Advice on incubators, hens and – let's not forget – the eggs themselves
There are many important factors to consider when hatching chicken eggs. These factors can generally be divided into three categories: choosing the right eggs, selecting an incubator, and maintaining proper incubating conditions.
- Choosing the right eggs.
- First, you should consider the chickens responsible for fertilizing and laying the eggs. The eggs should come from healthy adult chickens who have a high fertility percentage, were not disturbed during mating season, were fed a good diet, and are not related to each other.
- Examine the eggs. They should also be of a regular shape and average size, not larger or smaller than a typical egg produced by your chickens. Their shells should display no holes or cracks because such damage could encourage disease organisms to penetrate the egg. With this same concern in mind, you should not wash or wipe the egg, as you could remove the egg’s natural protective coating that guards against such organisms.
- The eggs should also be cared for correctly before incubation. This will help ensure a productive hatch. To care for the chicken eggs:
- Store eggs in a cool, humid area, ideally 55’F with 75% humidity.
- Store eggs with the large end up.
- Turn eggs daily, use an X and O marking system to keep track.
- Eggs can be stored for up to seven days.
- Allow cool eggs to warm up to the ambient temperature where the egg incubator is located before putting them into the incubator.
- Selecting an egg incubator. Chickens can either be hatched by using a setting hen or an incubator. If you decide to try incubating chicken eggs, here are two types of incubators: forced-air and still-air.
- Force-air incubators are large, have a fan, hatch a larger number of eggs and require little attention.
- Still-air incubators are small and have no fan, hatch a smaller number of chicken eggs and require more attention.
- Setting hens require little attention, do all the work themselves and are essentially an incubator and brooder. However, setting can take its toll on a hen. Make sure she stretches and eats occasionally.
- Maintaining the proper incubator conditions.
- Temperature should be 100’F for forced-air incubators and 102’F for still-air incubators. Check the temperature by placing the hatching thermometer at the same height as the top of the eggs would be. The heat source should be adjusted if needed.
- Humidity should be 58-60% from day one to day 18 and should be increased to 65% from day 18 to day 21. This is important to prevent moisture loss in eggs.
- Air vents should be opened slowly as chicks begin hatching for proper ventilation.
- Eggs should ideally be turned four to six times daily, but two or three times daily will suffice. Turning an odd number of times per day is best. Turn the eggs until day 18, and then do not turn any more — turning after day 18 could injure the chick.
- Forced-air incubators have automatic turners.
- Eggs in still-air incubators must be turned by hand. Use the X and O marking technique to help keep the turning correct.
- Always make sure hands are clean before handling eggs or chicks.
Chicks begin hatching on day 21. If all the eggs do not hatch by day 25 or 26, remove the remaining eggs and discard them. If you have children, candling chicken eggs is a really fun way to actually show them the development of the chicken within the egg.