Next to chicken math, incubatoritis is the most common affliction amongst backyard flock owners. The main symptom—a severe need to hatch endless clutches of chicks—usually recurs every three weeks. Other telltale signs include an acute craving for downy cuddles and an unstoppably itchy photo-trigger finger. There is no cure for incubatoritis, although several treatments exist. The most extreme course of action is to forcibly remove the incubator from the afflicted patient; this, however, can cause deep emotional trauma. A gentler form of treatment involves letting the incubatoritis run its course. Unfortunately, the side effects—including continual coop building and high feed costs—are not necessarily desirable. My alternative therapy? Channel this condition into an activity that lets you enjoy the wonders of hatching as well as the benefits of building your own nest egg: Start your own custom hatching business.
What Is Custom Hatching?
Custom hatching lets customers select how many eggs they want you to hatch for them. If you rear one poultry breed, your clients’ orders will be simple. If you raise multiple varieties and breeds, your customers can mix and match which chicks they would like. For example, a typical custom-hatching order at our farm is for three Black Orpingtons, two BBS Ameraucanas and two Blue Silkies. You’ll want to set a minimum order—our minimum is three chicks—as well as a maximum, which is typically dictated by the capacity of your incubator.
Why Choose Custom Hatching?
Supply and demand is a tricky thing when it comes to offering chicks for sale. When spring arrives and everyone clamors for baby chicks, you’d prefer to have enough to meet this demand. However, if you continually hatch chicks so you’ll have babies available for sale throughout the spring and summer, you could end up raising dozens of chicks that no one bought. With custom hatching, you hatch only what your customers desire. Every chick you hatch has a guaranteed home awaiting it.
Make Your Own “Egg Insurance”
No hatch is ever guaranteed. Too many factors exist that can affect the viability of a hatch, including fluctuating temperature and humidity, arrested embryo development and unexpected blackouts. Minimize the effect of these factors on your hatches by mastering the operation and maintenance instructions for your incubator, selecting clean eggs to hatch and avoiding handling the eggs once incubation begins. Just to be safe, however, add a few extra eggs to your custom orders. This way, if someone orders six Wyandottes but only four hatch, you won’t have egg on your face or be left scrambling for excuses. We add one extra egg for every three that people order.
Manage the Potential Surplus
If all goes well, you’ll have a successful hatch, with several extra babies peeping alongside the ordered ones. This works out great if you need to increase your personal flock. If not, you’ve got a few extra chicks to sell. Ending up with only a handful of extra chicks beats having dozens of surplus chicks. We always give the right of first refusal to our clients. They usually go gaga over all the peeping babies and can’t bear to leave a couple of babies behind. Should they leave some peepers behind, we then go to our “adopt-an-egg” list, featuring the names of people who will happily adopt any extra chicks we might hatch. We announce on social media that sign-ups are open at the start of each season and clearly state that there is no guarantee there will be extras. Despite this, people still sign up for the chance to bring home one or more of our chicks.
Use Contracts for Hatching
An agreement to hatch is a contract; never operate on just a so-called “gentleman’s agreement.” We require a 50 percent deposit before we select eggs to incubate and recommend that you do the same. The balance is due when our clients come to pick up their chicks. Chicks must be picked up within 48 hours of hatch. After that, the chicks have exhausted the nutrients they absorbed from their yolk sac and must be fed and watered. If we still have them beyond that time, we’d have to provide room and board beyond providing only the hatching services. We charge an additional $5 per day to house tardy pick-ups. After one week, our clients waive their rights to these chicks and we offer them for sale to the adopt-an-egg list. Fortunately for us, no one has ever waived their right to their deposit and chicks. However, it’s important to have guidelines in place to protect yourself and your home business.
Our regular clients received the concept of custom hatching so well that this is now our farm’s specialty. We still get to hatch and hold several dozen fluffy chicks before sending them onto their destined homes without worrying about being overrun by baby chicks. The only potential drawback? We might end up infecting our clients with incubatoritis, too. It is quite contagious, after all.