Hatching Baby Chicks, Varieties and Colors of Eggs
The story of how we got into raising chickens.
Let me start of by saying – we love chickens. I’m going to mostly talk about layers (not meat chickens). Chickens have been a good fit for our farm. Which, is something worth considering – i.e. will you enjoy it and find the effort worth it? When we moved to the farm there was this old falling down building that used to be a chicken coop. It even shows up on google maps. When the pandemic hit in 2020 we decided to remodel the coop (ended up being a total re-do) and bring chickens home. The remodeling of the coop took me a long time… in fact, its still in motion… we need more nesting boxes and we’re planning to expand it. The thought of farm fresh eggs has been the inspiration. In 2020 Jeana and the boys went to the local feed store and brought home 20 chicks (and 3 turkeys). Now the odds are with hatchery chicks that about 95% of the time you’ll get females/hens. It ended up in this batch we got one rooster – who we named “Lucky” (another funny story we can share if you visit the farm). And we realized by having a rooster, we could hatch our own chicks – thus the adventure began. Since our first flock of 20, we’ve been learning a lot – different breeds, egg colors, how to hatch them, how to introduce them to the flock, which breeds we like, how long do they lay and much more. We all really enjoy the chickens and I’m glad to share some of our experiences with you.
Hatching your own eggs
Lets pretend you’ve decided to add chickens to your life. And you’d like to hatch them yourself (if you just want to buy chicks – we’ve had good luck with Meyer Hatchery). Where to begin? One option is to buy fertilized eggs – find a breeder who can ship them. We tried this and love how it gives us the option of supporting another small farm and all the effort they’ve put in to developing a great flock (thank you Willow Ridge Farm). Be mindful how you handle the eggs pre-incubation overall. There are tiny pores in the shell the oil from our hands can clog up. Also, after eggs are shipped, its good to place them on end for 24 hours at room temperature (see the eggs providers pro-tips for more detail). Another option if you already have hens is to add a rooster (if you’re in the city, this might not be an option). This is where you’d want to know your breeds. If you have a mixed flock of hens – it might be fun to see how the baby’s turn out and what color eggs they lay. If you decide to bring a rooster in – the next step is deciding if you’ll let the chickens do the hatching or if you’ll use an incubator. Click here to see the Alchemist Farm incubator recommendations. Incubating eggs is fun – it essentially only takes 22 days. Our incubator is very basic (pictured) and has been fairly easy to learn. We average anywhere from 12-18 eggs hatching. It was intimidating at first, but I really got the hang of it.
Your Chicks Newborn Home
It’s a great idea to have your new chicks home ready prior to hatch day. Most these items can be found at your local feed store – I’ve included amazon links in case its not at a local feed store or if rural life means amazon is a good option. What’s ready look like? We use a galvanized water trough. This is great because its easy to clean out and with the use of a heat lamp – the trough isn’t flammable. We fill the bottom of the trough with wood shavings. How to accessorize the trough: heat lamp (make sure its got a ceramic socket vs. just a lamp meant for a household bulb – be careful of fire risk), an ecoglow safety brooder, a waterer and food dish. Make sure to have probiotics and electrolytes on hand. We’ve often times used the special chick feed, but have since been trying adult feed and it seems to be working well.
This is what our new chick set up looks like.
This is an exciting day. Your baby chicks are about to arrive. The most important lesson we learned here – let them hatch and leave them in the incubator until they’re dry and fluffy. In our early days we were anxious to take them out, took one out too early and it died from hypothermia. The incubator is at 99.5 and high humidity – it’s a great place for them to acclimate. Once they’re dry, simply place them into their new heated home. They’ll be super tired at first, but within the day they’ll be running all around and start to eat. There will likely be eggs in the incubator that don’t hatch. We give the remaining eggs about a day or two to see if they’ll hatch… sometimes we handle them ahead of hatch day to see if they’re growing… but we try to minimize handling. The next week or so the chicks are fun and a great time to invite kiddos over to see baby chicks.
Letting them dry out before taking them out.
All dry and ready to go into their new home.
Letting Mrs Chicken do the incubation
The other option is letting momma chicken do the work. This is really easy, but once their born, we didn’t have very good luck. Mom will protect the chick and the flock accepts it – but a little guy running around in the coop with 60 other adult chickens hasn’t worked for us. We have definitely been surprised by momma showing up at the coop door with a flock of her own chicks though. In that case we made a separate home for the chicks and momma. I’ve also heard you can take a day old chick and slip it under a broody hen without her seeing whats in your hand and she’ll adopt it as her own… haven’t tried it, but sounds cool.
Introducing your new chicks to the flock
After 4-5 weeks in their new home after hatching, it’ll likely start to become evident, they’re ready for the next phase. Moving to the main flock. This is where it can become very evident there’s a “pecking order”… so be careful not to take this too fast. And, we like to turn the heat lamp off about a week before moving them outside. What we’ve had luck with is around 4-5 weeks (it also depends on the time of year or climate – i.e. if its too cold, wait longer). We move them to a large dog crate in the coop. Its extra work to feed and water them separately, but this has been a great way for them to meet the flock and be safely in their own space. I keep experimenting with the right amount of time in the dog crate before letting them into the flock. We had some young chicks accidentally get loose into the flock after a week and did great. It seems like a week or two works well. Keep an eye on them the first day they get released and make sure they’ve got a way to get away from the bigger chickens to relax.
How long until you get eggs
How long does it take to start getting eggs? Well this totally depends on the breed. Some breeds are at 3 months, some take 6. The number of eggs each hen lays per day also varies. If you’re goal is a lot of eggs… then from what I know, the white leghorn is the most productive at like 320 eggs per year. However, I won’t put these back into our flock. The ones we had were not nice and we caught them eating eggs multiple times (which could have been our fault). I guess the take home is – do your homework and decide what your goal is. If you want a lot of eggs, maybe the white leghorn is best. If you’re looking for farm fresh eggs but aren’t as concerned about production – there’s some really cool breeds. We’ve kind of landed in the area of liking the Black French Copper Maran’s, Ameraucana’s and Rhode Island Red’s. The cross between the Maran’s and the Ameraucana is great. A dark brown egg with a blue egg… we get some really cool green and olive eggs. What I love most about the Maran’s we have is their temperament. They are gentle and calm. The roosters are also very nice. Some of you may have seen our Ameraucana rooster Toker wandering around at the tasting room – he’s a beauty we’re hoping to increase our Ameraucana flock with. The last thing I’d like to share here is – chickens don’t lay eggs forever. It depends on the breed and flock, but most chickens will hit a peak egg production at sixteen months to two years. This is a “peak” it doesn’t mean they’ll stop laying. If they’re your backyard birds with names, you may treat them different than if the goal is egg production. We’ve started putting leg bands on ours so we know how old the group is.
An assortment of chicken eggs… kind of like a rainbow of colors. And two duck eggs on the far left.
What do you do with the roosters?
You may have heard me say if you’ve gotten chicks from us – I’ve got a rooster free guarantee. This is the one major caveat with hatch your own vs. hatchery – is about 50/50 chance you’ll get roosters. It ends up being a lot of work. Alchemist Farm has done a great job sharing – most male chicks are destroyed at birth. We’ve decided raising the males to adults can be an excellent food source for our community. Most of the time Jesus who works for us takes them or provides them to his friends and relatives. These are all great options and we find joy in knowing we helped provide someone a meal. But as I said, the hard work comes as the chicks get older in the flock and if you introduced 20 chicks, one day realizing “uh oh” I’ve got 10 young roosters running around. Our older roosters definitely put them in their place.
Sven (Swedish rooster) and Toker (our prized Ameraucana) hang out at the tasting room.
The basics on varieties of chickens & different colored eggs
The best way to pass along this information is to encourage anyone looking to visit the Willow Ridge Farm, Alchemist Farm or Meyer Hatchery’s websites. These sites have tons of information on each breed, egg color and some great insights on care and their handling practices. We get asked a lot about egg color… the short answer is, each chicken breed lays its own unique color of egg and the color stays the same throughout its life (although for example, shades of brown can very slightly).
What are ways the farm benefits from chickens and our future plans
We’d like to be a year round consistent supplier of eggs. It’ll be a limited scale and will grow over time. But we feel like chickens are a great fit for their manure and within our permanent and annual cropping system – Regenerative Agriculture – “This is the Way”. Did you know chickens have incredibly fine eyesight? They can see tiny insects and feed on them. One example (I hope we don’t have to try) is they are great at feeding on cutworms. Cutworms are a pest that can be an economic problem in wine grapes. With the recent grant we received (thank you Tilth Alliance), we’re excited to start moving the animals into the farming operation. We can’t wait to one day have Regenerative Organic Estate wines – and we think it’ll make our Pinot Noir even better.
Chickens are amazing creatures. They’re native to jungle areas on the planet… (another topic on their preferred habitat). I like to say, if people like to say chickens are stupid, then how is it – our first flock of 20 never had to be taught to roost at night. In other words, some of their instincts are so ingrained – no one had to teach them to go to the roost at night. What else do chickens know how to do (like eating insects) that can help our farm. Chickens have been a lot of fun for the family and sharing their eggs is a joy. If you get a chance – Sunset in Manson makes their Crème Brûlée with our chicken eggs. As we learn more and improve – we’re happy to share. If you’re looking for chicks, we’re planning to hatch more than last year. Think about the breeds you want, study up on caring for them and get ready to bring a fun animal into your life. Thanks for reading along. As always, thank you for your support and feel free to reach out with questions.