When it comes to hatching chicken eggs, perhaps a broody chicken is naturally the best. With all its motherly instincts, it will sit on the eggs to keep them warm. In fact, it may even pluck its breast feathers just so the eggs can touch its skin. However, as motherly as it is to the eggs is as unfriendly, it will be to others or humans. Hence, a lot of chicken farmers and backyard chicken enthusiasts do not always opt to hatch eggs using hens. Also, some hens, especially the young ones, might sometimes be a bit, ineffective mothers.
Hatching chicken eggs start by picking out which eggs to set for incubation. These eggs should be fertile and specifically best if less than seven days old. Also, while selecting fertile eggs, an incubator should be chosen – either manual or automatic. Both types hatch the eggs the same, but the automatic one will save some labor. Either way, the incubator should be prepared and maintain humidity and temperature around 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Furthermore, it is vital to put the eggs inside the incubator, their larger end facing up. Then, they will have to be turned at least thrice per day, so keep the embryo away from the shell. The egg-turning should keep going until the 18th day when the eggs are preparing for hatching. By this time, humidity should be raised from 40 to 50 percent, up to 70 percent. After, one will have to wait for the chicks to hatch the eggs on their own starting on day 21.
Hatching chicken eggs is the most inexpensive start for growing a flock. However, it does not mean that it will be any simple. However, it can be manageable given the right amount of knowledge about it. In fact, it may even turn out as an enjoyable endeavor, even for kids. Hence, this article gives guidelines on how to hatch chicken eggs as trouble-free as possible.
Picking Out and Preparing the Eggs for Incubation
For first-timers who are hatching chicken eggs from their own farm, it is important only to incubate fertile eggs. Fertile eggs can be distinguished for the absence of cracks and in good shape. One can also do candling to check whether the yolks are still intact. If so, then the eggs are good for incubation. Note that one has to wash hands or wear clean gloves when handling the eggs. This is in order to prevent the transfer of germs or skin oils to the developing chicks.
Candling eggs can be done by simply using a flashlight. It is easy to do this for white eggs. Darker ones may need brighter flashlights to see inside. However, there are specially designed devices available for purchase for this procedure.
Usually, eggs that are less than seven days old are best for incubation. Those that are older than ten days are better to skip the process. If there are eggs in the farm which one may have doubts over, they may be placed in water for an egg float test.
If one is saving eggs for a few days before incubation, the eggs can be stored at room temperature. It is important that they are never left in the cold for a long time, for instance, during winter. However, in case they are cold for a couple of hours, they should be brought back to room temperature before incubation. They can be placed in as simple as an old egg carton, their pointy side down. The purpose of the positioning is to protect the fat end’s air bubble. It is important to remember to
Buying fertile eggs from hatcheries or breeders
Fertile eggs can also be bought from breeders and hatcheries should there be no available in one’s own farm. The thing to remember for this option is always to transport the eggs gently as they do not travel well.
Hatcheries may do the shipping themselves for optimum viability. However, although there is a guarantee of gentleness on their part, there is none on the third parties. For instance, if shipping involves the Post Office, the eggs are to be sorted out and most likely not gently. Sometimes, the eggs are transported from the airport to the airport and picked up by a mail carrier to another post office.
Therefore, it is always better to buy from the nearest hatchery, if possible, within the area. One can entrust the hatchery to travel the eggs on the road, or one can do it personally to be sure. After transport, the eggs should be put to rest for about 24 hours before they are set for incubation.
Choosing an Incubator
There are a lot of various models of incubators that can be purchased. The least expensive ones are the Styrofoam models. They can contain about four dozen eggs, which is apparently a lot for a small home hobby flock. However, although inexpensive, they might cost more labor-wise. They have manual controls for temperature, turning, and humidity.
Styrofoam models or manual incubators will need full strict attention for over the full 21-day course of hatching. Every few hours, they will have to be turned by hand. Also, along with this, humidity has to be monitored, and the temperature is adjusted a couple of times per day.
However, a few minor upgrades can save you some of the labor required for incubation. For instance, some better models of the Styrofoam come in with a turner and a fan. These two things make the job easier as the turning is automatically handled. The temperature is also easier to measure as it will be constant throughout the inside of the incubator. The fan functions hereby circulating heat so that there will be no cold and hot spots, unlike still-air incubators. However, even with the fan and turner, temperature and humidity are still manually controlled.
Fully automatic incubation, on the other hand, is the best option for minimal labor. The only thing that needs manual execution is setting the eggs inside it. Then, the incubator is on its own, controlling temperature and humidity. In fact, other models may even have built-in hygrometer for easy humidity measuring and monitoring.
Significantly, automatic incubators also automatically turn the eggs on their own, stopping at the eighteenth day. Some may even have a ‘countdown’ feature to hatch day. However, a downside to using them may probably be power outages. Aside from that, they can be quite expensive but for reasonable qualities.
Preparing the Incubator
The incubator should be set up at least about a week before shipped eggs arrive or before incubation. For preparation, it should be washed with a 10 percent bleach solution. Then, warm soapy water should follow and then a thorough rinse. This is to ensure that the eggs are starting out in a sanitized environment. As the incubator dries, it can then be turned on and checked for constant temperature and humidity.
Furthermore, it is a must to place the incubator in steady ambient temperature areas without risk of the draft. Also, it has to accomplish the following few essentials.
The fact is eggshells are porous. This typically allows the entry and exit of oxygen and carbon dioxide. In line with this, incubators should have a couple of vents or holes. This is to allow the circulation of fresh air in the interior. With this, the fetuses will be able to breathe properly. Also, ventilation should be increased gradually as the embryos grow bigger, particularly on the 18th to 21st days.
Usually, eggs will need the temperature to be kept at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit all the time. A little higher or lower in a couple of hours might lead to fatality. Here are the suggested temperature guidelines:
- Optimum temperature level is at 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Normal temperature range is between 99 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Dropping the temperature below 99 degrees Fahrenheit is not advisable.
- 102 degrees Fahrenheit temperature should not last more than a few hours.
- An extra medical thermometer should be available nearby. This is to double-check the incubator’s thermometer, if there is any, whether it is working properly.
The incubator’s humidity should be maintained at 40 to 55 percent for the first 17 to 18 days. Beyond those days, the humidity should then be raised to 65 to 75 until the eggs hatch.
- The first 17 to 18 days of the eggs require a relative humidity of 40 to 55 percent.
- It should be equivalent to 85 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit wet bulb temperature.
- Water channels in the incubator should be kept full for proper humidity facilitation.
- On the 18th to the 21st days of the eggs, the relative humidity should be raised to 65 to 75 percent.
- A hygrometer should be used to ensure correct humidity levels throughout the incubation course.
- The incubator should not be opened unless necessary. Opening it will release the interior’s heat and humidity, which is critical for a successful hatch. Ideally, it should not be opened once on the first day.
- Too high or too low humidity may be adjusted using a sponge with more or less surface area.
- Water may be added to the pan occasionally to maintain humidity. More shall be added on the 18th day.
Setting the Eggs Inside the Incubator
After setting up the incubator, the eggs are now the ones that need setting. They should be placed on their side in the incubator, and then the door has to be closed. It is important to place the eggs in the correct positioning. Their larger end should be facing up, and the narrow end is facing down. Regular checking after will be needed to ensure that nothing ever goes askew.
The minimum number of eggs that should be set in the incubator at a time is six. This is in order to make sure that more than one egg hatches in case of a fatality. Shipped eggs, for instance, are prone to stress and unsuccessful hatchings. Moreover, setting fewer eggs has a possibility that all will be male hatchlings, or at best, just a single female. Setting more eggs means more odds of hatching more females.
Significantly, eggs are flock animals. They like having a couple of companions to be happy. Hence, it is important that chicks are not hatched alone. If it is raised alone, it is likely to be miserable and then die because of it.
Turning the Eggs
The incubation process significantly consists of turning the eggs a few times per day. This practice is done to keep the growing embryo from sticking to the shell. It is vital to keep the embryo resting on top of the yolk. If the egg is not turned, the yolk will float upward, over the albumen of the egg white, towards the shell. When this happens, the embryo will be squeezed between the shell and the yolk, leading to fatality.
Turning the eggs will also turn the yolk within the albumin. Thus, the yolk is being moved away from the shell, keeping the embryo safe on top.
Turning the eggs is nothing to worry about when fully automatic incubators are used. Aside from turning the eggs and regulating the temperature and humidity, these incubators are kept close. They do not require frequent opening, which is not advisable when incubating eggs. Also, they automatically stop turning the eggs after 18 days.
However, if one wants to opt with manual incubators, the following are some guidelines for turning the eggs.
- It helps to draw X and O on the opposite sides of the eggs. This will allow one to keep track of which ones have already been turned.
- The eggs should be turned at least three times or so per day. The more frequent, the better. However, the number of turns should always be odd (3,5,7). This is to make sure that the eggs do not rest on the same side for two consecutive nights.
- Keep turning the eggs until the 18th day. Leave it at that until the hatching day.
Pre-hatching Period of the Eggs
The 18th day is when the chicks inside the eggs will have been fully developed. By this time, they are to take up most of the eggs’ space. In short, they are already preparing to hatch. To help in the preparation of hatching chicken eggs, certain measures have to be taken.
- The egg-turning has to be stopped on the 18th day. Again, fully automatic incubators mechanically do this.
- Be sure that the eggs’ larger end is facing up. The chicks are positioning themselves for hatching at this point.
- The temperature inside the incubator should be maintained at about 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Humidity, on the other hand, should be increased to 70 percent.
Usually, hatching starts at day 21. However, it might take a little longer for eggs that were cooled before incubation. They should be given a few more days beyond 21 to hatch.
When hatching chicken eggs, it is important to leave the chicks be to hatch on their own. At this point, their blood vessels that are not dried up yet could possibly attach the chick to the shell. Hence, pulling the shell prematurely may lead to excessive bleeding that could be fatal. Commonly, chicks take about 5 to 7 hours to completely hatch, although some can take up to 24 hours.
Then, one must wait until all the eggs are hatched to lower the temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It should not take too long as the peeping of newly hatched chicks encourages unhatched once to start hatching too. As soon as all the hatched eggs are dried, they can then be moved to the brooder. The brooder has to be prepared in advance with maintaining 90 to 95 degrees temperature. Food and water should already be in place as well inside the brooder.
How can unhatched eggs after 21 days be checked whether they are still alive or not?
Sometimes, it takes more than 21 days to hatch eggs. This is especially so for those that were cooled prior to the incubation. Shipped eggs most likely end up in this type of situation. To handle them, they can be candled to check whether they are still alive. Candling is basically channeling light through an egg. It can be done using a flashlight or using specialized equipment. This is easier done on white eggs compared to darker ones, apparently.
When candling and the inside of the egg is clear without visible dark structures, this means the embryo is dead. Also, if a red ring is observed within the egg, this means there was an embryo, but it has also died. However, if blood vessels can be seen, the embryo is still alive inside the egg. These things can be observed when candling even as early as the seventh to the tenth day.
How to know when an egg is still good for incubation and hatching?
Usually, eggs that are less than seven days old are best for incubation and hatching. Those that are beyond ten days old are better not set incubator. Owners with their own egg-layer chickens should keep watch for when their eggs are laid. However, in case one is not sure how old the eggs are, an egg float test can be done. It is basically done by dropping an egg inside a clear glass of warm water. If the egg floats, this egg is already aged. Hence, if the egg lies flat on the glass bottom, it is a freshly laid one.
In conducting the egg float test, it is important that the glass and water are clean and sanitized. The water, especially, has to be warm as cold water causes bacteria to attach to the egg. Also, one should wash hands or use clean gloves when handling the eggs. This will prevent passing on skin oils or germs to the egg and to the developing embryo.