Many poultry keepers consider increasing the number of their birds at this time of year, but if you don’t have a broody hen, artificial incubation is the other option. Seasoned poultry breeders know what they’re doing, but if you’re new to poultry keeping or breeding, we’ve put together some information and advice to help you make good choices when looking to increase your flock.
Things to consider
- Does your property have a covenant prevent you keeping cockerels?
- Have you considered the impact a cockerel crowing early each morning will have on your relationship with your neighbours?
- Do you have enough space and housing to raise chicks? Chicks need to be housed separately while young and small for two reasons: 1) their immune systems need time to develop, and 2) because larger birds will bully smaller ones.
Which of your birds will you breed from?
The best breeders need to be in good health, resistant to disease and with good size eggs, so it’s a good idea to choose birds that are 2-3 years old. Birds that have bowed legs or tails that are not straight (permanently point slightly to the left or right) should not be chosen for breeding as these imperfections will also manifest in your chicks.
Look for birds that are bright and alert. Their comb should be nice and red without any blue edges and eyes bright and clear. Now look at their breathing, are there any signs of wheezing which could indicate respiratory issues. Are their nostrils mucus free? Are their wings and vent (where the eggs come from!) free from lice? Does the vent look healthy or is there scabbing or discharge?
Firstly, to help maintain good relations with neighbours, who may not appreciate a crowing alarm call at first light, provide the birds with a house where the light entering it has been eliminated as far as possible without reducing ventilation.
Bigger combs are usually an indicator of better fertility. A rooster nice and wide across the hips will transfer this to his daughters, helping with their egg laying. Your cockerel shouldn’t bully your girls, but look after them, protecting them, telling them when to go to bed etc. One cockerel for 5-6 hens is sufficient.
Your cockerel needs to be with your hens for 10 days before you collect any eggs to ensure they are fertile. Cocks often have favourite hens, easily identifiable because the feathers on the backs of these hens will be worn away.
How will you keep birds in optimal health to ensure viable eggs for hatching?
Your ultimate goal when breeding is to produce and rear healthy chicks. Feeding your girls a healthy diet is essential for their health and reproduction. Look for breeder’s pellets with a protein level of 16 – 20%, and include a good amount of greens too.
Do you know how to correctly select, store and incubate eggs?
Click here to talk to our Poultry team about what breeds you own, and they will be able to advise you about what you should look for egg-wise with each type of bird in relation to size, shape, colour and texture. It is important to get egg selection right to improve chances of hatchability and reduce passing on weaknesses to the next generation.
Eggs can be stored, pointed end down, for a week in a cool place without affecting hatching prior to incubation. Choose somewhere away from bright sunlight and make sure you turn them 90 degrees twice a day.
Incubating your eggs
When you have collected the amount of eggs you want to incubate, you then need to carefully follow the instructions for the incubator you are using. It should guide you through each stage including where to locate your incubator, readying it for operation, preparing and placing the eggs, candling to identify fertile eggs, turning your eggs, temperature, humidity.
We have a range of incubators in store. If you need help selecting the right incubator for you, or any advice on incubating, come in and talk to our Poultry team and they will be very happy to advise you.