Breeding and raising poultry can be very rewarding, especially watching them hatch as chicks and then grow into mature adults. You can either breed your own stock or purchase “hatching eggs” which will be already fertilised and ready for incubation.
If you decide to breed your own birds then you must select the breeding stock from healthy and fully developed chickens. Hens should be at least 1 year old and cocks at least 6 months.
Breeding birds should be separated out ; penned together and fed a diet of breeders ration with higher protein and added vitamins and minerals, to produce a healthy embryo. Typically two hens per cock are used for heavy breeds , although for more active lighter birds up to 6 hens can be covered by one rooster.
Collect the eggs regularly (peferably twice a day) and keep them in a cool place (12 deg C is ideal) for no more than 10 days.
Once you have gathered the required number of eggs set them under a broody hen or in an incubator. The incubating eggs require a constant temperature of 37.4 – 37.6 Deg C and 60% Relative Humidity for the first 18 days rising to 80% RH as they hatch. Hatching typically takes place 21 days after setting.
Eggs should be candled ( viewed against an intense light source) at 5-7 days and 12 – 14 days to check that they are developing properly.
Assuming you are incubating using an artificial incubator, with controlled temperature and humidity, remove the hatched chicks to a pre-heated brooder area with a bed of wood shavings. Artificial heat such as a gas brooder or infra-red electic lamp must be used to keep the chicks at a temperature of 35 Deg C for the first week. After that the temperature should be reduced by lifting the lamp to achieve about a 3 deg C temperature drop per week, until the temperature reaches 20 deg C. At this stage the chicks should be fully feathered. How long heat is provided will depend on the time of year but will typically be between 5 and 8 weeks. If the lamp is too low the chicks will move out from underneath or if too high they will crowd in underneath to keep warm.
Simple Poultry Brooder with heat source, feeder and drinker in temporary enclosure
Chicks should be offered a chick starter ration from birth up to 6 weeks and then moved gradually to a “growers ration”. Clean water must also be available at all times in chick-sized drinkers.
At 16-18 weeks old the diet will be gradually changed from “growers” to “layers” rations as the chickens are then approaching point of lay. Grit containing smaller particles should have been provided from about 6 weeks old. If grain is to be fed this should be introduced gradually from the time the chicks are moved to the “Growers” ration.
After the brooding period the pullets can be raised in a fenced pen or yard with only shelter from the elements . Light patterns will determine when they come into lay and will typically be at 16 – 20 weeks old for commercial layers.