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Turning eggs into chicks
12:10pm Sunday 26th February 2012 in Poultry
The incubator definition of incubation in relation to poultry is sitting on eggs to provide warmth in order for them to hatch. The artificial facility in order to carry out this task is called an incubator but the best possible is the broody hen. Nature has given her the ability to physiologically change once she is broody so that her body temperature is correct for incubation, to automatically know to turn the eggs so that the embryo grows evenly, to be conscious of when the eggs are infertile or the embryo has died and to respond and bond with the chicks once they begin to pip then hatch. We try to mimic this by artificial incubation in an electrically powered incubator, although incubators have been run by other means in the past as man endeavoured to replicate a broody hen. Originally eggs were placed into pockets of sand in hot-beds of manure to incubate them, then in the nineteenth century further inventions with heated boxes improved the concept. In later years heat was provided by paraffin but today incubators are generally electric and the most modern have the temperature and humidity digitally controlled.
Incubators alone cannot produce healthy chicks, the quality of the eggs is paramount and fertility and hatchability is increased by the eggs coming from healthy, non-related breeding stock. Fertilisation is the union of an egg cell and a sperm cell and this occurs about 24 hours before the egg is laid. The single fertile cell then rapidly starts to divide, becoming hundreds of cells by the time the egg is laid. A newly laid egg is warm but soon cools and the division of cells ceases during this cooling period. The embryo remains live for several days though if stored properly and resumes development once warmth returns, either by way of a broody hen sitting on it or it being placed in an incubator.
Fertile eggs need to be collected daily and stored in a cool temperature for no longer than 10-14 days, although for best results 7 days is advised. During storage they should be turned daily so that the embryo does not stick to the membrane of the egg. If this happens the embryo will not develop properly once growth begins.
The incubator should be placed in a room with a constant temperature and not near a window where sunlight can rapidly affect the temperature during the day or draughts and cold at night. Although this is best carried out in a spare room of your house, any central heating should be either off all together in the room, or set at a continual low temperature. We are trying to replicate an even temperature so that the embryo does not have to contend with differing environments, which could be lethal. The larger cabinet incubators have a greater capacity for overcoming different external temperatures but the smaller table top incubators cannot compete with extremes.
This is part of an article that appeared in the February issue of Smallholder magazine together with a hatching record chart and photos of a chick developing in the shell. In our April issue on sale in March we are looking at caring for the broody.
Every issue of Smallholder carries a 20 plus page poultry pull out. March issue on sale now!