Bringing your very own chicks into this world can be fun and exciting, but also incredibly nerve-wracking. It’s very important to do as much research as possible before hatching chicks, whether you’re using a broody hen or an incubator.
The very first step in that research is to understand the basics of hatching chicks. Once you know the process, you will be able to make choices about which type of incubator you want, where to find the most viable eggs, and how to handle when things go wrong.
To help you out, we’ve gathered the basics for you, so dive in and begin your journey here.
Preparing the Eggs for Incubation
There are two ways to get fertile eggs, take them from your existing flock, or purchase them.
If you have a flock with a rooster, the majority of the eggs will be fertile. Pick eggs that are not damaged, clean, of normal size, and well-formed.
If you don’t own a flock of your own, you can purchase some fertilized eggs from a local flock, hatchery, or online from sites like Ebay. To lower the risk of disease, make sure they have a National Poultry Improvement Plan certification.
Note: Eggs you buy in the grocery store are NOT fertilized, so they will not hatch.
If you order eggs that have to be mailed or delivered to you, note that this dramatically reduces the 75-90% hatching rate that you get from taking the eggs directly from the flock to your incubator.
When handling the eggs, use clean hands and move with no sudden movements.
Do not wash the eggs as there is a protective coating on the shell that aids in hatching.
If you are not quite ready to put them in the incubator, you can store them in an egg carton with the larger side of the egg pointing up in the carton. Place in a room that is 50 to 60 degrees and has 75 percent humidity. They will be viable for up to ten days.
It is not recommended to hatch several species at the same time in an incubator. Each species requires different temperatures, humidity, and turning, so it is best to do just one at a time.
Choosing an Incubator
Picking which type of incubator is a vital decision in the process. There are several types of incubators from a homemade one made out of Styrofoam cooler, heat lamp, and sponge for humidity to industrial incubators that do it all.
We recommend getting an incubator that automatically controls temperature, humidity, and turning the eggs. It will make your life much easier.
The one we like best is the Brinsea Maxi II Advance. This incubator is fully automatic, dependable, and has a great view for you to watch those adorable chicks hatch!
Preparing the Incubator:
Wash the incubator with ten percent bleach to water solution, then a warm soapy solution, and finally, a rinse of clean, warm water to sterilize.
Once it’s thoroughly dry, place it in a spot where the temperature is constant, and there are no drafts.
Fill the water vessels in the incubator 24 hours before setting eggs. Use an additional thermometer in the incubator in case the incubator’s thermostat is not correct. Even a degree of difference either way can cause low rates of hatching.
Set the temp
The perfect temperature of your incubator should be 99.5 to 102 degrees with an optimum temperature of 100.5 degrees. Make sure to check the instructions for your incubator for what the manufacturer recommends for your machine.
The humidity level should be between 40-55 percent. Check the gauge several times a day to make sure it is working correctly.
The other thing to check is ventilation. An egg will allow oxygen to enter it and carbon dioxide to exit due to its porous makeup. Make sure all holes or vents are open and let some fresh air to flow through the incubator.
Once all of these things are in perfect working order, you’re ready to get started!
Put on a pair of gloves before handling the eggs, and if you’re don’t have an automatic turning incubator you will want to put a small x on one side of the egg and an o on the other in pencil. This will help you to keep track of turning. Never use pen or marker on eggs, as they can leach into the egg and cause problems for the developing chick inside.
Place a minimum of six eggs in the incubator as even as chicks hatch, their need to be a member of a flock is essential. Many times with this low of a number of eggs, only a couple will hatch.
Place with the large end up and the narrow down in the incubator.
Days 1-18: Turning the eggs
Eggs will need to be turned from Day 1-18 at least 3-5 times per day. Always do an odd number of turns per day so the egg is never on the same side two nights in a row. It also ensures the embryo is not sticking to the shell or squeezed between the yolk and shell.
If you have an automatic turning incubator, these 18 days will mostly be checking temperature and humidity. However, if you have decided to turn yourself, wear gloves so that no oil or germs transfer to the egg. Move very slowly and gently to turn.
Keep track of the turns daily. A record of those turns may come in handy as the days get longer.
Checking the Eggs
Between days seven and ten, you can candle your eggs to see if your eggs are viable. To learn how to candle and what to look for, check out the Candling Chicken Eggs Day by Day blog post.
Also, check for any broken, stinking or leaking eggs and remove them immediately as they can cause disease and fatality in the rest of the chicks.
Days 18-23: Lockdown
All turning ceases when day eighteen arrives!
Turn eggs with the broad side up. The chick is preparing to hatch. You might even see a bit of movement.
Set the incubator into lockdown.
Turn up the humidity in your incubator to a consistent 70% to aid in hatching.
Commit to keeping the incubator closed until the chicks have all hatched and dried off. This lockdown state insures the chicks are able to get out of their shells and survive their first few hours of life.
Most eggs hatch around Day 21, but if you held your eggs in a cold room before setting them in the incubator, it could be up to Day 23 before they hatch.
The chick will peck a hole in the broad side of the egg and may need to rest for 6-12 hours before they hatch the rest of the way. A chick may hatch in as little as 5-7 hours or as long as 24.
- Do NOT help the chick. The shell may be attached to a blood vessel on their body, and pulling it off may be fatal.
- Allow the chick to dry in the incubator thoroughly. The cheeping helps the other eggs to know it’s time to hatch.
- When the chicks have all hatched, you can lower the temperature to 95 degrees, and once they are dry, move them to the brooder box.
What about the eggs that haven’t hatched?
Gently candle the eggs to see if you have a viable chick still inside. Allow the egg a couple more days to see if they will be able to hatch.
The job of hatching baby chicks, whether with an automatic incubator or without is exciting and so rewarding!
You’ve begun your journey of learning all the ins and outs of hatching chicks step by step.