I hear “chicken” and think “farm.”Do I really have enough room to raise chickens in my backyard?
The short answer: probably so! Chickens are relatively small birds, in turn requiring relatively little space. “You should plan to provide four square feet per chicken in the nesting coop (also called a henhouse), plus 10 square feet per chicken in their enclosed run,” says Country Living veterinarian Dr. Tricia Earley. For a flock of, say, six chickens, that translates to a 6′-by-4′ nesting coop plus a 6′-by-10′ run. (See below for more scoop on chicken coops.) In reality, the amount of room is rarely the deal breaker for backyard chickens. The bigger question is if they are permitted in your neighborhood. Before you get started, our experts advise you to check with your homeowners’ association or municipality to confirm it’s allowed. Surprisingly, many suburban and urban areas only have restrictions on the number of hens allowed or on the possession of roosters.
How hard is it to raise chickens and what does a day in the life of chicken care really look like?
Raising chickens is not hard, but chicken expert and author Lisa Steele (@fresheggsdaily) says, “As with any pet or livestock, chickens are a serious time commitment and require daily attention.” But, again and again, owners say there’s also a “hen zen” that comes with keeping chickens. Part routine, part respite, starting and ending the day with some fresh air and labor can confer a kind of self-care. In other words, the health benefits go way beyond fresh eggs.
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Follow Lisa Steele’s round-the-cluck plan for tending your flock:
Morning: Let chickens out of their coop, giving access to the enclosed run. Give each a quick once-over, looking for bright eyes, red comb and wattles, steady gait, and shiny feathers—all signs of a healthy hen. Then supply fresh food and water, turn over and fluff coop bedding, and check for eggs.
Afternoon: Check for eggs again and give chickens their daily treat. (Optional.)
Sundown: Lock hens back inside their nesting coop to protect from predators. During the winter months, they’ll also appreciate scratch grains before bed because digesting them has a warming effect.
Once a week: Cleaning time! Take a moment to rake the bedding out of the coop and replace with fresh. Also scrub their feed and water dishes.
What do chickens eat and drink?
While your eggs may soon be homegrown, your chickens’ diet shouldn’t be. “A commercially prepared layer mash has been formulated by a poultry science nutritionist and will have the appropriate amount of calcium, calories, and protein to keep a hen healthy and ensure a good thick eggshell,” says veterinarian Dr. Victoria Drouet. While occasional treats are fine (mealworms or watermelon will get them clucking!), 90 percent of a chicken’s diet should come from store-bought goods. Plenty of fresh water is also vital and, because eggs are mostly composed of H20, directly tied to egg production. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar a few times a week to prevent bacteria.
So…how much does it cost to raise chickens?
Chickens’ needs are simple and somewhat inexpensive, especially when you factor in the return you see on those eggs! But they do require a small investment up front. Female chicks typically cost between $4 to $7 each. (You can get them for even less if you order an “assorted” flock instead of a specific breed.) A 50-pound bag of quality chicken feed costs approximately $25, which a flock of six will go through in about a month. Your biggest cost will be that coveted chicken coop, which can ring in for as little as $100 for a simple mail-order kit to upwards of $10,000 for a designer look. And just like any other beloved pet, don’t forget the occasional trip to the vet (find a listing of avian vets at tillysnest.com).
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Leghorns, Silkies, Rhode Island Reds…
What’s the difference between all those chicken breeds?
From egg production (spoiler alert: No chicken lays eggs every day) to regal plumage, these nine breeds are among the most prized varieties of back yard hens.
Rhode Island Red
Check out our guide to the best chicken breeds for backyard coops for breakdown of these top breeds by appearance, temperament, and egg production and color (hint: if you want those pretty blue eggs, the Araucana is the chicken breed for you!). Can’t make up your mind? Mixing different breeds in a single coop is no problem at all and will make your flock all the more alluring.
Where should I purchase my chickens?
“Buying chicks online is a safe way to bring hens home,” says chicken expert and author Kathy Shea Mormino (@thechickenchick). But she advises to only purchase from a hatchery certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan, such as mcmurrayhatchery.com. Local farm-supply stores, such as Tractor Supply Co., also often have chicks available seasonally, although usually with fewer breed varieties. Psst: Hens don’t start producing eggs until they are approximately 20 to 24 weeks old. If you don’t want to wait that long, consider a “started pullet,” which is a hen that’s 15 to 22 weeks old. Once accustomed to her new surroundings, she’ll begin laying eggs very soon.
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John Potter/LOOP IMAGES
Wait, don’t I need a rooster?
No! “It’s a common misconception that you need a rooster in order for a hen to lay eggs,” says chicken expert and author Melissa Caughey (@tillysnest). The truth is that a male is needed only if you want eggs fertilized to then hatch as baby chicks. In fact, while the thought of waking up to a country call may sound charming, having a rooster in a backyard flock is generally not recommended because they can become aggressive to hens and people. Be aware that determining the sex of a baby chick is difficult and mistakes can be made. Want to get rid of an accidental fella? Contact a poultry science department at your local college.
I’ve pinned approximately 225 cute chicken coops! But, what exactly does mine need to function properly? (Besides a copper cupola, obviously.)
Whether you flock toward a rustic red barn or a French château, these are the six key elements needed for a safe and happy henhouse.
Nesting BoxHens crave privacy and darkness when laying eggs, so plan for at least one nesting box for every four or five hens. A box that measures 14″W-by-14″H x 12″D will give even a big gal plenty of room. Add a door along the exterior wall of each box for easier egg collection.
An inexpensive, soft material such as hay or pin shavings offers a comfortable spot and easier cleaning. To keep things extra fresh, mix in a bedding blend such as The Chicken Chick’s “Spruce the Coop Herbal Fusion” or Fresh Egg Daily’s “Coop Confetti” .
Chickens prefer to sleep high off the ground. Give them a perch to catch those ZZZs with a wooden roosting bar. (Wood is preferable to plastic or metal as they are usually too slippery for the birds to properly grip.)
This catchall term refers to a board, pan, or box placed below the roosting bar to collect and contain manure, making daily cleanups easier.
Hanging Feeder & Waterer
Keep both off the ground to preserve freshness, and place inside the coop to keep out other unwanted animals.
Give your girls a spot to stretch their legs while staying protected from predators. Use hardware cloth or metal screening with at least a 1.2 mm gauge to ensure strength and durability.
Chickens can harbor dangerous bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, so “washing your hands thoroughly or using an alcohol-based gel after all contact with poultry or eggs is the best way to protect yourself,” says veterinarian Dr. Victoria Drouet.
I have a dog. And a cat. Can my chickens safely coexist with them?
Family pets and a gaggle of hens may first seem at odds, but there’s hope. To ensure things get off on the right paw, try supervised visits, preferably with your dog or cat on a leash, for the first few weeks. Take note: If your pet shows strong aggression during the first encounter, it will likely stay that way.
What about the eggs? How long do they stay fresh, and do they have to be refrigerated?
While it is best practice to collect them daily, eggs have a natural biofilm that keeps them fresh outdoors for several weeks. This holds true if they are displayed in a pretty bowl on your counter, too. Once an egg is washed, however, it should be refrigerated right away.
This post is brought to you by a Wholefully partner.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a while now. I get asked all the time how to start a backyard chicken flock. There is so much information out there about chickenkeeping that it can, honestly, feel really overwhelming. I know I felt so intimidated by everything for so long, that I put off starting our flock for years because I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was so wrong.
I personally don’t think keeping chickens needs to be hard, complicated, or life-altering (well, other than having life-alteringly good eggs to cook with). Once your flock is established, you can spend as little as five minutes a day caring for them. I think that anyone who has the space—and it doesn’t take much—can raise chickens if they want to. You can do this, I promise!
Me Baby Chick
I decided to pull together a simple guide to get you started with your flock. Of course, this isn’t all the information you ever need in your chickenkeeping journey—but this is a really great start on the basics. For more comprehensive chickenkeeping info, I highly recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and/or The Backyard Homestead.
Alright, let’s dig in—and as always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments. I’d love to help other people get on the chickenkeeping train!
Step 1: Check the laws and ordinances in your area.
This is not a problem for us way out in the middle of nowhere, but if you want to do suburban or urban chickenkeeping, you need to check in with your city, state, local, and homeowner’s association ordinances. Many locations ban roosters because of the noise, and some places put a limit on the number of backyard chickens you can keep. Some still completely ban chickenkeeping (whomp. whomp.). Check the laws before you get too far down the chicken path.
Step 2: Set up your brooder.
Chances are, you’ll be raising your chickens from just-hatched chicks. Incubating and hatching egg is more of an advanced-chickenkeeper thing, and personally, I’d recommend waiting until you have a bit of chicken experience before trying it out.
Since these freshly-hatched chicks will be away from their mother hen, you need to set up a hen-like environment for those baby chicks to grow and thrive in—this is called a brooder.
Me Juniper Brooder
A brooder needs to have five things: warmth, food, water, security, and cleanliness—these are all things that would be provided by the mother hen in the wild, but we have to jump in and create them when we become Mama Hen.
The traditional brooder set-up is a big cardboard box, pine shavings, feeder, waterer, and a heat lamp. This is a really affordable and simple way to get started—but I personally don’t use this set-up. The pine shavings can be hard on baby chick’s lungs and the heat lamp can be hard to control, and in the worst case scenarios, burn your house down.
Depending on the number of chicks, we either use a cardboard box or a plywood box, and fill it with corn cob bedding—this is typically used for horse stalls and can be found in almost any farm supply store. It’s cheap as all get out, super absorbent, and easy on the chick’s lungs.
Instead of the heat lamp, we use an electric radiant-heat brooder. At $80, it’s definitely more expensive than the heat lamp method, but I love that there are no worries about fire or inconsistent heat. The brooder lamp works just like a mother hen—the chicks run under it when they need to warm up, and come out when they don’t. It’s a really great investment if you plan on raising more than one batch of chicks—and the resell value is great on them, too.
You need to keep the brooder away from any predators (including your other pets—dogs, cats, etc.). And keep it in a protected area. A basement or garage works—but be warned, chicks can be really messy and dusty, so I wouldn’t put it in a super nice area of your home.
And then, of course, provide food and fresh water. We just use these cheap-o plastic waterers up on scrap blocks of 2″ x 4″ wood—raising them up helps keep the chickens from messing in their food and water.
You’ll want your brooder to be easy to clean—you’ll be amazed at how much poop little chicks can produce—and you’ll want to keep everything nice and tidy while they’re growing big and strong.
Step 3: Pick your breed and get your chicks.
Just like dogs or cats or any animals, different breeds of chickens have different qualities. Some chickens are flighty and anxious. Some are cuddly and loving. Some are great egg layers. Some lay crazy color eggs. Some thrive in hot climates. Some are made for freezing weather. You need to decide what qualities are important to you and your family.
If you’re looking for a few suggestions of friendly, good-laying, non-anxious breeds, I recommend Speckled Sussex, Light Brahmas, or Cuckoo Marans. We have all three and they are all amazing. And you can’t beat an Easter Egger for fun colored eggs.
You can get your chicks from one of three places: a farm/hardware store, an online hatchery, or a local hatchery. Most folks get their chicks from a farm store in the Spring. Your selection will be limited, but some bigger farm stores will sell a huge variety of breeds.
You’ll probably want to get sexed chicks—ones that have been determined to be hens from birth. Look for signs that say “sexed” or “pullet”. If you see something that says “straight run” that means you get what you get—meaning you have a 50% shot at getting a rooster. Many farm stores only sell straight-run chicks, so if you want to ensure you’re getting hens, a hatchery might be your best choice.
We ordered our first batch of chicks from an online hatchery, and just like everything in life, there are pros and cons. Pros: you get to pick your exact breeds, get only hens, and the chicks are normally in really good health. Cons: there is a lot of stress in the shipping process (for both the chicks and you). You might lose some chicks if the weather gets cold or there are shipping delays.
I think the best of both worlds is finding a local hatchery to you where you can pick up your chicks. They normally have better selection and better sexing than the farm stores, but you don’t have to deal with the hassle and worry of shipping. You’d be amazed at how many small and large hatcheries there are (especially in rural areas). Ask around at the farmer’s market or to folks in your area selling eggs. Or try googling “hatchery” with the name of your area/town.
Now you need to decide how many chicks to get! It can be really tempting to pick up “extra” chicks. They are so tiny! And so cute! And so cheap (most places will sell them for $3-$5 each). But try hard to remember that each fluffy baby chick will become a big, pooping, eating, adult chicken—and you need to have space for them.
I recommend starting with 2-3 chicks, and going from there (you can always add more chickens in years to come). With that few, you can really give your chicks the attention they need, they’ll have friends to interact with, and you will get 2-3 eggs per day once they are laying.
Step 4: Bring your babies home and take care of them.
Your brooder is set up and you have your chicks, so you’re basically all good to go! Taking care of chicks is actually pretty simple. You need to make sure they have clean water and a good quality chick starter food. I highly recommend using an organic chicken food—and Purina makes a great organic chick starter that you can get at most farm supply stores.
Other than that, just keep an eye on them and love on them! The more you hold and interact with them now, the more they’ll be tame around you later. Chances are, your chicks will be happy and healthy, but use your instincts – if something feels wrong, do an internet search to see what other chickenkeepers are saying. There is a great backyard chicken community online, and your question has probably already been answered!
Me Baby Chicks
One thing you’ll need to watch out at first for is a condition called pasty butt—yup, that’s really what it’s called. It’s usually caused by inconsistent heat in the brooder. If you use the radiant heat brooder I recommended, you don’t have to worry about pasty butt nearly as much. With a traditional heat lamp, you need to take a warm, damp paper towel and wipe your chick’s bum at least twice a day for first week.
If the weather is warm, you can bring them outside and let them roam around and get a taste of the great outdoors for a little bit every now and again—just make sure you have some way to keep them secure. They can be slippery little buggers! Other than that, just enjoy being a chicken parent. See how easy it is?
Step 5: Set up permanent housing.
Your chicks will be in the brooder for about six weeks before they move into their permanent home—the coop. Guess what? Six weeks is pretty much the perfect amount of time to research and build your own coop! Nothing like a deadline to get you crackin’, eh?
If you’re looking to do this on the cheap, I highly recommend building your own coop. The markup on premade chicken coops is unbelievably high! But, if you don’t have the space, time, or resources to make your own coop, I highly recommend asking for recommendations on coops at your local farm store. Also, check on Pinterest for some great ideas for upcycled coops made from everything from refrigerators to children’s playhouses!
We ended up making our own coop using The Garden Coop plans. We modified those plans to be twice as big—because it’s always a good idea to go as big as possible when you build a coop. You can always keep fewer chickens in a bigger space, but you can’t keep more in a smaller one. We LOVED working with The Garden Coop plans—and they have a bunch of different sizes for different flocks. Highly recommended!
Your coop will need some sort of bedding in probably three locations. In the nesting boxes, just use straw that the chickens will form into nests. In the hen house, we use cob just like we do in the brooder. And in the run, we use sand. Sand is easy to clean (like kitty litter), really affordable, and, most importantly to us, it helps keep the coop cool when it gets super hot here in the summer.
Step 6: Decide on feeding and ranging.
Depending on your location, this decision might already be made for you—many local ordinances don’t allow backyard chickens to range outside of an enclosed run in a coop. But if your ordinances don’t require you to keep your chickens cooped up, you’ll need to make some decisions about what you feed your chickens and if and when they range.
Letting chickens roam free is nice, in theory, but chickens are prey animals, and can be really difficult to keep safe from predators. If that’s a risk you are willing to take, then free ranging will give you the healthiest eggs, the happiest chickens, and a reduced food bill.
An option in between cooped and free range is penned ranging—where the chickens roam in a large run or pen throughout the day, and then are shut into a coop during the day. This is what we do, and it’s the best of both worlds. Our chickens get to be “free” in about a half acre pen during the day, but they are safe from the biggest predator we fight—stray dogs.
Regardless of if you choose to free range or coop your chickens, you’ll need to feed them a high quality poultry feed. If you free range or pen range your flock, you’ll need to just supplement their diet—they’ll get a lot of their nutrition from the bugs and plants they pick out of the ground. If they are cooped all the time, you’ll be giving them their entire nutrition via the feed. Either way, you want good stuff. Trust me, you can tell the difference between eggs from a chicken who is fed good quality feed and one who is not.
We choose to feed our chickens organically, and we really like the Purina line of organic poultry feeds. We love it because they are readily available at even our small town feed stores. It’s nice to not have to special order organic feed—and we still feel good about the health of our flock and quality of our eggs.
Regardless of what you decide to feed your flock, you’ll want to find a reliable source near-to-you. Trust me, when those chickens run out of feed, they are not happy campers. Chickens get hangry, too!
Step 7: Move your chickens into their coop and wait for eggs!
You’ll slowly want to introduce your not-so-baby-anymore baby chicks to the outdoors, until the big day when they move into their coop permanently. Right around the 5-6 week mark is a good time to do it—basically, when they have lost all of their fluff and have a full set of feathers to help keep them warm.
If you plan on ranging your flock, you’ll want to keep them “locked” in their coop for about a week to train them that the coop is their home. After that, you can let them free to range, and they’ll come home to roost each night around dusk. It’s magic! We’ve never had to herd our chickens into the coop at night. They know that’s their safe home, and they automatically go there when things start to go bump in the night.
And then, you wait! Keep the chickens fed, watered, and their coop clean, and within a few months, you should find your first egg. It’s pretty much the most exciting thing ever. On average, chickens start laying at about six months old—but this can vary widely based on breed, season, and other factors.
If your chickens are free ranging or ranging in a pen, they might not know to lay their eggs in a nesting box, so if your hens show other signs of laying (most visually—if their comb is bright, bright red), keep an eye out! We actually found our very first egg under a bush behind our house.
You can fix the nesting box problem by locking the chickens up in the coop for about week, and placing dummy eggs in the nesting boxes. Chickens like to do what other chickens do, so if they see another hen has laid there, they are more apt to, as well. Even since we did that, the girls have consistently laid in their nesting boxes.
And finally: enjoy chicken parenthood!
Now that your flock is established and laying, there really isn’t a whole lot to do. Keep their coop stocked with clean water and fresh food. Clean the coop every now and again. Collect your eggs. And just keep an eye on your flock to make sure there are no diseases or injuries.
Because chickens are prey animals, they tend to hide their diseases and injuries decently well, but if you know your flock, you’ll be able to tell when something is off. If their comb loses color, they start to lose feathers, or they just don’t seem like their usual chicken-y selves, it’s time to check up on them.
You also might want to call around in your area and see if you can find a local vet that sees chickens (ours does) and set up a chicken first aid kit.
Chickens will lay extremely well for the first two years of their life, then their egg production will dwindle as they age. You can then decide what to do with your hens after that—that’s one of the reasons we built such a big coop, we decided to let our chickens live out their happy little chicken lives here as long as they’d like.
Some chickenkeepers give older hens away and some butcher older hens for eating. We kinda feel like since the hens give us so much in eggs and enjoyment that it’s the least we can do to repay them is to let them live their lives out in peace, but I know not all chickenkeepers feel that way.
And there you have it! It doesn’t seem so hard now, does it? Like I said, there is a lot more information, but I hope this basic primer helped you get excited about chickenkeeping. You can do this! I promise!
Good luck! And happy chickenkeeping.
This post has been sponsored by Purina Animal Nutrition, as such I received free product from Purina to share my opinion with my readers. However, my opinions are based on my individual and unique experience. Based on my experience in 2016 I believe this line of feed has been amazing for my flock and I encourage you to try it too!
Crops And Their Story
Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treating Crop Issues
The Crop. Just what IS a Crop, what do they do and why do birds have them?
Anatomy of a Crop: The Crop is a muscular pouch located on the right side of a birds lower neck or upper breast area. All birds have them. Chickens are creatures that are prayed upon by many creatures. Fortunately chickens were given crops so they could go out into the field and gorge themselves, then run to cover and hide for hours digesting their meals. So you could say the Crop is a storage tank for food waiting to be digested. To feel a Crop you simply stand over the bird, beak facing away from you and you place your hand at the lower end of the neck where it meets the breast, and slide your hand down the front of the breast. The Crop is on the right side of the bird’s breast.
What is the Purpose of a Crop: And how does the Crop store food for so long without growing bacteria you ask? A healthy Crop is loaded with lots of good bacteria so when food sits in this pouch for hours on end, the good bacteria keep the food from growing toxins and harmful bacteria. As the Gizzard grinds up all the grass, weeds and roughage the bird just ate, the Crop slowly contracts and pushes small amounts of food down through the tube toward the Proventriculus or stomach, through the Gizzard and on through the Intestinal tract. When running properly, it is a very efficient system, with the Crop playing a huge roll in the entire digestive tract.
But sometimes the Crop malfunctions which causes distress, illness and sometimes death to the bird. Food and waste need to keep moving through the system for the bird to take in nutrients and expel waste. If the intestinal tract shuts down, the bird can die.
Ailments of the Crop: “Help!…There is fluid leaking out of my birds beak and the Crop is huge!”…. How many times have we seen threads started with this line in our Emergency section?! So how and why do crops go bad? Lets start with some possible reasons why Crops have issues:
Some Possible Reasons for Crops to stop functioning properly:
*The Crop has become slow
*The Crop is Sour (Candidiasis/Yeast infection)
***The bird has a bad Coccidiosis infection
*There is Canker somewhere in the system
***The Intestines are blocked by Worms (VERY common cause of slow or impacted Crops)
***The bird is Internally Laying or has Reproductive Cancer*** (Both of these are extremely common in hatchery stock and one of the more common reasons a bird turns up with a slow, sour or impacted crop. The crop issue is a symptom of these however seems to be the first symptom.)
*The Crop is Impacted
*The bird has Enteritis and or Coccidiosis (both of these, many times, go hand in hand)
*The Crop has Thread Worms
*The Crop has been injured
*There is an impaction in the Gizzard
*There is an impaction in the Intestinal Tract
*The bird is Egg Bound
*Tumors have grown around the Intestinal tract blocking the exit of waste
*The bird has Waterbelly (Ascites)
*The bird is laying internally
*The bird has some sort of internal infection
*The bird is dying
Diagnosis a Crop issue:
It is so easy for a birds intestinal flora to become out of balance. There are healthy supplies of yeast, e.coli and other bacteria in the gut at all times. Much of it is used for digestion. But hosts of things can throw the entire machine off balance and if one over grows itself, seems like the rest of it does too. And too much of these yeasts and e.coli’s can be deadly. So if the diet of the bird is off even a little bit, too much starch, impactions, worms, parasites, bacterial infections, egg binding, internal laying, canker, alkaline environments (this is my issue here as my soil is loaded with molds, mildews and yeasts) wild birds can bring in disease and yeasts, genetics can play a big part, just about anything that effects the over all health or weakens the immune system of the bird and or slows down the intestinal machine will throw the entire thing off and cause an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria. And it is very difficult to figure out which came first, how they contracted it and why. Even many humans have problems with an over growth of yeast in the body. So that is why when I hear of someone having a bird with a crop issue, I always start with the basic stuff, which more often then not is the problem…worms, cocci, egg binding or overall health. Ascites is pretty apparent. Grass impactions do happen, but are not all that common as long as the bird has access to grit and is healthy to start with.
So how do you know if the bird has a crop issue? Lets start with the healthy crop. A bird that has a healthy fully functioning Crop will always wake up with an empty Crop and go to roost with a full Crop. Birds like to stuff their Crops full a few hours before roosting so they can get through the night with enough calories to stay warm and alive. It takes about 4 to 8 hours to completely empty a Crop. So upon inspection first thing in the morning before the bird has eaten or drank anything, the Crop should be completely empty. Morning is the only time you can count on a Crop to be empty with a healthy bird. Crops can feel funky all day long…soft and squishy, hard and firm. So make your assessment in the morning before the bird has eaten or drank anything. If you come to find a bird with a full crop in the morning, something is amiss with the digestion or the bird itself.
If the bird has been developing a crop issue that has gone unnoticed by you for some time, you may happen to pick up your bird and have it empty the contents of it’s full crop on you, with liquid pouring out of the beak. Or sometimes you may find the bird sitting in the corner somewhere looking sick and through an inspection of the bird, you find he or she has a full crop. However remember, other illness can cause the crop to stop working. So you will need to do an overall exam of the bird to try to determine why the bird has this crop issue and what needs to be done to treat it.
Lets start with giving the bird exams. Keeping tabs on your feathered friends is always the best way to keep them in good health. Along with the Comb color, the activity level of the bird, whether he or she is eating and drinking well, regularly checking the Crop is a good way to monitor the health of your bird. Many simple issues, diseases and conditions can be prevented and or cured quickly if caught early enough. I give my birds a Crop check daily each morning before they have eaten or drank anything. And if I have a bird that is old or ailing in anyway, I check the Crop at roosting time as well. This way I know if the bird is eating enough. Crops should be full at roosting time. If they are empty, there is something going on with the bird. If there is something in the Crop in the morning, again, something is amiss. And if you are keeping regular tabs on the Crop, you could potentially save your birds life having gotten treatment going early enough.
Treating Crop Ailments
The Impacted Crop:
Sometimes it is hard to tell whether or not the bird has an impaction or a doughy crop. They are very similar in one aspect, they will be hard first thing in the morning. However when the bird drinks or you syringe water down the birds beak, a doughy crop will get soft and you can actually knead it like dough. Where as the impacted crop will remain hard all day long. Sometimes the bird will also be pooping out bits of grass or what ever has impacted it. Impactions are usually very large and very hard. Doughy crops start out small and remember, they are pliable.
So lets say you go up to the coop in the morning and you do a Crop check only to find what feels like a hard ball in “Tillie’s” Crop. What is it and what do you do?! This is an impaction in the Crop. This can be a very dangerous situation if left untreated. The food in the Crop is going to start to turn toxic and could potentially kill your bird. This impaction could also be lower in the Gizzard or even in the Intestinal Tract as well.
I like to stop and think for a moment as to why this bird might have an impaction so I can properly treat the bird. Have I wormed my birds lately? Round Worms can over populate the Intestinal Tract to the point of blocking off the entire passage of waste unable to leave the bird,thus causing the Crop to become impacted. Has the bird been laying regularly and possibly is she Egg Bound, causing the Crop to become impacted? Does my bird have Ascites or a Water Belly? (This is an easy exam to do. Feel between the abdomen between the legs and up to the vent on the outside of the bird. It should be small and firm, not large, soft and squishy. Generally this is going to be a life threatening situation and most likely the bird is not going to survive. Since this article is on Crops themselves, and Ascites is it’s own ailment, you will need to do more research here on BYC on treating that condition) Did my chicken get out to free ranging yesterday and into some deep long grass or some stiff vegetation? Long grass can wind around and around into a ball in the Crop and become difficult for the bird to move. This long grass or stiff foliage can cause a Gizzard impaction as well or even an Intestinal impaction. (So keep your grass cut short!) These examples are the most common reasons a Crop becomes impacted. (See below for articles treating Egg Binding and Worming your birds.)
Lets get back to this impacted Crop! So you find Tillie with a giant hard ball in her crop. And for the sake of learning how to treat this issue, lets assume she passed her exam and you feel she must have eaten a lot of long grasses or stiff vegetation yesterday while out free ranging. First thing you need to do is confine her to a cage with no food. You do not want to add to this situation since nothing is moving through her. She will not starve to death in the amount of time it takes to get this moving. Caging her will also allow you to monitor her poop output which is very important to knowing you are working this impaction out. All she can have at this time is water. Water, water and more water! Water will help to make this hard ball break down and move. If you know how to tube feed water down into her crop, please do so! This will help the impaction break down even faster. (See below for an article on Tube Feeding) She will need to remain in this cage until roosting time with only water in her cage.
Here are a couple of things you might use to get this impaction broken up and moving. Mineral Oil/Liquid Paraffin works quite well and sometimes over night. With an empty syringe, squeeze 1ml of mineral oil under the tongue in the morning, repeat at roosting time. If the impaction has not moved the next morning, repeat the morning and evening dose. Generally the crop should have cleared by the second or third day.
You can also give the bird “Crop Bound Capsules. If you don’t have any Crop Bound caps you can use a stool softener. Dulcolax (Docusate Sodium 100mg. Use the plain Dulcolax only.) This stuff is stimulant free and will not cause any cramping or diarrhea. NEVER use a stool softener with a Laxative stimulant as it will cause cramping and pain. I have had great success with using Dulcolax gel caps on impacted Crops. You can also use the tablet form of the Dulcolax. There are a couple ways to get this down the bird. I always prefer to give medications to birds via an empty syringe and shoot it down the beak. This way I know the bird is getting all the meds. Always keep some Gerber Baby Food on hand for these occasions. It makes a wonderful medium to shoot down the beak and is thick enough so as not to aspirate the bird as easily as say water. And Baby Food is loaded with healthy ingredients. Stick to the veggies and fruits verses the meat foods. This is all done without a needle. Suck up 1cc of baby food and inject it into a small cup. Then take two gel caps and prick them open. (Do not cut yourself!) Squeeze the contents in the baby food and mix well, discarding the empty caps. Spoon up this mixture and load it into the bottom of the syringe. Try to get it all. Then gently insert the plunger, trying not to shoot it all over the walls! Tap the bottom to get it down away from the tip if you have to. 1cc can be safely shot down the beak of a large bird without gagging or aspirating the bird if done properly. Any more than 1cc and you will need to shoot it down in two increments. Gently squeeze this on the birds front or middle tongue as you hold the head level. Never squeeze anything into the beak with the head back or deep into the throat. Level and on the front of the tongue. While you have the bird out, massage the crop until it feels softer. About 5 mins, gentle massaging. Then put the bird back in the cage. If you are unable to use this syringe method, you can offer up about a tablespoon full of warm, chopped up hard boiled egg. Simply squeeze the contents of these gel caps onto the egg. Mix well and discard empty capsules. Make sure she eats it all. Check for droppings every hour. During this time, give the bird another Crop massaging. If you are tubing water down the bird, do the same…crop massages after every hour of water and Dolculax. If you know how to get water down a bird with a syringe without aspirating her, then please do that too. 10cc’s will do wonders followed by a Crop massage every hour. I have found that after about 4 hours the pooping will start. Slow at first, but as the day wears on they start to poop more and the crop is getting smaller. Sometime in the afternoon give her another dose of Dulcolax gel caps, same method. At roosting time I let the bird roost up with her mates and at the crack of dawn I am up before she eats or drinks anything and I am checking the crop. The Crop should be empty or nearly empty. If only a tiny bit the size of a marble is still in the crop, you can keep her out of the cage for the day. No hard foods, free ranging or anything that might cause more trouble. Give her another dose of Dulcolax, same method. Monitor the ball all day and a few massages that day will also help. Later that afternoon, give her another dose of the Ducolax, same method. Check her Crop the following morning, the Crop should be completely empty and back to functioning properly. Just like the Mineral Oil, it may take 3 days using the Ducolax to clear the crop. If the bird’s Crop is empty in the morning, bird can now go back to it’s regularly scheduled day, however keep the diet on the light side with easy to digest foods.
Doughy Crop: What is a doughy Crop? If you find your bird has a crop full of what feels like bread dough…you can almost knead it from the outside…the contents are pliable and hold it’s shape. And sometimes it is literally attached to the walls of the Crop. This is caused by a few things:
1. The Crop has become dehydrated due to a blockage and only the liquid is passing through the bird leaving all the food stuffs. The bird may also be very dehydrated from the lack of water.
2. This is a yeast infection and you are feeling the growing yeast. If you find these things early enough, one morning you might feel what seems like a marble sized ball in the bottom of the crop. The next morning the marble is the size of a peach pit. The day after that it is the size of a plum. In both cases you will be able to actually “knead” this wad of gummy dough material in the Crop.
So how do you get rid of it? I have seen this in a few birds over my years and can be difficult to treat. I have found a couple of methods to rid a bird of a doughy crop. The first method works really well on chicks that are simply dehydrated in the brooder. Its a very simple yeast and breaks down easily with the first method. The second method, the Acified Copper Sulfate works better for those adult birds that are suffering from medical issues that are causing this dough crop in the first place.
I had heard of the following method to break this gummy ball down many many years ago when I raised Cockatiels. If you don’t feed baby Cocketielsl properly, they can develop this gummy doughy Crop from dehydration of improper temp of food. Usually within 24 to 72 hours, the entire mass had moved. You can find most if not all of these things in your spice pantry:
1/16 teaspoon Ginger Powder (you can even use the contents of a human Ginger capsule)
1/16 teaspoon Cinnamon Powder
1/16 teaspoon Cayenne Powder
1 teaspoon of Lemon Juice
Mix this all together and use a syringe without a needle and suck up .3 to .4ml at a time and squirt down the throat, under the tongue, HEAD LEVEL. Never give more than .4ml at a time or you can aspirate the bird, having it go down the wrong pipe. (occasionally they do aspirate if you aren’t keeping the head level or used too much liquids. If only .3ml went down into the air ways, they will not die. Just let them cough it out over the next hour and be careful next time you are syringing in water.) I like to use those small insulin syringes of 1ml. You can usually get these for free at pharmacies. Get this ENTIRE mixture down the throat. This will only take a few minutes to get it all down. Massage crop and knead air up to the top slowly to burp out excess air when done. Do this 3 times a day for one or two days and the mass will dissolve within 24 to 72 hours. If you know how to tube feed, you can give this one one fell swoop through a tube 3 times a day. Of course if you are dosing a very young chick, being that their Crops are so much smaller than adult birds, you will want to use half of this dosage or less depending on the size of the bird.
**However, if this doughy crop just refuses to move, (especially in those adult birds) there could be a heavy Coccidiosis infection, Canker or even an E.coli imbalance enough to cause this huge case of Doughy, yeasty crop. I have had a few cases of Doughy crop that were so stubborn, Acidified Copper Sulfate was the only thing that got them moving. The interesting thing about ACS is that it will take care of an over growth of not only yeast, but E.coli, Cocci, Vent Gleet and Canker as well, all of which can gum a crop right up. Copper Sulfate is used in all animal feeds as a source of Copper. However in large quantities it is toxic to pretty much everything. I have never had problems using it on my birds, however make sure to use it properly, measure it out accurately and use it for on the specified amount of time. I have in the past used Fluconazole from the vet. You can buy Fish-Flucon on line 5-10 mg per pound of bird, 2 times daily for 2 to 4 weeks. Stubborn cases required adding of the yeast buster recipe too, the Cinnamon, Ginger and lemon juice mixture.
To make a batch of Acidified Copper Sulfate: 1/4 teaspoon ACS to one gallon of water. You can use a little of this for a few days, it will last that long. Change the birds water daily and give them new each day for 7 days. 10 days is max. If the bird is improving but not well at day 7, use some probiotics for a couple of days, allowing the bird to flush their system of the Copper and start back up on the Copper a couple days later and run it through them again. When the treatment is finished, make SURE to use probiotics for a week to replenish all that was lost or all this could reoccur again. Follow this with ACV a few days here and there through out the month to pickle up the intestines, pathogens have a hard time taking hold in a sour gut.**
Of course this yeasty condition usually arises because some other medical or physical issue is going on at the time. So make sure to address what is going on after you clear out the crop.
The Slow or Sour Crop:
Lets say you head up to the coop one morning only to find “Miss Molly” with a full squishy Crop. Now what do you do?! If you have been doing Crop checks each morning and this appeared out of nowhere, the Crop is not yet Soured. It is considered Slow at this point. Sour comes later after too much bad bacteria and yeast have been growing in the Crop from it emptying too slowly after a few days. Slow and Sour Crops can be caused by many things not only from the list of possibilities that I listed above, but also from simple things as feed changes, some new food that gave the bird indigestion, feed that has gone bad, moldy or buggy, and sometimes certain birds just cannot digest certain feeds. I have a hen that had a Chronic Sour Crop for years until I figured out she couldn’t tolerate the feed she was on. After 4 or 5 different feeds, I finally found one she could eat without a continuous Slow or Sour Crop. So sometime a feed change is in order. Sometimes a Slow or Sour Crop is stemmed from something more serious like Ascites, some internal infection, organ failure or the bird is simply dying. Generally when a bird is near death, the Intestinal Tract has shut down and liquid is filling these cavities. The Crop will become so full it is pouring out of the beak. These types of birds are sometimes easily diagnosed as they are sitting in the corner of the coop, eyes close and barely conscious, very dark red or cherry colored comb and not responsive. In this case, the best thing you can do is move the bird to a warm soft place, heat lamp if needed and make the bird as comfortable as possible so it can gently pass away or humanly put her down.
So for the sake of this article, lets just assume that Miss Molly is not dying, she has past her exam, she has had no feed changes recently and maybe she got into something that has caused the good bacteria in her crop to diminish and she has a bit of indigestion. (The following applies to any feed changes or the need for a feed change as well.) First thing you need to do is get this gunk out of her crop. This stuff is going to become toxic very quick like and since chickens can’t vomit, you will need to do it for them. If left untreated, this gunk can poison her. So take her outside for this next procedure. Hold her like a football in one arm, beak facing out. With your other hand support her at the Crop. Stand yourself with feet apart and lean yourself and the bird forward. You are going to want to lean her far down, beak facing the ground, tail up. Gently squeeze and massage the Crop. The MOMENT the fluid starts to come up out and out of the beak, hold her for no more than 2 seconds in this position and then stand her and yourself back up. Any longer and you can aspirate her. Give her a few moments to catch her breath and do it again. REMEMBER….stick to 2 seconds only in this downward position. Do this until you can’t get anymore out. You will never get it all out of the Crop, but do your best so she can heal faster and feel better as well.
Take her back inside. She will need to be caged but this time she can have food and water. Many times a slow Crop stems from the good bacteria in the Crop has diminished enough to slow the Crop down. The Crop being a muscle, works in conjunction with the good bacteria in the entire system. When there is not enough of it, the first thing that happens is the Crop slows down. It can even stop completely. So keeping food in the crop is important to keep it moving and help to replace all the good bacteria that is naturally there. But you can help to replace it quicker by offering up Probiotics. I use Probiotics in my poultry’s water several times a week. 70% of the immune system is in the Intestinal Tract of all animals. And keeping the Intestinal Tract full of oxygen and good bacteria keeps the immune system healthy, keeps the bad pathogens from taking hold in the Intestines which is where most of them start and keeps those Crops loaded with good bacteria for good Crop health. You can use poultry Probiotics or even the human grade probiotics. All the same stuff. Follow the directions on the package for use of poultry Probiotics. If all you have is the human grade stuff, simply empty one capsule into a plastic quart waterer, discard the empty capsule, and fill with water. Make sure to change this mixture and make new daily.
She can eat only her chicken feed. It helps to dampen it with some water. Chickens love damp chicken feed and it helps to break it down easier so as to keep the Crop moving as fast as it can in it’s condition. Absolutely no hard seeds, grains, grass or hard vegetation. She can eat some warm, chopped hard boiled eggs with some yogurt on them for a treat. I am not a fan of using yogurt with Slow or Sour Crops as it can produce mucus which can slow a Crop down a bit. But it does have wonderful qualities of good bacteria and protein. So go ahead and use it sparingly if you want to.
Each morning you will need to check her Crop for fullness and vomit her if necessary. I do not like to vomit during the day. The bird needs to stay hydrated and fed. I only vomit during the day if she is leaking a lot of fluid from the beak. (Fluid leaking from the beak can also happen after a bird drinks too much water. So do not confuse over drinking of a healthy bird for a crop issue. Remember…check crops in the morning of if they are definitely sick) Keep her caged and eating damp feed only. Don’t re-feed damp feed from yesterday in case it has grown bacteria so only dampen a small amount at a time for that day.
I like to use a Crop Bra during times of Slow and Sour Crop. These garments are wonderful. The constant pressure against the Crop keeps food moving through the Crop and helps to prevent Souring since the food never sits too long.
The Crop being a muscle, can stretch over time if the bird has a full Crop for months on end. It becomes what is called Pendulous. When this happens, the Crop will get so large and distended that it will be unable to empty out completely which can lead to Chronic Slow and Sour Crop for the rest of the birds life. A Crop Bra will help birds with Pendulous Crops empty their Crops and remain healthy if they continuously wear these.
If at any time her breath starts to smell badly or you are seeing white chunks in her vomit, then the Slow Crop has now become a Sour Crop. Medications will now be needed. If you turn to a veterinarian to help treat this crop issue, most likely they are going to prescribe Nystatin for this yeast/fungal infection. The problem with Nystatin is that it must come into contact with the Crop and yeast/fungal infection at all times or it renders itself useless. And because the bird needs to eat and drink during the treatment, I have never found Nystatin to be useful one bit. If you can get your vet to prescribe you Clotrimazole, then do it! This stuff is very powerful and will knock out the most powerful yeast infection a bird can have. If is often given to human babies with Thrush of the mouth with great success. However if you don’t have an avian vet or they do not have this medication, you can turn to vaginal cream. Yes, sounds bizarre, but I was directed by an avian vet to use this on my Chronically Slow and Sour Crop patient. And it wasn’t until I started with the vaginal cream was I able to save my bird. Monistat. (Miconazole Nitrate) or Gyne-Lotrimin contains Clotrimazole. The other ingredients are glycerin and other inert products. You can use the Generic form of this product as well. I use the 2% formula. You will need an empty syringe with no needle. Stick the tip of the syringe into the tube of vaginal cream, withdraw the plunger and squeeze the tube and suck up 1cc. You are going to give her 1cc, 3 times a day. So 1cc after her morning vomit, 1cc at noon and 1cc at roosting time. Again, squeeze it onto the tongue with the birds head level. You can also use the hard boiled egg method as described above in the Impacted Crop section of this article. Give her this cream daily, be sure to vomit her first thing each morning, along with her damp chicken feed only for one full week.The above concoction of Cinnamon, Ginger, etc….works as a wonderful yeast buster for a sour crop. I have also had great luck with Acidified Copper Sulfate in the water for 5 to 7 days. Always use the Acidified stuff you get from a poultry supply, never use anything not poultry approved. This is guaranteed to clear up the most wicked yeast infection. However just keep in mind, if something like the feed is causing this yeast infection or she has an internal infection, an internal fungal infection, Crop worms, she is Egg Bound, intestinal worms or something else is causing this Crop to be slow and sour, you will need to correct these first before you can cure your bird of this yeast infection. Once you can go two mornings with nothing in the Crop, you can assume you have cured the bird of this issue. She can then go back to her regularly scheduled day. Keep her on probiotics for one week after treatment.
Prevention of Crop Ailments:
Prevention is always the best medicine. But sometimes we miss things, the bird has gotten into things it should have, or maybe “Miss Molly” is aging and is developing Crop problems. Internal Laying and Reproductive Cancer is very common in hatchery stock and 80% of all hens will die from some sort of laying issue. There isn’t anything you can do to prevent either of these issues if you keep Hatchery stock, (Heritage breeds are far less effected) but be aware that MANY crop problems are due to Internal Laying and Reproductive Cancer and the crop issues are one of the first symptoms that pops up. (any internal infections or tumors that cause swelling will block of the passage of waste through the intestines, thus backing up at the crop.)
The best thing you can do is do regular Crop checks in the mornings. The faster you find these issues, the quicker you can get your bird back on the road to good health. The longer a bird remains sick, the chances of the illness becoming more serious and likeliness of death becomes more probable.
Use Probiotics on a regular basis. As I described above, they work to keep the good bacteria alive in the entire Intestinal Tract and boost immunity.
Apple Cider Vinegar. I don’t recommend this to be used on a weekly regular basis, but one week a month can help to raise the PH level of the entire body and sour up the intestines enough that pathogens have a hard time taking hold there. When a Crop is Slow or Sour, the PH of it is low. ACV does not work fast and it goes in as an acid. But as the bird digests it, it turns the body more alkaline. ACV is a nice tonic to keeping your bird healthy and the Crop in good shape. 1 Tablespoons ACV to one gallon of water. Use plastic containers only. Change and make a new batch daily. Over time, the PH of the body will rise with a once a month week long treatment of ACV. The addition of Coconut Oil and Ginger several times a week. Both are antifungal and help tone and improve intestines and digestion!
Be careful with feed changes. Just as we humans get indigestion, so do birds. Small things like this can throw off the good bacterial balance in the Crop and Intestines. So mix in new feed slowly. And if you find a bird that you just can’t cure with the above techniques and think she could possibly have an issue with feed, by all means change to a new feed.
WORM your birds and keep an eye out for Coccidiosis!! I can’t say enough about keeping your birds Intestines free from worm impactions. Worms will drain the life right out of a bird and can block the entire Intestinal Tract up completely.
Keep your grass cut short! That long thick grass can wind up in a crop and stop it up completely. So crop the grass short!
Keep those eggs moving with a good diet and oyster shell on the side. A stuck egg will block off the Intestinal Tract.
Avoid too many hard to digest treats. Raisins and peanuts are wonderful treats. But they can be hard to break down or contain too much sugar.
Always keep grit available at all times if the birds are kept in a run and don’t have access to natural grit or sand. Grit is very important for the Gizzard to grind up all hard foods. And if you have only started free ranging your birds, start with small times out side on the grass. Gizzards are also a muscle and need to develop strength over time to be able to grind up all these hard foods.
And lastly, keep your birds on a good diet. Endless water fonts, lots of sunshine and love. Keep your facilities as clean as possible. Don’t let your chickens bully each other, give them plenty of space in the coop and run and enjoy spending time with your birds! They love to see you coming with or without the goodies. So go sit with them on a regular basis and see how healthy they become in body, mind and spirit.
A chicken that is not provided with adequate enrichment and mental stimulation will be more inclined towards problem behaviors. Feather pecking, bullying, egg eating and even cannibalism are almost always a result of chickens that are confined without proper enrichment. The winter months that necessitate closer quarters and less foraging opportunities is when chicken toys become even more necessary. This is where the expression “feeling cooped up” comes from after all.
You’re probably already giving your chickens “toys” without realizing it. Any activity that encourages natural chicken behaviors can be considered playing. And any item that encourages that activity is a “toy”.
Some enrichment activities you are probably already providing include:
Cleaning out the coop and run and other daily tasks such as egg collecting. This changes their environment and chickens are intrigued by anything new.
Inspecting the health of your flock and any other direct human contact.
Providing table scraps, weeds, dirt clods, fodder, flats of sod etc.
Letting them out to roam the run or free range.
As the winter months approach, and time and space constraints increase we find ourselves looking for more. What you provide need not be expensive or ornate, or even pretty. Most of the best toys are absolutely free. Below is a list of toys that many people have found effective in keeping their chickens entertained and happy.
Top Toys for Adult birds:
Compost piles are excellent sources of enrichment and food. Simply create your pile of compostable material and let the chickens work it at will. The chickens will enjoy digging up the bugs and worms and will be warmed by the heat that is created from the decomposing material. Keeping a compost heap or pile in the run also reduces the amount of foraging/digging they do elsewhere in their run which will help the vegetation grow and prevent a bare muddy run. (The one pictured is a frame made from an old privacy fence that was falling down on our property filled with yard and kitchen waste.)
Hanging cabbage, squash, lettuce, kale, spinach etc. from a string or bungee cord is a popular toy with a nutritional boost. If you can stick a skewer through it or tie a string around it then it is fair game to be hung either on the fence of the run, from the ceiling in the coop or anywhere else they might be able to play tetherball with it.
Interactive Treat dispensers. Anything from an empty beverage bottle with holes drilled in it to cat and dog toys designed with treat dispensing holes in them. If you can fill it with some form of treat and poke holes in it so that the chickens can kick it around and peck at it to make the food come out then you have yourself a toy. There are some companies that sell chicken treat dispenser toys as well. (Pictured is a reused plastic peanut butter jar with ¼” holes drilled in it and filled with wheat seed)
Dust Bathing Area. Provide an area where they can dust bathe freely. Any bucket, bin, old tire or any other device filled with dirt for them to bathe in is perfect. It will encourage them to do their dust bathing in one approved location and limit the amount of holes they dig elsewhere for the purpose. You can mix in some Diatomaceous earth or wood ash as well to help deter mites etc., but it isn’t necessary. (Pictured is an old tire found on our property and filled with dirt.)
Climbing/Perching places. The animal kingdom at large takes the term “top dog” pretty literally. Any spot that allows the head of the flock to perch above everyone else will be prized. Roosters especially prefer a spot where they can perch above the flock and crow their ownership of it to the rest of the world. Even an old tree that fell down on your property (or you cut down) can be erected in the run for this purpose. You could also build your run around an existing live tree for the purpose. Live trees also provide protection from overhead predators as well as forage and shade. (I found the sawhorse in the picture in the woods of our property. A simple sawhorse can be built out of one or two 2×4’s inexpensively, or salvaged pallets.)
Toys for Chicks: Non-food toys are best for chicks as their nutrition requirements depend mostly on their feed unless you are an experienced chicken nutritionist or a mama hen.
Pet bird toys (parakeet shred a box &/or bird burrito) or any small kitten or baby toy such as fake mice, small balls, rattles, etc. The more colorful the better since chickens see color better than humans do.
Mirror (the unbreakable varieties for babies cribs or parakeets etc. are ideal. Better safe than sorry.) An old cd on a string would be an excellent substitute for this as well. Not only will they enjoy their reflection, they will also enjoy the rainbows that will inevitably end up on the walls etc. of the brooder area. An old cd hung in the run area not only provides entertainment but can aid in deterring hawks and other aerial predators.
Bin filled with sand (doubles as grit for wee ones also) or dry dirt for dust bathing.
Tunnel made from an empty Oatmeal container.
Make a chicken swing out of some rope and a large branch or a 2×4. This is great for helping them build the muscles necessary to keep them on their roosts as well as gives them a place out of the litter to warm their feet.
Other great toy ideas that are inexpensive or free to buy or make:
Old stump or branch full of bugs, grubs and other creepy crawlies. This works for any piece of wood. Just leave it in one place for a few days to a week or so and let the bugs seek refuge under it – then just flip it over and let the flock go to town.
newspaper to shred
Cricket tubes (or just let crickets loose in the coop when they will be confined for an extended period of time). You can find these at most pet stores or tackle shops.
Sunflower heads complete with seeds
A post Halloween jack-o-lantern or any large squash or melon. Just drop it on the ground from high enough that it splits and let them do the rest.
Suet cage or fruit basket stuffed with table scraps
Old cd’s that are scratched beyond repair are great hung from a string along the fence of the run at or just above pecking height. If you are REALLY adventurous you can blow up a balloon, smash the cd’s and then glue them on to the balloon in a mosaic pattern and hang in the run/coop to catch the light.
Boiled spaghetti is a special hit. Dye the noodles different colors for added fun.
DIY bird feeders. Just do a Google search and you’ll come up with thousands of ideas. Just use scratch grains or BOSS or whatever else you have on hand. Molasses is a great tool for creating enough structure to hold it together enough for them to peck it to death.
Use your imagination and have fun. If it encourages their natural behaviors of eating, scratching, pecking, bathing, flying, perching or flock socialization then it is a good toy. They don’t have to be pretty and they don’t have to cost anything. If they don’t like it you can always take it away and try again another time, or move on to the next item. Enjoy your flock!
This project took several months simply due to gathering materials and trying to construct this after work or while watching my 2 yr old. Much of the materials I was able to scavenge, I to try keep my costs low. This took basic carpentry skills.
I started by laying the foundation on block. I opted not to dig because of building code restrictions and I started this in Jan. and wasn’t sure if the concrete would even set.
These 4X4 logs were salvaged from a pipe company that shipped their pipe on these, then threw them away. 9 ft long oak, talk about lucky.
Window I built out of plexiglass that was lying around.
Showing how I notched the back wall. Just used a circular saw to cut out about an inch of both logs.
First wood purchase, couple of 2 x 4s for the roof. Support beams are pallet wood.
Plywood added as well. Another purchase.
I went with Enduro fiberglass roof. This is not metal, its supposed to last as long, but its quiet and very easy to use. All in all, with wood, nails, and roofing I think I was somewhere around $200 so far.
I framed the door before the walls. I definitely would have done this part different. I bought the door for $10 at a reuse store. I’ll probably build a new door for this. The big issue is once the front walls were build it pushed the frame out and I had to do some serious cutting and sanding to fit it back.
The cordwood was all cut to 10″ and stripped of bark. Reading some of the tips to build an actual house, they recommend 12″ logs or bigger, but I’m not too worried about the R-Value.
The mortar around the cordwood is 3 part sand, 2 part soaked sawdust, 1 part portland cement and 1 part hydrated lime. This is a recipe from some of the pros. What I didn’t know is the combination of portland cement and hydrated lime is some harsh stuff. Super alkaline, I had some pretty bad burns on my hands at first. I had to buy a box of latex gloves for protection.
I used beer and whiskey bottles to give a stained glass affect. I took the bottle, put a mason jar on top of it, wrapped it with tin foil, then duck taped them together. The mason jar allows for more light to shine through, and I hope the tin foil will help transfer more light.
The chinking between the logs was an oldschool recipe that included clay, ash, and salt. Its hard stuff but I’m not sure about the durability. If I have to continually replace it, I may start using a more modern mix. My wife actually did most of the chinking. It was nice working on this together.
Cedar shakes were left over from a project my parents had. Still think they would have fairly cheap.
The run is about 10x10x8. I’m going to add several perches to it. Its a work in progress. I’ve also yet to shingle the back wall, but the rain comes from the other side most of the time.
A view of the bottles.
I did a brooder inside. I read about this and am going to try it out next year. Small 4×6″ hole they can escape from the bigger girls. We’ve done 3 generations of chicks in the basement and its a lot of hassle.
All in all this was a fun project. I learned a lot and I hope to build another in the future. I would love to be able to build a log cabin to live in so this was great practice.
Deep Litter Method The Easiest Way To Deal With Chicken Litter Dlm
Deep Litter MethodDLM is basically a method in which you allow your coop litter to build up over a period of time. As the chicken manure and litter of choice compost, it helps to heat the coop, which in turn helps keep the chickens warmer. I had never heard of this before BYC and cleaning the coops once or twice a year, as opposed to weekly cleanings fits our lifestyle.
I began using the DLM in early September ’07, when we moved most of our Bantam flock from the Teacup Pterodactyl Townhouse into the main coop. I started out by adding 4 – 6 inches of pine shavings to the coop floor. After laying down the shavings, I used my sifter to sprinkle a fine layer of food grade DE over the litter, then stirred them together. I’m using the DE to help dry the pooh faster, which helps eliminate odor and reduces the fly population. The DE also helps protect the flock from mites/lice as they love to dust-bathe in the shavings/DE mix.
Litter first added to coop in September.
I added a “kick-board” to the doorway to help keep the litter in the coop. I just used a piece of scrap 1/4″ plywood that we had handy. It’s 10″ tall.
I stir the litter every few days, sometimes everyday, it just depends on how much time the gang spends inside and how much pooh there might be. The Banties do a great job helping me keep it stirred when they’re dust-bathing in the litter, which helps cut down the work for me also.About once a month, I’ll add a fresh layer of pine shavings and food grade DE. Again, this varies depending on how much time the birds spend inside. That’s what I like about using the DLM. There are no set rules, you do this however it works best for you.
Before adding new shavings…
Layer of food grade DE on stirred liter…
Layer of fresh pine shavings…
At this point, I just let the flock stir in the new shavings and food grade DE. I don’t measure how much of the shavings I add, I just add it until the old stuff is fully covered. As of today (11-20-07), I’ve been building the litter up for just over 2 months. There is no chicken smell in the coop what-so-ever, which really surprised visitors. It is approximately 6-8 inches deep at this time. I may do a clean-out in spring, but I may let it go longer…it will all depend on smell, how deep it is, are the shavings covering up the pophole door (just kidding)…
I’ve had some dust issues, nothing major though. I just use a plant mister full of warm water and mist the shavings before stirring them up to help keep the dust down. I’m also using DLM in the Chick-N-Barn. I just added a few pieces of wood in the access door to help hold the litter inside. I won’t be able to go very deep, about 6 inches, so I’ll probably have to clean it twice a year. Only time will tell.
Patandchickens’ Big Ol’ PageVENTILATION Or, Go out there and cut more holes in your coop! Now! Really truly!
Why is ventilation such a big deal? Because chickens are amazing producers of moisture, ammonia and heat, that’s why. Small but mighty! (Mighty messy anyhow). 1) Ventilation removes dampness and humidity from the coop. Chickens generate scary amounts of water vapor, partly through breathing out (same as we do, that’s why a mirror fogs when you breathe on it), and largely through pooing (chickens do not urinate as such – all the water they would be peeing out if they were any other sort of animal is contained in their poo). They process a lot more water than you might think. All of this water tends to make the coop air humid. High relative humidity (especially in cooler temperatures) makes chickens more susceptible to respiratory disease and increases the chance of frostbite. Chickens can stand considerable cold without frostbite if the air is dry; not so much if the air is clammy.
2) Ventilation removes ammonia fumes from the coop. Unless you sit there all the time, ready to whisk each plop of poo away to the compost pile the moment it comes out of the chicken, there will be some ammonia being released into your coop’s atmosphere. It does not take all that much ammonia to cause subclinical damage to the tissues of the chicken’s respiratory tract, which makes the chicken more vulnerable to any respiratory ‘bugs’ that may be floatin’ around the environment. Basically if your nose can smell ammonia, there is enough of it to be harmful to lung tissues.
3) Ventilation usually helps keep the coop from getting too hot in summer. Chickens’ bodies perform best below about 75 degrees F; over 90 F they start to have real problems, suffer heat stress, and if it gets too hot they can die, especially larger-bodied and heavier-feathered breeds. Proper ventilation will at least keep your coop from getting any hotter than the outside air.
When do I need ventilation? Always. Yes, even in cold weather. Yes, even in northern cold weather. Realio trulio. There may be a night now and then when it’s so vastly cold you close things down, or if you’re having a hurricane you may close the vent flaps and windows so that the weather stays outdoors, but those sorts of things will be rare exceptions, not the rule.
Types of ventilation Passive (natural) ventilation means that you have openings that air flows through with no help from you or the power grid — just the natural action of wind and the tendency of warm air to rise. Passive ventilation includes an open window, a ventilation slot, a louvered gable-end vent, that sort of thing. Passive ventilation is the easiest, cheapest, safest, and most foolproof method for the vast majority of backyard coops, in my opinion. Build lots of it. Wind turbine ventilation means those spinning turbine things, about the size of a basketball, that you mount on a building’s roof. When the wind blows, it spins the blades and they suck air actively out of the coop. This can move a goodly amount of air, but only if the wind is blowing. When the wind stops, it becomes a smallish hole in the roof, period. Active (mechanical) ventilation means using an electric fan, generally plug-in although small solar powered units do exist. This allows you to get greater air movement with smaller holes in your coop walls, but with several important drawbacks. You really ought to get a fan designed for dusty and outdoorsy environments (designed for barn or workshop use), which costs more – a house fan will very quickly clog with dust and stop working or die altogether. Even appropriate fans need to be cleaned regularly or their performance becomes poor and they can become a fire hazard. Also, if your power supply fails, so does your coop air quality (solar units usually run only when the sun is actually shining on them, so are no use at night). Opening the door a couple times a day to walk in and out of the coop does not count as ‘ventilation’, sorry.
So how much ventilation do I need? More than you probably think. More, proportionately speaking, than you’re used to seeing on a house, or doghouse, or garden shed, or things like that. It is really impressive how much water vapor (as well as ammonia and heat) even just a chicken or two will emit, round the clock, day in day out. So the best answer is probably “as much as (or slightly more than) you can reasonably build”. Honestly, that is the simplest, easiest, most foolproof way to go. It is ever so much better to have more than you need than to need more than you have! Especially if “needing more than you have” comes down to a trip out back with the reciprocating saw to hack big ugly holes in your nice pretty trimmed-and-finished coop in the depths of January. Plan ahead. If you really want me to suggest numbers: if summer heat is not a big problem where you live, then you will most likely be fine if you build at least 1 sq ft of vent opening per chicken, or (if you want a lower but therefore less-conservative number) 1 sq ft of vent opening per 10 sq ft of floor area. In a hot area, you will need more for summertime, possibly just having one or more walls being totally hardwarecloth. If you have unusually few chickens for your size of coop, or live in a very dry area, you may be fine with less ventilation; if your chickens are very crowded, your climate wet, your coop full of poo, or the bedding is wet for any reason, then you may need more than the above numbers. All vents should have doors/flaps/covers/what-have-you so that parts can be closed down when not desired. Unless you’re in a climate that stays fairly warmish year-round, covers should be draft-proof. Either they should fit very snugly, or be weatherstripped in places the chickens can’t peck, or (sometimes simplest) the ones you’re not going to ever use in cool weather can just be “decommissioned” at the end of the summer, panels bolted over them, and any gaps sealed til Spring in some manner the chickens won’t peck at. In areas where cool weather is not all that cool and only lasts a few months, you can reverse the concept — just build one or more walls entirely of wire (on studs) and simply cover ’em with plywood or plastic for your so-called winter. If you live in a hot climate, you need large areas of ventilation that can be opened up on all 4 walls, and really it is best if one or more walls can be pretty much removed entirely so they’re just screen (like hardwarecloth). In a climate where it never gets really all that hot, you can probably skip the whole-wall-coming-off part… unless you are in a desert-y area with giant temperature swings from day to night, in which case you may still want something of that sort. But even up North it is far-and-away best to have the ability to fling open the hatches and get lots and lots of fresh air. If nothing else, this will be of great assistance to you in drying the coop out if you should ever find yourself needing to hose down or disinfect the inside! Securely screen your vents, whatever the size, with something like hardwarecloth that predators can’t rip off, climb between, or grab handsfulls of chickens through. “What if I just use a hole-saw to put a buncha 2″ holes in the walls and screen them, that’ll be good, right?” Unfortunately, a 2″ diameter hole is about 3 square inches of total area. To put this in perspective, a square foot is 144 square inches. You would need almost 50 holes to equal one square foot of ventilation, and a typical coop is going to need MUCH more than just one square foot of ventilation! So, no little round holes. You want actual decent-sized openings, like 6″ x 4′ or 1’x3′ or like that, on most if not all of the walls.
Ventilation yes: drafts NO While ventilation aka air exchange is necessary and good, having cold air aimed right at your chickens is BAD. (I’m talking about in cool weather, here, not your ‘pleasant cooling breeze on stifling August day’ which would of course be good.) Small “air leak” type gaps can also cause condensation and frost, which nullifies much of the value of what ventilation you have. So you need to design your ventilation intelligently. Ventilation that you’ll be using in cool/cold weather (i.e. all year-round) should be high up above chicken level, at the tops of the walls, ideally protected from rain and wind to some degree by roof overhangs. You can put vent slots, long and relatively narrow, atop all four walls. (By narrow I mean like 4″-8″ wide or something like that, not an inch or two width of ‘arrow slot’, unless it is a small coop for just a couple few chickens.) Vents near the roost are good in hot weather but bad in cold weather. Ask yourself “will a chicken experience a noticeable breeze on the roost in the winter?” If yes, arrange things so you can shut down those vents when temperatures drop. You’ll want additional ventilation for warmer weather, that can (should!) be lower down where the chickens can catch some breeze. Windows work; giant removable wall panels work; that sort of thing. Do the coop ‘people door’ and pophole count? Sort of. I mean, yes, they do provide ventilation when they are open, but remember that they will not always be open and you need to be able to provide sufficient airflow even when they aren’t. I would not suggest counting on them towards your basic ventilation needs. Manage your ventilation intelligently — you will want to change the amount that’s open according to the weather, although as mentioned you don’t want to shut it all down except in very rare instances. Sometimes you’ll want to close upwind vents if it’s getting too windy in the coop on a windy day. In a really windy site, you may want to build some sort of baffle or hood for some of the usually-upwind vents (the high year-round ones) to blunt the force of the wind.
What about winter? Don’t I need to close the vents to keep the chickens warm? NO. Well ok, yeah, you will close some of them down, relative to summer conditions; but you still need a goodly amount of air exchange going on, so you cannot shut your ventilation off. In some ways ventilation is actually more important in winter because cold air can’t hold nearly so much water vapor before it gets saturated i.e. really damp and humid and clammy, i.e. you’re trolling for frostbite and respiratory disease. So yes, your vents will be letting in cold air, but you know what, that’s OK as long as it is not breezing down directly at your chickens. If you’re concerned about the chickens getting too cold — although most standard-sized breeds are fine down to freezing and significantly below, as long as the air is dry and relatively still and they have an appropriate-width roost and plenty of food — then insulate your coop. And yes, insulation is quite useful even with vents open (for some reason this issue comes up often); would you think it pointless to wear a winter coat just ‘cuz you had no hat on?
What insulation does is reduce heat loss from the coop so that you can afford to admit more cold air without making the place too cold. In a super-cold climate, and let me say that I do not consider southern Ontario Canada where I live to fall into this category (!), you may want to think about arranging for your vents to be taking air in from a somewhat thermally-buffered source… a predatorproofed flue run along the ground a ways and covered in insulation, or a translucently-enclosed space that the sun warms, or the building’s attic, or a larger barn, or like that.
Some links with useful further information about ventilating chicken quarters: They’re mostly aimed at big commercial barns (poultry and otherwise), but there is a lot that applies just as well to our little backyard coops, so take a look:
Our lean-to coop and covered run was built on to an old shed, and we have 19 chickens and one chipmunk scratching about in there, but in the long run we expect to only have 8 to 12 chickens, and we’ll have to see about the chipmunk.
( you can go to the end of this article for the latest updates)
The original “Old Shed” was just a small (12′ x 18′) rough cut oak shed/barn that my dad and uncle built when I was about 7 years old, with a budget of about $50 according to my uncle. We raised chickens, turkeys, geese, quail, goats, calves, ponies, and pile of kittens and puppies out of that structure when I was a kid.
Here is a shot of the old shed in disrepair (with some visiting deer) before we cleaned up around it and made modifications:
When I was about 18 I built a lean-to onto the original building (approx. 8′ x 18′), with scrounged materials, a skill saw, a hammer, youthful energy, and not much else. It lacked a lot, including square cuts and 90 degree angles, but it served as the chicken coop for my dad, off and on for years, as I was off living life in the big world.
In 2015 Dad passed, and the old place sat for a bit until we moved away from the city, in the summer of 2017. We built a new lean-to on the back of the original structure to house a tractor, and patched up and sorta’ rebuilt the lean-to that I built 20+ years before.
We live in the sticks and have all sorts of chicken eating critters to be concerned with, so we set out to build a secure, covered run. So we just took off the roof from the old lean-to and extended it out with new, longer metal, and added on to the end a bit. Eventually we’ll add a bit more uncovered run space and/or let them range while we’re out there with them.
The coop is about 8′ x 8′, and the run is about 3′ x 18′ along the lean to, and then opens up to about 8′ x 12’… I think… you see there were plans, drawings, etc. … but then I placed a post about a 12 inches too far out and had to improvise a bit.
Here is a “sketch” of the layout (not really to scale) :
And here are more “sketches” of what was planned:
And here is another shot of what we actually ended up with after all the plans, You can see all of the rocks we encountered when setting the posts and digging out for the buried wire apron. We had those laid out nicely and then an armadillo rearranged some of them for us recently.
Eventually I’ll get around to painting the walls and doors to match, and adding the missing section of pickets… and maybe doing something different with all those rocks:
The picket fence is just a roll or two of garden fence attached to the 2×4 welded wire. I suppose it adds a bit of predator protection, but is mostly just for looks.
There is a buried fence apron that comes out about a foot or so, made of old 2×4 welded wire. The pickets also help hide the rather rough transition where the apron wire is tied into the new side wire.
A bit about keeping out the chicken eating critters… The 2×4 welded wire should be adequate for predator protection for us. Since we don’t have norway rats to deal with in our area, and long tailed weasels are not common. If a weasel shows up, I suppose I will have some loss, and then have to trap it.
We do have pack rats, aka wood rats, but they do not bother chickens, in fact I just trapped one this weekend that had moved in to the shed. More just to keep it from stealing feed and making a messy nest, ect., than a concern about it harming the chickens.
Snakes could get though the 2×4 wire as well, but I deal with snakes as they occur.
Our most likely chicken killer would be a domestic dog ( we have neighbors that let their farm dogs roam), and they occasionally come around our place, but not often. The 2×4 wire should be fine for keeping dogs out. But I have known determined dogs to chew through shed walls and porches, in order to get to a cornered critter. If one were to show up while we were away, and have the time to work on our run, i’m guessing it could get in if it really wanted to. But that possibility is a low concern in our particular case.
Our night time predator concerns are raccoons, possums, bobcats, and owls, and the 2×4 wire should be fine for those as well. Again a very determined raccoon could likely get in, but it’d have to work pretty hard at it.
I do set up a trail camera from time to time to monitor what’s coming around and I look at keeping a population of chickens, much as protecting a population of wild fowl, in that it’s best to do some management of predatory critters preventativly.
I’ve trapped to reduce “nest robbing” critters for years so trapping isn’t new to me or something I have a problem with. In fact I have already removed close to a dozen raccoons and one possum in the first 2 months since the coop was built. And I think simply reducing the numbers of chicken eaters we have around the coop is a big part of keeping our birds safe.
Typically digging in is the concern, so I used J-clips to attach a buried wire apron to the side wall wire, and then just a twist of wire to attach the picket wire to the welded wire.
Here is a closeup, hope you can make sense of it, the brown wire is the old wire used as a buried apron, the silver wire is the new wire used on the side of the run.
I used galvanized lag bolts to attach the 2x4s to the 4×4 posts. You can see a couple of screws there as well, that I used to hold things in place so I could manage it by myself. We used ( a bunch of ) stainless steel staples to attach the welded wire to the 2x4s. I might come back with some screws and washers if the staples don’t hold up over time.
There is wire running along the top of the side wall wire to keep a critter from pushing it in. Basically I cut the welded wire to fit around the rafters which worked well, but that left the top three and half inches of the wire between the rafters weak and able to be bent in. So I drilled a hole in the rafters, and ran tie-wire along the length of the run, and wove into the welded wire then j-clipped it to the top of the wire, so now it can’t be bent in.
The inside of the coop is mostly reused or scrap materials. The roosts are re-purposed stair handrails, over some re-purposed wire panels (kennel floors?), the metal along the bottom was off the original lean-to roof, and the windows are the glass out of old sliding shower doors.
Under the roost area is the poop collection area that can be accessed from the outside for clean out:
Update: After several months of use, it works well, but does occasionally need to be scraped/hosed down. Overall it has kept the coop very clean though. It looks like it’ll need to be shoveled out about once a year is all… this image is from December, after being built in the April/May.
Some detail “sketches” of the roost and clean out idea:
The inside of the coop walls are a mix of siding scraps, old re-purposed metal, and some of the original rough oak barn boards.
Update: A communal (1 big box with no dividers), roll out style, nest box was attached to the other side of the wall, so that eggs can be collected without entering the coop.
I used @jthornton ‘s nest box plans as a guide … but just used scrap I had on hand to build it, so my box turned out a bit different (not as nice )… but it worked well using jthornton’s general dimensions.
Strips of plastic feed sacks work as curtains over the nest opening, and a wooden crate is used as a step:The hens crowd into the same corner, the same way they seem to crowd into the same compartment with divided nest boxes, go figure? :The nest box from the other side of the wall:A “sketch” of the nest box shown with the end set transparent so you can see how the inner wall and floor… you’ll note I didn’t build it exactly as it was planned…With the roll out door open, you can collect the eggs… in the image below note there are 4 plastic eggs on the left, the blue one on the right is an Ameraucana egg.
It’s hard to tell but there is some old (ugly brown) carpet lining the box bottom, and it is curled up to provide some cushion so the eggs don’t crack when hitting the edge of the box as they roll out.
You can see a few wood chips on top. Those are from when first placed the nest box… I filled it with wood chips to get the pullets used to using it. Once they were, I removed the chips so the eggs would roll out… I guess someone needs to vacuum the carpet!Here are a couple more “sketches” showing the general idea of how I planned to build mine.
End view with end wall set transparent, the floor is at an angle so the eggs roll out:An “exploded” view showing the general idea:
The lean-to is divided into 2 “rooms”, one is the coop, and the other is mostly just garden tools and storage. In this second room along the dividing wall we have an old freezer in which we keep feed. This keeps out the mice, chipmunks, squirrels, etc.
Update: I added plastic to the door in the winter, to keep the drafts down.
The door in the above image is pretty wide, with the idea of being able to park a wheel barrow there to clean out the coop floor litter when needed.
The door going from tool and feed storage room into the run is just made of an old re-purposed sheet of plywood, with a window cut into it, and some 1x4s to trim it out. The window is screened with wire, and has an old scratched up piece of plexi-glass that I found somewhere, that can be dropped down to let in a cross breeze to move some air through the lean-to.
In the picture below, the door is open with the plexi-glass lowered.
In this image the “glass” is up:
Coop wall art :
In the run there is a corner dust bath. Currently it’s just a scrap board held in place with some firewood, on the front and some scrap plywood along the wire to keep the dirt in.
We added some metal signs as a bit of coop decor in the run… just for fun, and for something for the birds to practice their reading skills with:
I built a little “day roost” ladder with old wooden posts from a fence I took down, and a 2×4 cut in half:
Additionally I used a wooden post and 2×4 scraps to create an elevated roost in the run that some of the birds use. (see the dominique on it in the back ground on the left)
A nice piece of walnut limb that came from a blowdown of an very old tree currently serves as a “step” on which the birds like to sit, and/or jump up on the high roost.
And the naughty ones feel they must cool their feet on the waterer from time to time.
Years ago, I was driving by a house that had bench sitting by the curb, with a “free” sign on it. So I picked it up, and we just used it as a plant stand for container plants in the yard/garden for a long time. But now it’s used properly as a bench for sitting and watching the chickens peck.
This is the covered “alley” along the original lean-to wall where the young chickens like to run and flap back and forth, and often lay in the shade:
They’ve grown up.. it’s December now and they’re laying well. No issues with critters getting in… yet, and the chickens seem pretty content in their rustic lean to coop & run.
The chipmunk moved out ( I suspect the chickens became bold at some point and chased him off) as did four of the pullets and one rooster…. so as of December we have 13 pullets and a cockerel in our covered coop and run.———————————————
Update (March 2019): We had some frigid temperatures this winter as did much of the middle part of the U.S. and all of the birds did well in the uninsulated coop… other than the rooster who did get some frostbite on his comb. But it healed on its own and just naturally dubbed the points off.
I sold most of the hens, so we’re down to one rooster and 4 hens… 14 birds in this space proved to be too many ( a lot of feather picking issues ) … so even though I have about 150 square feet of run space, that worked out to 10+ sq ft per bird it was too crowded in my opinion. I’m planning not more than 8 or so adult birds for the future.
——————————————— Update ( May 2019)Things seem to be working well still… it’s been a wet winter and spring and the covered run has been great… the Faverolle’s feathered feet have stayed clean and dry!
We sold all but 4 hens and the rooster in early spring to make room for a new batch…
Two faverolles went broody and I set eggs under them… and we ended up with just 3 hatching…
This low hatch I attribute to a few things: * low fertility from the Faverolle hens * brood nest boxes that I provided were a bit small and shallow and didn’t allow the hens to cover the eggs as well as they should have * the two non-broody hens insisted on laying in the broody nests,so even though the incubating eggs were marked for easy ID… I think some still got jostled too much.
Next time around I’ll use the feed storage part of the lean-to as broody quarters to keep them separated … and I’ll provide roomier nests.
So after the low hatch…we bought 8 chicks at the farm store and grafted them to one of the broody hen… and now we have a momma hen brooding 11 baby chicks in the coop…
The coop floor works well as a brooder:
We sent the rooster to the stew pot recently, so we just have the 4 hens and 11 baby chicks….
…. oh and the chipmunk has moved back in… I see him cleaning up scratch seed in the run while then hens watch lazily from their dust baths.
This guide is intended to help people new to incubation learn how to properly incubate and hatch eggs. It will walk you through how to incubate and hatch most common types of poultry, such as chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, etc.
Choosing an Incubator
Before you can incubate eggs, you’ll need an incubator. Which incubator you choose will depend on several factors, such as your budget and how many eggs you need it to be able to hold.
To start with, it is advised to avoid any of the cheap Chinese incubators you can find online at places like eBay, Amazon, AliExpress, etc. While their low prices are tempting, there’s a reason the prices are so low – the quality is low too.
If you are looking for a starter incubator and you don’t have a large budget, you may want to look into getting a Hovabator. Hovabators are made of Styrofoam, so they are not as good at holding temperature steady as incubators made of other materials, but they are fairly inexpensive as far as incubators go, and you can even get one with a digital readout if you so choose.
If you are willing to spend a little bit more money, and are looking for an incubator that holds around 30 eggs, then an Incuview might be the right choice for you. They are a good, reliable incubator that offers a great view of the chicks hatching when the time comes, and they come in under $200, which includes an automatic turner in the price.
If you are looking to only hatch a small amount of eggs at once, then maybe you would be interested in a Brinsea Mini. While expensive for a small incubator, they offer excellent reliability.
Brinsea also has larger models, and their incubators offer excellent reliability and are practically foolproof, not to mention they come with a warranty. However, they are on the more expensive end of tabletop incubators, especially if you need to be able to hatch more than 30 eggs at once and need one of their larger models. Brinseas are what I use and love.
Or maybe you need to hatch hundreds of eggs at once. In that case, you would want to get a cabinet style incubator. You can see recommendations for those here and here.
If you are handy and have a very small budget or just don’t want to spend a lot, you could even make your own incubator. There are lots of plans and ideas to get you started in BYC’s Incubators and Brooders section. You might even look at brooders while you’re at it and whip yourself up one of those, since you’ll need one after the hatch is over.
Now that you have chosen an incubator, it’s time to talk about how to use it.
To start with, let’s talk about the bare bones basics. To incubate eggs, you need to monitor two things: temperature and humidity.
Temperature determines the speed of an embryo’s development, whether it develops at all, and can kill developing embryos if it’s incorrect.
If your temperature is too low, but still high enough to start development, this will cause issues. If it’s just a little too low, it will cause your eggs to hatch later than they should, because it wasn’t high enough for the embryo to develop at a normal rate. If it’s just high enough to start development, but not high enough for normal development to occur, malformations of the embryo will occur, and the embryo likely won’t make it to hatch. If the temperature drops too low entirely, the embryos will get cold and die.
Temperature too high causes similar issues. If it is just a little too high, your embryos will develop a little too fast, and will hatch early. It could also cause your babies to grow too big for their shells, which means they may be unable to properly zip and turn to hatch. Higher than that, and malformations will occur. If your incubator gets too hot, and hits 104 degrees for a long enough time that the inside of the egg also heats up to 104, the embryos will unfortunately be killed.
Now that we’ve covered why temperature is so important, let’s talk about what it should be. This will actually depend on the type of incubator you’re using. If your incubator is forced air, meaning it has a fan in it that is blowing the air around to keep the temperature equalized throughout the incubator, you will want your temperature to be 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit/37.5 degrees Celsius. If your incubator is still air, meaning it does not have a fan, you want your temperature to be 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit/38.6 degrees Celsius measured at the top of the eggs.
How to Measure Temperature
Now that you know why temperature is important and what the temperature should be, how do you make sure it’s correct? You’ll need some thermometers, of course! Even if your incubator has a built in digital temperature control, you will want to check it against accurate thermometers, because it could be wrong, and the displays on some of the cheaper digital incubators are often off.
The best thermometers to use for checking the temperature of your incubator are the digital ones made for reptiles that have a probe that can be placed in the incubator, and aquarium thermometers. The reason that these are the best is because they are usually accurate and they are easy to calibrate to check for accuracy.
Calibrating Your Thermometer
Before you trust that your thermometer is accurate, you will want to calibrate it. Since, as we discussed before, even the temperature being just a little bit off will affect your eggs, it’s best to make sure your thermometer is reading correctly, and if not, to know how to adjust for how off it is.
To calibrate your thermometer, fill a glass with ice and leave it out to melt until the glass is half water and half ice. Put your thermometer in the glass, give it a couple minutes to get to temperature, and check it. It should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If it does, great! Your thermometer is accurate and you can use it to set the temperature in your incubator.
If it’s not right, not to worry, you can still use it. A little math is in order. First, you need to find out how off it is. For example, if it says 33 degrees instead of 32, you know it’s reading one degree higher than the temperature actually is. Therefore, when you put it in your incubator, you want it to read one degree higher than the temperature your incubator is supposed to be set at. So in a forced air incubator, you would want it to read 100.5 instead of 99.5, because when it is reading 100.5 degrees, it means the actual temperature in the incubator is 99.5 degrees.
The same is true if it were reading low, so for instance if the thermometer reads 31 degrees instead of 32. In this case, you would want it to read one degree lower than the temperature you need your incubator to be, for the same reasons as above.
The next very important component of incubation is humidity. The humidity in your incubator determines how much moisture an egg loses over incubation. This is a critical factor in whether an egg will hatch. If it loses too much moisture, the internal membrane can become tight around the chick, which is known as shrink wrapping. The chick is unable to move and thus it cannot hatch and will die. If an egg doesn’t lose enough moisture, the chick can try to internally pip and drown due to the excess liquid in the egg. Incorrect humidity is one of the most common causes for death late in incubation.
So how do you make sure an egg is losing enough moisture? The most common way is to monitor the air cells. As the egg loses moisture, the air cell grows in size. Each week it should get a little bigger until it’s time to put the egg into ‘lockdown’ for hatching. Below are some charts that shows how big the air should be each week and on the last day before lockdown.
Candle on the days listed on these charts and compare your eggs’ air cells to the size of the ones on the charts. If they are the same size or very close, your humidity is correct. If your air cells are too large, it means your humidity has been too low, and you need to increase it. If they are too small, then your humidity has been too high, and you need to decrease it.
Weighing Your Eggs
Another, more accurate, way to track the moisture loss of an egg is to weigh it. This method is very exact and will tell you definitively if your eggs are losing the proper amount of moisture. I always weigh my more sensitive eggs like goose eggs and peafowl eggs to make sure they are losing the proper amount of moisture. It’s also a good idea to weigh your eggs for your first time incubating because it will show you what you need your humidity to be with no guesswork involved. Once you know that, you could go by the air cells in the future if you prefer, but to start with weighing your eggs will allow you to calculate what is the best humidity for incubating for your location, climate, and incubator.
To weigh your eggs to track moisture loss, you will first need a base weight. Right before putting your eggs in the incubator, weigh them using a kitchen scale and write it down. I will actually write the weights right on the eggs with a sharpie pen; no way to lose the weights like you could if you misplace the piece of paper you wrote them down on, and it doesn’t hurt the eggs to do this.
This weight is your base weight. An egg needs to lose 11 to 13 percent of its weight by the time it enters lockdown. Shooting for 12% is what I like to do since it’s right in the middle. In that case, the formula for determining how much weight an egg should lose is the egg’s weight multiplied by .12. So if a chicken egg for example weighed 100 grams, it should lose 12 grams by day 18, when it’s time for lockdown. If you weigh the egg every six days to track moisture loss, that means that each time you weigh it, it should lose 4 grams. Or, if you want to weigh daily, that means it should lose roughly .67 grams each day for 18 days, which totals up to 12 grams on day 18. Weighing daily is not necessary, but you could do it if you wanted.
Bantam eggs with weights marked on them
If your eggs are not losing the correct amount of weight, you know you need to adjust humidity. If they lose too much weight, that means they are losing too much moisture and your humidity is too low and needs to be raised. If they are losing too little weight, it means they are losing too little moisture and your humidity needs to be lowered.
So What Should the Humidity Be?
You may notice that no numbers or percents were mentioned in the above explanations. That’s because there are no set numbers for what humidity should be. Simply put, humidity is hugely variable and what percent you should have it at in your incubator depends upon where you are located, your local climate, and even your incubator. There’s just no way to say for sure what you should keep your humidity at during the first stage of incubation (lockdown is a little different, and that will be discussed later). For the first stage of incubation, which would be the first 18 days for chicks and the first 25 days for ducklings, geese, turkeys, etc, you’re just going to have to find out what will work best for you using the methods described above.
However, you will want to be monitoring what percent your humidity is at so you can know when it rises and when it lowers, and so that after getting the best humidity for yourself figured out you can just set it to that in your incubator going forward. To measure humidity, a hygrometer must be used. The best hygrometer I have found is a digital one by AcuRite, as pictured below.
It’s very likely that as you’re getting started with incubating, you’re going to need to make adjustments to the humidity in your incubator, and you will definitely need to make adjustments for lockdown. Well, how do you do that? If it’s too low, how do you get it to rise? If it’s too high, how do you lower it?
The answer is simple: adjust the surface area of the water. Humidity is determined by how much surface area of water there is in an incubator, not the amount of water. For example, one incubator has a big jug of water in it that holds a quart of water. The opening of the jug is 3 inches square. A second incubator has a damp paper towel on the bottom that only holds one cup of water. The paper towel covers 10 square inches of the incubator. Even though the first incubator has more water in it, the second incubator will have a higher humidity.
Most incubators have water troughs built in that you can add water to for controlling humidity. If you add water to the troughs and you find it’s not getting high enough, which can definitely be a concern during lockdown, you can add baby food jars or mason jars full of water with paper towels or sponges sticking out of them to wick water up and add even more surface area. Or just place a damp sponge or paper towel in the incubator (not touching the eggs).
If you add water to your troughs and the humidity is too high, then you can instead just add a folded up damp paper towel and fold it smaller until the surface area is small enough that the humidity is where you need it to be.
Or, if you are in a humid climate or your humidity just naturally stays high enough as is, you may not need to add any water at all for the first stage of incubation, which is referred to as dry hatching. However, dry hatching doesn’t mean you never add water. You can see this thread for more details about that. If dry hatching is not appropriate for your area, then you will need to add water.
Calibrating Your Hygrometer
In order to make sure your hygrometer is reading correctly, you will want to calibrate it. This is easy to do via the “salt test”. Take a teaspoon of salt and put it in a bottle cap or a small cup and add a few drops of water to dampen it. Take this and your hygrometer and put them inside a sealable see-through container. A Ziploc bag can work as long as it seals well. Let it sit for six hours and then check what the reading on your hygrometer is. The hygrometer should read 75%. If it doesn’t, you’ll know it’s off, how much it’s off, and you can calculate what the real humidity is by how off it is.
Setting Up The Incubator
So, now you know what the temperature should be in your incubator, you have a calibrated thermometer to measure it, and you know how to adjust humidity as needed. It’s time to get your incubator set up.
Start by setting it to the proper temperature and letting it run for at least 24 hours before putting your eggs in. If you have an automatic turner that sits inside the incubator, make sure that it is running too, because the little motors on those do actually put out a little heat, and it will affect the temperature in the incubator. Even though you will not yet know what humidity is going to work best, it’s good to start by setting it to 30 or 40 percent to begin with, and you can adjust as necessary from there.
You may want to add some heat sinks too. A heat sink is something that will hold heat, and in the case of the power going out or an incubator failure, it will release that heat back into the incubator and give you time to fix the problem. They can also help hold the temperature steady if your incubator is fluctuating in temperature a lot. A heat sink can be as simple as a bottle of water or some river rocks.
Once you have gotten this all set up and your incubator has been holding temperature for 24 hours, it’s time to add the eggs.
The First Stage of Incubation
The first stage of incubation is the part that comes before lockdown, when you are still turning the eggs. The length of this time varies from species to species. For example, for chickens it is the first 18 days, but for ducks it is the first 25. During this stage of incubation, there are several things you’ll need to do, such as turning the eggs and candling them.
Calculating the Hatch Date
The very first thing you should do, before anything else, is calculate when your eggs will be due to hatch. For example, chicken eggs hatch in 21 days. However, it’s not as simple as counting days out on the calendar. To illustrate, if you set chicken eggs on the 1st of the month, they would hatch on the 22nd. Why not the 21st? Wouldn’t that be 21 days later? Actually, it wouldn’t. We don’t count days from when the egg went into the incubator, but rather how many days they have been in there. For example, you put your eggs in at 10 am on a Monday. They haven’t been in for a whole day until Tuesday at 10 am.
So take the day you put your eggs in and add however many days it takes the species you’re setting to hatch to that day. That date is your hatch date. So, to revisit the earlier example with chicken eggs, setting on the 1st, we count 21 days out from the 1st and get a hatch date of the 22nd.
If you’re still having a little trouble, go and get a calendar. Put your finger on the date that you’re setting your eggs. Slide your finger to the next date. That’s one. Slide to the day after that and that’s two. Repeat for however many days the species you are hatching takes to hatch. Something else that may help to know is that species that take 21 and 28 days to hatch always hatch on the same day of the week they were set. If you set the eggs on a Sunday, they will hatch on a Sunday, etc.
Turning the Eggs
During incubation, eggs need to be turned. Turning prevents the developing embryos from sticking to the side of the egg and developing malformations due to becoming stuck. It also helps foster the growth of the chorio-allantoic membrane, which delivers oxygen to the growing embryo.
If your incubator has an auto-turner, you are probably good to go. It will turn the eggs for you and you won’t have to worry about a thing. Most turners require that the eggs be placed in vertically. It is very important that you set the eggs in with the air cell up, not down. This way the chick will get into the proper orientation for hatching. Failing to put the air cell end up can lead to the chick being malpositioned at hatch.
If you don’t have an auto-turner, you will need to turn your eggs by hand. It is best to turn them at least three times and day, and more is always better. Always try to turn them an odd number of times, so that they spend the longest period without turning each day on the opposite side. This time will probably be when you are sleeping, but could also be when you go to work, etc. Just try to make sure the egg ends up on its opposite side each day for these time periods.
And as was said, the more you can turn them, the better! Scientists have found that broody hens turn their eggs about 96 times each day, and interestingly a study found that 96 times per 24 hour period seems to be the optimum amount of turning. While you probably won’t be able to match a hen in that regard, turning at least three times is necessary and as often as you can other than that is good too.
Once your eggs enter lockdown, you will cease turning them, but until then, turn them every day.
Candling your eggs can be the most exciting part of incubation. Candling will allow you to see the embryos grow and develop. Aside from it being amazing to candle the eggs and witness the embryos grow, candling also serves a practical purpose too. You will want to know whether your eggs are developing, and whether they are still alive or have unfortunately quit and died.
To begin with, a small bright flashlight will work for most eggs. The more lumens, the better. You could also build a candler or purchase one from sellers such as Brinsea. Purchased candlers can be helpful to see into dark eggs like marans eggs or green and blue eggs.
To candle, take your egg into a dark room and hold your light source up to it. It’s easiest to see into the egg if you candle through the air cell. A developing embryo will look like a small red blob surrounded by a spiderweb of veins.
A developing chicken embryo on day 4 of incubation
As the embryo develops, it will get larger and take up more and more of the egg. Right before lockdown, the egg will look mostly black with only a little visible veining at the edge of the air cell. If you would like to see candling pictures of chicken embryos at each day of incubation, you can look at this article. Metzer Farms has an excellent candling chart for ducks here.
However, candling may also show you that your egg unfortunately has died, or never started to develop to begin with. By day ten at the latest, barring very dark eggs that are hard to see in, you should be able to see veining and development in the egg. If you can’t, it means that the egg was infertile, or that it was too old for incubation, or possibly that it was damaged too much to develop, which often happens with shipped eggs.
You may also see what looks like a red ring around the egg. This knows as a blood ring, and it means that the egg has died. When it died, the developing veins disintegrated, and the blood settled in a ring around the egg.
If your egg was further along in development when it died, you may see instead a ring of disconnected blood vessels along the center of the egg.
If your eggs quit later in development, instead of seeing a blood ring, you will instead see a black shape that was the embryo, but no more veins. The veins will disintegrate. Pictures of what this will look like can be seen here.
An egg that quits may also start to feel like the contents are sloshing around inside it. So that may be another clue that an egg has gone bad.
If any of your eggs do quit during incubation, remove them and discard them immediately. The rotting eggs could actually end up exploding and creating a horrible mess for you to deal with, not to mention the smell.
One other thing to keep in mind is ventilation. Developing embryos need oxygen, so it’s important that your incubator have a few vents. Any incubator you buy should already have vents, but if you’re making your own you’ll want to be sure to include some. Make sure your vents are open and not blocked off so that fresh air and oxygen can get into the incubator. At the same time, try to make sure you don’t have so much ventilation that you can’t keep the temperature steady or that you can’t keep the humidity where it needs to be. One or two small vents should be all you need.
Sniff Testing Eggs
Generally you will know if an egg has gone bad long before it starts to smell thanks to candling. But, if you have very dark eggs that you cannot candle or cannot see in well, you might not be sure if an egg has died. That’s where the sniff test comes in. A bad egg will start to smell. If you’re not sure about your eggs, give them a sniff. If they smell, pitch them out. If they don’t smell, you can leave them in longer.
Bad eggs may also start to leak, or if the gases inside from decomposition build up enough, it could crack open inside of exploding. If you see either of these things, the egg needs to be removed and thrown out.
If your eggs are shipped, you may have to do things a little differently. To begin with, it is best to allow eggs to rest for a full 24 hours after shipping to allow their contents to settle.
Shipping eggs can cause damage to the air cells, or even cause them to detach completely. The air cells may come down the sides of the eggs, which is known as saddling. You will be able to tell upon candling whether an air cell is saddled or detached. Saddled air cells will clearly come down the sides of the eggs. A detached air cell will roll all over when you tilt the egg around, like the bubble in a level.
Eggs with saddled air cells don’t require handling all that different from regular eggs. They can still be placed in a turner as usual. You will want to track their moisture loss through weighing, since with the damaged air cell you can’t reliably watch its growth to make sure they are losing the proper amount of moisture.
Detached air cells are a bit different. Since they roll around and aren’t held in place, it is best to not use an auto-turner for these and instead to hand turn. You will want to place them vertically so that the air cell is staying as close as possible to its natural position, and only tilt the egg very slightly from side to side when turning. To do this, you could place the eggs in an egg carton (no lid) and just gently tilt them back and forth in the carton. If the eggs make it to day ten of incubation, the chorio-allantoic membrane should have grown enough to pin the air cell back in place, at which point it will no longer move freely about the egg.
However, shipping is hard on eggs, and damage to the air cell is indicative that they had a rough journey. Even if you do everything perfectly, these eggs may be too damaged to hatch. For shipped eggs, a 50% hatch rate is considered good.
You’ve finally reached the end of the first stage of incubation and you’re ready for lockdown. Lockdown is when you stop turning your eggs and increase the humidity in your incubator in preparation for the eggs to hatch.
Before you can do that, you’ll need to know when you should lock down your eggs, and this will vary based on species. You can see the chart below for when you should put your eggs in lockdown.
Increasing the Humidity
Increasing humidity is an important part of lockdown. The chicks will need the higher humidity when they start to pip and zip, so that the internal membrane of the egg doesn’t dry up and stick to them, resulting in them getting stuck.
You will want to boost your humidity to 65 or 70 percent. As the chicks start pipping, the moisture released from the egg may increase the humidity further, and that is fine.
Removing the Turner and Positioning the Eggs
If you have an auto-turner that sits inside your incubator, now is when you will want to take it out, to keep chicks from getting caught in it. Keep in mind that if the motor was giving off heat, you may need to adjust your temperature a little to compensate.
You will also want to get your eggs positioned for hatch. Do one last candling of your eggs to assess air cell size and check that they are still alive, and look for the lowest point on the air cell. You may even see that the eggs have drawn down, which is when the chick gets into the final position for hatching and the air cell comes further down the side of the egg:
Whether you see that the air cell has drawn down or not, lay the eggs on their sides and position the lowest part of the air cell at the top of the egg. Having the lowest part of the air cell at the top isn’t crucial, but that is where the chick will most likely pip, so it’s nice to have that at the top of the egg so you can monitor the pips.
If you’d like, you can also lay down some shelf liner in the bottom of your incubator to lay the eggs on. The shelf liner provides a good grip for newly hatched chicks, helping prevent splayed legs, and also makes clean up a snap.
The Waiting Game
Your turner has been removed if you had one, the eggs are properly positioned on their sides, and you’ve raised the humidity. What now?
You wait. That’s all that’s left to do. Monitor the temperature and humidity and wait for hatch day to come.
A Note About Opening the Incubator
You may have heard around that you should never ever under any circumstances open your incubator during lockdown or your hatch will be a total bust and all your chicks will die. This is completely, totally false.
Opening the incubator will not instantly ruin your hatch and kill your chicks. While you shouldn’t be opening the incubator willy-nilly or for no reason at all, if you have a good reason to, like an injured chick or the humidity has gotten too low and the troughs need to be refilled with water, or to remove chicks to the brooder, then by all means open it. Just make sure that the humidity goes back up quickly afterwards. To facilitate this, you can place a warm wet paper towel in the incubator after you close it. And try to be quick when opening the incubator for any reason.
The only thing opening the incubator may cause is the chicks getting stuck in the eggs because the membrane dried to them. While this is best avoided, it is not fatal if proper help is given to the chick, and there’s very little chance of this happening if you open the incubator quickly and get the humidity right back up afterwards.
And until your chicks actually externally pip, there isn’t even a danger of the above happening, so if you need to add water or make other adjustments before you have external pips, feel free to do so.
The big day has finally arrived! Your calendar says your eggs are due to hatch today. Take some time you get your brooder set up if you haven’t already done so, and make sure you have chick feed on hand, because you’ll be needing it soon.
At this point, your job is pretty much just to watch and wait. Soon, if they haven’t already, your chicks will start to externally pip.
Then, they will rest and continue to absorb the blood and yolk. Once that is done, they will start to zip, cracking through the shell in a circle around the top.
Finally, the chick will push free of the shell.
Congratulations! You have successfully hatched an egg. Now wait for the rest to hatch and give the chicks time to fluff up. You can leave them in the incubator for a day or two to wait for the rest of the eggs to hatch and give them a chance to fluff up, and then you can move them to your brooder.
For more information about caring for your newly hatch chicks, you can read this article.
Sometimes things go wrong during the hatch; this next section talks about a few of the most common things that can happen.
I Think My Chick Needs Help to Hatch!
Sometimes, due to errors in incubation, eggs being shipped, or malpositions, chicks need a little help to hatch out. Before you attempt an assisted hatch, please read the Guide to Assisted Hatching for All Poultry.
My Eggs Are Late!
Firstly, are you sure they’re late? Make sure you calculated the hatch date correctly. Many times people think it’s hatch day, but really the eggs aren’t due until the next day.
If you’re sure it’s the correct hatch day, was your temperature correct? Was it 99.5 F for a forced air incubator or 101.5 F for a still air? And was your thermometer calibrated to make sure it was reading accurately?
If your eggs are late, the chances are your temperature was too low. Give them some time and they will hopefully still hatch, just a little late.
My Eggs are Hatching Early!
Again, are you sure you have the hatch date calculated correctly? Was your temperature a little too high? High temperatures will cause eggs to hatch early. Or, are you incubating a small bantam breed? Bantams often hatch early, and that is totally normal.