Introduction.....     L.E.Dahl     2013

Raising birds as a hobby has become widespread in North America.

Watch this video of a developing chick in the egg. Copy and paste.


I would like to share some of the questions that are placed on my desk concerning feed for various birds. Most questions are asked due to the high cost of feed; some are related to, what is in purchased feed. That is a good question. Others are from those wanting to raise birds on organic feed.  Most are from beginners.

To them, I dedicate this article.

In the past 45 years, I have raised and hatched waterfowl, pheasants, chickens, quail, doves, peafowl, and partridges.  In the old days we had simple incubators and equipment that required constant attention.  Now it is very easy to manage all aspects of rearing birds, but still requires lots of time and labor to do a good job.



1.         HISTORY



4.         SHELTERS & PENS

5.         FEEDING        



8.         HATCHING     

9.         NOTES



1.       History

Consider this point before we start. Birds were wild at one time. If so, how did they survive? Common sense tells us that they had to find feed and needed shelter. Feed to live on and shelter to face the elements such as weather, and predators.

When we make them captive they are subject to our ways of providing all needs for them. They no longer survive on their own but depend on us as keepers.

2.       Natural Environment

Observation:  Birds of many species surround us. It is a full time hobby for many people to study and photograph them. All people captivating birds should spend time observing birds in natural settings. We learn about the needs of birds, and the impact of man on the bird's environment. It has been deadly in too many instances. There are numerous reports available on the internet about birds. So what we must do is offer the best or closest resemblance of a natural habitat when we captivate them.. It will never be the same for the bird; however many of us old timers have birds that have lived much longer than the natural life, remaining healthy due to good management.

3.       Captivated Environment

Birds in the wild do not live in a closed environment in large numbers. They have a keen awareness coming from within that spreads them out in smaller numbers. Could this have some impact on health and disease?  YES.

4.       Shelter & Pens

1.       Do not crowd the birds.

2.       They need a shelter that fits the environment you live in.

3.       They need room outside a building for exercise and lying in the sun.

4.       Pens should be predator proof because the bird does not have a way to escape.

5.       Cleanliness is your job, do it well.

6.       Disease spreads easy, so quarantine new birds away from others.

7.       Do not allow people who trod where birds are penned, to enter your pens.

8.       If you live in a cold climate electricity is a must.

9.       Ventilation in a small area is a must to prevent respiratory disease.

NOTE   There are many plans available for shelters for all species on the web.

My experience taught me some key things.  Skunks, Racoons, Fox, Coyote, Mink, Weasel and bears have claws that do a quick entry under your fences and building.

I found that stucco wire 24 inches wide placed flat down around the area you protect, and fastened by staples, hog clips, or wire to the bottom of the area you want to secure works well. I use only poly netting for the top.  If you have snow in winter use 2 inch netting. The snow can bring it down.

5.       Feeding

Feed requirements for bird's starts with Natural Feed.

Most will feed on insect's big time.  Here they get good protein. ( # 1 )

They all like seeds and greenery that provides most other vitamins.

They have to have grit that enters the digestive system (Gizzard) to digest the feed.

And of course water. Clean water.

I want to say this from my experiences over the past 75 years. We always had birds on our farms for food and market. Our birds were valuable in the early days and cared for well. There were very few outlets for poultry feed so we made our own from grain grown on our land. We milled grain (Wheat, Oats, Barley) mixed even. It was dry and finely milled. Then we milked cows for cream, so the separated milk was mixed into the poultry feed and fed wet twice a day.  What frenzy. We never had a problem with health and got fantastic growth and profit.

What happened?   We lost the market for dairy products as it was passed to large dairy farms. This was the beginning of mixed farming choices in Canada. Then we lost the sale of poultry products to large poultry farms where disease has struck and came close to wiping poultry from the shelf.  (The same has happened with beef.)


6.       Purchasing Feed

Common feed additives used in poultry diets include grain, antimicrobials, antioxidants, emulsifiers, binders, pH control agents and enzymes. Sometimes diets will also contain other additives used in diets for humans and pets such as flavor enhancers, artificial and nutritive sweeteners, colors, lubricants, etc. Within each one of these classes of additives there can be dozens of specific additives manufactured and distributed by a wide variety of companies. Again, all ingredients and additives must be noted on the label.   Poultry feed is fast becoming expensive to where one has to ask this;  Does it make sense to pay so much for something I do not need or want?

7.       Make my Own

Yes, make your own......

HOW?   The following is what I did, and do at present.

I have told you what we did in the 1950 era.  When we lost the milk it was the general practice to purchase blended poultry feed for some years. However talk about chemical additives and unwanted residues forced us back into grinding our own.

We found that fine particles like dust were not interesting to the birds so we purchased a small pellet mill. These days we mix grains, peas, corn cobs, and second cut alfalfa that had been hammered fine.

Now we have improved.  We add vegetable oil as it does not take much, and also powdered milk.  I have not checked calf starter but it may be acceptable or cheaper.

 The pellet mills are fast becoming popular as feed costs are high enough, that you cannot afford waste. A pellet mill offers a fast return.  Remember this that farmers get docked for wild oats, pay the shipping to port, and get no return. Wild oats have great protein along with screenings from grain cleaning plants. Most of our dog and cat food is made from screenings. That is why you pay such a huge price for these products. (Waste my Eye).  Talk to a farmer for rough grain purchases.

8.       HATCHING

           Follow the instructions in the incubator manual

Very Important.      Hatchability starts here.

1.       Keep everything clean.

2.       Gather and store hatching eggs twice daily.     

3.       Store in refrigerator at 16-18 c.  Place a thermometer in a

          refrigerator prior to collecting and regulate it.

4.       Storing longer than 8 days will affect fertility.

5.       Place eggs in containers and turn them from side to side daily.

          This prevents the embryos from sticking to the shells.

          Mother hen does this many times a day.  Now set your eggs.

6.       Do not open and close the door too often, but just when you need to fill the

          water tray or manage the eggs. Our new models have fast recovery so this is not such

          an issue as in past years.

7.       Remember to store and set eggs with the pointed side down as the air sac is then on

           the upper side.  (Important). Our new models have rollers so the eggs lay flat like

           under a hen.

8.       Candle your eggs at seven (7) days to pick out infertile eggs.

          A great Candler is the simple infra flashlight now available. Glue a cardboard tube

          an inch long on the lens.

          You can scan across the trays once in a while and watch in amazement as life begins,

          and continues to emergence.    

9.       Record the date that you set, and stop turning three days prior to hatch

          time. If your hatch is early or late you will need to make some adjustment to the

          temperature for the next hatch.  Early is to hot and late is to cold.

10.     The temperature in our incubators are factory set so be sure to set them.



There is a fairly easy and reliable way of measuring relative humidity (RH) indirectly and directly measuring the effect that RH level has on the egg. This is by weighing the eggs to monitor their water loss over the incubation period. Most species of bird (with the exception of the ostrich family) need to lose between 13 and 15% of their weight from the time of setting the eggs in an incubator to hatching. By measuring the weights of the eggs at intervals during incubation, you take the average weights and compare them to the expected weights needed to achieve the ideal weight loss by hatching time. You will know when the rate of water loss is too great due to humidity being too low and vice versa.
In practice this means drawing a graph (see below) with incubation time in days along the x-axis and weight up the y-axis. The average weight of eggs when set (day 0) can be entered and the ideal hatching weight (average day 0 weight less 14%) can be plotted on the day the hatch is due. These two points are then joined to give the ideal weight loss line. Average weights can then be taken every three or four days and plotted on the graph. If the actual average weights are lower than the ideal then humidity levels need to be increased and vice versa. Thus any deviation from the ideal weight loss line can be corrected as incubation progresses. The important point is to reach the ideal weight loss by
hatching day; some deviation from the ideal weight loss line earlier in incubation will have little adverse effect. 








The graph above shows the average actual weights of incubating eggs against the ideal weight loss line - Note that the greater than ideal weight loss in the earlier stages of incubation has been corrected by hatching day.

The combination of monitoring egg weight loss and precise control of humidity with the Automatic Humidity Management Module (see below) is the ultimate solution of ensuring correct incubation humidity.

Altering incubation humidity levels

All incubators should have the facility to evaporate water inside the egg chamber and thereby influence humidity levels. Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions. The important point is that two controllable factors influence humidity levels: water surface area and the amount of fresh air the incubator draws in.


 Remember that it is the total surface area of water that matters not the depth. So to increase humidity levels fill the second vessel (or if both are dry, fill one) and reduce ventilation by either adjusting the control or blocking up to half of the ventilation holes. Some ventilation must be maintained to allow the chicks to breath. Refer to the operator instructions for your model. In exceptional circumstances it may be necessary to further increase the surface area of evaporation by using evaporating pads or blotting paper to soak water from the vessels in the incubator. Do not spray the eggs with water - the increase in humidity is very short lived and bacteria may be spread.
A third factor does affect incubation humidity levels and this is the ambient (or environmental) humidity level. Clearly if the air being drawn into the incubator contains very little water then incubation humidity levels will be lower (all else being equal) than if outside air is very humid. As explained above cold air cannot contain much water vapour so when cold winter air is warmed temperature the RH level will be very low (remember the sponge!). This happens in heated houses in winter and in incubators. The result is that, in general, humidity levels will tend to be lower in your incubator in winter than in summer and so water evaporation and ventilation levels should be adjusted with this in mind. Because eggs are particularly sensitive to excess incubation humidity the most common mistake associated with incubation is to use the same regime of water and ventilation in the summer that was successful in the winter. In warm summers it may be possible to add no additional water to the incubator until hatching time because the combination of warm, damp ambient air plus the water given off by the eggs themselves gives sufficient RH levels.

There is no evidence of any change in ambient humidity levels associated with global temperature change as a result of the Greenhouse Effect. Small climatic temperature changes are insignificant when compared to seasonal variations and so although it may be fashionable; there is no justification in blaming a poor hatch on global warming.

Humidity and Hatching

The humidity levels required as the chick emerges are different from those earlier in incubation. For the last day or so of incubation humidity levels need to be much higher than earlier on. By this stage the weight loss of the egg should be 13-15% and water loss for the last 24-48 hours will not significantly affect this. The high humidity levels are required to prevent the membranes of egg drying too fast as the chick hatches and becoming tough and difficult to tear. In natural incubation the membranes cannot dry quickly because the parent bird is sitting on the egg but in an incubator drying membranes can be a problem. The actual level of humidity is not too critical for hatching but needs to be at least 60% RH. Humidity levels drop rapidly when the incubator is opened and take much longer than temperature levels to re-establish. Try to avoid the temptation of opening the incubator too often when chicks are emerging to maintain high RH levels.


Automatic Humidity Management

Our SVENZUN cabinet models have an accurate and constant readout of humidity (expressed in %RH), as a heating element is placed in the water tray that controls the humidity in the incubator.  (Warmer water higher humidity) to the operators set choice.  The system is constantly monitoring the incubation humidity level, external effects, such as seasonal ambient humidity variations, are compensated for and the incubation humidity level remains constant. For hatching, the user simply has to increase the setting on the module and the new setting will automatically be maintained. This humidity system overcomes problems of wicks drying and becoming contaminated sometimes associated with wet bulb thermometers and provides the ultimate in refinement of humidity control.




The R-Com incubators have a very unique humidity control system and we are proud of this brand of incubator.  We encourage you to check into them and you will have a very good top of the line incubator available to you.




There are very few owners of the Brinsea models that are not satisfied with this product.


Like the R-Com they are the top of the pile when we talk incubators.  They as well have a unique humidity control system.


I appreciate hearing from you and encourage all feedback.


This is the way we will all grow in knowledge and have good results in our endeavor to raise birds.



I started this web site to help cut costs for poultry equipment, and especially work with beginning birders.  I will be listing equipment that will be direct from the factory to Canada.  The price will be good. We keep parts and full support or money back out front.  Our new Svenzun incubators will be out in 2014. They will have new technology germicidal UV protection when incubating, all aluminum interior, and big time hatching capabilities.