What to do After Chickens Hatch in an Incubator

Marathi girl holding baby chick

At some point in your backyard chicken farming journey, you may decide to hatch your own chicks. It’s a natural feeling–a desire to take on the next challenge in animal husbandry. Not to mention, baby chickens are the cutest little things! On day one, they are so tiny that you’ll be afraid to pick them up. Don’t worry, we have all the need-to-know information about what to do once your eggs hatch and you have a little brood in the incubator waiting to meet the world.

This article delves into the post-hatching period, exploring its significance and the associated responsibilities of chick safety, chick behavior, and chick socialization. Let’s examine how to observe signs of a healthy hatch while addressing potential issues or abnormalities such as a sticky shell or late hatch, providing chick nutrition tips along the way. A waterer, an essential tool in every chick enclosure, will ensure that every aspect of chick care is covered.

Monitoring Chicks in the Incubator

As the chicks emerge from their shells, you’ll want to monitor their movements and energy levels. It’s tough work getting out of those eggs and they may be tired and even pant for a bit. Don’t worry. This is normal for both male and female chicks.

Also normal is their sticky, wet appearance. You may be used to buying chicks that are already fluffy and not expecting them to be sticky and wet looking. Don’t be alarmed. They will dry out and fluff out in no time.

How Long Should Chicks Stay in the Incubator?

It’s important not to remove chicks from the incubator too soon. Chicks can stay in the incubator for approximately 24 to 32 hours post-hatching. During this period, temperature control is crucial to prevent overheating, with the incubator temperature ideally maintained at around 95°F (35°C).

It’s also important that you wait until all the chicks have hatched and fluffed out before opening the incubator. Other backyard chicken farmers may disagree and have their own methods. The reason we don’t open the lid is because we live in a dry state. Humidity is important for the chicks still in their eggs to be able to hatch. (A humid environment keeps the eggs softer and therefore easier to break out of.)

Should You Start Feeding Chicks Right After Hatching?

baby chicken sitting at the table with utensils

Chicks absorb nutrients from the yolk sac during this time, they do not immediately need food and water. However, if you’d like to put water in there, you can. See the note above about opening the lid to the incubator.

Identifying and Addressing Any Immediate Concerns

Swiftly identifying and addressing concerns, vital for the health and vitality of the newly hatched chicks. It’s essential not to remove them until fully fluffed out, which typically takes around 24 hours.

Encountering challenges during the hatching process is not uncommon, and understanding the potential problems and their corresponding solutions is essential for successful chick rearing.

  1. ‘Sticky’ Chick (Smeared with Egg Contents): A ‘sticky’ chick, smeared with egg contents, often indicates an issue with the incubation environment. This problem can arise from a combination of low average temperature, excessively high humidity, and inadequate ventilation during the incubation process. To remedy this, it is crucial to maintain an optimal temperature, ensure appropriate humidity levels, and provide adequate ventilation within the incubator.
  2. Dry Shell Sticking to Chicks: Chicks with dry shell remnants sticking to them may be a result of low humidity during the hatching process. To address this issue, it’s important to ensure that humidity levels are sufficient during hatching. Adequate humidity helps in preventing the dry shell from adhering to the chicks, promoting a smoother hatching process.
  3. Chicks with Short Down: Chicks exhibiting short down may indicate unfavorable conditions during incubation. This problem can arise from high incubation temperatures, low humidity levels, or excessive ventilation at the time of hatching. To rectify this, it is essential to carefully regulate the incubator environment by maintaining an optimal temperature, ensuring proper humidity, and avoiding excessive ventilation during critical hatching periods.
  4. Gasping Chicks: Gasping chicks could signal issues related to temperature, egg storage, or pre-incubation egg care. If the average temperature is too low, it can lead to chicks struggling to breathe. Additionally, storing eggs for extended periods or improper storage conditions before incubation can contribute to gasping issues. Ensuring a suitable average temperature, storing eggs correctly, and maintaining proper pre-incubation conditions are vital for addressing and preventing gasping in newly hatched chicks.

When to move chicks from an incubator to a Brooder

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Fluffing Out: Chicks need time to dry and fluff out their down feathers after hatching. This process usually takes around 24 hours. Once the chicks are completely fluffed out and their down is dry, they are ready for the next stage.
  2. Activity Level: Observe the chicks’ behavior. Active and alert chicks are more likely to cope well with the transition to the brooder environment. Chicks should be moving around, pecking, and showing signs of normal activity.
  3. Stability: Ensure the chicks are stable on their feet and able to maintain balance. Newly hatched chicks may initially be a bit wobbly, but they should gain stability within the first day.
  4. Drying Time: Chicks need to complete the drying process before moving to the brooder. Moving them while they are still damp can lead to chilling, as the brooder environment is cooler than the incubator.
  5. Removal of Eggshell Debris: Make sure any remaining eggshell debris is removed. This can be done gently by hand or by providing a slightly abrasive surface in the incubator for the chicks to rub against.

Remember to provide a warm and secure environment in the brooder. The temperature in the brooder should be set according to the chicks’ age, with gradual adjustments as they grow. Initially, the brooder temperature should be around 95°F (35°C) and then decreased by about 5°F each week.

How to Move Chicks to the Brooder

Thai girl with little baby chick

Moving chicks from the incubator to the brooder is a delicate process that requires care to ensure their well-being. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to move chicks from the incubator to the brooder:

  1. Prepare the Brooder: Before transferring the chicks, make sure the brooder is set up and ready. The brooder should have a heat source, bedding material (such as pine shavings), a water source, and chick feed. Ensure that the brooder temperature is set according to the chicks’ age, with an initial temperature of around 95°F (35°C).
  2. Wait for Full Fluffing: Chicks need to be fully fluffed out and dry before moving them to the brooder. This typically takes about 24 hours after hatching. Moving them while they are still damp can lead to chilling, as the brooder environment is cooler than the incubator.
  3. Observe Activity and Health: Ensure that the chicks are active, alert, and displaying normal behavior. Healthy chicks are curious, pecking at things, and moving around. If a chick appears weak, lethargic, or unresponsive, it may need more time in the incubator.
  4. Handle with Care: Gently pick up each chick and transfer it to the brooder. Avoid squeezing or putting excessive pressure on the chicks. Handle them with care to prevent stress or injury.
  5. Maintain Warmth During Transfer: Minimize the time the chicks spend outside the warm environment of the incubator. Place them in a small container or box for the transfer. If the distance between the incubator and brooder is significant, cover the chicks with a light, breathable cloth to retain warmth.
  6. Monitor Temperature: Once in the brooder, observe the chicks’ behavior. If they huddle together directly under the heat source, they may be cold, and the brooder temperature may need adjustment. If they stay at the edges of the brooder, they might be too warm.
  7. Provide Water and Feed: Immediately introduce the chicks to the water source and chick feed in the brooder. Make sure the water is clean and shallow to prevent drowning. Ensure easy access to food and water for all chicks.
  8. Maintain Vigilance: Keep a close eye on the chicks during the initial hours in the brooder. Monitor their behavior, ensure they are eating and drinking, and adjust the brooder temperature as needed.

Providing Water and Feed

The introduction of water sources is crucial for hydration, supporting the chicks’ overall health. It’s recommended to provide shallow water containers to prevent drowning, much like the mother hen directs her chicks to small puddles. Temperature and humidity levels in the brooder should be maintained at 90-95°F (32-35°C) and 60-70%, respectively.

Selecting and Introducing Suitable Chick Feed

Choosing the right chick feed, rich in nutrition, is as necessary as the rest chicks get in the first few hours of their life. After 24 hours, introduce a high-quality chick starter feed. Monitor their eating and drinking behavior during the first few days. You’ll want to make sure they have normal poops and that their bottoms stay clean.

Cleaning the Incubator

You’re not done with the incubation process until you’ve cleaned the incubator. Thorough cleaning of the incubator is essential to maintain a hygienic environment for your next batch of chicken eggs, ready for their turn to hatch. Clean surfaces with a mild disinfectant and replace bedding material after each hatch.

This detailed approach guides caretakers through the crucial post-hatching period, offering specific guidelines for optimal conditions and care, replicating the tender care given by a mother hen to her chicks. We hope this guide gave you some practical tips that will continue to support you in your hatchery endeavors ensuring the life and vitality of each chick in your flock.

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