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The $300 Omelet

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Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 2:08 pm

Hatching Chicks in a Coleman Cooler

After buying some baby pullets and watching them grow, I decided I wanted to hatch my own. How hard can it be, anyway? After a little research (translated Google) I found that it takes 21 days to incubate an egg. Three weeks isn’t that long, right? There are three basic rules for successfully hatching a fertile egg into a chick. It has to be 99.5 degrees. I was beginning to get a bit worried. 99.5 sounds pretty specific, unlike “around 100 degrees.” The humidity needs to be 50 percent, then raised even higher for the last few days. I found it is not that easy to keep humidity levels very high when you live in an air conditioned house. Finally, the eggs need to be turned at least three times a day. That is easy enough, unless you aren’t home. With those basic rules in mind, I set out to make my own home made incubator. I got some ideas from the internet, and got to work. I had an old Coleman cooler out in the shed that would make a good starting point. I cut a hole in the lid and put in some scrap Plexiglas so I could see inside without opening it. I bought a water heater thermostat that I could adjust to get the temperature right, and a light bulb and fixture to be my heat source. A tray of water in the bottom with some rags to wick the water should help the humidity level. Finally, I put in a computer CPU fan to pull fresh air in through a small hole I put in the cooler and circulate it around in the incubator. Turning the eggs was a bit more challenging. I bought a 1 RPM electric motor and fashioned an arm for it (think of the hands on a clock). I built a tray for the eggs using some dowel rod and scrap wood, then created a slot for the motor arm to slide back and forth. When the motor turns, the arm moves in a circle, sliding the tray back and forth on a tray. Plugging the motor into a timer (like those used around Christmas to turn the lights on and off) allowed me to have it kick on for five minutes several times a day.

I purchased a variety of eggs, including a pheasant egg, and started with a total of 19 in the incubator, which was slightly more than it was really designed to hold. However, by the tenth day, candling showed that there were several that weren’t fertile or just hadn’t developed. On the 18th day, I reduced the temperature about a degree, did my best to increase the humidity and stopped turning the eggs. A few days later the miracle began, and I hatched seven healthy chicks. The runt of the bunch didn’t seem too interested in hatching, and may have had trouble turning in the shell, but I gave it a little help and it’s doing just fine. Now the chicks are a few days old and are already starting to sprout wing feathers.

Eventually, I will find out how many turn out to be pullets and how many are cockerels, and will once again Google to figure out the best way to introduce them to the four ladies out in the coop. For more information about raising chickens, I suggest They are an excellent resource. If you are looking for a hobby, raising chickens is relatively inexpensive and you get rewarded with the freshest eggs possible.   

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