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Special knowledge about the care and feeding of sitting hens, in preparation for hatching eggs.

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A Guide to Better Hatching

Janet Stromberg, Stromberg Publishing Company, Box 400, Pine River, Minnesota 56474 ©1975

The following information is quoted accurately from this book. Anything in SQUARE BRACKETS [ ] is an entry by ChickenFeed Website.]

Commercial hens will produce on a wide range of laying diets. This doesn't mean that the same diets are adequate for breeding flocks. Slight vitamin or mineral deficiencies may prevent an otherwise normal fertilized egg from hatching. Diet deficiencies which may reduce hatchability to zero, often will not have any ill-effect on the health or productive performance of the breeder hen.

Both males and females should be placed on a breeder diet five to six weeks before saving hatching eggs. By the end of this period the hen will have deposited all of the essential nutrients required for proper embryo development in the yolk.

Providing adequate vitamins in a breeding ration is very important. Following is a brief discussion of some vitamin and mineral deficiency symptoms. Deficiencies of various trace elements and vitamins may lead to reduced hatchability and poor chick quality. Dead embryos may exhibit conditions that reveal the particular vitamin deficiencies causing their death. A deficiency of Vitamin B-12 will cause a rapid decrease in hatchability. There's also a poorer survival rate for chickens that do hatch. Riboflavin (Vitamin B-2) deficiencies also cause poor hatchability with embryos showing clubbed down. The degree of the deficiency affects the stage at which death of the embryo takes place. An example is that a marginal deficiency of pantothenic acid may permit almost normal hatchability but poor chick viability. A greater deficiency results in heavier portality at the end of 21 days. An extreme deficiency causes high mortality as early as twelve to sixteen days with no embryos surviving to hatch.

Biotin, choline, and manganese help prevent a condition known as perosis or slipped tendon. An acute deficiency of bioton causes high embryo mortality during the period of 72 to 96 hours of incubation. A manganese deficiency gives rise to embryos with parrot beaks and nutritional chondrodystlrophy, which is a shortening of the long bones of the embryo. A choline deficiency is unlikely as the hen seems fully able to synthesize her own requirements.

These vitamins and minerals must be included in your breeder's diet: riboflavin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B-12, niacin, folic acid, biotin, cholin, Vitamin A, Vitamin D-3, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. Most commercial breeder mashes and concentrates are sufficiently fortified and contain more than an adequate amount of these essential vitamins and minerals to insure proper embryo development.

Many breeder mash concentrates are to be fed on a 50-50 weight basis with scratch grain. You must be careful not to use too much grain. Observations have shown that when scratch grains are fed free-choice with 20% protein concentrate, the flocks will consume 65-70% scratch grain. Unless it is specified that grain be fed free-choice, try to keep the scratch consumption from going over 50%, by weight, of the ration. Breeder flocks will consume approximately 25 pounds of mash and scratch per 100 birds per day. Therefore, not more than twelve to thirteen pounds of scratch should be fed to each 100 breeders per day. The amount of feed required daily will depend on the body size, the rate of production and temperature. Mash exposed to sunlight or heat tends to lose part of its nutrition and most of its appeal. Therefore, frequent feeding of fresh feed is important.

To insure maximum feed consumption you should have 384 linear inches of hopper space for each one hundred large, standard-sized breeders. A hopper eight feet long which allows the birds to eat from both sides provides 196 linear inches of space. Two of these hoppers or five tube feeders would provide feeding space for one hundred breeders. Bantams and other small fowl require less feeder space.

NATURAL HATCHING For the small poultry keeper who wants to raise a few chicks, and who does not want the bother and expense of even a small incubator, natural hatching under a broody hen is the ideal way. It is, however, essentially dependant on having a broody or broodies.

It is never wise to assume that an apparently broody hen will sit; it is best, therefore, to give her a few dummy eggs for a start, and only substitute the genuine sitting after two or three days if she shows a real intention to brood. It is always advisable to give her the eggs --- dummy or genuine --- in the evening, rather than during the day, as this is less likely to put her off sitting.

[If she picks a convenient and safe place, let her stay there. Otherwise, prepare a nest box 14 inches square and 16 i ches high or more. A 4 inch board across the bottom is advisable. It sits on the ground, with wire underneath to prevent burrowing rodents, but to let the soil moisture rise into the nest. The bottom of the box is lined with upside-down turf, cut slightly larger than the box, and having a shallow saucer-shaped depression. If the weather is dry, the eggs should be sprayed with warm water several times after the 16th day. The box should then be lined with short straw or other fresh litter [deep layer of leaves, perhaps].

Feeding and Exercise

During the first seventeen days the hen should come off the nest at least once a day, to allow stretching the legs and emptying the bowels without fouling the nest or eggs. As the hen is a creature of habit, it is a good plan to combine the daily run with feeding routine. It is necessary to make this combined exercise and feeding at a regular time, for the hen may get restless if her normal time has passed. She should be allowed back to the nest after twenty minutes, except in very cold weather when the time can be shortened. The short absence from the nest also helps to aerate the eggs.

Most hens will come off the nest to feed of their own free will but some may have to be lifted off, and the sitting bird must be handled very carefully. First, the wings should be raised gently to release any eggs that may be held between the wings and body; failure to do this may result in broken eggs and a messy nest. When it is certain that no eggs are held between wings and body, the hen may be lifted with one hand under the body and the other over her back. The hen should always be lifted from or returned to the nest head first to reduce her tendency to resist, and to prevent the wings getting caught up in the sides of the entrance.

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FEED LINKS Norton Creek Press Poultry Books

Feeding Baby Chicks
Feed Instructions
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Mash: a blend of feed ingredients, ground to a small size but not to a powder; mash can be in pellet form

Pellets: small kernels of compressed mash

Concentrate: a blend of protein-rich foods, plus any other nutrients desired; usually fed together with a grain ration

Scratch: grains fed separately to chickens, usually scattered on the ground or litter of the coop

Grit: angular, hard crushed rock, preferably from granite, used by the chickens in place of "teeth" --- seashells and bone CANNOT substitute for grit; grit should be free-choiced several times a month at least

Corn: American term meaning maize corn, or "corn on the cob" (in England "corn" means what grain means in the US)

Grain: American term meaning any small, hard seeds, especially grass-family seeds (called corn in England)

Calcium: provided by sea shells, crushed bone, and fresh or dried greens --- amounts need to be measured closely, if not free range

Protein: any food high in amino acids, used to build tissues; protein quality is determined by the "completeness" of the amino acid varieties in the food source; basically, meats, nuts, seed germs, and soy concentrates are protein sources

Amino acid: a molecule that is one building block of protein; there are many different amino acids, most of which can be manufactured in the body; the few that cannot must be supplied by foods

Vitamins: a general term meaning "life-giving"; see RECIPES section for which ones to use

Minerals: inert chemicals found in nature; kelp of all kinds supplies the complete spectrum of minerals

Free range: not controlled by fences, able to get to fresh greens and insects; as commercially used, this term allows fences, with minimum amount of space per bird being set by definition

Pastured poultry: hens kept in movable, usually wheeled, pens, moved daily over fresh pasture, creating delicious meat and nutritious eggs

Organic: inspected by government agencies, organic food sources must not contain traces of harmful chemicals; the term as currently used does not insure that poultry has been raised in the best possible way, only that it has near zero harmful ingredients

Pullets: female chickens under 1 year old

Hens: female chickens over 1 year old