Soooo, I like chickens y'all. Actually, I LOVE them! What started as two laying hens and two young pullets has turned into a full-fledged chicken farm! We have several breeds, many ages, and a huge chicken run my husband built for my girls! It's a chicken madhouse around here.
Recently we decided to start incubating eggs and keeping some for our farm and selling some and let me tell you, it's super exciting y'all. So far we have hatched Ameraucanas and we have Whiting True Blue's ready to hatch within the next 24 hours. I wanted to talk to y'all about hatching them, how easy it is, and how rewarding!
Set Up an Incubator
Whether you want to incubate 7 eggs for a homeschool project, or you want to do it commercially, there is an incubator for you! They start around $50 and go up from there. This, Farm Innovators Model 2250 is the one we're using. You can choose to purchase an egg turner to fit your incubator (if it doesn't have one already)...ours did not, so we purchased THIS ONE. Having an automatic egg turner keeps things simple, and I highly recommend it unless you want to be attached to your eggs for three weeks! No matter how fancy or simple though, all incubators must accomplish a few basic things:
Temperature: The eggs need to be kept at 99.5 degrees at all times; just one degree higher or lower for a few hours can terminate the embryo.
Humidity: 40 to 50 percent humidity must be maintained for the first 18 days; 65 to 75 percent humidity is needed for the final days before hatching.
Yes, you can make a homemade version, and they usually involve some sort of insulated box – a cheap Styrofoam cooler works well. An adjustable heating pad or a light bulb on a dimmer switch will suffice for the heat source and a pan of water with a sponge in it will make the air humid. Low-end commercial incubators don’t amount to much more than this, but the more you pay, the more automated the temperature and humidity controls will be.
A high-quality thermometer and hygrometer (a device to measure humidity) are the most important tools of incubation; cheap models are usually not accurate enough. If you’re not working with an incubator that has these instruments built-in, opt for a combo thermometer/hygrometer with an external display. These have a sensor that goes inside the incubator with an LED screen on the outside that shows the temperature and humidity readings without having to open the incubator and ruin your carefully calibrated environment. DON'T OPEN IT UNLESS NECESSARY....did I mention that part?
One of the most important parts as I see it is an automatic egg turner, it's a time-saving feature to rotate the eggs automatically. Much of the fussing that a hen does over her eggs comes from an evolutionary instinct to constantly move them about. The finely tuned ecosystem inside a chicken egg is kept in balance by constantly changing the position of the egg. High-end incubators have a built-in egg turning device, but there are also standalone egg turners that can be placed inside a homemade incubator to do the job. Or, you can rotate manually if you dare!
Find Fertile Eggs
If you already have a flock of chickens that includes a rooster, the majority of the eggs they lay will be fertile. Collect them as soon as possible after laying and transfer to the incubator. If you don’t already have chickens, find a friend or a nearby farmer who does and ask if you can buy some fertile eggs. Websites like Craigslist and BackyardChickens.com are a good way to link with people that may have eggs to spare. Some feed stores sell fertile eggs in the spring and many suppliers sell eggs online.The closer to home, the better the egg source. The jostling about and fluctuations in temperature and humidity that occur during transport are hard on the developing fetus. Hatching rates on eggs straight from the coop are often in the 75 to 90 percent range; with mail-order eggs, there is no guarantee that any will hatch so if you have them, or if you can find them close to you, that's your best bet.
When picking eggs to incubate, use those that are clean, well-formed and full-size. Above all, do not clean the eggs – there is a naturally occurring coating that is vital to the success of the embryo, and if you mess with it, you'll be messing with your success rate. Wash your hands before handling and be gentle, as the embryos are extremely susceptible to things outside the shell.
In a perfect world the eggs are transferred directly to the incubator, but it’s possible to store them in egg cartons if needed. There's a lot of information out there on this, but I want to say the eggs seem to me to be a little more resiliant than many people say. Our first batch of eggs that we incubated sat on our kitchen counter for two weeks before we bougt an incubator and placed them inside. We still hatched 4 chickens out of 12. I felt like that was a major success since I didn't expect any of them to make it.
It takes 21 days on average for an egg to hatch once incubation begins. Before placing the eggs inside, turn on the heat source and measure the temperature and humidity over 24 hours, making adjustments as necessary to create the optimal environment.
Once the incubator is functioning properly, it’s just a matter of maintaining the environment until the chicks hatch. Place the eggs on their side in the incubator, close the door and check the levels religiously to making sure things are going well and temps remain as they should. Water may have to be added to the pan occasionally to keep the humidity up. At day 18, add more water to boost the humidity level.
If you’re going to turn the eggs yourself, there is a standard method to mimic the efforts of a hen:
In the last days eggs will likely roll around and shift a bit on their own as the chickens begin to struggle and try to get out. The chick will eventually peck a small hole in the large end of the egg and take its first breath. It is normal at this point for the chick to rest for 6-12 hours while its lungs adjust before continuing to hatch. Resist the urge to help with the hatching process – it’s really easy to hurt them.
Once the chick is free from the egg, let it dry off in the warmth of the incubator before moving it into a brooder box, where it will spend the first weeks of its life under a heat lamp.
Once those little furballs hatch, you'll have chickens running around in no time so you'd better get that chicken coop built.
Hi I'm Jen, and I'm so glad you're here. I have a passion for Jesus, my family, and connecting with a more simple way of life. I love to write, and enjoy many creative avenues. I look forward to sharing so much with y'all so come back often!
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