Incubation & Hatching
Hatching your own eggs can be one of the most exciting and enriching experiences. Whether this is done by choice or necessity, knowing some guidelines is a must in successful hatch and rearing rates. Among many keepers and breeders you will hear that everyone does things a little bit different. This is OK!
Everyone has a method to their madness, which is why this page will give guidelines which you can work off of and find what works for you.
Incubation could arguably be one of the most important parts of the whole process. This is the stage where you can give the chick a great start or a slower start. There are many components to successful incubation of an egg such as Incubator Selection, Temperature, Humidity, Hygiene, and the nagging question - "Should I Remove the Egg?"
In this section, we will discuss a little on each topic and why they are important to you as a keeper and/or a breeder.
Hygiene plays a really big role in the health of the chick, just like it would in a human. Ignoring this issue can skyrocket small problems into major problems. The product we would proactively recommend is F10. It is a Veterinary Grade Disinfectant that comes as a concentrate disinfectant solution, wipes, hand gel, and even a wound cream for your birds. You can purchase F10 directly from Parrot Supplies Australia.
As a standard practice, sterilise all your tools after use, wipe out your incubator/brooder after & before each use (even if it is brand new), and use the hand gel before handling all chicks and/or eggs before putting them in the incubator. Cleaning your eggs before putting them in the incubator can minimise the risk of bacteria or disease infesting your incubator/brooder. Eggs can become soiled with faecal matter, which is very prevalent in Waterfowl species, so that additional care can help you establish a successful hatch.
Should I Remove the Egg?
Deciding whether to remove the egg from the nest is the first step in this process. Often taking a step back and thinking about why it is that you are removing the egg is the best place to start. Is the hen not sitting properly? Do the parents not rear the chicks well? Are you hoping to have a chick that is a little more hand friendly?
All these reasons are valid for removing eggs from the nest and there are many more that would also be appropriate but a "Just 'Cause" approach is not a good way to start this process. Keep in mind, especially with Pheasants, that there is some correlation between artificially incubated chicks and poor parenting practices. Whilst it isn't for all, many bird-keepers have noted that a 'hand raised' Hen will lay eggs all over the aviary, as opposed to creating a suitable nesting site. Don't let that sway your opinion though, as many 'hand raised' birds are great parents, it's simply something to keep in mind.
Now if you have decided to pull the egg(s) from the nest, we have some more decision making to do.
We get a lot of breeders ask "What incubator should I buy?"
This is entirely up to you!
Obviously it is hugely dependent on your budget and situation. Some recommended incubator brands are Janoel, Brinsea, Bellsouth, R-Com, and Grumbach. But there are many more! Next you need to have an idea of how many eggs you will be incubating at any one time. Incubators range from a small 4-6 egg incubator up to a large 500+ egg incubator. Having a confident idea of how many eggs you will be incubating at one time will save you a lot of money in the long run. Click the link below to check out a great Not-For-Profit store that sells some great incubators and brooders, and ships Australia-wide.
A hen in the nest will turn the eggs to allow for optimal development of the embryo. Now with that being said how are you going to turn the egg(s) in the incubator? This process can be done manually every hour, doing just over a 90 degree turn. But what if you don't have time for this? This means when selecting your incubator you must buy one with a self turning option. It will allow the eggs to be turned without you having to lift a finger; however we would recommend one manual turn a day. It would also be recommended, but not a necessity, to purchase an incubator which has a separate compartment for humidity control. We will go into more detail on this in the "Humidity" section.
OK, so by this point hopefully you have picked an incubator and you are about to put your eggs into the incubator. So, lets talk temperature!
We have plugged the incubator in and now we are setting the temperature. Knowing what your egg species is helps to determine the temperature for the incubator to be set at. Most Pheasants, Poultry and Waterfowl will incubate successfully at 37.0 degrees Celsius. A small difference in temperature is normally not a problem but we would normally try to keep it inside a one (1) degree range either side. Too cold or too hot can become a problem, but most importantly keeping the temperature consistent will help with hatch success.
Now that you have your temperature set, what do we do with the humidity?
The humidity of the incubator can play a vital role in the formation of the chick inside the egg and how well it hatches. Too little humidity as the chick forms and it will get stuck to the wall of the egg, which is what we call a "Dry Hatch". You will either need to help the chick come through or if you can not intervene in time it is most likely the chick will not make it.
Most Pheasants, Poultry and Waterfowl will incubate successfully with 50 to 55 percent humidity for the majority of the incubation process, whilst for the last couple of days increase it to 65 percent. This is recommended as the final few days is where the chick will require the most humidity to help with the hatching process.
Now that you have set you incubator up, you have set your temperature and humidity you can place your eggs in there and let them start forming!
You can keep an eye on there progress by "candling" the egg. This is performed by placing a torch at the bottom of the egg (the widest part of the egg), which will allow you to see the veins, the air sac and if there is actually a chick forming. The egg should appear dark and 'veiny', plus there will be a clear air sac at the bottom where you are candling if the egg.
It is always advisable to weigh your eggs, and monitor the development of the chick inside. Once the air sac moves from a vertical angle to a 45 degree angle, the drawing down process will commence. If the chick isn't malpositioned, you will see the internal pip as it draws its first breath.
At this point you want to cease any automatic rotations, and ideally place in a hatcher. This can be an incubator or brooder, with the high humidity we've discussed. Don't intervene unless absolutely necessary. It isn't unusual for the hatching process to take some time!
Yay! Your chicks have hatched! What do you do now?
This would by far be the most exciting part of the whole process as you now get to watch the lives you have helped raise prosper and grow. In this section we will talk about Hygiene (again), Brooder selection, Temperature, and Feeding.
Yes we are talking about hygiene again! This is due to the fact that it is just such an important part of this whole process and poor hygiene can make you come unstuck and cause so many problems.
In case you have only chose to start reading at this section we recommend the use of F10 which is a Veterinary Grade disinfectant that comes in a range of products: wipes, concentrate disfectant, wound gel and hand gel.
Before turning on your brooder make sure that you clean it out, firstly with hot water, and then F10 disinfectant mixed to manufacturers instructions. Make sure you allow the disinfectant to sit for a few minutes as this will kill more foreign bodies. We must stress that this is a necessity, even if you have just purchased your brooder brand new, as you do not know who has touched it or what the environment was like where it was manufactured. Hygiene is obviously most important between and during each clutch. During the clutch you are keeping it clean for the little guys inside and between each clutch you are minimising the spread of bacteria and potential disease from one clutch to the next.
What Brooder Should I Buy?
Much like Incubators we hear a lot of "What Brooder would you recommend?". Once again this is entirely up to you depending on your budget and situation. Some recommended incubator brands are: Janoel, Brinsea, Bellsouth and there are many more but that is a good place to start looking. In one of the earlier links further up, there are some great examples of brooders. Each brooder will be a little bit different, but common requirements are temperature control, humidity control, space for your clutches, and ease of use.
Once the offspring is bigger, you can utilise an area under a heat lamp if you wish. However a brooder will offer the best results.
So now you've picked your Brooder whats next ?
Temperature is quite a big part of rearing as inconsistent temperatures can hurt the chick(s). Most Pheasants, Poultry and Waterfowl will happily rear in a brooder set to 35 degrees, understanding that one (1) degree increase or decrease should not hurt the chicks, however inconsistent temperature issues (such as the brooder spiking) could cause problems.
Now each week you can drop your brooder temperature up to 5 degrees. Personally we like to do one (1) degree every second day as we have found it easier to acclimatise the birds.
After a couple of weeks we recommend having outside time during the day. Put them in an enclosure outside during the day and then bring them back in at night. This helps them get used to different temperatures and environmental changes, as well as learning the ability to naturally forage and live as a flock.
Your youngsters are now in the brooder and growing well, obviously you need to feed them, but what you ask?
There is a few starter crumbles that work really well for all these birds. We recommend Laucke Mills as we have used all their products before and have had great success. Always look for a high protein crumble for Wildfowl. From there you can transition to adult pellets. Don't forget the importance of fresh produce and live food. More information can be found below.
This is a very brief overview of the steps to incubating and rearing chicks. There is much more you could learn and we recommend reading as much literature as possible and learning as much as you can.
Please remember that everyone does things differently. These methods work for many, but it doesn't discount a different method of doing it!
Good luck with your chicks!