The second hatch of Ameraucana chicks is safely in the brood boxes. This time we got 14 healthy babies, a good hatch for me.
Sadly, so many of the 42 eggs in the incubator did not hatch. Seventeen babies made it from the eggs, 3 died in the first day or so. Many other eggs pipped or partially hatched then the chicks died. Some of the babies that do escape the eggs are crippled and I must dispatch them. I hate culling chicks!
I have been researching why the hatch rate is so poor when the fertility rate is near 100% and have come up with an answer. It is the incubator. I’ve been using a Hova-Bator styrofoam unit I purchased new several years ago. It has a fan to circulate the air and help even warming of the eggs. It also has an automatic turner. I bought that one to replace an older still air model by the same manufacturer. The styrofoam incubators are fairly affordable at around $200 for my current model. Think I paid $189 about 4 years ago or so.
Last year and this year I sold hatching eggs locally, the same eggs I hatch myself. Other people using more expensive models achieve 100% hatch rates or close to it with my eggs. My hatchability is 70% at best, closer to 40% usually. Technically, I’m only out a couple dozen eggs when the babies die, but it is still heartbreaking to see so many perfectly good chicks going to waste due to poor equipment.
I’m not sure what is going wrong with the incubator to cause this problem right at hatch time. The chicks that die before completely hatching, I cannot explain. I believe the crippled chicks become irreparably harmed trying to get loose from the shell. They injure themselves and have nerve damage. This is said to occur when conditions are too dry in the hatcher. That is hard for me to believe since there is the correct amount of water in the reservoirs and the inside of the view windows are nearly obscured by condensation. I’ve been able to rule out faulty genetics or other factors that cause crippled chicks due to the success rate of people using better incubators to hatch my eggs.
For the last hatch, I even took the precaution of not opening the incubator at all during the first 24 hours that the chicks are breaking from the eggs. No heat or moisture escaped.
Sometimes I have wondered if the hatched chicks moving about and knocking into their siblings who haven’t hatched, causing the eggs to roll, are somehow disturbing the process. But, the year I partitioned the incubator with cardboard to limit movement, the results weren’t better.
So, I’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in a better incubator. The next step up is in the $500 range. These models are made of solid plastic and metal and are easily cleaned as opposed to styrofoam with all the pores that can hold bacteria and viruses and requires aggressive sanitation after every hatch.
The more expensive incubators have advanced heating units and better humidity control. The viewing windows are also much better and they can hold up to 48 eggs as opposed to my current 42 egg capacity. When you reach the $700 level, the incubators are cabinet models that can accommodate 200 eggs and have separate drawers for incubating and hatching so both these processes can go on at once. This shortens the time between hatches and increases potential chick yield.
Investing in a better incubator should actually pay for itself in a couple years with increased sales of chicks.
Although I haven’t made a decision yet, I’m leaning toward the Brinsea 40. This unit can hold 48 chicken eggs and gets very good reviews from users. There are other choices and I’m still looking. For certain, the styrofoam incubator has seen its last year of service on our farm.