Saturday, March 5, 2011

My entrepreneurial kids

My wife and I were talking the other night about getting new chickens this year. We usually buy chicks from the local hatchery and raise them from a few days old. However, last year, we had quite a bad experience with the owner of the hatchery, and we've been talking about how to get new chicks some other way this year. It suddenly occurred to us that, since we have a rooster and a bunch of hens, we almost certainly have some fertile eggs; we could just hatch our own. It was quite an eye-opener to realize that we can actually produce not just eggs, but our own chickens. So, I started looking at incubators, and it turns out there are a lot of choices out there, but they're all expensive, and a lot of them are relatively low quality styrofoam deals. If we were going to strike out on our own, we didn't necessarily want it to be a more costly endeavor than simply patronizing the local hatchery.

It turns out that my next door neighbors had acquired an incubator from a friend of theirs, and had never used it. I went over one night and the husband and I dug it out and fired it up and all seemed to be in order. I brought it home and went about calibrating the thermostat and working out how to get the humidity high enough, which is quite a chore here; the wind blows a lot here, which makes for a very dry climate during the winter. Anyway, the incubator looks like some sort of kit built from extension service plans (similar concept to the wooden one here), and appears to be as much as 20-30 years old; I didn't have high hopes, but I persevered, and sure enough, we were able to get the temperature and humidity in the correct ranges for incubating eggs.

45 eggs ready to go into the incubator
By this time, the two oldest kids had hatched (get it?) a business plan: they would purchase fertile eggs, incubate them, then sell the chicks. We have a black copper maran rooster, so all of our hatched chicks would be half black copper maran. My wife got the notion that she wanted some pure black copper marans, so she started poking around on craigslist and found a family that sells fertilized eggs, both pure black copper maran, and black copper maran cross. She bought eight black copper maran eggs, and the kids bought a dozen more crossbreed eggs. My sister decided she wanted to hatch out some of her eggs to, so, within a week, we had 45 eggs ready to be incubated. The incubator we're using looks like it could easily hold 250 eggs, but since this was to be our first attempt, we decided to keep the numbers down, so as to minimize our losses (the pure maran eggs were $5 each, and we eat almost all of the eggs our own chickens produce).

Kids loading eggs into the incubator
I helped the kids get it all set up, and we started incubating just under a week ago. Three times a day, the three of us pull the eggs out and rotate them, and we'll do this until day 18. Then, we close up the incubator and wait for five days. Today, I bought a bright flashlight and fashioned a candling box, so we could peek at the eggs to see how they're coming along. I plan to candle them tonight with the kids, but I couldn't wait that long... I wanted to see if my candling box would work. It does, and it looks like we've got quite a few eggs with living embryos. Only one embryo has definitely died, as evidenced by a bacterial ring. A majority of the others appear to be developing. It seems that in a couple of weeks, we'll have 2-3 dozen baby chicks to care for. Perhaps more, but I'm not going to... wait for it... wait for it... count my chickens before they hatch. Hah. I'm so funny.

My wife and sister will pay the kids for their time hatching out their eggs, and we'll advertise the resulting chicks on craigslist. I'm hoping they are successful. They've got $10 into the operation so far, and the local hatchery sells chicks for $2.75 for day old hens plus $0.05 per day. I figure they can undercut his price and still come out with a decent profit, even if they only hatch out half of their eggs. I think the best part of it is that they'll have run a successful business venture, funded with their own capital, from start to finish. Before they're teenagers. If they're anything like their mother, with this sort of experience under their belts this early, they could be running successful businesses by their mid-teens.

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