How to Incubate Chicken Eggs

If you plan on having your own chicks either to expand your backyard flock or for sale, incubating chicken eggs is a rewarding project. It’s also fun! The incubation of chicken eggs takes 21 days and requires you to purchase an incubator. But that’s not all. Your Comprehensive knowledge of how best to incubate chicken eggs in order to achieve high hatching rates is critical. Keep reading to learn more, hatch more, and earn more!

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To achieve high hatching rates, you need to focus on the following during the incubation of your chicken eggs:

  1. Incubate NOT less than 6 eggs
  2. Chicken Eggs take 21 days to hatch
  3. Maintain the right temperature (99.5-101.5 ° F )
  4. Check Humidity. (First 18 days-40-50% & after the 18th day-70%)
  5. Wash your hands Before Handling Eggs
  6. Keep the Large Side of the Eggs Upwards
  7. Do not leave the incubator door open
  8. Turn Eggs until the 18th day
  9. Don’t be tempted to assist hatching chicks
  10. Ensure correct  Incubator Ventilation

Thanks to nature, chickens have the instinct to perfectly incubate their eggs until they hatch after 21 days. After getting your incubator and quality fertile eggs, you must adhere to specific requirements and conditions during the incubation period.

Naturing an embryo before they turn into chicks requires constant care and monitoring of your incubated eggs. Failing to maintain the right temperature and humidity, and not turning the eggs as needed can adversely affect your egg’s hatching rate. To realize satisfactory high hatching success, you’ve to be equipped with key tips on how to incubate chicken eggs.

Incubation of Chicken Eggs-What You Need to Know

  1. Incubate NOT less than 6 eggs: When you consider hatching fewer eggs, the hatching rate will be pretty low, and most of the chicks maybe females. Chicks are happy in the company of other chicks. As you plan on chicken egg incubation, it’s recommended that you consider incubating not less than 6 eggs.
  2. Incubation of Chicken Eggs take 21 days: When incubation temperature and humidity are kept at required levels, your chicken eggs will take 21 days to hatch. However, eggs incubated at low temperatures or old eggs that had been cooled down before being incubated can take a couple more days to hatch.
  3. Maintain the right temperature:  Still-air temperature (above the eggs) should be about 101.5° F while forced- air (turbo-fan air) should be 99.5° F.

Since temperatures between the bottom and the top of the incubator can have a margin of up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s recommended that you only measure the temperature above your eggs. The maximum temperatures within the incubator should be 99.5-101.5° Fahrenheit

The acceptable maximum range is 99.5 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. However, temperatures can only be 102 degrees for very few hours.  Use a different thermometer (medical thermometer) to counter check your existing incubator thermometer readings… No taking chances!

4. Check Humidity: From the 1st-17th day of the incubation, the acceptable humidity range is 40-50%. From the 18th day to the final 21st day, increase humidity to 70%. Ensure your incubator water channels are well filled. You also need to have a hygrometer for effective monitoring of the humidity. Do not rely on filling the water channels only. There can be significant variations based on the level of your home’s ambiance humidity.

5. Wash your hands Before Handling Eggs: Unwashed hands may contain bacteria or oil that can be transferred to your egg’s outer surface.

Handling chicken eggs for incubation
Washing hands before handling chicken eggs for incubation

It’s important that you always wash your hands thoroughly before handling or turning eggs. Contamination of eggs through unhygienic handling can affect their hatching rates.

6. Keep the Large Side of the Eggs Upwards: The large section of eggs contains an air sac. It should be kept facing upwards during incubation.

7. Do not leave the incubator door open: Always ensure that your chicken incubator door is always closed especially during the hatching period.  It should only be opened when necessary and as little as possible. Opening it interferes with the internal temperature and humidity conditions necessary hatching. Low humidity can cause your chicks to get stuck inside the shell (unable to move out smoothly).

Chicken eggs in a closed incubator

8. Turn Eggs until the 18th day: From the 1st to the 18th day of incubation, you should turn the eggs at least 3 times per day. If your incubator is automatic, this can be scheduled accordingly. For an incubator that’s not automatic, you’ve to manually turn the eggs at specific internals. It’s even better if you turn them more than 3 times. You should, however, stop turning them on the 18th day until the 21st day when they are expected to hatch.

9. Don’t be tempted to assist hatching chicks: Hatching chicks are very vulnerable and can take several hours before fully hatching. After a chick breaks an eggshell at the beginning of hatching, it can take an average of about 7 before it comes out. In some instances, the chick will remain in the shell for about 24 hours before breaking out. An attempt to assist the chick hatch can cause serious physical injuries. Bleeding can also occur as blood vessels may still be attached to some parts of the hatching egg’s membrane.

10. Correct  Incubator Ventilation: If your incubator has valves that are programmed, begin low-level ventilation after 3-4 days of incubation. To achieve recommended egg weight loss, set relative humidity at 50-55%. Only ventilate when necessary since open valves can adversely affect incubator conditions such as humidity, carbon dioxide and the distribution of temperature.

Incubation of Chicken Eggs-The Key Steps

1. Preparing Your Chicken Incubator

1.1 Identifying and Purchasing The Right Incubator

For manual incubators, you’ll have to physically turn the chicken eggs at least 3 times each day. You’ll have to pay more for automatic incubators since they come with inbuilt sensors (thermometer and hygrometer), and eggs-turning can be programmed accordingly. Daily monitoring of incubator conditions will still be necessary. Well, you can as well make your own incubator at home!

It’s important that you thoroughly read and understand instructions manuals that come with your purchased incubator. You can be able to search for most chicken incubator models or serial numbers online, and download their manufacturers’ instruction manuals.

1.2 Cleaning Your Incubator

You’ll need about one week to prepare for the incubation of your chicken eggs. One of the key preparations is cleaning the incubator to ensure it’s effectively sanitized in readiness for eggs. This is critical since infections or diseases can easily be transmitted to the chick embryo through the eggshell.

Whether you’ve bought a new incubator, a second-hand incubator or have one that has been stored for long and gathered some dust, thorough cleaning is necessary.

Initial cleaning involves removing dust or debris that may be on the surface of your incubator both internally and externally.  Wearing suitable hand gloves, mix 20 drops of home bleach liquid with about 4 cups of water (1 quartz).

For the cleaning, use either a sponge or clean pieces of cloth dipped in the diluted bleach. Wring the piece of cloth or sponge before you begin wiping your chicken incubator surfaces.

After a thorough cleaning, let your incubator to dry completely. DO not connect or plug in your incubator when it’s still wet.

1.3 Placing the Incubator in a Suitable area (70-75 ° Fahrenheit )

After purchasing your chicken incubator, you’ll need to place it in a location with stable temperatures or with little fluctuations. The most ideal temperature is in the range of 70-75° Fahrenheit

1.4 Connect Your Incubator to Electricity Outlet Socket

Your power connection to your incubator should be secure and not easily detached. Ensure that the outlet is not in an area where children play as they may tamper with its connection. 

Note: If you are in a remote location with main power problems, consider having a suitable generator as your power backup.

1.5 Adding Water to the Incubator’s Water Channel or Pan

Following your incubator’s manual instructions, pour warm water into your incubator’s humidity pan up to the recommended level.

 1.6 Calibration of Incubator Temperatures

To ensure that your incubator’s thermometer or hygrometer is working effectively, you’ll have to calibrate them accordingly at least 2 days or 24 hours before you begin incubation. Having other thermometers or hygrometer is necessary for checking if your incubator’s inbuilt ones are working perfectly. Calibration will involve:

  1. Measuring the temperatures on incubator central area where you’ll place the eggs for incubation
  2. Increasing your incubator’s heat source to reach 99 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2- 38.9° Celsius

Monitoring your incubator to ensure it maintains set temperatures is significant for two main reasons:

  1. Extremely higher temperatures can kill your embryo or lead to abnormal chicks being hatched. The most ideal temperature inside the incubator can be in the range of 75° Fahrenheit
  2. Low temperatures do not encourage the growth of chicken embryos.

1.7 Ensure that the temperatures remain stable after 24 hours

Ensure that you monitor the set temperature for at least 24 hours. It’s only after you’ve noticed that the temperature remains stable (not fluctuating) that you can now plan on incubating your fertile eggs.

1.8 Get Quality Fertile Eggs for Incubation

To realize high hatching rates, it’s not advisable to keep hatched eggs for many days. After eggs are laid, it’s recommended that they are incubated after 7 to 10 days. The more your eggs are stored before incubation, the lower their viability or ability to hatch.

Only fertile eggs can be incubated. These you can get from your flock of chickens or purchase from suppliers. Identifying the breeds of chickens you need is important before getting the eggs.  Contact reputable hatcheries or your local Agricultural Officer to guide you on where to get suitable and high-quality fertile eggs.

Do not purchase eggs from supermarket shelves. These are not fertile eggs and WILL NOT HATCH. They are only meant for consumption.

It is important to be aware that different chicken breeds may have different hatching rates. It will, therefore, be unlikely that all the eggs you get will hatch 100%. Expect about 75% hatching rate or more. Consider this when planning on the total number of eggs you plan to hatch. In other words, when you plan to hatch 100 eggs, consider an incubator that can accommodate more than 100 eggs. This is to compensate for eggs that may fail to hatch.

All the eggs for incubation have to be kept on special egg cartons and not refrigerated. As you prepare for their incubation, store them at a temperature of about 40 to 70° F (4.5 to 21.1° C). It’s important that you carefully turn them daily by simply turning the cartons that carrying them accordingly.

2. Incubating Your Chicken Eggs

incubation of chicken eggs
Chicken eggs arranged inside an incubator

Now that your incubator is ready, it’s time to plan for placing your eggs inside the incubator or “setting the eggs”.

2.1 Placing the Eggs in the incubator

Before arranging your eggs in the incubator, ensure that you’ve thoroughly washed your hands. Remember you had already sanitized your incubator and it should remain so during the incubation period. Washing hands help in eliminating the bacteria that can contaminate both your eggs and the incubator.

2.2 Warm the Eggs to Room Temperature           

 Allow your eggs to warm up, adjust the temperature accordingly so that the eggs are warmed at room temperature. The warming is necessary for ensuring their stable temperature during incubation.

2.3 Put Marks on the Side of Your Eggs      

Using a pencil, draw marks of different symbols on the sides of the eggs. These marks will help you know if the eggs have been turned. You may decide to use either letter “X” on one side or “0” or any other symbol that you find simple

2.4 Arrange the Eggs Inside The Incubator

Carefully arrange your marked eggs inside the incubator. The spacing between the eggs should be even. Ensure that your eggs are not touching the edge of the incubator and not too close to the incubator’s main heat source. All the eggs should lie by their sides. You should, however, ENSURE that air sac sides of the eggs (larger sides) slightly face upwards

2.5. Wait for the temperature to drop

After arranging your fertile eggs, your incubator temperature will temporarily drop. Take note of this but don’t adjust the temperature upwards. After sometimes, the temperature will stabilize to the recommended earlier set level of about 99.5

2.6. Record the Incubation Date on Your Calendar Notebook

Now that your incubator temperature with the eggs has stabilized, your incubation process has just started. On your calendar notebook, record the incubation date and the total number of eggs you’ve incubated. The date will help have an estimate on when your eggs are expected to hatch.  For your chicken eggs, this duration is 21 days. This knowledge will help you plan ahead for the arrival of your bouncing baby chicks!

2.7. Adjust Humidity Level to be between 40-50%.

Adjust the incubator’s humidity to about 40-50%. This should be maintained until the last 3 days before the eggs hatch. On the 18th day, you can increase humidity to 65% until your chicken eggs finally hatch on the 21st day. It’s important that you also use a dry bulb thermometer to record temperatures

Add water to the incubator pan as recommended to maintain the desired humidity level. To increase humidity, you man add a sponge to the water. As earlier advised, follow the instructions that came with your incubator.

2.8. Adjust Incubator Ventilation

Ensure that your incubator has adequate ventilation. There are ventilation openings on the top and side of your incubator.  During the initial period, they should be partially opened. However, as hatching day approaches, you should consider providing for more ventilation by adjusting the openings accordingly.

2.9. Turn the Eggs Daily until the 18th day.

Incubation of chicken eggs-temperature monitoring

As earlier mentioned, turn the eggs at least 3 times daily or more (odd number of times). The turning should only stop on the 18th day.

3. Candling Your Chicken Eggs During Incubation

7 days after incubating your eggs, you can do candling to confirm if your chicken eggs are fertile and to monitor embryo development. Infertile eggs are not viable, and should, therefore, be removed from your incubator.

A special bright light is placed on the side of the egg to view the embryo through the eggshells.  The device used for egg candling is called a candler. A fertile egg will have a black spot at the center. As the embryos develop, you’ll be able to see blood vessels during candling.

4. Incubation of Chicken Eggs-Hatching Moments!

hatched chicks-Chicken Eggs Incubation

Stop turning your chicken eggs from the 18th day or 3 days before the anticipated hatching day. During the hatching process, pieces of eggshells may break and stick on the strays. To avoid this, consider placing a piece of cheesecloth under the eggs to hold such pieces.

This is also the time to increase your incubator’s humidity to about 65%. You can achieve this by adding more water to your incubator pan. Alternatively, you can place a sponge inside the pan to help boost the humidity.

As the hatching continues, ensure that you keep the incubator door open. Do not help the chicks to hatch as earlier advised.

Leave the hatched chicks to completely dry inside the incubator. This can take about 6 or even 24 hours. If you consider leaving the chicks for up to 2 days, consider reducing the incubator temperature to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celcius)

When your chicks are fully dry, take them to a well-prepared place or brooder.

All the egg-shells in the incubator have to be removed. The incubator has to be thoroughly cleaned in readiness for another new incubation.

Table showing Chicken Eggs Incubation Activities

1 Preparing Eggs for Incubation after storage. Consider not less than 6 eggs. Warm the eggs to room temperature before incubating
1st to 18th Day Turning Chicken Eggs at least 3 times a day Keeping and monitoring the temperature and humidity (99.5-100.5 ° Fahrenheit and 40-50% humidity)
7th to 10 Day Candling Chicken Eggs using a bright light. Removing eggs that are not viable from  the incubator Maintaining and monitoring temperature and humidity
18th-21st Day Pre-hatching Preparations. Stop turning the eggs. Keep the temperature at a stable but increase humidity up to 70%. Increase ventilation
21st Day Chicks begin to hatch. Give some eggs a few days to hatch. Do not assist hatching chicks. The hatching process can take up to 24 hours. Only remove the chicks after they’ve all dried up. Take them to a brooder. Ensure their food and water is ready. Brooder temperature. Clean the incubator thoroughly in readiness for another incubation session.  

Other Important Links

  1. Tips on How Best to Incubate Chicken Eggs
  2. How to Choose the right Chicken Eggs Incubator

Meshack Sewe

Meshack, is a tech-savvy Creative Copywriter, Poet, a Blogger, and a proud owner of few locally bred cows and goats. He first trained in Agricultural Engineering & later in Business Information Technology (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology). He has served both as Program Officer and Program Manager with two NGOs focusing on Agricultural & Humanitarian Programs targeting local communities.

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