Flock Talk: Should I Hatch Eggs via Hen or Incubator?

In this Q&A, we also hear from readers curious about chicken illness and injuries as well as whether and when to wash fresh eggs.

by Lisa Steele
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Q: I’m thinking about hatching some fertile eggs. I have a broody hen that is just asking for some eggs to hatch, but I’d also like to give an incubator a try. Which method is best?

A: There are definitely pros and cons to both. First, putting eggs in an incubator requires an outlay of cash. Depending on the size and quality incubator, you could pay from $100 to $500 or more. On the plus side, eggs in an incubator are in a very controlled setting. So you have less breakage or chances of something grabbing them.

You also get to enjoy watching eggs hatch, which you won’t see under a broody hen. Also, I’ve hatched friendlier chicks in an incubator. While chicks don’t necessarily imprint like goslings, those you hatch and brood in the will be more accustomed to human contact than those hatched outside.

However, when you let a broody hen hatch eggs, she does all the work. She turns the eggs and keeps them warm. She sometimes even pushes eggs that aren’t fertile out of the nest.

Her job doesn’t end once chicks hatch, either. She continues to keep them warm and teaches them how to eat and find bugs. She also protects them from other flock members.

The biggest benefit of hatching chicks under a broody hen? That they are born part of the flock. They then don’t have to go through the potentially difficult integration period that house-raised chicks endure. When you hatch eggs under a hen, you also avoid the expense, mess and trouble of setting up a brooder box and heat lamp in the house because the chicks hatch and grow up right inside the coop.

Subscribe now

When I can, I choose to hatch under a hen. Of course, you have to be lucky enough to have a broody hen at the same time you want to hatch some chicks.

Keep a Kit

Q: I just started raising chickens and have been reading about some of the medical issues they can have, as well as the injuries they can get from predators. What can I do to be prepared for when the inevitable happens and I have a sick or injured bird?

A: Assemble a poultry first-aid kit with some basic items. You don’t have to spend very much money either. Many kitchen or pantry items will even work in a pinch.

Cornstarch stops bleeding, and honey on a wound acts as a natural antibacterial. Electrolytes such as plain Pedialyte or blackstrap molasses help in the case of heat exhaustion or other stress.

Oil of oregano is a natural antibiotic that can be added to the water. Coconut oil can be used on combs to prevent frostbite or on legs and feet to treat scaly leg mites.

Activated charcoal is a detoxifying flush you can use if you suspect accidental poisoning. It also contains vitamin K that is a blood-clotting agent, which can help stop bleeding. Keep liquid calcium on hand in case you suspect one of your hens is egg bound.

Some commercial products I also recommend: VetRx helps with respiratory issues. Nutri-Drench is a vitamin/nutrient dense supplement to aid in stressful situations and to boost energy levels and the immune system. And Green Goo is an all-natural herbal antiseptic salve that is good on cuts and minor wounds as well as bumblefoot and frostbite.

Other basic items such as saline solution, tweezers, a scalpel, scissors, Vetrap, gauze, first-aid tape and rubber gloves are all good additions to a basic kit as well.

To Wash or Not to Wash

Q: What should I do about collecting dirty eggs? I see egg-washing products on the market but am not sure if I need them.

A: An egg is laid with a coating called the “bloom.” IT protects the inside of the egg from bacteria and air. Therefore, you shouldn’t wash eggs until just before using them.

At that time, a quick rinse under warm water—cold water can pull any bacteria on the shell into the egg through the pores in the eggshell—using your fingers to gently rub the shell clean should be sufficient. Never submerge or soak the eggs; always wash them one by one under running water.

If an egg is caked with mud or manure when you collect it, rinse it off right away, refrigerate it and use it first. Unwashed eggs can safely be stored on the counter at room temperature for several weeks. Y

Email poultry-related questions to Lisa Steele at chickens@chickensmagazine.com, subject: “Flock Talk.”

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Chickens magazine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *