I have learned a lot about the process of incubation and hatching. As someone who has hatched dozens of chicken eggs, I can attest to the importance of proper incubation and hatching techniques. One time, I made the mistake of not properly monitoring the temperature in my incubator and ended up with a low hatch rate. On another occasion, I didn’t increase the humidity during lockdown, and the chicks had a difficult time hatching.
In this article, I’ll share my tips and experiences to help you successfully incubate and hatch chicken eggs.
Getting Started with Incubation
Before you start incubating eggs, there are a few things you’ll need to do.
Choose Your Incubator
There are two main types of incubators: still-air and forced-air. Still-air incubators are simpler and cheaper but require more attention to temperature and humidity. Forced-air incubators have fans to circulate the air and maintain a more consistent temperature and humidity.
I use a forced-air incubator, which has been more reliable for me. However, if you’re on a tight budget or prefer a simpler setup, a still-air incubator can work just fine.
Gather Your Supplies
In addition to your incubator, you’ll need a few other supplies:
- Fertile chicken eggs: Make sure to get them from a reputable source and store them properly before incubation.
- Egg turner: This is optional but makes the incubation process much easier and more consistent.
- Thermometer and hygrometer: You’ll need to monitor the temperature and humidity inside the incubator.
- Water container: This will provide humidity in the incubator.
- Egg candler: This is optional but helpful for checking the progress of the embryos.
Now that you have your supplies, here are some tips for incubating your eggs:
Set the Right Temperature and Humidity
The ideal temperature for incubating chicken eggs is around 99.5°F (37.5°C), with a humidity level of around 50-55%. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific incubator and adjust as needed based on your local climate.
Use an Egg Turner
If you have an egg-turner, use it! This will help ensure that the embryos develop evenly and reduce the risk of deformities. If you don’t have an egg turner, you’ll need to turn the eggs by hand at least three times a day.
Check the Eggs Regularly
It’s important to check the eggs regularly throughout the incubation process. Use an egg candler to check the progress of the embryos and make sure they are developing properly. You should see veins and movement inside the egg by day seven or eight.
Keep the Incubator Clean
Clean the incubator regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria and mold. Remove any dirty bedding or eggshells and wipe down the incubator with a disinfectant.
Don’t Give Up Too Soon
Sometimes it can take a little longer for the eggs to hatch than the usual 21-day incubation period. Give the eggs a few extra days before assuming they’re not going to hatch. In my experience, some eggs have hatched as late as day 24 or 25!
Once your eggs start to hatch, there are a few things you can do to help the process along.
Don’t Help the Chicks Hatch
It can be tempting to help the chicks hatch, but it’s important to resist the urge. The chicks need to hatch on their own to develop properly and build strength. If you help them, you could do more harm than good.
Keep the Incubator Closed
Once the chicks start hatching, it’s important to keep the incubator closed as much as possible to maintain the temperature and humidity.
Candling is the process of shining a bright light through the egg to determine if the egg is fertilized and if the embryo is developing. Candling should be done around day 7 and again around day 14 of incubation. You can purchase a candling device or make your own with a bright flashlight. Candling is important because it can help you identify any eggs that are not developing, so you can remove them from the incubator.
Around day 18, it’s time for lockdown. Lockdown is the time when you stop turning the eggs and increase the humidity in the incubator. Lockdown is important because it helps the chicks to position themselves properly for hatching and it prevents the membranes from drying out.
Hatching can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. The chick will begin to pip (break the shell) and then zip (break around the entire shell) before emerging from the egg. Once the chick has hatched, leave it in the incubator for a few hours to dry off before moving it to a brooder.
From Egg to Chick: The Incubation Journey.
Day 1-7: During the first week, the incubator should be kept at a temperature of 99.5°F to 100.5°F (37.5°C to 38.1°C) and a humidity level of 50-55%. This is a critical time for the development of the embryo, and it’s important to maintain stable temperature and humidity levels.
Day 8-14: During the second week, the temperature should be maintained at the same range as the first week. The humidity should be raised to 60-65%. During this time, the embryo is developing rapidly, and the chick’s major organs are forming.
Day 15-18: During the third week, the temperature should be maintained at the same range as the previous two weeks. The humidity should be raised to 70-75%. This is the time when the chick starts to move into position for hatching, and it’s important to maintain high humidity to prevent the membranes from drying out and sticking to the chick.
Day 19-21: During the final three days, the temperature should be maintained at the same range, but the humidity should be raised to 80-85%. The chick will start to pip, which is the process of breaking through the eggshell. It’s important to maintain high humidity levels to prevent the chick from becoming dehydrated during this time.
Day 22-23: During these final two days, the temperature and humidity should remain the same. The chick will continue to pip and eventually hatch. It’s important to resist the temptation to help the chick out of the egg, as this can cause more harm than good. Allow the chick to hatch naturally, and it will be stronger and healthier as a result.
It’s important to note that the exact temperature and humidity levels may vary slightly depending on the type of incubator and the specific needs of the chicken breed you are incubating. It’s always a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and do your research on the specific requirements of your chosen breed.
Q: How long does it take for chicken eggs to hatch? A: Chicken eggs typically take 21 days to hatch, but this can vary by a day or two.
Q: Can you incubate eggs from different types of chickens together? A: Yes, you can incubate eggs from different types of chickens together, but keep in mind that different breeds have different incubation requirements.
Q: Do I need to turn the eggs every day? A: Yes, it’s important to turn the eggs at least three times a day during incubation.
Q: Can I use a still-air incubator? A: Yes, you can use a still-air incubator, but it’s important to monitor the temperature closely and adjust it as needed.
Q: Can I hatch eggs without an incubator? A: It’s possible to hatch eggs without an incubator, but it can be challenging and requires careful temperature and humidity control.
Q: Can I open the incubator during incubation? A: It’s best to avoid opening the incubator during incubation, as this can cause fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
Q: How do I clean the incubator after hatching? A: After hatching, clean the incubator thoroughly with warm soapy water and disinfect it with a poultry-safe disinfectant.
Q: How do I dispose of unhatched eggs? A: Unhatched eggs can be disposed of by burying them or feeding them to animals.
Q: How do I know if an egg is fertile? A: Candling the egg around day 7 can help you determine if the egg is fertilized.
Q: Can I incubate eggs that are more than a week old? A: It’s best to incubate eggs that are no more than a week old, as the longer an egg sits, the lower the hatch rate becomes.
Incubating and hatching chicken eggs can be a fun and rewarding experience for any backyard chicken keeper. By following the tips and guidelines discussed in this article, you can increase your chances of a successful hatch and raise healthy chicks. Remember to pay attention to the temperature, humidity, and ventilation in your incubator, and don’t be afraid to adjust these factors as needed. With practice and patience, you can become more confident and successful in your incubation endeavors.