While it would be nice to just let nature takes its course in the matter of a fresh supply of chickens for eggs and meat, the reality of the situation is that nature tends to be either too skimpy or way over the top in terms of results.
One year I had six hens trying to set by this time of year. Not only did they quit laying, they fought over the nests (despite having more nest boxes than chickens) and broke a bunch of eggs. Of the few eggs that did hatch, the granddaughters’ new cat ate all but two. Most domestic cats, in my experience, could care less about baby chicks, but this cat is a major hunter and declared open season. So far this year, nobody in the flock has expressed an interest in the baby chicken business.
Having previous experience with the vagaries of naturally-raised chickens, I have always raised some with an incubator. Unfortunately, the incubator went on the fritz and cooked the eggs, which made the pigs happy, since they got the hard-cooked leavings. However, I was still left with too few chickens. To add insult to injury, the adult chickens came down with some sort of fast-moving, lethal virus. I lost half the flock in a four-day period. I decided not to add new baby chicks into the mix and put the incubator away for the year. I felt it made more sense to try to raise chickens from the hens that had survived the outbreak, as they would be more likely to pass on their immunity, rather than bring in outside birds that had been commercially raised.
Last year I dug out the incubator, set it up and spent almost a week trying to get it to heat properly. We bought a new wafer and thermostat, installed them, tested them, and still couldn’t get the blasted thing to regulate properly. I managed to cook another batch of eggs (happy pigs!). Finally I admitted defeat and bought a new incubator. Then I screwed up one whole batch of eggs by not following directions (my own darn fault — not all incubators are created equal and I set it too high). So, long story short, I finally have the incubator going.
This year’s chicks will be an interesting mix. We have one Australorp rooster in with Australorp hens and one Buff Cornish hen. In a separate pen we have a Buff Cornish/Delaware rooster in with Barred Rock hens and one Delaware/Australorp cross hen. From an egg-laying standpoint, if I wanted maximum production, I would probably go with straight Australorps. The Delawares are primarily a meat bird, although they lay well enough – and some will lay as much as the Australorps. The Cornish is a straight meat bird and not a very good layer, producing about half as many eggs as the other two breeds. However, a mixed flock offers plenty of eggs and the genetic diversity increases the odds of disease resistance.
Hatching expected Easter weekend.