One of my daughters decided to take a science research class this year. She wanted to think of something great and wonderful – like the kid who decided to hatch up some sea monkeys. “Did you know they’re just shrimp, Mom?” As a matter of fact, as a child, the discovery that sea monkeys were just shrimp was actually one of my biggest disappointments in life. They never quite looked like the 1970’s advertising display of sea monkeys that looked like they were crowned king and queen of the sea world. I never did get to see the happy faces of those sea monkeys.
For quite a few years, I’ve had a desire to own chickens. I’ve been reading about them and have wanted to have my own for fresh eggs. Until I called our town, I wasn’t even aware that I was allowed to own them here. When the discovery came that I could have my own chickens, I said to my daughter, “I have an idea. How about building a homemade hatchery?” According to her teacher, building a homemade hatchery, and trying to hatch chicken eggs just wasn’t enough. There needed to be something more…a comparison….
I suggested, “How about using two different homemade hatcheries? We’ll have one with automatic temperature control and air circulation and one with just a light bulb. Then, you can compare which one has a better hatching.”
After gaining her teacher’s approval, we kept an eye out for a cooler. Within a day, we passed by a yard sale with a Rubbermaid Cooler. Our neighbor gave us another old cooler so that we had our two. Then, we set out to buy two rectangular pieces of plexiglass at the local hardware store.
We traced around the top of the cooler with the plexiglass. Then, we went in an inch on each side and drew straight lines. I drilled holes into each corner so I’d be able to use a jigsaw to cut out the rectangle.
After cutting out the rectangle, we placed the plexiglass over the top of the cooler lid and taped it down with Gorilla tape. Gorilla tape is extremely strong duct tape that can actually hold the plexiglass down and assist with the prevention of other pet access.
We used a simple ceramic light hookup, and I pulled a cord out of an old lamp that was broken to hook up to the fixture for it to have a plug. I screwed the fixture into the back of the cooler and just cut out a little corner at the top to drape the cord rather than make a hole through the back and pull it through. My thought process was to make sure the heat didn’t have a lot of avenues to escape. Making a notch that fit the cord allowed the lid to close nicely without allowing a lot of heat to escape. Then, we cut out wire mesh to fit the bottom of the cooler and turned it under on each side so the eggs would have a place to lay.
I purchased two thermostat and humidity readers on ebay for $11 a piece. I placed one of them in the cooler. With some trial and error, we determined that a 25 watt bulb was the one best used to maintain the temperature in the cooler around 99-102 degrees.
A sponge soaked in water was placed inside the cooler for humidity. We were able to visibly control the humidity due to the temperature and humidity reader allowing us to see the percentage of humidity.
In the other cooler, we attached a water heater thermostat control to the light so that it would turn off if the temperatures reached over 102 degrees. We also attached a computer fan to a plug and placed it in the cooler to keep the temperature circulated. I will post more about this particular hatchery in another post due to…HURRICANE SANDY!
The eggs arrived, and we determined that Hurricane Sandy was going to be an impending problem. Instead of dividing the eggs into each cooler like we originally planned, we placed them all in the one cooler since we had not been able to maintain a proper temperature in the temperature controlled unit prior to the storm hitting.
The storm came. The power went out for four days. The first night that the power went out, the temperatures dropped to 76 degrees. This was a drastic change for the eggs. We hooked the plug up to a generator, but due to it being generator controlled, the temperature wasn’t getting as high as it should have. In an act of desperation, someone placed a blanket over the hatchery, causing the temperature to skyrocket to 104 degrees. My heart dropped.
I was positive the temperature changes were going to kill the baby chicks. However, I hoped that we caught things in time and did our best to make sure the unregulated temperature would be somewhat regulated. After all, chicks are related to dinosaurs, and they must be somewhat resilient, no?
Day 21 – the day the chicks were SUPPOSE to hatch. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. I put a flashlight to one of the eggs and saw something moving around inside. I thought, “Maybe we should wait this out.”
Day 22 – Nothing happened. Still waiting.
Then, day 23 arrived. Sure enough, a chick pipped through. We heard the chirping around 7 am through the egg. It took until 5:30 am the next morning, on day 24, for the chick to arrive. By that time, almost all 10 fertilized eggs had pipped.
An egg that pipped. Sides of the eggs are marked with X’s and O’s because the eggs need to be turned three times a day, and the markings assist with regulating turning.
Throughout the day, chicks started to hatch. Sadly, the second chick to hatch passed away shortly after hatching. Nine chicks made their arrival by day 25.
One of our chicks hatching with an excited hatched chick standing nearby.
After each hatching, we put the chicks under a heat lamp to dry out and fluff up.
Chicks making their arrival.
The cost of the homemade hatchery was under $25 due to us having the mesh, plug from the lamp to wire to the light, and Gorilla duct tape. The cost of the ceramic light fixture was under $4.00. The cost of the plexiglass was around $5.00. The cooler was $5, and the temperature and humidity reader was $11. The hatch was a success which proves that expensive hatcheries don’t need to be purchased. However, information regarding the temperature, monitoring of the humidity, and turning of the eggs three times every day are important steps to remember for a successful hatch.
Depending on how well insulated the cooler is, the wattage of the light bulb used may need to be changed. Humidity can be controlled using a sponge soaked in water, and if the heat gets too high, just raising the lid to lower the temperature may be enough to keep in controlled.