Hatching Chickens The Old Fashioned Way

Hatching Chickens The Old Fashioned Way

Growing up on a farm in NE. I learned all about animals, lots of animals. I think I inherited my love of chickens from my Grandmother. She raised hens and hatched baby chicks by the hundreds back in the early 1900 era, using old kerosene incubators. It was a major source of the family income some years.

My Mother never ceased to talk about how she had to candle and turn eggs and care for the chicks. She didn’t really ever make it sound like a labor of love, even though we always had an ample flock while I was growing up too. But then, she had us kids to care for the chickens, so it was easier.

The chicken of choice back then was always White Leghorns. My Grandmother raised them, so that is what Mom had. I  remember only too well the nasty Leghorn rooster who would attack me every day when I went in the hen house to gather the eggs. That ended when Mom caught him and Sunday dinner was stewed chicken.

My very own first chicken was a tiny yellow ball of  fluff a farmer friend of my Dad gave me at about 8 years old. It seems a hen of  his went off and hid a nest. When she emerged, it was with only one tiny chick. We just happened to be there and he handed the chick to me. Oh lucky day, Daddy let me keep it.

I took that precious gift home and made a box on our enclosed back porch and tended the little baby religiously. The chick actually became paper trained to the porch and was so good my meticulous Mother would even let it in the house. I’ve never had such a smart and tame chicken since.

When I had family of my own, I followed in the tradition of having chickens. Leghorns for eggs and Cornish for meat. But, I always kept a few Bantam hens around to raise chicks for us and as pets for my boys. I bought an incubator and used it a few years so the boys could have the experience, but the Bantam hens always out preformed me. I learned my lesson. Let the Momma hens do what they are supposed to.

How’s that work, you might ask.

Well, first you need to get some Bantams or other heritage breed hens. Today’s modern chickens have had a lot of the broodiness bred right out of them.  The hen will let you know when she is ready to set by “clucking” and by being a real “b**ch. She will peck you and squawk to high heaven when you try to get her off a nest to gather eggs.

After this behavior goes on for a few days, try putting her in a secluded part of your coop in a nice big box full of straw or wood chips to hatch her eggs. Do this at night, so she sleeps through the stress of the move. Put as many nice fresh, fertile eggs as she can comfortably cover under her, make sure she has water and food daily and then leave her alone. Let her out daily to potty, but make sure she gets back on the nest in a short time, or the eggs will chill. Most hens know this and take care of everything themselves. I’ve only ever had one “newbie” hen who I had to catch and put back on her nest.

At about 10 days, in the dark of night, you can sneak in and candle the eggs by shining a bright light through them. This will show which ones are alive and viable and which are dead. You want to do this because leaving a dead egg in the nest could contaminate the whole clutch. The egg could get rotten and explode and this could kill the rest of the eggs. Amazingly, I’ve never found but a couple dead eggs, and those were probably just some that were not fertile.

At about 20 days, listen for signs of the hen clucking a lot and the chicks peeping. She will be checking and turning the eggs almost constantly. It may take several hours to a couple days, but the new chicks will be born or hatched just as nature intended. The hen will know when to take them off the nest and get them to water and feed.

New chicks can live off the yoke for a long while, so just let Momma hen do the job. When she wants to move, have a nice area ready with water and feed. Keep other chickens away from her for a few days, especially other Momma hens and chicks, as she may want to adopt all she sees.

After that, just let her raise the chicks she has hatched the old fashioned way. She will keep them warm, feed them and teach them to be real chickens, better than you could ever hope to do. So just sit back and enjoy. It can’t get any easier than that.

Photo of little Serama hen who wants to set real bad, but it’s soooo cold out this time of year. Maybe later.

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9 Responses to “Hatching Chickens The Old Fashioned Way”

  1. Marty Heilman says:

    How long will baby chicks still in the egg last without warmth? Something got the mother hen. Badger, coyote, or skunk.
    Wondering if I can save the chicks.

  2. admin says:

    I’m not sure exactly how long they will be viable, but we had a broody get off the nest about a week before hatch date this winter. The eggs were ice cold, so she had gotten off for over an hour I’d guess. I brought the eggs in the house and candled them. All looked good but one, so I stuck those in my bator. A few days later I put them in lockdown and… chicks happened. Never would have thought they’d make it. Ive also hatched eggs from refrigerator eggs. :0) Hope that helps. Just get those eggs in a bator or under another broody fast as ya can.

  3. Nicky says:

    My hen moved her eggs to a new location. Have you ever heard of a hen doing that? I wonder how she did it. She moved from one end of the nesting boxes to the other end.

  4. admin says:

    Boy, I have no idea how she would move her eggs. Wow!

  5. Years ago i hatched some baby chick this way—I had a Styrofoam cooler and i hung a light inside, put my eggs in and put a wet wash clothe over the side.It was so exciting when my chicks hatched out.i re wet my clothe every day and replaced it.I know i must have gotten this information from a book but just can’t remember what size bulb, if i covered the eggs or exactly how i did it, My husband and i are in the process now of trying to hatch some but they have been in in the box with a 25 watt bulb and it has been 24 days and nothing has happened Two of our grandchildren came to spend the night on the due date just to see this strange phenomenal thing ( to them) happen.I know i had good success before so just wondering what i am doing wrong. any information would be greatly appreciated. Enjoyed reading and getting some insight on your web site. Emma

  6. chansenAdmin says:

    I think you probably got really lucky the first time you hatched your eggs this way. The most important thing in hatching is keeping the eggs at about 100 degrees and with a humidity of 35-45 percent. The last 3 days it needs to be raised to about 65 percent. Conditions must be pretty spot on to get eggs to hatch most of the time.

  7. Bonnie Wilson says:

    It seems like putting the chickens with the new baby’s back in with the other chickens is dangerous. Do you have to keep them separated untill the get big. My other chickens, especially the rooster will pick on the babys, or other new chickens. I got what I think is a silky, and a grey and black high hat. or high top. I’m not absolutly sure of what they are but the rooster and other chickens pick on them, and also the baby chicks that the moms set on and hatch.

  8. pam says:

    How many hens can1 rooster take care of?

  9. chansenAdmin says:

    It depends on several things, breed, the roo, etc. I usually figure about 5-6 hens per roo though.

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