Keeping hens

...In middle age





...Table chickens

...Rearing program

...- Quality

...Multiplying chickens

>..- Incubator

You can take the chicks away at this point if you like and launch into a rearing programme or you can allow mother hen to be the brooder.

Feed her well with some extra for the chicks and watch them grow. Mother hen is an excellent creature who will happily hatch goose and duck eggs for you too. Hybrid birds do not go broody very often it was bred out of them as it interferes with egg production. If you want to use broody hens then keep some of the pure breeds such as Marans of Sussex. You can also hatch the eggs in an incubator this is how most eggs are hatched commercially. In vast modern hatcheries you hardly ever catch sight of a chick. Instead of the operation being carried out by a jovial farmer it is run by white-coated technicians, all in the interests of hygiene. That is well worth remembering if you buy chicks from a large hatchery, as they will have been brought into the world well away from dust and creepy crawlies and are very susceptible to infection to start with, so on with the white coat! There are many different sizes of incubator, from one-egg up to thousands in capacity. The one-egg size is apparently a gimmick but does work. Some incubators have plastic lids to let you watch the action.

It is worth getting an incubator with a quick turning device. The eggs must be turned at least twice a day to stop the embryos sticking to the shell membrane. This must be done for the first 18 days. With a turning device it is no hardship to do it four times daily; if you do it by hand you may suffer from boredom but, more importantly, all that touching with your warm hands may upset the temperature in the incubator. Hold the eggs up to a testing lamp between the fifth and eighth day and then again between the fourteenth and eighteenth. In the first case the healthy eggs will contain small dark spots radiating blood vessels and in the second healthy embryos will fill the shell well. Discard any dead ones. After the eighteenth day the incubator should remain closed. Incubators differ in design so follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully throughout and then wait for the big day. The chicks do not require any food for the first 24 to 36 hours of their life and should be kept in the warming drawer of the incubator until the hatch is complete. From now on the chicks enter your rearing programme unless you intend to sell them as day olds. If you are growing the chicks for point of lay, you can fatten the cockerels as table birds. Although there is a market for stock cockerels it is far smaller than that for laying birds so you will inevitably have to kill some for sale or, of course, your own consumption.