Welcome to BreedingChickens.com, Your Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Chickens
Breeding chickens is fun and can help you save money in the long run. Aside from producing your own chicken meat and eggs, you can also sell them later. A lot of people also want to buy different kinds of chicken breeds. But before anything else, be aware of the laws in your area to avoid potential problems with the authorities in the future. Know the required permits, as well as the do’s and dont’s. If you’re already sure that you are allowed by law to breed chickens in your area, the next concern is your purpose. Do you like to have many chickens or you just want to sell fertilized eggs? Will you use a broody hen to hatch your baby chicks or you prefer incubating them? What will you do if the hatched chicks are male? Whether you already know your target or still thinking about it, here are some important things you should know about breeding chickens.
For feeding the chickens, read our complete guide for feeding layer chickens and broilers.
How to Choose a Chicken Breed
Choosing a chicken to breed mainly depends on your purpose. and capabilities. In general, chickens can be categorized as a pure breed, hybrid, and crossbreed. All of them are capable of laying eggs and hatching baby chicks. If you are after egg production, what size and color do you prefer? Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, and White Leghorn are some of the chicken breeds that don’t only lay a lot of eggs, they also lay bigger eggs. On the other hand, most chicken breeds are friendly while others are temperamental or moody. So if you are breeding chickens only as a hobby and you have small children, you might want to choose the ones that can sit on your lap. Cochins, Sussex, Faverolles, Rhode Island Red, Silkies, and Australorps are among them. But more importantly, you should consider the climate in your area. Some chicken breeds are heat-tolerant. They can survive well during summer because of their smaller size and bigger combs. On other hand, bigger breeds with smaller combs are cold-tolerant. This means they are ideal to breed during winter or colder months.
Do Chickens Breed All Year Around?
Yes, they do. As a matter of fact, female chickens that are at least 6 months old can already start laying eggs. Some of them even start between 16 to18 weeks old. And when they do, all you need is a tough, fertile rooster which is necessary to hatch eggs However, chicken breeding is most popular from February to May. This is because it is during spring when chickens are the healthiest and strongest. Then, the hens are expected to lay eggs in autumn, which is around 24 weeks after they hatch. Typically, roosters are being separated from the hens after the second and third generations of chicks. They are being subject to slaughter or trade with another breeder. This is to avoid them from breeding their daughters or what breeders call inbreeding, which can cause fertility loss.
How to Breed Your Chickens
As mentioned above, female chickens are ready to lay eggs and breed if they are at least 6 months old. This is also the same year that a young male chicken (cockerel) is ready for mating. So you want to breed your chicks, make sure you have at least one male. Otherwise, you’ll need a rooster once they turn into hens. Technically speaking, chickens don’t need you to breed because it’s part of their cycle. You should only wait for 2 to 3 weeks after they mate before your hen will start laying a fertilized egg. All you need to do is collect them very carefully. Hens can still lay eggs without a rooster but they will not be fertilized, and they will never be a chick. Note, however, that it is quite rare that you will see a rooster and a hen mating. This is because most roosters tend to be shy when it comes to ‘lovemaking.’ Well, it’s not exactly making love because roosters tend to be rough on their ladies. But still, you might it hard to know in advance if your hen’s eggs have been fertilized or not.
How to Tell if an Egg is Fertile Before Incubation?
Well, there are many ways to do it. However, the oldest technique to check if an egg is fertilized is called candling. All you need is a lighted candle or any source of bright light, much better in a dark room. After around 5 days of incubation, check if the yolk (yellow part) has a sign of embryo or some veins. If there is, the egg is likely to be fertilized. Just so you know, seeing a red spot inside an egg does not necessarily mean that it is fertilized. It may also be a sign of rupturing of blood vessels and this can be due to lack of Vitamin A or genetic disposition. And to make sure, crack the egg and check if there is a small white circle on the yolk that has a white ring on the outside. If there is, it should have been developed into a chick. Also, fertilized eggs and unfertilized ones have almost the same nutrients and they have a similar taste. If you don’t have to have a baby chick, just put the fertilized eggs in your refrigerator. But if you do, place them inside an incubator or let a broody hen do the incubation process. Note, however, that some embryos in fertilized eggs will not develop.
How Long Does it Take For a Chicken Egg to Hatch?
Ideally, you would wait for 21 days (or 3 weeks) before the fertilized eggs will be hatched. But before incubating them, store them in a cool room for up to 7 days (a week) with a constant temperature of 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Never place in very cold places such as your refrigerator. Otherwise, they will not be hatched. Incubation can be done in two ways – using an incubator or using a broody hen. The latter is a hen that prefers to sit on its eggs all day long instead of laying them. In fact, they also “steal” other hen’s eggs and sit on them. They tend to be defensive and may peck on your hands if you try to remove them or get the eggs. Broody hens don’t want to leave the eggs except when they are hungry, thirsty, and want to poop. But sometimes, they sacrifice their health in exchange for their hobby. Broodiness may happen for no reason at all, and they may also change their minds even if you don’t encourage them. But oftentimes, they stay broody for 21 days. It’s quite simple to test your hen if she’s going broody. Place some fake eggs on her nest and observe her reaction. If she sits on them and doesn’t want to leave, she is most likely a broody hen. This time, you can put real eggs and she will incubate them. Interestingly, a broody hen can sit up to 12 eggs at the same time. And yes, broody hens can help you a lot if you are into egg production. But if you prefer having baby chicks, you might want to break her broodiness. On the other hand, if you want more eggs and you don’t have a broody hen, you have no choice but to invest in buying an incubator. But if you have a tight budget, you can also make one at home.
How to Incubate Chicken Eggs Using Your Incubator
First of all, commercialized eggs or those you bought from the grocery are not fertilized. And although some of them might be fertilized, they are very unlikely to hatch because they were stored in very cold places. If you don’t have fertilized eggs but you need them, you can buy them from poultry farmers that have roosters in their flocks. Basically, an incubator is an enclosed box with a heater and fan to keep the eggs warm. As mentioned earlier, fertilized eggs should pass the incubation process before they will become baby chicks. And if you don’t have a broody hen, you will need an incubator. As a reminder, eggs that are stored for about a week are more likely to be hatched.
Here are the steps for incubating fertilized eggs.
Setting up the incubator
Set up and run your incubator for at least 24 hours before putting the eggs inside. This is to allow the temperature inside to be stabilized. This is also the right time to make adjustments, if necessary. For more accurate results, use an incubator with a thermostat, which will control the temperature. You may also choose either the one with an automatic egg turner or do manual turning by yourself. Manual incubators many cheaper than automatic, but you will need time to monitor the eggs. Most incubators today also have digital displays for temperature, humidity, and countdown timer to the hatch day. Humidity should be controlled properly to prevent unnecessary loss of egg moisture. Ideally, an egg should lose around 13 percent of its weight. Otherwise, the chick is likely to drown. The humidity level should be between 25 and 60 percent for the first 17 days of incubation. During the last three days, it should be raised to between 70 and 80 percent. Note, however, room temperature has a great effect on the humidity level.
Turning the eggs
Turning the eggs will ensure that the embryo will grow without any deformities. This will also make sure that the developing chick will not stick to the eggshell. If the eggs are not turned, they are very unlikely to hatch. And even if they do, the chick will die soon. If you prefer the manual turning of eggs, you should turn them at least every 8 hours for the first 17 days. For best results, turn the eggs with evenly spaced intervals. You may also want to mark an ‘X’ on one of the eggs so that you will know whether all the eggs have been turned. While turning the eggs, make sure your hands are clean and grease-free. Soiled eggs have a huge possibility of becoming unhatched. Also, be careful not to shake them to protect the blood vessels of the developing embryo. Don’t forget to closely monitor the temperature and humidity. Using a hygrometer will help you in making sure that the humidity levels are correct. You should also add water to help maintain the humidity level. If you are having a hard time increasing the humidity level, place some small sponges inside the incubator. This will increase the wet surface and will help the water evaporate, thus increasing the humidity.
Testing the Eggs
You may start testing the eggs during the 7th and 14th days. By using the candling method, you can see the development of the embryo. If on the 14th day you noticed that some eggs that the embryo has not developed, remove them right away to avoid having rotten eggs inside your incubator.
The Last 3 Days
The 18th day is the start of the pre-hatching days. This time, the embryo should have already developed into a chick and will consume most of the space in the egg. These last three days of the incubation period are very crucial, too. During these days, stop turning the eggs and don’t open the incubator. If you are using an incubator with an automatic egg turner, make sure you have removed it. You should also raise the humidity level to between 70 and 80 percent and maintain the temperature to around 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit
It’s Hatching Day!
The 21st day is the hatching day you have been waiting for! At last, you will now see the baby chicks coming out from the eggs. They will start to peck a small hole in the shell and push their body until they can come out completely. But be patient because this can take up to 7 hours. Sometimes, they even reach up to 24 hours! But don’t ever try to help them. They don’t need your help. Baby chicks are too fragile and sensitive. Opening the incubator will also affect the temperature and humidity. And because hatching can be exhausting, you might even notice that most of them are lying on the floor. But don’t worry; they are just resting. Once all the chicks are hatched, you can reduce the temperature to 95°F. And if they are already dry, you can now transfer them to the brooder which should now be running with a temperature of 90-95°F. If you have some unhatched eggs, candle them before throwing them away. Some eggs are hatched even after 23 days.