Incubating Eggs

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by Chantelle Wright, age 13
a Bird Lover

Chantelle's article was first published in Homeschooling Today Magazine (Nov/Dec '97) entitled "Science You Can Cuddle Up To."

Copyright by AlWright! Publishing.
May not be published without author's consent.
E-mail her daddy for permission to use.

My name is Chantelle and I am thirteen. I was a city girl until I was 7, then we moved to the country and spent our first weekend there building a chicken coop. We bought four hens so we could have eggs for breakfast. I acquired more hens and a few roosters until I had a flock of 25! It was too many eggs for our family of 7, so we decided to try incubating eggs. And that's what I'd like to tell you about.

We were told that success was 4 out of every 10 eggs hatching. Seemed like low odds. I wanted to achieve better than that, so I read books and talked to "chicken people" to find more information. I learned that the four most important elements to hatching eggs are: 1) begin with fertilized eggs, 2) temperature, 3) humidity and 4) turning the eggs.

Not all eggs are fertile! Hens lay eggs nearly every day whether they are fertilized or not. You need a hen and a rooster because fertilization takes place like it does with most mammals.

We read that the temperature needs to be about 97o-98 o. We have a friend who used a homemade incubator: a box with an oven rack on top to hold a light fixture with a 60 watt bulb. She had a towel in the bottom for cushioning the eggs and one over the eggs for warmth and used a thermometer for accurate temperature readings. We use the box method for raising the chicks once they're hatched, but we borrowed an incubator to begin our adventure of hatching chicks ourselves.

To keep a high amount of moisture in the air, we put a dish of water in the bottom of the incubator. Since the eggs don't move, we didn't worry that it would get spilled. The water helps the forming chick not stick to the side of the shell. That's why the eggs need turning, too. The mother hen does this naturally throughout the day. We turned them 3 times a day, so the eggs ended up on the opposite "sides" during the long night hours, rather than spending the most time in the same position.

I found out that I could "peek" at what was going on inside the eggs by candling them. To candle an egg we took a light fixture

with a reflector hood on it (to direct the light one direction), a piece of black construction paper and scissors. We cut a hole in the paper a little smaller than the actual egg. Then we put the paper over the light and taped it in place. Next we got the egg and held it over the hole in the paper. The black construction paper kept the light from shining through everywhere except under the egg. It was so cool.

When the eggs were only 4 days old, we could see a spot inside the center of the egg with veins going out towards the shell. That told us the egg was fertile and growing. We used this same procedure a few days before the chicks were due to hatch. We saw some rhythmic up and down motion, and sometimes we could recognize a beak or a foot.

A few days later, we heard peeping before there was even a crack in the shell! Before long, a hole appeared and we saw the beak coming through. Between resting breaks the chick turned its body in the egg, using its beak to make a crack the whole way around one end of the shell. We had to restrain ourselves from helping it out of the eggshell because they need to work up the strength to live in the outside world. If we helped them they might die.

My success rate has been pretty good: 8 out of every 10 eggs have hatched! We found the rejects were mostly infertile (rotten) eggs, and if we broke the shell inside our home, the smell stunk up the whole house!

Since I began, I have incubated several different breeds of chickens and tried my hand at other things, too. I hatched peacocks, ducks, geese and even lizard eggs! On our pond swim 5 ducks that I raised from eggs.

If you're interested in raising poultry or incubating eggs, I've included a list of specifics on number of days for incubation and temperature settings for each species.

Want to learn more about incubating and raising poultry? Order Chantelle's Poultry Unit Study on-line!

Read more about the Poultry Unit Study <HERE>


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