August 10, 2009

Embryology or Egg to Chick

By Betty Lipe, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Have you ever thought about hatching fertile eggs for the educational experience? Embryology is an established way to teach the life sciences. Here are some things you need to consider:

~Setting up the incubator - The incubators commonly used in home or classroom operations are small Styrofoam units with a wafer or controller that regulates when the unit turns on and off. These can be purchased at the local feed store or on line at numerous sites. By doing a search for “incubator” you get a number of different suppliers. A thermometer is placed in the incubator so that it is resting at the height of the center of the egg. This allows the incubator to be run at 100 degrees which is a good hatching temperature. Water is placed in the center portion of the bottom to add humidity.

~Setting the eggs and how to care for them – when setting the eggs in the incubator, place a pencil mark on each side such as an “X” and “O”, this way you can tell when the eggs have been turned. Marker is not used as the ink can be toxic to the unborn chick. Eggs are then turned 3 times a day until day 18. Keep records of the time the eggs were turned and the temperature in the incubator at the time of turning. This is very important if you ever have to trouble shoot a problem with the incubator. The first 4 days are critical that the temperature, turning, humidity, and air flow are kept at the optimum level. The last 4 days are as important that the extra humidity and added airflow will make for a better hatch.

~Types of eggs - The easiest eggs to incubate are chicken eggs particularly those from white leghorn varieties. These are easy to candle and hatch in 21 days. Duck eggs which are larger and heavier, take a longer period (28) days and require much more humidity than chicken eggs. Whether you choose chicken, duck, quail, or any other species of bird, be sure you understand the hatch time and temperature needed for a good hatch.

~Development of a chick – In just 21 days, the embryo goes from a white germinal disk on the yolk to full grown chicks. To see the day-by-day development, go to:

~Hatching – On the day of hatch the chick begins to opens the egg from the inside with its egg tooth. At first you will see a small hole and as the day goes by the hole will get longer and longer. The chick is also pushing with its legs and back which is necessary so that it will be strong enough to survive when it gets out of the egg. After struggling for up to 24 hours the chick finally gets out of the shell. It is wet and tired, but within a few minutes will struggle to its feet. If a chick was in a poultry yard this would be a necessity as predators wait to prey on weak hatchlings.

~Brooder box - When the chicks are completely dry they are transferred to a brooder box. This is a large container of wood, plastic, or cardboard with food, water and a light to keep them warm. Always check the requirements of the chicks you are hatching. The chicks stay in the brooder box or brooder area until the temperature in the brooder is the same temperature as the outside air. Since the brooder starts out at 95- 98 degrees and only is lowered 5 degrees per week, it will be several weeks before the chicks are ready to join a flock. In the mean time they are getting their wing feathers and flight feathers and after about a week they can even hop out of a good size box unless it has a lid. The young birds are fed starter feed until they are ready to lay eggs at about 6 months. Then they are switched to a Laying mixture. For more information on raising a backyard flock check out the University of Florida website.
The embryology program can be done anywhere. Fertile eggs are available from commercial websites and can be ordered on-line.

On September 17 and 24, 2009 Pinellas County Extension will offer a two day workshop entitled Embryology 101. Everything you wanted to know about hatching eggs in two days. When you leave this program we hope that you will be comfortable with the process and interested enough to try it yourself. Go to the website and click the on-line registration button and look for Sept. 17.

Additional sources of information

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