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Chickens and incubators, chickens and turkeys, and nesting box drama are today’s questions on What The Cluck?!
It’s Tuesday, which means time to answer your questions about chickens!
Today, we look at 4 questions:
- Can you keep chickens with turkeys?
- When should I take chicks out the incubator if there are other eggs waiting to hatch?
- The eggs I was incubating didn’t hatch. Inside were perfectly formed chicks that never made it out of the shell. Why?
- I cleaned my chicken’s nesting boxes, and now they won’t nest. What gives?
Links we discuss:
Hi there, and welcome to session 22 of What the Cluck?!, a podcast devoted to keeping chickens for fun and self-sufficiency. I’m Maat from FrugalChicken, and today is the day that I answer questions from you guys!
So, in today’s episode, we’re going to cover questions about whether you can keep chickens with turkeys, when you should remove baby chicks from an incubator, troubleshooting hatching problems, and why chickens won’t nest.
This will be a valuable episode that’s full of advice you can use today. Just as a reminder, you can get this episodes show notes at TheFrugalChicken.com/Podcast22, that’s podcast with the numbers 2 and 2.
So stay with me!
Before we get started, I would love it if you submitted a question. You can email me at email@example.com or contact me over social media.
You can tweet me at thefrugalchicken.com/twitter or over Facebook at thefrugalchicken.com/facebook. Both of those links will take you to my social media profiles where you can contact me.
Can you keep chickens with turkeys?
While there’s no law out there that states you must separate turkeys and chickens, if you want to keep your chickens and turkeys in the same pen, there are somethings you should know before comingling them.
Now for full disclosure, right now, we are keeping our one remaining Royal Palm Turkey with our chickens because we have just the one tom, and over winter, I felt it was better for him to be with chickens for warmth and the social aspect.
The turkey doesn’t seem to quite grasp that standing out in freezing rain isn’t the best idea, and with temperatures in the 20s, I don’t want him in a pen by himself. It makes him more of a target for predators, socially isolates him, and I just feel he’s better off with our chickens.
The main reason you hear to not keep chickens and turkeys together is because chickens are carriers of something called Blackhead disease, which doesn’t really effect your chickens, but can be deadly to turkeys, quail, and other poultry.
What is blackhead disease?
Blackhead disease is an infection caused by a parasite, and it’s transmitted from infected birds to uninfected birds through manure.
That’s why you hear that you should never keep chickens and turkeys together. But the thing about this parasite is that it also can be transmitted by earthworms according to Mississippi State University, so if your turkey eats an earthworm that’s infected by the parasite, they can catch it anyway.
It’s just the chances of them catching it is increased when housed with chickens because your turkey is more likely to come in contact with infected chicken manure.
Other reasons to not keep chickens and turkeys together involve things like a pecking order.
Our turkeys historically have gotten along well with our chickens, but I can easily see it going the other way, where especially at meal times, the turkeys might take over, leaving little food for your chickens.
This could especially be an issue if you don’t have a diverse amount of feeders and waterers available. I’ve heard of situations where poults, which are young turkeys, start beating up chicks in order to gobble down their food.
So, that’s something to keep in mind if you want to keep chickens and turkeys together.
So, whether you should keep turkeys with chickens really comes down to your own personal choice, and whether you feel that blackhead disease is a risk or not and whether you can manage with potential pecking order disputes.
If you plan on getting a large amount of turkeys, 10 or so, building them a separate shelter might be the best decision.
Alright, next question!
When should I take chicks out the incubator if there are other eggs waiting to hatch?
So, the next question this week is when you should remove hatched chicks from the incubator when there are other eggs waiting to hatch.
To answer this question directly, the answer is you can leave them in there for up to 3 days, or remove them immediately. There’s benefits and negatives to both, so before deciding which is best, here’s some more background.
You can keep chicks in an incubator for up to 3 days after they’re hatched.
Chicks, before they’re born, absorb the yolk sack, and this is one of their final processes as they prepare to hatch. The yolk sack can provide enough nutrients for 3 days, which is why you’re able to order baby chicks through the mail.
Now, the problem with leaving chicks inside the incubator while other eggs are waiting to hatch is that they will undoubtedly cause the other eggs to roll around since baby chicks flop around a lot as they figure out how to walk and dry off.
At the same time, in the final stages of preparing to hatch, the level of humidity inside an incubator becomes an issue. You want to make sure the humidity inside an incubator stays at around 60% during the final three days of incubation so the chick doesn’t get what’s called “shrink wrapped” inside the egg.
This can prevent him from hatching, and is possibly the biggest reason for late embryonic death in chickens. By opening up the incubator to remove hatched chicks, you run the risk of dropping the humidity, and potentially causing problems with the remaining chicks waiting to be hatched.
Personally, I remove hatched chicks from the incubator after a reasonable amount of time. This is so I can help them dry off further by placing them under a heat lamp, help them establish good gut flora by offering probiotics in water, and to protect the remaining eggs in the incubator.
At a minimum, hatchlings should remain in the incubator until they’re able to stand and have dried off some. I don’t wait until they’re completely dry before removing them and placing them under a heat lamp.
I use a small Styrofoam incubator, so when I remove the chicks, I slip my arm in the incubator and pull the chick out. I don’t completely remove the top of the incubator to preserve the humidity in it as best I can.
So, let’s move on to our third question.
The eggs I was incubating didn’t hatch. Inside were perfectly formed chicks that never made it out of the shell. Why?
This one is another incubator question. The eggs I was incubating didn’t hatch. Inside were perfectly formed chicks that never made it out of the shell. Why?
Well, there’s a few reasons this can happen. One possibility, like we talked about in the previous question, is they were shrink wrapped, and therefore unable to break through the shell. Another possibility is that they weren’t oriented correctly and were unable to pip the exterior shell or interior membrane.
I had one chick last year that was disoriented in the shell. Her head was pinned down somehow so she was unable to zip through the shell. She had gotten far enough to break open the shell for oxygen by pushing, but as for a typical pipping of the shell then zipping it apart, that never happened.
The chick simply kept pushing. I knew she was poorly presented because after about 24 hours, I went into the incubator to help her and saw how she was positioned.
We also had one last year that didn’t realize she could move her head. It’s hard to explain but she was stuck in her shell for 24 hours, and really, if they haven’t completed zipped out within 24 hours after starting, that’s when I get involved.
So, I think this particular chick just got disoriented. But she’s another one I had to help, and it took her 5 or so hours before she realized she could pick her head up.
She kept it close to her belly like it was malformed, although it wasn’t because it later straightened out. She didn’t realize she was out of her shell, or it had to do with being poorly presented.
So, being poorly presented and unable to pip is another reason chicks sometimes don’t hatch.
Now, another reason is if the humidity in the incubator is too high. If a chick pips to get oxygen, and the humidity is too high, then the chick can effectively drown because it’s unable to get enough oxygen.
We live in the south, and there are some days in the summer where it’s so humid, that it’s literally hard to breathe, sometimes I feel like I’m gasping for air. So that’s another reason why it’s important to make sure the humidity in your incubator is correct.
A fourth reason is if the hen that laid the egg is vitamin D3 deficient. Vitamin D3 is necessary for your hens to properly absorb calcium and phosphorous.
There’s a link between poor vitamin D3 absorption and late embryonic death. If your hens are getting out every day and are in the sun, then this is likely not an issue with them.
Poor vitamin D absorption is more likely to happen with hens that are cooped all the time and never see the sun.
It can also happen with poorly stored feed. Myotixins caused by fungi in their feed can reportedly make it difficult for chickens to absorb vitamin D.
Another problem might be vitamin A absorption. According to the Merck Veterinary manual, there’s a link between a diet deficient in vitamin A and late embryonic death.
Other reasons could be contamination of the egg while the chicks are developing. At the end of the day, it’s hard to know exactly why chicks don’t hatch during the final days of incubation, but hopefully this answer gives you some insight into which factors you can control and which you can’t.
So, let’s move on to our final question.
I cleaned my chicken’s nesting boxes, and now they won’t nest. What gives?
So, there’s a few reasons why your hens might refuse to use a nesting box after cleaning it. Some hens can be particular, and if the nesting box suddenly smells funny, or if you’ve used a strong cleaner, they might not want to use it until the box is back to normal.
Moving around their environment can be stressful for some chickens because you’ve “violated their safe space,” so to speak.
When chickens nest, they’re at their most vulnerable because they’re still for a while. In the wild, this is one way predators can pick chickens off and get an easy meal, which is why chickens like to lay eggs in dark, quiet places.
Entering their safe space can cause them to abandon the nest until they decide it’s safe again.
Now, if you clean the nest one day and you get no eggs at all the nest day, your chickens might just be having an off day. It takes 26 hours for an egg to develop in a hen, meaning, depending on the breed and individual chicken, you might only get 4 or 5 eggs a week.
It’s possible your hens are just having an off day on laying. They should be fine in a day or two and begin using your nesting boxes again.
That’s it for our questions this week. As a reminder, if you want to submit a question, then be sure to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot me a message over social media.
Now, if you’re interested in learning more about the topics we discussed today, I actually have a book available on Amazon which can help you get started.
It’s a 50 page ebook all about how to naturally raise a sustainable flock of chickens. You can check it out at TheFrugalChicken.com/chickenbook.
Thanks for listening to this episode of What The Cluck?!, and I’ll see you next time!
I’d like to hear from you!
Do you have a chicken question? Leave a comment below!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.