Hatching chicks can be a rewarding and exciting experience, whether you’re a seasoned poultry enthusiast or a first-time chicken keeper. To ensure the successful incubation and care of your fluffy new arrivals, it’s crucial to have the right supplies on hand.
In this guide, we’ll explore the best supplies for hatching chicks, from selecting the perfect incubator to creating a comfortable brooder environment. Let’s dive in!
Choosing the Right Incubator
The incubator is the heart of your chick hatching operation. It provides the controlled environment necessary for eggs to develop and hatch.
We’ve experimented with different types over the years and there are definite benefits and pitfalls to all incubators to watch out for.
The key is to find the right one for your specific needs.
Some incubators are better for small scale hatching, some are better for large scale. Some types can incubate lots of different types of eggs, others do just one thing but do it well.
Know what your plans are for hatching before you go shopping for an incubator and you’ll be sure to get something that’s a good fit for your needs.
Here’s what you need to know about incubators.
Why You Need an Incubator
- Temperature Control: Incubators maintain a consistent temperature, crucial for proper egg development.
- Humidity Control: Precise humidity levels are necessary for healthy chick growth inside the egg.
- Turns Eggs: Most incubators automatically turn the eggs to prevent the embryos from sticking to the shell. This is a great perk, but you can certainly turn them all by hand if your incubator doesn’t have a turner.
Which Incubators Are Best for Small Batch Chick Hatching
- Brinsea Mini II Advance: This compact incubator is perfect for small-scale hatching. It offers precise temperature and humidity control and automatic egg turning. As a bonus, you can clearly see everything going on inside, huge fun for hatch day!
- HovaBator 1602N: Another reliable option for small batches, this incubator comes with a built-in thermometer but requires manual egg turning.
Which Are Best for Large Batch Hatching
- Brinsea OvaEasy Advance Series: These incubators are suitable for larger-scale hatching, accommodating more eggs while maintaining temperature and humidity control.
- Farm Innovators Incubator: This incubator holds up to 41 eggs, has an egg turner, and temperature control. It’s one of the more affordable options if you’re looking to hatch lots of chicks on the cheap.
- GQF Sportsman Cabinet Incubators: For serious breeders, these cabinet-style incubators can handle a substantial number of eggs and offer advanced features. These incubators are pricey so be sure you’re very serious about hatching long term to make it worthwhile.
Incubators for Multiple Types of Birds
If you plan to hatch various types of birds like ducks, quail, turkeys, and chickens, consider incubators with adjustable settings and ample space. Models like the Brinsea Ovation are versatile enough for various poultry species.
Pros and Cons of Styrofoam Incubators
Styrofoam incubators are a popular choice among beginners due to their affordability. However, they come with their own set of pros and cons.
- Affordable: Styrofoam incubators are budget-friendly and accessible for beginners.
- Lightweight: They are easy to move and store.
- Easy to Find: You can pick these up at most farm stores like Tractor Supply and Runnings, or order online.
- Temperature Stability: Styrofoam incubators may struggle with maintaining stable temperatures.
- Limited Lifespan: They may not last as long as plastic incubators. Styrofoam is not the strongest material, and over time it will degrade and get stained from use. These types of incubators also break pretty easily when dropped.
- Little to no special features: These incubators tend to be bare bones, you may need to monitor temperature and humidity yourself, and you may need to manually turn the eggs. This is why they’re inexpensive, which is great, but can be tough to use if you’re a beginner.
A Note on Broody Hens:
An incubator is obviously not the only way to hatch chicks, you can also do so with the help of a broody hen. We’ve done this many times over the years and it’s truly delightful watching your hen become a mother and take care of chicks.
I do have some notes if you choose to go this route…
Choose a reliable momma
If possible, choose a hen who you know will stay broody for the entirety of the incubation period, and one that you’re sure will be a good mom when the babies hatch.
I’ve had experiences where hens have deserted the nest before the babies hatched and hens who have attacked their babies. It’s not always possible to choose proven mommas, but if you can, definitely do so.
Watch momma hen closely
As with all animals, chickens can act unpredictably, even chickens that you know and trust completely. No matter what hen you choose to hatch your eggs, be sure to watch her carefully, especially during the hatch and for a few days afterward.
Even seasoned momma’s can desert their chicks or attack them, and you need to be able to step in if necessary.
Keep her separate from the flock if possible
I know this is not always do-able, but if you have the option to separate a broody mom and her chicks from the rest of the flock, do so. You can separate her with her clutch of eggs as soon as you’re sure she’s truly broody and will stay on the nest.
This helps to ensure many things:
- That your broody hen will continue to sit on the same eggs through the whole incubation process, and not switch to another nest.
- Your hen will be safe from bullying, which can intensify with a broody hen.
- The baby chicks will be safe from getting picked on from other flock members
- The momma hen and babies will be safer from predators
- You can give the mom and babies extra care when they’re separate from the flock and closer to you.
For more information on how to hatch chicks with a broody hen, check out this post from our friends at Grubbly Farms.
Accurate temperature monitoring is crucial during incubation. Here are some excellent thermometer options:
Best Thermometers for Hatching Chicks
- Digital Thermometers: Digital thermometers provide precise readings and are easy to read. I love the ones with lasers because you can easily point them through the window of the incubator and see the temp inside without opening it.
- Thermometer/Hygrometer Combos: These devices also measure humidity, offering a comprehensive view of the incubator’s conditions.
Humidity control is essential for successful hatching. Broody hens naturally supply incubating eggs with the perfect amount of humidity from their bodies, but in an incubator, you may need to monitor and correct that yourself.
It’s a good idea to have humidity monitors on hand during a hatch, even if your incubator comes with one, having a redundant backup is a good idea in case something goes wrong.
Here are some moisture meters and humidity meters to consider.
Best Humidity Meters for Hatching Chicks
- Incubator-Specific Meters: Some meters are designed specifically for use in incubators, providing accurate humidity readings.
- Digital Hygrometers: These devices are versatile and can be used both inside and outside the incubator.
If you live in an area prone to power outages, consider investing in a generator as a backup power source for your incubator.
Getting a Generator for Hatching Chicks
There’s no doubt that power outages are inconvenient and troublesome to everyone, but even more so when you’re incubating chicks. A power outage any longer than a few hours can be devastating to your hatching operation, as those developing chicks need near-constant warmth and humidity in order to develop properly and hatch.
If you don’t have a generator and fear you may lose power while incubating, you can make a backup plan to pack up the incubator and bring it somewhere that still has power to plug it back in. If you decide to go this route make sure the incubator is wrapped in warm blankets, preheat the car before leaving, and make the trip as short as possible. Even with all those precautions, you may not have a good hatch rate after a power outage.
The much better, easier, and less stressful option is to buy a backup generator and have it ready. An uninterrupted power supply can be a literal lifesaver during critical stages of incubation.
Setting Up the Brooder
After chicks hatch, they’ll spend the first day in the incubator drying off and resting, then you’ll need to move to them a brooder, which will be their home until they’re big enough to move to the coop.
It’s a good idea to have the brooder all set up, warm, and waiting for them on hatch day.
Check out our post Chick Brooder Do’s and Dont’s for a complete guide on everything you need to know before setting up a brooder.
Here’s the basics on how to set up a brooder.
What to Put in the Brooder
- Water Fount and Feeder Designed for Chicks: These should be low enough for chicks to access easily. We like to add some marbles to the water fount so there’s low risk of chicks falling into the water.
- Bedding: Use pine or aspen shavings for bedding, this should be laid out nice and thick to provide comfort and a dry space to sleep and walk.
- Heat Source: Provide a heat lamp with a safety cage or, preferably, a chick heater like the Brinsea EcoGlow to maintain the right temperature. If you do choose to use a heat lamp, make sure you secure it in at least three ways so it can’t fall into the brooder or onto the floor. Heat lamps are notorious for falling, so don’t skip this step!
The Brinsea EcoGlow
The Brinsea EcoGlow deserves special attention. It’s a chick brooder heater. Here’s why it’s one of the best choices:
- Safe Heat Source: Unlike traditional heat lamps, the EcoGlow provides radiant heat without a bulb, reducing the risk of fires and keeping chicks warm without the danger of overheating.
- Energy Efficient: It’s energy-efficient, consuming less electricity than heat lamps, making it cost-effective and eco-friendly.
- Adjustable Height: You can adjust the height to accommodate growing chicks.
6. Emergency Chick Care Supplies
On occasion, chicks may hatch with medical issues and need immediate help from you. It’s a good idea to have a chicken first aid kit on hand at all times, and to have these specific chick hatching medical suppplies at the ready.
- Popsicle Sticks or Pipe Cleaners: These can be used to make splints to straighten crooked toes or legs.
- Medical Tape or Vet Wrap: Use this to secure the splints gently.
- Chick Probiotics
- Chick Electrolytes
Hatching chicks can be a delightful and educational experience, and having the right supplies is crucial for success. From selecting the perfect incubator to setting up a comfortable brooder, these supplies ensure your chicks get the best start in life.
Whether you’re hatching a small batch or planning a larger-scale operation, being well-prepared will lead to healthier and happier chicks. So, get your supplies ready and enjoy the journey of raising these adorable feathered friends!