How to Incubate Eggs
In Today’s world many people want to live healthier and be more self-sustainable. Part of this process is hatching your own chickens. You could want to do this because the hens you have now are getting older and aren’t laying as well or because you want more eggs for your family and friends. In this article we go through the process of incubating your eggs step-by-step.
Get an Incubator
The very first thing you need to do is pretty obvious. Before you can incubate eggs you have to have an incubator. There are tons on the market from small home incubators which you can get in some places for as little as $40 or large scale commercial incubators which can cost in the thousands. It just depends on how many eggs and what features you want. You can even make your own incubator if you want. The process is rather simple and you can use something as easy as a Styrofoam cooler. Just add a heating element, ensure you have holes for air to circulate through, and add a gauge to show you temperature and humidity. The two most important things to remember are:
- Ensure adequate air circulation
- Ability to maintain temperature
- And ability to maintain humidity
If you keep those 3 things in mind you should be just fine.
Gather The Eggs
The next step is even easier than the first one. All you have to do here is gather the eggs that you want to incubate. You want to ensure that they are recently laid (within the last 24 hours is best) and are relatively clean. DO NOT wash the eggs before putting them into the incubator. If you must store eggs for a day or two before you can put them in the incubator then store them in a warm place with the narrow side of the egg pointed down. Remember though, the fresher your eggs are the better your hatch rates tend to be. When I’m incubating eggs I typically will have the incubator set up before I go out and collect eggs. As soon as I come back I take the ones I want to incubate and put them immediately into the incubator.
|Egg Storage Reminders|
|Store Less than 10 days|
|Maintain temperature between 55 to 65⁰ F|
|Keep relative humidity at 75%|
|Turn eggs stored more than a week|
|Handle all eggs with care!|
If the eggs are cracked, misshapen, soiled, or unusually small or large do not incubate them. It’s rare that these eggs hatch and they can potentially contaminate the good eggs.
Setting Up The Incubator
This part is critical to your success rate. If you are hatching chicken eggs you want to make sure that your temperature stays at 99.5 degrees F if you are using a forced-air incubator. If you are using a still-air incubator then you want you’re incubator to stay at 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. You also want your humidity to be at 40 – 50% for the first 18 days of incubation.
How Often Do I Turn Eggs
Up until day 18 of incubation you will want to turn your eggs at least 3 times per day (5 times is even better). Many people lightly mark an “X” on their eggs so that they keep track of the turning. If you have an automatic egg turner your life is much easier. When you are turning your eggs manually, make sure that your hands are washed and clean before each session to avoid transferring bacteria and oils onto the egg.
What Temperature Do I Incubate Eggs At?
Well that all depends on what type of egg you are incubating. Chicken eggs should be incubated between 99 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit (99.5 is considered ideal) and the incubator should hold between 50 and 65% relative humidity (60% is often considered ideal). The below table shows the details of various types of eggs for incubation:
|Common Name||Incubation Conditions||Hatcher Conditions|
|Days||Temperature F||Humidity %RH||Transfer Days||Temperature F||Humidity|
If the humidity is too low there are a few problems that can occur. Some of these are:
- The air cell to be too large at the time of the hatch
- The contents of the egg will be too viscous for the chick to turn
- The membranes will be too tough for the chick to break through
- The navel will not close properly
- Too little water to evaporate from the egg
- The air cell will be too small for the chick to reach during the hatching process
- The chick will drown or be too swollen with water to turn in the egg
- The yolk sac to be too large for the navel to close completely.
As the incubation period progresses the air cell of the egg should become larger because of the balance between temperature and humidity. During incubation chicken eggs loose on average 12 to 14 percent of their total weight due to evaporation.
The final 2 to 3 days of incubation, when the chicks hatch out of the shell, is what’s known as the Hatch Stage. During this time do NOT turn the eggs, the eggs can be transferred to a dedicated hatcher for the last 3 to 4 days of incubation. If you don’t have a hatcher then remove the eggs from the turner and lay them in the hatching basket, or place them on a cloth or rough paper (not newspaper) in the incubator. Make sure that the cloth or paper do not cover any vent holes or touch the water or the heating element. During this stage you want to increase the temperature by 1⁰F and increase the relative humidity to 65 to 70%. You can do this by adding a wet sponge or wet paper towels to the incubator. The chicks should start to pip within a day of the incubation period listed for the species above.
Hatching from an egg takes a great effort therefore the chick will take long rests. The entire hatching process takes 10 to 20 hours. Do not worry about how long it takes the chicks to hatch unless more than 20 hours have passed. Eggs that are not hatched 1 day after the predicted incubation period should be discarded. Do not help a chick to free itself from the shell. Chicks that are unable to hatch on their own usually die. If you help them and they do survive they will usually not thrive. Dispose of weaker deformed chicks humanely. These chicks should never be used for breeding because these traits could be transmitted to their young.
Once chicks successfully leave the shell, increase the ventilation in the incubator and leave them in it about 2 hours or until their feathers are dry.
When more than 90% of the chicks are dry, remove them from the hatcher. Move the chicks to a warm brooder and give them water and feed. Leaving chicks in the incubator for too long can dehydrate them.
Placing new Chicks with other Chickens
New chicks will want to be kept separate from any other chickens that you may have until they have gained all their feathers. Once this has occurred you want to keep them in an area where the chickens can all see each other but not touch. This will introduce the new birds to your current flock and minimize the chance of injury or death. After a period of 30 days you are usually safe to let the new chicks go into the coop with their new flock and enjoy their lives. Remember: Chickens have a hierarchy which has to be established. Some chickens will pick on the new chicks which is normal. Keep your eyes on them to ensure no injuries occur.
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