using hatching eggs

Look for Quality 

The eggs sold as hatching eggs should be normal egg shaped and clean of mud and manure. Small specks of dirt won’t hurt but large smears or clumps of dirt won’t make a good hatching egg and may add dangerous bacteria to the incubator. Cleanliness is important because the incubator temperature not only helps the embryos grow and develop, but it also would help any bacteria flourish. Chicks hatched in a dirty environment have little hope of survival.

The hatching eggs should not be washed before incubating. This is why it is important to keep the nest boxes clean and sanitary if you are considering hatching chicks or collecting eggs to sell as hatching eggs. If you buy rare or expensive hatching eggs and introduce them into a dirty nest or incubator, you probably won’t have a good outcome.

What Does a Rooster Have to do With All of This?

using hatching eggs

A rooster must be part of the flock in order for you to  have fertilized eggs. When the rooster mates with the hen, the eggs become fertile for the next few days or weeks. The eggs will still be fine to eat, and no chicks will develop if the eggs are not incubated.  Collecting hatching eggs from the nests of your flock should be done every day. The eggs should be stored in cartons, pointed end down, and kept at room temperature. The eggs hatching rate begins to decline after a few days, so pack and ship hatching eggs promptly.  Procedures for shipping hatching eggs change and vary. Read some basic practices and ideas on shipping hatching eggs in this post

Using Hatching Eggs with a Broody Hen 

Once you have a seriously broody hen, order your hatching eggs. When the eggs arrive, allow them to settle for a few hours. When your broody hen goes to sleep, sneak the eggs underneath her. The next morning she will think they have always been there and should continue her brooding. Mark the date on your calendar and count forward 21 days. That will be close or the actual hatch date. Bantam breeds develop sooner, often beginning to hatch at day 18 or 19. Ducklings take longer, averaging 28 days. 

using hatching eggs

While your hen is brooding she should get up once or twice a day for food and water and to eliminate waste. Some hens are so serious about hatching eggs that they are reluctant to do this. Encouragement can be used as long as the hen isn’t too upset by it.

The Incubator when Using Hatching Eggs 

If you are beginning your first flock or prefer to hatch the eggs in the incubator, have everything ready before the eggs arrive.  Again, let them settle from the trip before placing them in the incubator. Mark each egg with an X on one side. Turn the eggs a few times a day or set the automatic egg turner to do that for you. Turning the eggs helps the chicks develop correctly. Keep the incubator temperature at 99.5 for the entire time the eggs are developing. The humidity is important, also, and should be kept between 40 and 50%. During the last few days of the incubation, stop turning the eggs or turn off the automatic egg turner. Do not open the incubator after that. It is important that the humidity remain high so the chicks can hatch from the eggs with out getting stuck in dry membranes. 

using hatching eggs

Candling the Eggs to Look for Development 

It is important to check the hatching eggs about a week into the incubation. A broody hen seems to know when an egg is not developing and kicks it from the nest. A non-viable egg left in the incubator can explode, ruining the hatch. Use a candling light to check for development and remove any eggs that show no signs of embryo growth by ten days. 

When your chicks hatch, it is fine to leave them in the incubator for a few hours to dry off. This prevents unwanted opening of the incubator while the rest of the eggs are hatching. If the first hatched chicks are very active and constantly rolling the other eggs around, you may need to remove them quickly. 

using hatching eggs

Hopefully, you will have a good hatch rate when using hatching eggs. Share your experience with using hatching eggs in the comments. 

using hatching eggs

Written for you, as you begin your life with chickens! Easy to follow instructions, ideas, tips and photographs from Hatch to Egg Laying. Chickens From Scratch