Tips on Hatching Eggs and Starting Baby Chicks from an Expert

Reader Contribution by Troy Griepentrog

Bob Berry owns Bob’s Biddies, a small hatchery that specializes in Rhode Island Red and Dominique chickens in Ray City, Ga. Berry hatches 1,000 Rhode Island Red chicks and 500 Dominique chicks each month throughout the year. About 85 percent of the eggs he incubates hatch. We talked with Berry to ask his advice on incubating eggs.

How did you get started in the hatchery business?

When I was a youngster, we always raised a lot of chickens. Some were sold as grown chickens, and we sold eggs, too. I’ve always had a love for chickens. Taking care of them was part of my daily chores.

My professional career took me a different route. When I had to retire, my wife Diane and I tried to come up with something that I could do while she’s at work. I decided to start working with poultry again .Because I have physical limitations, the hatchery venture seemed to make sense.

Why did you choose to specialize in Rhode Island Reds and Dominiques?

We tried other breeds. But the Rhode Island Reds and Dominiques are old breeds that most people are familiar with. Both breeds are great egg-layers.

What are the most important things to remember when incubating eggs?

Other than temperature, humidity is the most important thing. Keep it between 58 and 62 percent for the first 18 days of incubation. Increase humidity the three days prior to hatching.

Turning of the eggs frequently is also important.

There’s no need to turn eggs while they’re in storage prior to putting them in the incubator, but store them at 52 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t wash eggs if you plan to incubate them.

Keep good records and calendar reminders, too. I move hatching eggs from the incubator to a hatcher unit a few days before they hatch. If you keep eggs in the incubator too long and they hatch while it is still in the rotation mode, you end up with a big mess. I’ve miscalculated days and speak from experience.

Do have any advice for starting chicks that come in the mail?

Just before a chick hatches, it absorbs the last part of the egg yoke, which allows the chick to survive the first three days without water or food. So, there’s only a small window of time to work with. I tell all of my customers to start the chicks on sugar water as soon as the chicks arrive — and keep them on this for the first two weeks. I have used this method for a long time, and it has proved itself. I also advise customers to get a good chick starter feed or a combination starter/grower.

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