INCUBATING - We have a range of manual to fully automatic incubators suitable for poultry and small birds. They can also be hired, just ask for details.
The incubators are straight forward to use but certain factors can affect your success rate. It is possible to candle the eggs after several days; this is a process where you can shine a candling torch onto the eggs to see if a growing embryo is forming. However dark shelled eggs are quite difficult to see through and the more times the incubator is opened the less chance of chicks. The forming embryo needs perfect levels of humidity and this will be compromised if incubator is opened more than necessary. A day before hatch day set up your brooder to maintain heat levels.
HATCHING - Once pipped the process of hatching can take several hours. Do not open the incubator as the humidity can be affected resulting in a chick stuck to the membranes. Keep the chicks in the incubator for a few hours until they have dried off and while other chicks are hatching. If the incubator is opened too regularly then the other eggs will be effected.
- Once the chicks are dry place into your brooder with chick crumb and fresh water, maintain correct heat levels for first four weeks. These are: day 1 32 degrees, one week 27 degrees, two weeks 24 degrees, three weeks 20 degrees, four weeks 16 degrees. Obviously, don't just remove the heat source one day, when you decide they are fine without, raise it up so there is less benefit from it each day for 3 to 4 days. If using a heat lamp the 250 watt bulbs are very expensive to run, and when it will produce enough heat it makes sense to change it to a 100 watt bulb, and drop the lamp considerably to keep the temperature correct. We now recommend the eco brooder which supplies heat from a ceramic plate and uses just 19 watts. This is suitable for up to 20 chicks. Where you place your brooder is very important, avoid areas next to the source of a draught, and next to a source of heat which changes (like radiators). Ideally the area the brooder is in will be warm, so there isn't a big difference immediately away from the source of heat you use. Brooders or heat lamps can be used, but it's essential you check the temperature regularly and adjust the height of your heat source when necessary. Incorrect temperature will kill young birds. Whether your area is a full shed, or a cardboard box in the house, the basic principles are the same, heat source in the middle, drinker and feeder outside the immediately heated area to encourage the chicks to walk to them and get some exercise, bedding on the base which isn't small enough to eat or dusty (large woodchip like we sell is perfect for all ages). The base of your brooder cannot be shiny or slippery, or they will get 'splayed legs' by slipping. If you have a tiny feeder and drinker try to make it so the chicks cannot climb into them, they love standing in their food so they scratch it with their feet like they were outside uncovering bugs in bark, but unfortunately they also cover the food in their droppings, which leads to problems. So their feeder should be very small with a scratch ring, and raised slightly off the ground when they are big enough to reach in. They will do the same with their drinker if they can, which means a wet, cold chick, so if the water container gives them access to get wet, fill the available area with marbles to just leave some to drink, their feet getting wet is no problem. Regular handling is fine, they don't have to stay under their heat source constantly, and if they do get cold they will make a very high pitched cheep, and if placed back in straight away they will warm back up under the heat almost instantly.
CARE OF CHICKS/DUCKLINGS - As well as heat and special feed chicks need company. They should not be kept as a single bird, if your hatch has resulted in only one then we can supply birds of a similar type and age for company. We sell chick crumb which is suitable for chicks and ducklings. Chick crumb is very valuable to young chicks, its not just smaller and easier for them to manage, the protein levels are higher as you would want for a youngster, and in most cases the feed contains medication. This is very important, the ACS (anti coccidiostat) helps protect the youngsters from coccidiosis, which they are very vulnerable to whilst growing, however this is unnecessary and potentially harmful to waterfowl, so avoid crumb with ACS for ducklings if possible. If nothing else is available they are better to have crumb with ACS than no crumb.  Keep your young chicks on crumb until 4 to 6 weeks then move onto growers feed, and from growers onto layers at 12 to 14 weeks old. It's easier for them if you mix some of their next feed with the one they are on over three days. So when changing from crumb to growers, day 1 1/3 growers in with crumb, day 2 1/2 growers and crumb, day 3 2/3 growers with crumb. If you have some crumb left and you're not planning to hatch more, its fine to continue with 1/3 crumb in the feed until used up. Same thing again when changing from growers to layers. Its not unusual for their daily intake to slow down when changing to layers, as long as they are still eating it's not a problem. Also once off heat keep your chicks indoors until around 6 weeks of age, depending on time of year and weather conditions. Using common sense is needed when letting them out for the first few days, if the weather forecast is bad for later in the day they are best just kept inside for the whole day, until you are happy. They can be left completely free range from 10 weeks, but whatever their age, the first time it rains they will be amazed and just stand in it wondering what's happening. Obviously this leads to colds and illness if they get soaking and stay wet. So their first experience of rain you will need to put them in their house for protection. Ducklings need heat for the first 2 weeks in summer or 4 weeks in freezing cold conditions and at around 5c less than chicks. At approx 3 weeks your ducklings can go outside in summer, 5 weeks in the worst of winter.
For goslings, feed is the same as ducklings, but if they are free range and on enough grass, they will move to an almost entirely grass diet after 8 weeks, they need heat for 1 week in summer, 2 weeks in winter.
Hatching and growing your own hens is a fantastic experience for all ages and people involved, and one children remember forever. We are happy to help at any time.