Tips on How Best to Incubate Chicken Eggs

Hatching your chicken eggs and selling the chicks can be a profitable and fulfilling business. It’s important that you first identify the American chicken breeds you need to hatch.   Either you can raise chickens to lay eggs or decide to purchase hatching eggs from reputable suppliers. Do you have knowledge about Incubating Chicken Eggs? If you don’t, don’t worry. This article will provide you with guidelines, tips, and resources on how best to incubate your chicken eggs.

Incubating Chicken Eggs | Hatched Chicks
hatched dry chicks

As a commercial chicken farmer, you’ll need to invest in a suitable incubator. This is determined by the number of eggs you need to be hatched and your budget. The best incubation process will involve:

  • Purchasing a suitable incubator and setting it up
  • Ensuring the incubator well cleaned and disinfected
  • Testing the thermostats to ensure they are working properly
  • Getting high-quality Fertile egg of suitable chicken breed
  • Setting temperatures between 100 to 102 ° F ( 37 to 39 degrees Celcius. Be sure that the readings are consistent
  • After testing. Now arrange your fertile eggs then set the temperature at 99.5° F (37.5 ° C)
  • Maintaining the right levels of humidity between 50-55%.
  • Ensuring there is adequate ventilation
  • Incubating for 21 days when the chicks will hatch

Where Should Your Place Your Chicken Incubator?

The most ideal place to place an incubator is a location where the fluctuation of both the temperature and humidity within a day is least. Unsuitable local is near a window or in an exposed area. Avoid positions with direct sunlight as well as drafts.

Your basement or a well-covered or insulated area is most ideal. A location with temperatures of between 21 to 24 degrees celsius is suitable.

When To Place Your Eggs in the Incubator

It’s not recommended to immediately place your fertile eggs in the incubator. To ensure high hatch rates, it’s recommended that you store the fertile cool eggs at room temperature for more than 7 days before incubating them.

This is to ensure that the warming is gradual since abrupt warming, especially from 55 degrees to 100 degrees, may cause condensation to occur on your shells. This condition can attract diseases or adversely reduce their hatching rates.

Necessary Instruments or Tools for Your Incubator

Thermostat and Hygrometer.

 digital thermometer hygrometer
Digital thermometer hygrometer

If your type of incubator doesn’t come with inbuilt sensors, you’ll have to invest in the best thermometer and hygrometer. The thermometer ensures that you set and maintain the temperature or heat needed to incubate and hatch your chicken eggs.

Hygrometer helps you in monitoring and setting correct humidity levels. These are vital instruments for the success of your chicken hatching business.

Currently, a single unit of digital thermometer hygrometer is available and is highly recommended. Cheaper alternatives are not recommended due to their lack of consistency.

Egg Turner

If your chicken incubator doesn’t come with its inbuilt automatic egg-turner, you may decide to purchase one. With no egg turners, you’ll have to manually turn your eggs from the 2nd day about 3-5 times each day.

You should always wash your hands before turning the eggs. This is to ensure that no bacteria or oil is transferred to the eggs.  It’s only after the 18th day that you should stop turning them and simply wait for the eggs to hatch.

To easily tell which egg has been turned, you can mark the eggs with an “x” or any symbol on one side.

How Best to Incubate Your Chicken Eggs

Incubating Chicken Eggs #1- Purchasing Your Incubator

Incubator | Incubating Chicken Eggs
Chicken Eggs inside an incubator

The size and cost of egg incubators vary.  Your purchase decision will be determined by your business plan and current capacity. There are different options available including solar-powered incubators

You may choose to go for homemade or DIY chic incubators.  Building your own incubator is pretty cheap can be fun if you’re well skilled. It will however not be as reliable as those ready for purchase.

There are cheaper ready to use incubators such as the common Havabator incubator models.

If you focus on incubating chicken eggs on a large scale, you’ll have to consider cabinet-type automatic incubators and hatchers. Well, these are expensive and you’ll have to part with some thousands of dollars. Higher costs often come with the necessary temperature and humidity control system.

When selecting a chicken incubator, focus more on what suits you the most. Get into contact with other chicken farmers or to advise you accordingly

Important Tips on Purchasing a chicken incubator:

  • Purchase the right incubator based on the breed of chicks you plan to hatch.
  • If you’re on a budget, consider purchasing a manual incubator
  • Go for automatic incubators if you’ll not be available for the turning of the eggs during the incubation period
  • Ensure that the incubator selected suits the number of eggs you’re planning to hatch.

A suitable chicken incubator should effectively fulfill the following key conditions:

1. Temperature Control:

It should consistently allow for the setting of temperature at 99.5° F or 37 and 39 degrees Celcius to ensure proper hatching. It’s important that you always keep the incubator door closed to maintainer the recommended temperatures.

While incubating chicken eggs, increasing the temperatures above the normal levels is not advised. While overheating through higher temperatures my speed up embryo development, hatching rate will be very much reduced. This may also result in chicks that are not normal.

Reduction in your incubator temperature within a short period of time will not harm our eggs. However, long durations of low temperatures kill developing embryos.

2. Humidity Control:

It should ensure that humidity levels can be adjusted accordingly. If not effectively control, your eggs may lose their desired moisture. The initial 18 days require that humidity is maintained at 40-50 % then adjusted to 65-75% during the final days before the eggs hatch.

If humidity is too high at the initial 18 days phase and pretty low at the final phase, the hatching rate will be very low

 Incubators differ. It’s important that you fully read and follow instructions that come with your incubator on the best way to use your incubator’s water channels.

The prevailing humidity in your location will determine the amount of water you’ll need within your incubator. It’s therefore, very necessary that you always check your incubator’s water levels.

In some incubators, a pan of water is provided to provide desired moisture. Depending on the prevailing conditions, you’ll be required to add water to increase humidity to a suitable level. Controlling your chicken incubator’s ventilation is another way of controlling humidity.

Important tips:

  1. To set humidity higher, you can use sponges inside your incubator. Since more surface area inside your incubator will be wet, water evaporation will be enhanced. This will ultimately lower the humidity.
  2. Knowing if there is enough water in the incubator channel can at times be difficult with some models. Adding food coloring to the water does the trick.

An increase in the water level will be easy to notice as the water will appear darker. When the channel is dry, the watercolor will also change making it easy for you to notice. The food coloring will in no way affect your incubator’s operation.

Effective Ventilation

Your chicken incubator must have adequate holes for the effective circulation of fresh air. This is to ensure that the fetuses inside the eggs keep breathing to stay alive.

Incubating Chicken Eggs #2-Getting the Best Fertile Eggs.

Before getting fertile eggs, it’s important that you consider the chicken breeds you plan to hatch.

From Your Flock of Hens

Before incubating your eggs for a successful hatch you’ll the best fertile eggs. If you already keep an energetic rooster with not more than 10 egg-laying hens, most of the eggs collected will be fertile.

 Purchasing From Known Hatcheries Or Online Suppliers

Another option of getting fertile eggs is purchasing from those you trust and who also keep chicken. There are also hatcheries know to sell fertile eggs such as Cackle Hatchery.  You can as well do a search to find reputable fertile egg suppliers online. For online suppliers or hatcheries, it’s important that you do thorough research by reading reviews from their past clients.

The closer you get your fertile eggs; the high will be the hatching rate. Should you decide to order your eggs from farm cooperatives or simply coops, hatching the hatching rates will vary from 75% to 90%.

For eggs that have to be delivered over for long distances under different conditions, it’s hard to be absolutely sure that your eggs will hatch successfully.

Depending on your plan, you may place the fertile eggs directly in the incubator or decide to store them temporarily in a special eggs-carton.

Best Way to store your Fertile Eggs

Fertile Eggs Storage
  • Store the eggs in a clean box to avoid any possible bacterial contamination. New cartons are preferred
  • to ensure that the egg yolk is properly suspended, store the eggs with the pointed side facing downwards
  • Turn the eggs at least twice per day. If all your eggs are in a single container, all you need to do is turn it upside down.
  • Ensure the eggs are dry and cool. The storage, however, shouldn’t be in a cold place. Do not place the eggs in a refrigerator.

Important tips

  • Do not store the eggs you plan to hatch under extremely low temperatures such as inside a refrigerator.
  • Suitable storage temperature should be between 50 to 60° Celsius.
  • Remove cracked eggs, those with a deformed shape or excess dirt. Eggs that are abnormally large or small are often not fertile and should be excluded.
  • Do not store the eggs for the duration of more than 10-14 days before they are ready for the incubation

After getting all the fertile eggs you need and ready to incubate, do not wash them as this removes their protective coating.  You’ll need to observe the following:

  • Be gentle when handling the eggs as sudden movements can adversely affect the embryo
  • Ensure you wash your hands before handling eggs
  • Only select eggs that are clean, full size and of normal shape

Incubating Chicken Eggs #3-Incubating Your Eggs.

To realize a high hatching rate, eggs should not be stored for more than 7 days. If you’ve got cool eggs, let them warm to room temperature. Don’t place them directly in the incubator. Sudden warming of eggs from 55 degrees F to 100 degrees F causes moisture to condense on the eggshell. This is known to reduce the rate of hatching and increases the risk of diseases.

Before finally placing your eggs in the incubator, first power on the machine and take temperature and humidity readings over a period of 2 days or 24 hours. This is to ensure that everything works perfectly.

You can then place your eggs inside the incubator with either their sides or with the round side facing up. This is because it’s the part that has the air sac. Choose the egg position that suits your incubator. DO NOT place your eggs with the sharp end facing upwards.

Gradually adjust the temperature to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Should you detect that humidity is either too high or too low; adjustments can be made using a sponge. A chicken egg should take approximately 21 days to hatch.

 If your incubator has no inbuilt egg turner, you can choose to purchase one. Alternatively, you may choose to do the turning manually. To help you know if an egg as been turned or not, you can draw an “X” on one side of the eggs, and a “0” on the other side.

The recommended times for turning eggs are 3 times but can be more. It’s however important that the number of turns each day is an odd number. This ensures that the eggs to not rest on one side within two consecutive days.

Incubating chicken eggs | Inspecting incubator eggs.

Changing the egg’s direction while turning is highly recommended as this helps in varying the position of the embryo. It’s important to note that on the 18th day, no more egg-turning will be required.

Before the eggs finally hatch, you’ve to ensure that the desired environmental conditions are always maintained. To keep humidity higher, you’ll have to add water in your incubator’s pan. Always ensure that your incubator door remains closed.

During the final phase which is on the 18th day, more water has to be added in order to increase humidity to the desired level.

Eggs Candling

Candling a technique that is used to detect if your egg is fertilized or not. It also helps to study the development of an egg embryo inside an egg. The method uses a bright light source behind the egg to show details through the shell. It’s called candling because the sources of light that were initially being used were candles.

Importance of Candling
  • Detect if your egg is fertile and removing it from your incubator. Non-viable eggs can rot and explode contaminating your healthy eggs.
  • View development of embryos inside your eggs
  • Detect weight loss rate of the embryos by viewing eggs’ air sacs

Note: eggs that are not fertilized (without black sport or embryo signs should be removed. This is because they’ll end up rotting and may even explode and contaminate your entire incubator with germs.

When Can You Do Candling?

After you’ve started incubating your chicken eggs, you can successfully do egg candling after about 6 to 8 days. It involves holding an egg then shining a bright light behind it to reveal the inner details. Currently, there are LED lights with bright lights that reveal more details. Don’t worry-candling will not harm your eggs.

How to detect Humidity changes through the egg air sac

As your eggs continue to incubate, their moisture continues to evaporate. This results in their weight loss with the ideal level being 13% of their initial weights.

When humidity within the incubator is very low, the egg sacs will have a larger size beyond normal. This should be a signal that you need to increase your incubator’s humidity to deter excess water loss.

However, when your incubator has the right humidity, you’ll notice changes in your egg sacs at different periods.

Illustration of Air Sac Sizes at Different Days during Incubation

egg air sacs sizes during incubation
Air Sac size changes during incubation

The Best Place to Candle Your Eggs

After the recommended 7-8 days, you can continue safely candle your eggs after every few days. For better results, select a room with dim lighting. You’ll need to place your candler or light against the eggshell and specifically the larger air sac end. For a fertile egg, a small dark spot will be visible with blood vessels. Rotating the gg slowly will allow you to observe embryo development through its spread blood vessels that will be radiated.

Incubating Chicken Eggs #4-Chicken Hatching

No Way Ugh GIF by Martina Scott - Find & Share on GIPHY

As the last days approach before your eggs finally hatch, you’ll notice the eggs moving on their own. The little chicks will then make a tiny hole at the larger sides of the eggs.

Since their lungs need to adjust to a new breathing environment, they may rest inside the eggshell for about 6 to 12 hours before finally hatching on their own gradually and safely. Do not try helping your chicks since they are very vulnerable and can easily get injured.

So, your chicks are finally hatched, what next? Transfer them to a brooder? Not yet.  After hatching, your chicks will not be dry.

Incubating chicken eggs | Chicks Hatching

Leave them inside the incubator for approximately 15 to 24 hours after their successful hatching. Give them some time to dry up before taking them to a brooder

The best Tips after hatching:

  • Remove the chicks from the incubator and place them in a special box that has a clip-on light 75 watts to 90 watts bulb.
  • Provide them with both feed and water
  • The few days that follow, mix the feed with water for them to consume. At this stage, your chicks will be ready for sale!

Other Important Links

  1. How to Help Chicken Lay More Eggs
  2. Keeping Your Chicken Safe from Predators

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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