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My observations regarding the turning of hatching eggs are as follows:
Standing chicken eggs on end (large end up) seems not to hurt them at all. Waterfowl eggs, on the other hand, seem to hatch better when laid on their sides during incubation.
The number of daily turns that eggs need to hatch well is often exceeded by auto turners. I find that any type of poultry hatching eggs needs no more than 2-3 turns per day although turning more often will not hurt. Eggs should not be turned at all, however, in the last 3-4 days prior to hatching.
Factors that affect incubator humidity include temperature and humidity in the room housing the machine, the amount of venting (fresh air) allowed into the machine and the amount of surface area in water pans supplying moisture.
Opening the vents tends to reduce humidity, adding surface area to the water pan (for example by adding a sponge standing on end) tends to increase humidity.
Relative humidity readings for landfowl should be lower than those for waterfowl.
A very important factor in obtaining good hatches is the moisture content in the egg at the time of hatch. The air cell should comprise about 1/3 of the egg. Much less and the chicks, ducklings, etc. will have a difficult time reaming the inside of the egg and those that do hatch will be sticky and weak.
If the air cell is much too large (too much loss of moisture), the young bird will be smaller than it should be and may not be able to properly hatch.
An egg can only lose moisture, it can never replace that which is lost. Next week; how to control humidity.
Scaley leg mites can trouble both feather legged and clean legged breeds of chickens. They are most easily treated on the clean legged types, however. The mites live under the scales on the bird's legs and feet.
One can kill the mites by covering the legs with vasiline. The carbolated type of vasiline is best but the plain type works, too.
It usually takes 2-3 treatments until the crusty material formed by the mites is entirely gone
The use of broody female chickens or ducks can be employed to increase hatch rates. Let eggs accumulate in nests to trigger the broody instinct. Nests which are isolated and in dark areas work Best. be certain that other females will not interfere by claiming the nest for themselves. Also, be sure that the broodies are treated for parasites before they begin to be broody. The nest should be located in an area which is secure from predators.
The temperature in the room housing an incubator can have an effect not only on the temperature inside the incubator but on the humidity levels as well. Cold air will contain less humidity. On the other hand, very warm summer temps will force humidity levels inside an incubator up. To counteract that, open air vents more and decrease the surface area of the moisture pan.
Regarding the clipping or pulling of vent feathers on heavily feathered breeds; I prefer not to as long as fertility is satisfactory. If I do, I would prefer to pull feathers just above and below the vent rather than cutting them. I normally do so only with the males but some breeders trim or cut down feathers on both sexes.
This is the time of year to formulate breeding strategies. One can either, for example, leave breeding units intact for the season or rotate males every couple of weeks if one has a surplus of good males. If males are rotated, the tradeoff is less accuracy in terms of breeding records. The upside is several males will contribute their genes to those of the best females.
Just prior to the start of the breeding season is the time to perform routine maintenance chore with incubators and brooders. Check/replace wafers, check replace light bulbs, clean and sanitize equipment. Not a bad idea to pick up a couple of extra wafers to have on hand just in case.
As spring's warmer weather begins to approach and waterfowl egg production is about to begin, ease off on the corn in their diets. No poultry should enter the breeding season overweight. Overweight in both ducks and geese may result in poor fertility in the males and will increase the possibility of prolapses in females.
Do not wait until you want egg production to begin to begin feeding for production. It takes several weeks of being fed breeder quality rations before females have enough nutrients available to produce quality hatching eggs.
Given a choice, I prefer a pelleted feed because it is more likely to provide a balanced diet.
A piece of breeding advice based on my 50+ years of raising poultry: over the long run, you will benefit more from putting together small matings of high quality birds than you will from hatching from larger (or more) matings made up of mediocre birds.
The birds hatched will be much more likely to be worth rearing.
In the long run, it does not pay to set eggs with weird shapes or poor shell quality since those things tend to be inherited traits. Likewise, do not set really soiled eggs unless or until they have been cleaned and sanitized.
Incubator temps need to monitored pretty much every day because as eggs are added each week the increasing heat generated by the developing eggs can increase the temperature as much as a full degree or more.
A recent conversation with a feed store owner has brought good news. The government has decided not to include Amprolium in the list of antibiotics which now require a Vet's prescription. Amprolium is not an antibiotic so it should never have been included in the first place. The bottom line is that "medicated" starter feed will still be available at least unless the government changes policy again. Amprolium prevents losses from Coccidiosis which probably kills more young chicks than all other causes combined. Cocci are protozoa which are neither bacteria nor virus and are found everywhere. The Cocci attack chicks when they are stressed. They also can attack ducklings but not as frequently.
Because humidity requirements and incubation periods are different, the best option is to incubate chicken and waterfowl eggs in separate incubators. Even better; do not hatch eggs in the same machine in which they are incubated. Why? Two reasons; hatching debris is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, and humidity should be much higher in the hatcher than is good for eggs in incubation.
Having had experience with failures of heat lamps that came close to burning down one of my barns, I cannot recommend too strongly the use of high-quality heat lamps and bulbs. Cheap heat lamps are poorly made and can contribute to the loss of chicks, ducklings, or even the building in which they are housed. Cheap heat lamp bulbs are not really designed for the hard use we put them to. The glass is not thick or hardened and will shatter or even break off at the base. Buy lamps and bulbs expressly made for brooding poultry and save yourself from potential disaster.
Since geese often take much longer than either ducks or chickens to form pair bonds, matings should be set up now if they have not already been set up if good fertility is to be expected in the spring.
During the winter, most birds are housed in inside pens this time of year. It would be easy to forget that all poultry needs grit when it cannot be obtained outside. Grit allows the birds to grind up the hard grains in particular. Lack of it can cause digestive problems and inhibit the bird's ability to remain in good flesh.
With severe cold descending on large parts of the nation, it is important to keep in mind that the amount of feed that poultry can consume is closely tied to the amount of unfrozen water which is available to them. Full feed pans do not in themselves, lead to birds which are well enough fleshed out to withstand cold if they only have a 1/2 hour window to consume unfrozen water each day. Either provide heaters for water bowls or change out the water at least 2-3 times per day.
Keep in mind that when a female chick is hatched, she already possesses all of the eggs she will ever lay during her lifetime in her body.
Eggs layed when you do not want them for hatching unless you are raising the birds for egg production is a waste of resources.
Breeding birds should be managed to maximize production when the eggs are most needed. That means that extension of daylight by the use of artificial light and the feeding of breeder rations when hatching eggs are desired, not when it is too cold or too early to begin saving hatching eggs.
With all antibiotics becoming unavailable without a Vet's prescription on January 1st, it should be at the top of every poultry fancier's "to do list" to have some on hand. Tylan is a good choice for an antibiotic. Also, it is wise to have a coccidiostat on hand since it will no longer be available in Chick Starter. Any brand containing Amprolium for use in the water will work to prevent Coccidiosis in young chicks and ducklings.
There will be new and much more restrictive regulations governing the availability of antibiotics and other medications used to treat poultry going into effect on January 1st. Medicated chick starter, for example, will no longer be available. Neither will antibiotics which used to be sold by poultry supply sources. My advice? Stock up on both prior to January 1st. It is a stop gap solution but better than nothing.
As has happened in the past, the sins of the commercial poultry industry are resulting in punishing regulations for all.
Mor on biosecurity:
Probably the worst place to buy birds from a biosecurity standpoint is the "swap meet" or auction. While there are sometimes legitimate breeders who dispose of surplus birds at such events, there are also "bird jockeys" who buy and sell birds without much thought given to the bird's health. These are the same folks who crowd 8-10 birds in carry coops or swap cages meant for 1-2. Best to steer clear of such events.
Every poultry raiser from the back yarder to the commercial outfit should do more than pay "lip service" to biosecurity. Visitors to your pens should be minimized or prohibited altogether. Birds from other flocks should be quarantined for at least two weeks before being allowed to mix with your other poultry More on this topic next time.