We’re hatching chicken eggs! We put a batch of eggs in the incubator today. That means, Lord-willing, there should be 24 baby fuzz-butts arriving in 21 days. This will be our third hatch. Our first attempt was a total flop. Not sure what we did wrong, but it was quite disappointing. Our second attempt went much better – we hatched 17 out of 20 eggs! This time we put 24 eggs in, so hopefully we will have just as good of a hatch rate this time around.
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Hatching Chicken Eggs
So you’ve decided to try your hand at hatching chicken eggs – where to begin? Well, first of all you are going to need some fertile eggs. If you have a rooster, you’re in luck! Generally most of your eggs will be fertile. If not, then you’ll need to buy some hatching eggs. There are many sources online, or if you can find a local source, that’s even better since you won’t need to worry about damage during shipping.
Now, it’s February and I’m in Atlantic Canada, so it’s not really the easiest time to be hatching chicken eggs, but you do what you gotta do, right? I try to collect eggs several times a day so the eggs don’t get too cold when I’m getting ready to load the incubator. We collect the eggs for hatching over a 4 or 5 day period.
My incubating egg criteria:
- eggs must still be warm when they come in. Anything colder than room temperature goes in the fridge to eat.
- eggs must be clean. Our eggs are generally very clean, but you get the occasional dirty one, so those get cleaned off and go in the fridge for eating too.
- eggshells must be smooth, not cracked, not misshapen and not overly large or small.
All of my chosen eggs get stored in an egg carton at room temperature (a little on the cool side), small end down for no more than 7 days.
Prepping for Incubating Eggs
At least two days before you want to set your eggs, get your incubator ready. You need to get it up to temperature and humididty and make sure it maintains those levels constantly. The perfect temperature for hatching chicken eggs is 99.5 degrees Farenheit. Trust me, it will take you a full day of fiddling with the thermostat on the incubator to get it to stay at 99.5. Tiny fluctuations are OK, but you must make sure that the temperature stays between 99 and 100 degrees. The humidity level is a bit more forgiving during the first 17 days. I keep it around 50-55% until lockdown (more on lockdown later). My incubator, the Circulated Air Chicken, Goose Egg & More Incubator Special Combo w/ Egg Turner & Candling Light by Farm Innovations, has a thermometer and hygrometer on it, but I picked up a reptile thermometer and hygrometer at the pet store as well and keep that inside, as it is a bit more accurate. You can also find thermometers and hygrometers online. I bought this incubator because it came with everything I needed – an egg turner, a candling light and built-in thermometer and hydrometer.
If you’re looking for an incubator, these are my top recommendations:
All right! You’ve collected your eggs, and your incubator has been maintaining a constant 99.5 degree temperature and 50-55% humidity – now you’re ready to set eggs!
Setting the Eggs for Incubating
First – double-check that temperature and humidity again! Add some water, if needed. If your incubator has an automatic egg turner (I highly recommend one. I’m not diligent enough to turn my eggs 3-5 times a day every day for 3 weeks) carefully place your eggs in the turner, pointy end down. If you’re going to turn your eggs manually, mark an x on one side and an o on the other to help you keep track of turning and place your eggs in the incubator. Put the cover on, making sure it is on tight with no air leaks. Mark your starting date on the calendar, or download the nifty Hatchabatch app for your phone.
Phew! You’re done for today. Go have a glass of wine and relax! ..unless you don’t have an egg turner, in which case you’ll have to set an alarm for every few hours to turn your eggs.
Now, most people recommend candling your eggs periodically throughout the 21 days. I’m a bit lazy and I don’t usually bother with the candling. I kind of just go with the flow and whatever hatches, hatches. But if you’re keen on keeping track, by all means go for it!
It is recommended to place your incubator in a room with a fairly constant temperature, out of direct sunlight. We heat with a woodstove and do not use air conditioning, so the temperature in my house fluctuates a fair amount. I make do just fine. I check on the temperature and humidity twice a day and make minuscule adjustments as needed. Try to avoid opening the incubator or touching the eggs unless absolutely necessary.
No, we’re not going maximum security here, but your eggs are! On day 18 – stop turning your eggs and crank up the humidity to 70-75%. You can either remove the automatic turner altogether, or just unplug it. Don’t unplug the incubator itself – just the turner! I like to take the turner out completely so the chicks can move around better once they hatch, but either way is fine.
As for the humidity – my house is very dry in the winter, so I find that just filling the water tracks in the incubator doesn’t get the humidity up high enough for lock-down. I wet a sponge and put it in a little dish inside the lubricator and this allows me to get the high humidity that the eggs need. If your humidity is too low during the lockdown period, the membranes will dry out and the chicks will not be able to get out of the shells. If it’s too high (like really high – 85% and up) the chicks could drown.
Finally – Hatch Day!
On or before day 21, you should start hearing some peeps coming from the eggs and the eggs will wiggle a bit as the chicks try to get out of the shells. As much as I know you want to help – Don’t! Resist the urge to open the cover or help any chicks out of their shells until all of the chicks have hatched. Don’t worry – they are fine in there for a day or so while the others hatch. They have eaten the yolks so they are fine without food and water. If you feel you have to take the chicks out before the rest have hatched, make sure they are all completely dry before you open the cover or take them out. Move them directly to your warm brooder and dip their beaks in the water so they catch on to where to drink.
Sometimes, if your temperatures were a bit high, you may have an earlier hatch. Conversely, if they were a little low, they may be late. Don’t give up if nothing is happening on day 21. Wait it out a few days. You’ve waited 21 days – what’s a few more? The first time one of my broody Silkie hens hatched out her eggs, they were 4 days late. Have patience!
That’s it! You’re now the proud parent of a little flock of chicks!
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear your hatching stories – leave a comment below.
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