How to Incubate and Hatch Chicken Eggs

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How to Incubate and Hatch Chicken Eggs
Posted in: Poultry Care

Whether it's for a science project or if you're looking to raise a little backyard flock of your own, hatching chicken eggs can be extremely rewarding -- not to mention fun! With the right equipment and a little patience, you can have baby-feathered friends in just a few weeks. This beginner's guide will explain how to incubate chicken eggs and hatch adorable little chicks from home. 

1. Get the Eggs

That's the answer to the question, "Which came first, the chickens or the eggs?" Of course, the eggs you see in the grocery store are not fertilized, so they won't hatch. You need to order them from poultry farmers or hatcheries, preferably from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified flocks to lower the risk of diseases. 

Fertilized eggs are usually hatched with the help of an egg incubator, which is an enclosed unit with a heater to simulate the job of a mother hen, keeping the eggs warm during the 3-week incubation period. It is important to transfer the eggs into the incubator within a week of acquiring them. If you must store them for a few days, the room should be a cool 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but do NOT use your fridge for this. 

2. Prepare the Incubator

A week or so before your eggs arrive, wash the incubator with a 10 percent bleach solution, then warm soapy water, and thoroughly rinse, finally allowing it to dry. Test the temperature and humidity level before placing it somewhere with steady ambient temperatures and no drafts.

The goal temperature range is 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit, with 100.5 degrees being the optimal temperature.

As for humidity: 

  • We recommend purchasing a hygrometer to monitor the humidity level.
  • Humidity in the incubator should be at 50-55 percent for days 1 through 17. 
  • For days 18 to 21, the relative humidity should be raised to 70 percent. Increase ventilation to the embryos and don't open the incubator unless it is absolutely necessary.

3. Set the Eggs

The incubation of poultry should be done as precisely as possible. "Setting the eggs" simply means placing them inside the incubator. Set no fewer than six eggs at a time. Newborn chicks need companions because they are flock animals. Moreover, it is reported, setting less than six can often result in one or no hatchlings. Set the eggs with the narrower end facing down in the egg tray. Set the temperature at 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity at 50-55 percent. The time of incubation for chicken eggs is 21 days.

4. Rotate/Turn the Eggs

This is a crucial step when you are hatching chicken eggs. If you just leave the eggs in the incubator, the developing embryo could end up sticking to the shell instead of resting on top of the yolk. Since the yolk will float upwards, it will end up on top of the egg white and towards the shell if the egg isn't rotated. The embryo could sustain severe — or even fatal — damage if it is squeezed between the shell and the yolk. Turning the egg moves the yolk within the egg white, away from the shell, so that the embryo can safely rest on top of it until it starts floating up again. 

From day 1 to 18, you would ideally turn the eggs five times a day (three at the minimum). This is when having an incubator with an automatic egg turner feature can make things simple and convenient. Alternatively, turning your eggs manually requires gently marking the egg with a pencil and keeping track of which eggs have been rotated. You would also be opening the incubator repeatedly, which may cause variances in the temperature and humidity. Additionally, you could also risk transferring oils from your skin or germs to the egg and growing chick, so wearing gloves and washing hands well prior to touching the eggs is a must. With an egg turner, you keep the temperature and humidity consistent, decrease the risk of passing germs to the developing chicks, and remove the worry of keeping score of which eggs you have turned and which remain to be turned.

5. Egg Candling

From day 7 to 10, you can determine whether the embryos are developing properly by "candling" the eggs, or shining a light through them. You can make do with a flashlight, or you can get specialized equipment designed for candling. Only candle a few eggs at a time and keep them out of the incubator no more than 5-10 minutes. The candling rules of thumb are:

  • If it is clear inside the egg, the egg wasn't fertile or the embryo died early on. Remove it.
  • If you see a red ring inside the egg, it means that there was an embryo but it has died. This should be removed too.
  • If an egg is broken or leaking, there is likely no viable embryo and you should remove it to prevent contamination.
  • If you see blood vessels inside the egg, you have a live, viable embryo.

6. Pre-hatching

By about day 18, the embryo has grown into a chick and takes up most of the space inside the egg. This is when you stop turning the eggs. Make sure that the larger end of the egg faces upward to help the chick position itself to hatch. Keep the temperature in the incubator at 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit but increase the humidity to 70 percent.

7. Hatching

Chicks usually hatch around day 21, but don't despair if the process happens later. It could be that the eggs had been cooled before they were incubated, which slows things down. Fight the urge to help the chick hatch. You may think you are helping by pulling off pieces of shell, but you may in fact cause fatal bleeding if its blood vessels are still attached to the shell and they haven't yet dried up. Expect it to take 5-7 hours for a baby chick to hatch, and do not be surprised if it takes up to a full day as this also is normal. 

When all the chicks have hatched, you can lower the incubator temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the chicks are nice and dry, you can move your peeping wonders into a brooder.

Have Any Questions?

Grange Co-op is happy to support you as you grow your delightful backyard flock. We supply equipment for every stage of the chick-raising process, as well as products for successful and healthy poultry nutrition.  

Want to know which incubator will best suit your needs or how we can make the hatching and chick rearing process easier? Contact us today or visit us in-store to speak with one of our Grange Chicken Experts to discuss further questions or inventory queries.

March 15, 2022
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