Hatching your own chicken eggs is the dream, right? It turns out you don’t need a rooster on your property to get the job done.
Learning how to incubate chicken eggs is easier than most people think, and the process allows you complete control over the hatching process. Not only do you get to choose both the breed and the number of birds, but incubators enable you to watch the hatching process take place in real time.
Let’s dive into how to hatch eggs in an incubator. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
The Egg Incubator
Choosing the right incubator is critical to successfully hatching chicks at home. Compared to a mother hen, incubators have some advantages. They allow you to automate the warming process so that the eggs stay at a consistent temperature and humidity level for three weeks before hatching. Likewise, incubated chicks tend to be friendlier with humans because they don’t imprint on their mother.
The most significant risk with incubators can be power outages—you’ll need a backup plan for warming the eggs if your electricity goes out during the incubation phase.
Choosing an Incubator
There are a variety of styles of incubators for eggs available. Simple models have a basic heat and humidity source controlled by a switch, while others include a fan for air circulation, an automatic egg turner, and a digital display for monitoring the temperature, humidity level, and days until hatching.
Where you keep the incubator matters more than most realize. Keep it in a room without drafts that maintains a consistent temperature and away from windows and direct sunlight. You also want it out of reach of pets and curious children that might disturb it.
Where To Find Fertilized Eggs
Fertilized chicken eggs aren’t hard to come by if you know where to look. If you own a rooster, odds are every egg you interact with has the potential to grow a chick. Otherwise, it’s possible to purchase eggs from a breeder. This tends to be the best way to secure a specific breed.
Note: fertilized eggs are notorious for not shipping well and tend to have a low hatch rate after so much jostling. When possible, find a local supplier where you can skip the mailing process to pick them up in person.
How To Properly Incubate Eggs
All incubators will have different operating instructions, which should always be your first guide. Even so, these general guidelines work for most devices.
Before adding eggs, test the incubator out by letting it run for at least 24 hours. This gives it time to stabilize the interior temperature and enables you to make any adjustments before placing sensitive eggs inside.
Inspect each egg for deformities or hairline cracks and discard any that aren’t perfect.
Place them in the incubator slightly on their side with the pointed end angled down. Monitor the incubator for the first hour after adding eggs to ensure the settings stay consistent. Avoid opening and closing it, as this will disrupt the temperature sensors.
Note: If you’re using shipped eggs, let them set out for 24-48 hours before adding them to the incubator. This allows the yolks to settle and reach room temperature. Moving cold eggs to a warm incubator may cause them to crack and die.
The Incubation Process
The steps for incubating your eggs will vary based on the day.
This is the majority of the incubation period. Plan to turn each egg once every eight hours (unless your incubator has an automatic egg turner). Many people mark one end of each shell with an X to help them keep track.
Ideally, chicken eggs need to be incubated at a constant temperature between 99-102°F, with 45-55% humidity. It’s okay if the humidity level fluctuates—it’s not as critical as the temperature.
Monitor the interior temperature and humidity, adding water to the reservoir when it gets low. After a week, you can “candle” the eggs for signs of a developing embryo.
You’ve reached the lockdown phase for incubation. From now on, you’ll stop opening the incubator and turning the eggs. Increase the humidity to 65-70%, and prepare a space for the newly hatched chicks for when they move out.
By day 21, you’ll start to hear peeping from inside the eggs. They may begin to rock back and forth, with small cracks developing. It can take over 24 hours for chicks to make it out of their shells, and it’s crucial you don’t interfere with the process, even if a bird appears to be struggling. In fact, the challenges of hatching helps these little birds develop proper muscle function.
Leave all chicks in the incubator until the hatching process is finished, so you don’t interfere with the humidity levels. The chicks eat their yolk sac just before hatching, meaning they can go several days without additional food and water. In fact, moving chicks before they are dry and fluffy can leave them chilled and prone to illness.
Incubating Duck Eggs: What’s the Difference?
Chickens aren’t the only feathered fowl that can hatch eggs within an incubator. Many people have great luck with duck eggs as well.
The primary difference with incubating duck eggs is that they take 28-35 days to hatch—up to two weeks longer than chicken eggs. Keeping the two together may cause problems if you’re opening the incubator frequently to pull out baby chicks. For this reason, it works best to focus on one bird type at a time.
Incubating Chicken Eggs for Fun and Farm Profits
Hatching chicken eggs at home with an incubator is a satisfying experience, whether you want 5 birds or 50. And if you need help managing your expanding farming operation, consider Farmbrite software.
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Author Bio: Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer and hobby farmer in West Michigan. She writes about food, farming, health, and wellness topics related to the planet and people within it. When not tied to her computer, you’ll find Lydia weeding, reading, or chasing after her ever-growing flock of chickens.