Springtime is always a bit magical. Little, wrinkled brown seeds sprouting into beautiful flowers. Fresh smells in the air. And those wee, fluffy baby chicks.
Seeing an egg hatch is a magical experience. Remember incubating eggs for a class project? And with the popularity of backyard chickens and urban farming, incubating chicken eggs has grown well beyond schoolroom science projects. You may right now be considering hatching chicks for a hobby, food, breeding fancy birds, pets or school.
As springtime approaches once again, then, here is a quick guide on how to successfully hatch eggs with incubators.
Start with good eggs. You may purchase eggs directly from a hatchery or you may gather fertile eggs from your own flock. You may hear the term “percent fertility”. Percent fertility refers to the percentage of all eggs produced that are fertile. (Side note: The term “percent hatchability”, on the other hand, refers to the percentage of fertile eggs that hatch out.)
Your eggs should come from healthy, well-fed chickens with a high fertility percentage. There are commercially available breeder feeds.
It is also important that the hen’s nests be kept fresh. Cleanliness is necessary for healthy eggs and chicks. Gather the eggs often. If necessary, clean them with a dry or damp cloth. Do not wash the eggs or allow them to soak in water, however. If you are using a damp cloth to wipe them down, make certain that the water temperature is warmer than the eggs and that they are thoroughly dried.
You may store eggs in a cool, damp dark room for about 10 days before incubating them. The temperature must be 50° to 60° F, and the relative humidity should be about 70-75%. They’ll need to be kept slanted at about 30-45 degrees, with the small end down, and turned twice daily. Try propping up one side of your egg tray with a 2×4 in the morning and other side at night. Before eggs are set in the incubator, warm them to room temperature.
Once you are ready with your eggs, you will need to have an incubator. A setting hen has always worked nicely for hatching eggs, and she will do all of the work for you. If you do not have a convenient hen to do the job, however, you will need to choose an artificial incubator. Incubators come in two types: forced air and still air. Most incubators on the market today are of the forced air type, which have fans to circulate the air around the eggs. They require considerably less work than the still air types.
Successfully incubating eggs depends on: temperature, humidity, ventilation, & turning.
Turning: The incubator may make use of an automatic turner; otherwise you will have to turn the eggs by hand several times each day.
Temperature: In order to maintain constant temperatures, place your incubator in an area free of drafts or heat sources (such as direct sunlight or heating vents). Follow the manufacturers instructions for setting up your incubator. In general, forced air incubators should be kept around 99-100° F. Run the incubator for a day to bring it up to the required temperature before adding eggs. Eggs will take time to reach incubator temperature and may temporarily bring down the incubator’s temperature readings; do not raise the temperature in order to heat them faster or you may cook your eggs.
Humidity and Ventilation: Both are extremely important for successful hatching. Again, check the manufacturer’s instructions for the best humidity readings. In general, relative humidity should be about 60%, increasing to 65-70% in the last few days before hatching. If you need to add water, try to warm it to about the same temperature as the incubator first. Make certain that ventilation holes are unobstructed.
Now wait. Candling your eggs is an excellent way to monitor their development–and it is great fun for both children and adults!
Chicks will usually hatch by day 21. They should hatch within roughly 24 hours of each other. Do not open the incubator or try to assist the hatching chicks; you may end up hurting them. Also, you want to maintain the high humidity levels in the incubator during hatching. The chicks will need time to dry after hatching, at least 6 to 12 hours. Baby chicks do not need food or water for 24 hours after hatching, so there is no rush.
After they have dried and fluffed–baby chicks are so very fluffy!–remove them.
Now, have you ever spent all day fixing a big, fancy meal, and now you just want to go rest for the evening…but you had to put away the leftover food and clean the dishes before it all went bad and dried up? Well, you may want to go play with your new baby chicks, but first you must clean and sterilize your incubator before the hatching mess dries up. Good.
Now go play!