The 2012 Hatch & 100th Post on My Rural Garden

I love it when things work out this way!  What better way to celebrate 100 posts than with a few success stories… or 21 success stories, as chick number 21 is breaking from his shell as we speak (for some reason all chicks in the incubator are “he” and all chicks in the brooder are “she”… this makes no sense to me as an English teacher, but seems to pop out of my mouth every time I start talking about the new babies).  It hasn’t been easy.  Days 1 – 18 of the hatch, I was a model of calm chicken keeping… then day 19 rolled around… I couldn’t successfully candle either of the two eggs I tried… I was convinced that every one was dead… until a pip appeared the morning of day 20, and it’s been a wild ride since there.  By yesterday morning, we had one very wobbly chick in the incubator, and this morning, I woke up to twenty!

This is only our second batch of chicks.  Last year, we ordered 27 (26 Buff Orpingtongs & 1 Mystery Chick) from Murray McMurray hatchery, and I couldn’t be more happy with that investment.  From those 27, we culled 17 for meat and kept ten (nine, now, after Frank’s departure), and from those 10, we were able to produce at least 22 (if not 26) more.  With our rotating breeding program (breed Frank Y1, Elliot Y2, Frank’s Offspring Y3 — maybe Elliot’s Y4), we will be able to keep a sustainable flock for at least three years before having to seek out new members.

So how did we do it?  I’ve talked about our breeding program specifics in a few places, but I haven’t yet gone into much detail on our Hovabator 1588.  Like so many things in our lives, Jason and I spent almost two weeks researching before we made our purchase, opting for both the Hovabator and the egg turner because both of our jobs are particularly demanding in the spring, and we wanted the most fool-proof method possible.  I am a worrier, you see…  We purchased from Stromberg Chickens, and we found their service to be prompt and good (note: I am in no way affiliated with Stromberg Chickens at this time, nor did we receive anything for this review).  Both the incubator and turner arrived in good condition a day or so before they had predicted.  Jason assembled them before I got home from work, and within three or four days (after a good 24 hour test run), we had the incubator up and running.

There are a lot of things I’ve liked about the Hovabator 1588.  The observation window was a must for me, as I’m just too curious to pass by the incubator without a peek.  I also think that when we have children, someday, this will be an excellent feature!  In addition to that, the new digitized model holds both heat and humidity beautifully, keeping a constant temperature of 99.8 degrees (with mild .1 degree fluctuations) and a solid humidity of 60% (with the first water well kept full).  I added about 1/2 c. room temperature, distilled water each day and found that it kept everything constant (the entire hatch took us 1 gallon of distilled water).  On day 18, I removed our egg turner and filled the second well, and the device had no trouble maintaining a humidity of 65%, until the proper hatch started, when it rose to between 70 – 73%.  This is truly a plug into the wall & go incubator.  I will note that once a half dozen eggs pipped and our first chick came out, I removed the little red ventilation plug to allow for more air flow in the unit.

The only negative of this incubator is the amount of condensation that it produced during the last three days of the hatch.  There were constantly small beads of condensation from about days 4 – 18, but on night 21, the condensation reached the digital unit, beading water in there, and I had a very nervous few hours early this morning, when I was worried that the unit might short out… no such problems to report!

Condensation in the Incubator on Day 22

This morning, with a humidity of 72%, I did break one rule and removed a few completely dry chicks from the incubator because they were hopping around like popcorn and really disturbing the newborns.  Humidity returned within 30 seconds, and I was careful to do this when no one was attempting an escape from an egg. I placed them into their brooders, taking extra care to place marbles in the waterers, as they were much more prone to drowning than our mailed chicks (perhaps remembering the eggs so recently?).

Things I learned:

  1. Use distilled water in your incubator, particularly if you have a well.  It limits bacteria and can be kept at room temperature to increase humidity more quickly.
  2. During lockdown, water can be added to the troughs with aquarium tubing and an Equine syringe.  I only ran tubing to the second (larger) well in my Hovabator, and though I was – initially – worried about humidity, the chicks create a lot of humidity on their own when they come out of the shell.
  3. Consider transitioning your eggs from turner to cartons (or the egg turner plates removed from the turner.  This holds the eggs steadily in place during the hatch and prevents the chicks from playing soccer with their siblings.  I was skeptical about this, but after watching my first hatch, I’ll always use cartons/egg plates.  I will note that I had intended to use cartons for this hatch, but one end of my incubator wasn’t level and one of the cartons got soaked on day 18.  I swapped in the egg plates (removed from the turner) and most of those eggs hatched.
  4. A newborn chick is nothing like the three day old chicks you get at the hardware store or from the hatchery.  They are tiny, soaking wet, bumbling and incredibly uncoordinated.  Give them an hour.  Once they start drying off and learning how to use their legs they look less like drunken zombies and more like the chicks you have loved in the past.  I will admit, though, that for about thirty seconds after the first one emerged, I had a horrible moment of “what have I gotten myself into?”

    The Newborn Chick… Not Your Hardware Store’s Chick…

  5. Watching an egg hatch is 1/2 awe 1/2 alien terror.  I had never expected the eggs to appear to breathe while the chick makes its way into the world.  Awesome! and more than a little scary…

    A Breathing, Lurching, Hatching Egg!

  6. It can take between 24 – 30 hours for a chick to go from initial pip to zipping (opening) the egg and emerging.  They sleep a lotduring those hours, so if you don’t see any movement, don’t panic!

    4:30 a.m., Sunday – Pipped vs. Zipped Eggs

  7. The chicks are strangely attracted to flashlight beams.  This was a great way to check on them and a terrible way to take a head count — they were popping like popcorn every time a light appeared.
  8. The chicks make a TON of noise in the incubator.  Enough that we could hear it in the other room.  With the door closed.  It was pretty awesome.

For those of you on the fence about bringing an incubator into your lives, I can’t recommend it enough.   This experience has taught me so much more about my flock, and I can’t wait to continue to report back on these new members!

Chick 1: Day 1
Ah, when the incubator was clean and quiet…

Chick 1: Day 2
The Difference 24 Hours Makes

Also: Follow My Rural Garden on Facebook (sidebar link) if you’d like regular chick photos.  I’m hoping to do some day-by-day images to better catalog their growth.  And take a look at other members of the Homestead Barn Hop for more interesting homesteading ideas!


6 thoughts on “The 2012 Hatch & 100th Post on My Rural Garden

  1. I am so glad you posted this. I am an impulse buyer. I bought the Hovabator/egg turner and then asked everyone i knew about it and got mixed reviews. I have my incubator up and practice running waiting to load it with eggs this week. You have set my mind at ease. Hopefully I’ll be able to post back to you the same success rate in a couple of weeks. Keep your fingers crossed!!

    • Kathie — I’m sure you’ll be fine. Avoid the forums about humidity on backyard chickens (they’ll drive you crazy), follow the instructions that came with your incubator, and consider printing off the Texas booklet that I posted last week that lets you track temp/humidity/egg turner reliability – that really helped me keep track of things and gave me something to do every day.

      I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  2. We used an incubator for our flock this year (though it was our first, and we only have four, so I am envious of all your sweet chicks!). My future MIL brought us eggs she had bred and her incubator, so I didn’t have to obsess over too many details. 🙂

    I’m loving the photos and the documentation! When ours hatched a few weeks ago I had no idea what was going on and just tried to keep up and not kill anyone. It’s nice to read your recaps and think, “Oh, yes, I do remember that!” 🙂

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