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There is no better better classroom experience than witnessing the birth of a living thing right before your and your students eyes! Every year in the spring, I hatch a half dozen to one dozen fertile chicken eggs right in my classroom. As you can imagine, the anticipation in my room grows as it gets closer and closer to hatch day.
Around day 20/21 I get so nervous and hope at least one chick will hatch. My biggest fear is having no chicks hatch and seeing disappointment in my student’s eyes. So, around these two days I watch the incubator like a hawk to see if any chicks are pipping, queue sign of relief. I’ve even thought to myself that if no chicks hatch I’ll make a quick trip to the hatchery, where I purchase the fertile chicken eggs, to buy a baby chick just to see my student’s faces light up.
During student teaching, my master teacher hatched chicks in her classroom as part of their science curriculum. Ever since then, I knew that I wanted to hatch chicks in my own classroom. The way students get so excited over a tiny animal is priceless and is a learning experience they’ll never forget. So, my first year teaching, I nervously got twelve chicken eggs from a local hatchery. I bought a bunch of chick supplies and read everything I could about hatching eggs and caring for chicks so I would be as prepared as humanly possibly for these new living beings about to be my responsibility. While I was a student teacher, we had twelve eggs and three of those eggs hatched, so my first year teaching, when I braved this adventure alone and got twelve eggs, I was hoping to have around the same number of eggs hatch. I must have gotten the healthiest of eggs because ELEVEN of those eggs hatched! I was not only surprised, but very overwhelmed as my kindergarten classroom had now become a barn. The cage I had bought was not big enough, I had to get more food for the new babies and the smell was awful! But despite having many more babies than I expected, the experience was an amazing one for my students and me and I have been hatching chicks in my classroom ever since- only I get six eggs and not twelve.
Over the years I have learned many tips and tricks in order to make this process run smoothly and I want to share them with you. This may seem like a very big responsibility when you’re trying to juggle all your different lessons and making sure students are meeting standards or getting observed and meeting with parents, but it is easier than you might think and the experience is one your students will always remember.
Hatching Chicks in the Classroom: Beginning Basics
Incubator – First and most importantly, you’ll need an incubator. You can purchase one like mine or this one, or a smaller version on Amazon to get the size and shape that you prefer. I recommend having your incubator on for a couple days before you get the eggs so you can make sure everything is working properly.
Temperature – Set your incubator to 99 – 101 degrees. Make sure your incubator stays around this temperature the entire time your eggs are inside. (If it goes slightly above or below temperature, your chicks will most likely be okay. I always have dreams the night before I get the eggs, that I turn the incubator on too high and burn my eggs – this wont happen! They’ll be just fine!)
Humidity – The humidity in the incubator is also important. I recommend getting a thermometer like this to put inside your incubator that measures the temperature and humidity. The humidity should range from 45% – 55% for majority of the time the eggs are in the incubator. During the last 2 to 3 days, humidity should be increased to 65% – 70%. You can increase the humidity in your incubator by adding water to the tray at the bottom. Add the water slowly and wait, so you don’t make it too humid.
Egg Turner – The eggs need to be turned three times a day. One way to make sure you are turning the egg is to write an ‘x’ on one side and an ‘o’ on the other. You can create a chart for a turning schedule and even get the kids involved if you are working with students you think can handle that responsibility. Since I am a kindergarten teacher and do not want my student’s
germy hands all over the eggs, I invested in an egg turner. This egg turner makes my life much easier throughout these 21 days. If you are someone who wants the luxury of not worrying about turning the eggs multiple times a day like me, I highly recommend getting one of these. If you do use an egg turner, place the eggs in the hole with the pointier side down. Also, eggs need to be taken out of the egg turner at least 3 days before their hatching due date.
If you do all of this your chicks will hatch in 21 days! (or sometimes 20 or sometimes 22)
Now, 21 days seems like a long time, but usually it flies by with all the other craziness that running a classroom entails. Here’s all you need to know about what to do with those precious babies once they hatch.
On or around day 21, you might start to notice some chirping. This is an indication that your chicks are starting to hatch! Congratulations!! This is usually the day that my students are the quietest they have ever been in their lives because they’re all trying to listen for a chirp. Once they start chirping, you’ll probably start to notice them pip. This is when they start pecking through the egg using their egg tooth. They start with a hole and then peck around in a circle until the shell cracks and they are freed. Some of the chicks hatch quickly while others hatch very slowly and you start to wonder if you were just imagining chirps in your head. Be patient. They will hatch! Just keep checking the incubator so you and your students don’t miss the amazingness of witnessing a baby chick hatch.
Once they hatch, they will be wet and very floppy. Many times I’ve gotten so worried that they are dead and I will have to tell my students the horrible news and ruin the entire experience for them. They’re not dead. They’re just very very tired.. they just worked their way into the world and need a rest.
Leave them in the incubator until they are completely dry. Yes, it is very tempting to take them out and hold the cute little ones and give them food and water or worry that the incubator is too hot for them. They will be just fine. Right before they hatch, they absorb the rest of the yolk which is providing them with nutrients and don’t need to eat or drink right away. I’ve left my just hatched chicks in the incubator for a little over 24 hours and they were fine.
Once you take them out of the incubator you will need…
Cage – I already mentioned that the first year I hatched chicks in my room, 11 of the 12 eggs hatched. I had already bought a cage like this and then realized they would not last very long in this small of a cage so I bought a cage like this. Depending on how big your classroom is and how many chicks you hatch will depend on what kind of cage you get. I bought both of mine through Amazon, so check there for what fits your needs.
Line your cage with pine shavings like these. This is better than using newspaper, as newspaper can make it hard for them to walk around.
Food and Water – I am
lazy efficient and order basically everything on Amazon. I’ve gotten many different kinds of food for chicks and each one seemed to work and the chicks were happy. There is much debate about using medicated or non-medicated chick feed. You can read more about that here. Personally, I use medicated chick feed. And, I put their food and water in containers like this (also an amazon find!)
*Tip! – they kick the pine shavings in the food and water and it makes it hard for them to eat and drink so I flip little buckets upside down and put the food and water containers on top of them and use them like a table so the containers are elevated from the pine shavings. I also have used pipe cleaners to hang the food container from the top of the cage.
It is also important to help your chick find where the food and water is in the cage. Once you have transported them from the incubator to their cage, take them to the water dish and dunk their beak in. Chicks need to be taught how to drink.
Heat Lamp – These babies have been so warm in your incubator since day one so in order to keep them nice and toasty, you will need a heat lamp. Find a safe place to attach your heat lamp and make sure to tell your students not to touch it!
*Tip – if you notice the chicks huddle up on the side where the heat lamp is, it may be because they are cold and want to get closer to the heat. If this happens move the lamp closer. The opposite can also happen. If they are staying on the side of the cage to get far away from the heat, move the heat lamp away.
The Number 1 tip in order to make your chick experience run smoothly:
If you are not planning on adopting your chicks, arrange for someone to take them BEFORE you even get your eggs.
My first year, when the 11 chicks hatched, I had not arranged for someone to take them. They grew very quickly, got very messy and smelly and were an overall huge responsibility. It was getting closer and closer to summer break and I was nervous that I wouldn’t have anywhere for these chickens to go (I live in an apartment building so they could not come home with me.) That year, I taught summer school and was desperately asking around. Eventually, a student who took summer school, had a family friend who had a farm and could take more chickens. After that experience, I vowed never to get eggs again without having a home for them. I have even gone as far as telling the kinder families in my classroom at Back to School Night in September about our future hatching experience in April and to start thinking about if they want or know of anyone who wants to raise chickens. Don’t make the same mistake I did my first year!
This process is so rich with information and students learn so much throughout this experience. Here are a few links to resources I have collected over the years hatching chicks in my classroom.
Embryo growth by the day – This website explains what is happening inside the egg every day throughout the 21 days. I also created a chart of a picture of the egg and what the embryo looks like inside. I show the picture and read the information about what is growing in the egg every day and we add it to our countdown. (I’m working on getting a chart like mine up on TpT.)
I use various activities from this resource on TpT – My favorite is the “How A Chick Hatches” mini book.
I also use activities from this activity on TpT – There is so much information in this resource! I even printed out the pages, laminated them and turned it into a book.
This amazing freebie is what I use when we discuss the lifecycle of a chicken. My kids love completing this art extension once we learn the lifecycle.
I also love to close out this unit with an art project I found on Pinterest. We use this fork painting technique and I let my students use scrap paper to create a background for their chick. Art projects where students can be creative and do their own thing are my favorite!
Do you feel like you have the confidence to hatch chicks in your classroom? Here are all the tools, tips and tricks to make this egg-citing experience run smoothly. Any other teacher chick hatchers out there who would add tips or information to this list? Comment below.