One of my first responsibilities as a child was to take care of the chickens. It was my job to feed, muck out the hen house (thankfully Dad did that most of the time) keep a record of expenses and sales to determine a profit. It was one of the best life lessons I was ever taught. Keeping a few chickens for fresh eggs was much more common during the 19th Century than it is today. The tidbits below might help you when your characters have this responsibility, or better yet, the responsibility is thrust upon them and they don't have a clue what to do. Enjoy!
Keeping and Hatching the Eggs.
THE eggs should be kept in a cool, dry room in tin boxes to prevent the ravages of rats and mice. They are most safely stored in a dry cellar, where the temperature rarely sinks below the freezing point, and they should be occasionally looked at to make sure that they are not affected by mold. If, at any time, mold be perceived upon them it should be at once rubbed or brushed off, and the atmosphere made drier. If the tin boxes be perforated on two sides and the perforations covered with fine wire gauze, the chances of injury will be reduced to a minimum. The eggs may also, whether on cards or loose, be tied up in small bags and hung to the ceiling of the cold room. The string of the bag should be passed through a bottle neck, or piece of tin, to prevent injury from rats or mice. The temperature should never be allowed to rise above 40° Fahr., but may be allowed to sink below freezing point without injury.
Hatching-They should be kept at a low temperature until the mulberry leaves are well started in the spring, and great care must be taken as the weather grows warmer to prevent hatching before their food is ready for them,'since both the Mulberry and Osage Orange are rather late in leafing out. One great object should be, in fact, to have them all kept back, as the tendency in our climate is to premature hatching. Another object should be to have them hatch uniformly, and this is best attained by keeping together those laid at one and the same time, and by wintering them as already recommended, in cellars that are cool enough to prevent any embryonic development. They should then, as soon as the leaves of the food plant have commenced to put forth, be placed in trays and brought into a well-aired room where the temperature averages about 75° Fahr.
Heat and Moisture-The heat of the room may be increased about two degrees each day, and if the eggs have been well kept back during the winter, they will begin to hatch under such treatment on the fifth or sixth day. By no means must the eggs be exposed to the sun’s rays, which would kill them in a very short time. As the time of hatching approaches, the eggs grow lighter in color, and then the atmosphere must be kept moist artificially by sprinkling the floor, or otherwise, in order to enable the worms to eat through the egg-shell more easily. They also appear fresher and more vigorous with due amount of moisture.
Ventilation.-The building in which rearing is to be done should be so arranged that it can be thoroughly and easily ventilated, and warmed if desirable. A northeast exposure is the best, and buildings erected for the express purpose should, of course, combine these requisites.
Source: Home and Farm Manual ©1884