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Life cycle studies are always fun and make a greater impact on your students’ memory when live organisms are involved. Carolina offers 4 living options for studying the avian life cycle—button and Coturnix quail, chickens, and ducks. These birds are easy and fun to raise in the classroom. We’ve put together this quick guide to prepare you with the information you need to start your first brood and to show you where to learn more.

First things

Before committing to raising birds in your classroom, check with your supervisor. Your school or district may not allow live animals in the classroom. If it’s OK to raise birds in your classroom, you’ll need to plan for their care, which includes daily tasks such as replenishing water and food and cleaning the enclosure. Students can assist you during the week, but you’ll have to make other arrangements for the weekends and holidays. Eventually, the chicks will need permanent homes. Try to have homes lined up for them before the need is urgent.

Gather your materials

At a minimum you’ll need an incubator, brooder, feeder, water fountain, food, and chick enclosure. If you already have an incubator, check to ensure that it’s working properly. Incubators should be placed in an area that is free of drafts or constant temperature changes. Make sure such a space available in your classroom. Also, check your brooder setup. A brooder can be constructed from simple items like a ceramic-based clamp lamp and an infrared heat bulb. If you’re not up to doing it yourself, check out the Chicken and Quail Brooder.

Carolina has an incubator for nearly every classroom budget. While many of them can accommodate a variety of bird species, they are most commonly used for chicken eggs. See the following list for a summary of our offerings.

  • The R-Com Mini Digital Incubator provides simple, microprocessor-controlled operation at the touch of a button. It accommodates 3 chicken or duck eggs, or 7 quail eggs. The included egg insert is for 3 eggs.
  • The Still-Air Picture Window Incubator Set has a clear plastic lid that allows you to watch the eggs as they hatch. The Turbofan provides warm-air circulation and the Automatic Egg Turner turns the eggs for proper development. This model can hold 42 chicken eggs, and 6 extra racks are included for holding 120 quail eggs.
  • The Turn-X Egg Incubator is a round, see-through incubator that provides warm-air circulation, automatic egg turning, and automatic temperature and humidity control. This incubator can hold up to 18 chicken or duck eggs.

Choose your bird

After you have cleared everything with your school and have obtained all the necessary supplies, the next step is to choose the bird you want to raise. Once you choose the bird, do some research to prepare yourself and your students to care for it throughout its life cycle. Be thoroughly aware of incubation time and temperature and humidity requirements for the incubation and hatching process. Carolina, your local library, and the Internet are valuable resources for egg and hatchling care information.

Carolina offers 4 different species of fertile bird eggs—button and Coturnix quail, chicken, and duck. Below is a table with incubation times, egg color, and appearance of hatchlings.

Bird Incubation Egg Color Appearance of Hatchling
Button Quail 16 days Pale brown, to pale blue-green with small brown specks Size of a large bumblebee, pale yellow, very fast and active
Coturnix Quail 16 to 17 days White eggs mottled with brown spots Yellow chick with dark brown stripes going from head to tail
Chicken 21 days Brown Larger than Coturnix quail, bright yellow
Mallard Duck 25 to 28 days Large like chicken egg, pale green Slightly larger than chicken, brown back and head with dusky yellow underbelly, dark brown webbed feet and bill

After the hatch

After the chicks hatch, it’s important to maintain them in a brooder for up to 6 weeks. New hatchlings cannot effectively maintain their body heat and need the assistance of a brooder lamp or heater to stay warm. Set up the brooder and turn on the lamp or heater several days before the eggs are due to hatch. Monitor the temperature to ensure that it consistently stays within specification.

Hatchlings require daily care and attention, including clean water, fresh food, and clean bedding material. The space for the new hatchlings should be lined with nonslip material to prevent the chicks from losing footing and becoming splay or spraddle legged. Nonslip shelf liner is a good choice for this purpose.

It can be cut to the size of your brooder, and easily cleaned each day with 1 gal of hot water mixed with 30 mL of bleach. The liner dries overnight at room temperature and can be used over and over again. Having several pieces of shelf liner to rotate in and out of the enclosure ensures the hatchlings will always have a clean place to live. Place newspaper underneath the shelf liner as an absorbent layer.

Keep it clean

Cleanliness is important! Handling of eggs and chicks should be kept to a minimum. Always wash hands before and after handling eggs or chicks. Chicks should be handled using both hands, carefully picking up the chick with one hand while keeping the other underneath for support. The chick will peep and squirm, so a firm, yet very gentle, grip is necessary.

From fertile eggs to...

If you’re ready to raise live birds in your classroom, we offer everything you need for success, from fertile eggs to incubators to hatchling care equipment. Take a few minutes to explore the following links, which offer more information and products for you to consider—and good luck with your first brood of chicks!