Now that you have built your chicken coop and have a healthy flock, your thinking about getting the fuller experience and want to start breeding chickens. First off I want to say that this is a surprisingly difficult experience but it can also be fun and very rewarding.
Well it all starts with the rooster so lets talk a little bit about the rooster. A rooster is a male who fertilizes the female. A single act of sex between a male and female can make the female fertile for roughly one week (though this varies due to several variables).
It is very important to have the right number of roosters for the right number of hens. The reason for this is because if you have too many roosters or don’t have enough hens then the hens will start being hurt by the roosters. The roosters will begin raping the hens and pulling out there feather sometimes so bad that they start to bleed. If you have too many roosters then they will start fighting each other. Depending on how big your coop and run is one of your roosters could be pecked to death. Getting the right ratio depends on many factors so lets talk about them.
The ratio can vary tremendously. Some people say you should only have one rooster for every 20 or 25 chickens while others saying you can have only 12 or 15 hens for every rooster. This depends on how nice your roosters are. Sometimes if you have two bully roosters it doesn’t matter how many hens you have. Also it depends on how often your hens lay eggs if they lay once a day then you can have more roosters if they maybe only lay 4 or 3 times a week then you don’t need that many roosters. Another factor is how much space you have. The more space you have the more roosters to hen ratio you can have.
Many people have told me that they think that fertile eggs taste more delicious and are also more nutritious, To tell you the truth I can’t really taste any difference what so ever. However I have never had somebody tell me that they think that fertile eggs don’t taste as good so it can’t hurt none. Also if your one of those people who feel squeamish when they are eating a fertilized egg then don’t worry. The chicken hasn’t formed at all inside the egg yet. Let me explain a little bit more about how chickens breed.
A rooster and a hen have sex. I don’t really know how the positions work but it doesn’t matter. Then when his semen goes inside of her she stores it into her reproductive systems. Her body then delivers the semen onto the embryo at the correct time (before the shell forms around the embryo). Then she leaves the nest and the egg cools down. Since the egg activates only when It’s warm then your not actually eating baby chicken fetus’s. The reason for this is after she lays a good number of eggs and decides to actually start warming the eggs they all activate at the same time and in extension they all hatch at the same time.
Before we go into actual breeding we need to talk about some facts. A hen will began to lay eggs and be sexually active if she is either 18 or 20 weeks old. The rooster is exactly the same (but without the laying the eggs part).
Many people want to breed certain traits into their chickens. If you plan to do this I would suggest marking chickens. I do this by putting bracelets on my chickens marking different lines. It’s important to know that egg productivity is not a very heritable trait. The only way you can really tell if an unborn chick is going to be good at laying eggs is if you take the average egg productivity of It’s entire ancestral line. However how the hen looks and how quickly it fattens are both very heritable traits.
You must make sure that the egg is incredibly clean. I don’t mean wash the egg with soap I mean make sure it doesn’t come into contact with anything dirty. Mostly you have to worry about having a clean incubator.
Now when your first breeding chickens I would suggest you actually take care of the egg and the hatch-ling yourself and that’s what this article will be focusing on. First as your gathering up the eggs that you plan on turning into little chicks you will want to check if they’re fertile. You can’t check an egg without breaking it open. So what you do is take a bunch of eggs, break them into a bowl and then check the yolk for a dot of white. If the dot is perfectly round then it was fertile if not then it wasn’t. If nearly all your eggs are fertile then your good.
Incubating your eggs can be the trickiest part. First you will need to buy an incubator. Some people choose to create their own incubator however I would suggest just buying one. Generally you don’t need to buy a more expensive incubator and sometimes the cheaper ones are actually better (go figure) but that doesn’t mean you should buy the cheapest incubator in town make sure It’s good quality.
After you have the incubator you will want to clean it thoroughly (very thoroughly). Then the next part is to find a good spot for it. The best spots are were there are not temperature changes. So no sunny windows or next to refrigerators or heating vents or air conditioners etc. Your incubator probably came with a hole in it for oxygen make sure that the hole is not closed or covered up. Now this next part is where most people make a pretty big mistake. you don’t want to just turn it on and put the eggs in. Before you put the eggs in you will want to turn it on for about a day. Also make sure you put water in the incubator when you first fire it up. After a day or maybe two then you put in the eggs. Make sure to put your eggs with the small side facing down.
Make sure the temperature is 100 degrees. With a humidity of 65%. Now your going to have to manage your eggs a lot. Make sure that there not crowded. Some people say you have to turn the egg around once every 4 hours in my opinion that’s a little bit extreme but still a healthy amount. I prefer turning the eggs 3 times a day or sometimes 4. Also It’s helpful to take a sharpie and draw a minus on one side of the egg (–) and a plus (+) on the other side so you know if you had turned it. It’s important to wash your hands before touching the eggs and also to do it gently and quickly. After 18 days you can stop turning the eggs and only have to open up the incubator to add water. Don’t worry about the egg cooling as the hen does leave It’s nest for food and water (just probably not when your around). Roughly half way through the process you might have to lower the temperature in the incubator as the eggs start to give off their own heat. But make sure to do it gradually such as over the course of a day or two.
The chickens will hatch on the 21st day. Of course sometimes this varies by a day in either direction so It’s important to observe your eggs carefully during this time. If some chicks hatch early then just let them stay in the incubator) It’s during this time that you will want to increase the humidity by 5% or 10% you can do this in a number of different ways, one of which is adding a damp rag. Make sure to increase ventilation if possible during this time. You can probably hear the chick breaking out of the egg. But don’t open up the incubator to sneak a peek, if you are really curious then you could get an incubator that has windows. Even after they are all out you can keep them in the incubator for several hours (I have heard that It’s best to keep them in for 12 to 24).
Of course sometimes a chick wont be able to break free. At this point you can dip the egg in warm water if there are no cracks. Then you can chip carefully and slowly chip off a piece of the shell (very carefully and very slowly) at which point you just put it back in the incubator and pray. If there is no more hatching going on by the end of day 22 then I am pretty sure that there will be no more chicks.
Then the next step in raising and breeding chickens is the brooder. A brooder is basically the nursery for baby chickens. A brooder is pretty simple just a box with a heat lamp that has plenty of food and water. A chick can survive 3 days without food or water when it first hatches so I put them into the brooder 12 hours after they hatch. The type of bulb you use will depend on how many chicks you have. For a lot of chicks get a 250 watt bulb. If you only have a few then get a 75 watt bulb and put it closer to them. Make sure that the bulb is colored red because this has been proven to reduce aggression amongst the chicks. For padding on the floor you can just put a towel or a newspaper. Make sure not to use something like sand or wood chips because they will try to eat it. If they don’t eat immediately don’t worry they probably wont for the first couple of days after they’re born. But I always prepare food anyways