What does it take to offer every visitor a chance to hold a chick under a week old?
You will need to incubate a lot of eggs. I run four incubators from mid-April until the end of July. I load one with fresh eggs every Tuesday, and one of them hatches fresh chicks every Tuesday.
For 10 years, I used to turn all the eggs by hand twice a day! Now, I have invested in egg turners that do the work for me. (I also used to scrub each incubator after every hatch, but now I use parchment paper and paper towel liners to make for easy clean up.) They all need to be monitored daily for correct temperature and humidity. Chicks hatch exactly 21 days after starting incubation, if your temperature is exactly 99.6 degrees F.
To get all the eggs for incubating, you can’t use just any eggs. You need eggs from hens that have been bred by a rooster (fertilized eggs). About one rooster per 8-10 hens will be good. Those eggs can’t get too cold or too hot, or they won’t be viable. We collect eggs all week, keep them around room temperature, then load the incubator and eat the rest. Did you know that fertilized eggs look just like normal eggs, inside and outside? Every egg that I bring in, I can choose whether to eat it or grow a chick out of it.
Okay, how many hens do you need? For our family, eating and incubating, we need about 15 dozen eggs a week. Or more, if we want to eat more or sell any! Since each of my hens will lay an average of 5 eggs a week, I need at least 40 hens (plus 4-5 roosters).
Those 40 hens need to be housed year-round, fed and watered, allowed out each morning and closed in each night, cleaned up after and generally protected from predators. This care equals an average of an hour of work a day, 365 days a year. You can’t take days off when you’re farming.
So that’s what it takes to offer you a chance to hold a chick less than one week old whenever you visit. We get to see you enjoy the chicks, plus see the variety of eggs and chicks, watch them hatch, and eat the most nutritious eggs possible. We are thrilled to be able to do it, what a privilege!