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Why incubate?

Newly hatched chickWhile we'd love our favorite hens to stick around forever, chickens have a limited shelf life.  A hen begins to lay when she's about six months old, and she does her best work by the time she's a year and a half old.  Depending on how hard-nosed you are, you might keep your laying hens one year, two years, or three years, but after that, you're feeding large amounts of grain to an animal who has basically become a pet.

If you want to replace those old hens who are no longer laying enough to pay for their feed, you've got several options.  You might be able to find someone local who is selling point-of-lay hens (pullets just beginning to churn out eggs).  More likely, you'll order chicks from a hatchery.  Or, if you're willing to put in a little extra effort, you can incubate your own chicks from homegrown eggs.

Light Sussex chicksRaising new members of your flock at home has several advantages, the first of which is that you can incubate as few or as many eggs as you want.  In contrast, hatchery raised chicks usually require a minimum order of 25 birds to ensure that the youngsters produce enough body heat to survive two or three days in a mail truck.  Backyard chicken keepers will be hard pressed to find room for such a large flock.

Even more important from a permaculture point of view is the ability of the incubating homesteader to tweak the genetics of her flock.  Hatcheries that sell to the general public focus first on breeding birds well suited to surviving in a hatchery setting, often aiming for appearance as the second priority.  If you want to breed a bird that's able to hunt for its own food, you'll be much happier if you can select your best birds and raise their young to become your next generation.

Chicks on pastureAs a final point in favor of incubating your own chicks, you're the one in control of the process from start to finish.  You don't risk diseases from the hatchery or from someone else's farm coming along for the ride.  Your chickens don't have to deal with the trauma of being shut up in a box or cage for an hour or two days as they make their way to your farm.  And you can start chicks at whatever time of the year matches your schedule.  Plus, you get to enjoy the Lifetime Channel version of Chicken TV --- the miracle of new chicks pushing their way out of their shells.

This week's lunchtime series is excerpted from Permaculture Chicken: Incubation Handbook.  I hope you'll splurge 99 cents to read the whole thing!


Chicken incubation bookThis post is part of our Chicken Incubation lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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I can't wait to check it out. I always want to know more about your chicken experiments.
Comment by Sara Wed Apr 4 01:18:53 2012
Sara --- I hope it helps! I saw on your blog about your chick troubles.... :-/
Comment by anna Wed Apr 4 08:37:35 2012

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime