I am a novice and want to rear some chicks. We have a cockerel and eight hens. I have seen an incubator advertised, but how do I know which of the eggs we get from our birds are fertile and so could be incubated?

Andy Cawthray replies:

Unfortunately, there are no fail safe methods of knowing which eggs are fertile and which are not without either breaking them open or initiating the incubation process. You can, however, improve your chances of setting fertile eggs by

observing the flock.

You will need to establish if the cockerel is treading the hens as hens will lay eggs regardless of the attentions, or presence of a cockerel. Treading is when the cockerel mounts the hen in order to mate with her which requires him to balance on her back (giving the impression of ‘treading’). If you haven’t actually witnessed any treading then look for hens with muddied feathers on her back – this is usually a tell-tale sign that the cockerel has been at work. This doesn’t guarantee fertilisation occurred, but it does demonstrate that breeding activity is taking place.

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