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Chapter 2: Is hatching eggs right for you?
Before you begin, you will want to consider whether hatching your own eggs is for you. There are three main considerations.
You WILL Have Roosters
The first important thing to keep in mind is that your eggs will generally hatch out in a 50:50 mix of males and females. If you
live in town, roosters can be a problem and keeping them is often against municipal regulations! If you can't keep roosters,
you will want to be prepared to find them homes. If you can keep them, you will have to consider what living arrangements
you will need so all those roosters won't overbreed and even injure your hens. We have heard it said that with enough room,
you can have many roosters, but alas! this hasn't been our experience, even with forty-five free range acres available to the
chickens. Overbred hens can have feathers pulled out from their heads and backs, their combs injured and, even worse, can get
accidental puncture wounds from rooster spurs. Too many roosters can fight amongst themselves, as well. The usual recommendation
is to keep about one rooster for every ten hens or so. This is also a good ratio to keep if you want decent fertility in your
home flock. Some breeders will keep one rooster for every seven hens--or even fewer! Fertility rates depend on breed, but, for
example, studies may show that for a given breed fertility is 97.65% at 7:1, and 94.89% at 10:1--so the small difference in
fertility is not likely to matter a great deal in the numbers of eggs you will be hatching at home, but injuries to your hens
WILL matter.) In any case, since hens don't hatch in 10:1, 7:1 or even 3:1 ratios with roosters, you will have to consider
carefully how to deal with any roosters that you will not be keeping before you hatch.
The second consideration is that you will want to be aware that when hatching small numbers of eggs, the "usual" hatching ratio
of a 1:1 mix of males to females can be quite different from your actual results. There are no guarantees, unfortunately! For
instance, the first time one of our hatching addicts tried hatching eggs, she hatched eight roosters and one hen. That does not
make for much of a laying flock. The next time, the overall ratio for all the eggs she hatched was right on target, but the
ratios of the individual breeds she hatched was not. She desperately wanted plenty of females of one breed, but those eggs gave
her mostly males... and another breed that was the one she wanted at least one cockerel from, didn't give her a single one: she
hatched all pullets! Unfortunately, there is no way to tell an egg with a male chick inside from an egg with a female chick inside,
so what you get will be the luck of the draw. A good rule of thumb (and a corollary to Murphy's Law) is that the more you want an
egg to hatch, the less likely it is to hatch... and that the more you want it to be of one sex, the less likely it is to hatch that way.
Be Willing to Practice
Thirdly, if you are new to hatching, shipped eggs may not be the way to go. Shipped eggs are more difficult to hatch than eggs from
your own flock or eggs acquired locally. Eggs that have never shipped may hatch at about 80%, while shipped eggs may hatch at about
50%. This is just the average. If the eggs are treated very roughly during shipping, it is possible none will hatch, even when you
are doing everything right. It is usually a good idea to perfect your incubation technique first so you will know if a low hatch
problem is caused by shipping or by your technique or equipment.