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Hatching & Rearing

Incubation

It is best to start raising chickens in the spring. This is the time in nature when the most eggs would be laid, and gives enough time for the chick to reach a level of maturity where it might stand a good chance of surviving the coming winter. It takes 21 days to hatch a chicken egg under the correct conditions of temperature. At a minimum of three times a day the egg must be gently turned hand or 'rotated' to prevent the developing embryo from sticking to the inside of the egg. The hen does this same job in nature very well, but chickens have lost a lot of their child rearing skills through dependence upon man, so you must take over this responsibility.

Why chickens can't hatch their own eggs

Chickens have been bred domestically for centuries to produce eggs. But a chicken from the wild who sits upon their nest will stop laying to try to hatch their eggs. so the more a chicken has to do with man, the more they will lay and the less they will sit on the nest.

When a chicken becomes broody, it sits on the nest constantly. This behavior can be triggered anytime. What we do is let the chicken do it for 1 to 2 weeks, then lock her out of the coop and force her out of it till she stops acting all fluffy. They won't snap out of it on their own for a while because "the chicks" never hatch. They don't lay eggs when they are broody because new eggs would not be timed to hatch with 'the others' (they all have to hatch at once). less than compassionate chicken breeders would kill these because they are not good layers. that is why, after generations, chickens today do not sit on the nest. (This is not to say that there are no free-breeding flocks of chickens in the world.)

Restricting access to the nest is the only way to cure broodyness. unless you want the chicken to breed, and in that case, stimulating instinctual behaviour is what you want. in some sense the chicken is demonstrating its suitability as a mother. but because its instincts are impulsive and bread out, most likely it will peck at chicks after hatching and may just give up and walk away any old time.

Normally to get a modern chicken to hatch eggs it must be imprisoned on the nest with a cage, that keeps the bird in place (it should be able to stand but not leave the nest.)

If you are lucky enough to have a chicken that hatches and raises her own chicks, make sure that the baby is safe from predators and from other chickens. hens can be very jealous, and might kill the chick.

When the baby chicken is ready to hatch do not assist!

The first efforts to free itself are crucial to the chicken's life cycle and it will die if you interfere in this mysterious process. Once the chick is free of the egg, and begins to walk, you should move it to a cardboard box containing a 40 or 50 Watt light bulb suspended from above, a small tray of finely ground scratch feed, and a dish of water. The first day the temperature should be maintained at 94 degrees Fahrenheit at the level of the litter of chicks. This means hanging the light close! Do not fear that the constant light will hurt the chicks. They don't seem to mind. After the ninth day the temperature should be kept at 88 degrees. By day 18, it is fine to be at about 80 degrees. After six weeks the lights can be turned off and the chicken acclimated to day and night cycle.

As young chickens you should get them a bigger box. Raising them indoors for a short while acclimates them to you, and allows them time to grow their 'outdoor feathers'. Doing this builds a strong bond between the keeper and the chicken. Once the new feathers have grown on its back and the chick looses its 'angelic look', you may introduce them to the outside world. Don't rush this because the chick needs these new feathers to withstand cold and protect its lungs from infection. Chickens in this stage of development are gifted with flight, so make sure there is a top or screen on the box. It is in this flighted stage that chickens are most fun to play with, as they will easily adopt your finger as perch, and they will fly around your room if you let them.

Once you decide that its time to bring them outside, you must still be mindful of their flying ability. They can easily hop a six-foot fence. Integration into a pre-existing flock can also be tricky. Some keepers recommend against introducing new birds to an old flock, but we find that supervision and open forage conditions do allow for a gradual acclimation of the established birds to newcomers. but make no mistake, introducing young birds to an older flock is hazardous.

Molting

Chickens loose their feathers naturally, like a snake that sheds its skin. its called 'molting' and they do it about once a year when the light levels go down. chickens do not necessarily all molt together. it depends on ther age and breed. its perfectly natural so seeing chickens without feathers is not necessarily an indication that they are a victim of agressive behavior. the best way to tell if your chickens are agressive is to spend time observing them. chickens missing some feathers could just be molting.

People Chickens

One of the most wonderful discoveries we've made about chickens is their emotional compatibility with humans. For us, it is as if the chicken's conscious rhythms are somehow at the same level or frequency in chickens as humans. The emotional content of chicken speech is observable and intelligible to us as well as them. They enjoy times of work and times of rest similar to our own (they enjoy a good breakfast and an afternoon siesta). They seem to be keyed into the same threshold of perception as humans, in their response to danger and in their reaction to our approach.

Chickens have interactive emotional states similar to humans. They feel jealously, greed, pleasure, affection and camaraderie. They are subject to life trauma like dogs and cats, and enjoy physical contact with the trusted keeper. They like to 'snuggle' and like to press their little heads up against your neck affectionately and with obvious relish. They like to hide in your armpit when you hold them and if you gently scratch the back of their neck they will assist you by preening the front of their neck. Chickens gesture to you by pretending to peck at the ground as a way of getting attention or feigning disinterest (while secretly wanting to be held). They particularly enjoy walking all over you if you sit on the ground and will seek out your warm embrace.

Of all the pets I've ever had, chickens seem the most well adjusted and balanced in their relationship to man, but they can be 'little monsters' as well. Jealousy is part of their emotional pallet. You can tell when a chicken is upset at you because it crouches and pretends to peck the ground while glaring at you, at the same time ruffling the feather of the wing furthest from you. It's really quite astounding to be chastised by the alpha chicken when you demonstrate affection to a chicken of lower rank.

If a chicken wants attention it might peck you or jump on your head. You never know! They also like to dig in the garden and will tear up your plants if they get into it. And of course they can start laying eggs in bushes (their natural choice) and will escape from time to time.

The time to begin gaining your chickens trust so that it will reveal this wonderful side to you is when they are small. Handle your chickens frequently. Feed them by hand and encourage trick and individual behavior. Depending upon the breed and temperament, you will be richly rewarded.

--Karl Franzen & Lyn "Zobin" Stafford


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