The Incubation Process

 


This is a general guide to incubating your eggs no matter what incubator you are using. Read everything before doing anything – then come back and read again!

 


Some processes, like 'candling' and 'the wet bulb method' are fully explained on other pages.

Please refer to the Main Menu.

 


Eggs

Naturally, you need fertile eggs to begin with. If you are incubating eggs from your current stock and your rooster to hen ratio is no more than 1 – 14 (1 – 10 or 11 is better) you should have about a 95% chance that your eggs are fertile. Otherwise do your best to get fresh eggs from friends or a chook farm. There are places you can buy fertile eggs from through the mail. Make sure the eggs you are incubating are as normal looking as possible. Broken or cracked shells are not suitable. Look for abnormal shapes in the shell. These are to be avoided if possible.
Okay, so you have collected your eggs. They should be no more than 7 days old for best results. Do not refrigerate them! They should be kept at approximately 210C (700F). If it takes longer than three days to gather your eggs try to drop the temperature closer to 15.50C (600F).
It is always best to make sure the eggs are not shaken during collection and to store them with the large end up in a clean egg container. This is to help stabilize the air sac in the egg. Eggs older than three days should be turned to prevent the yolk from sticking to the inside of the shell.
Make sure your hands and the eggs are clean. If need be, wash the eggs with clean room temperature water. Do this quickly and gently to preserve the integrity of the shell and keep it from getting soft from too much water. Dry them with a paper towel afterwards. Never use newspaper! The ink is poison to the developing embryos.
 

Incubator

Your incubator needs to be set up and prepared before setting the eggs. You can't just turn it on, put the eggs in and hope for the best. Not if you expect to have chicks in 21 days, anyway. The incubator should be turned on and monitored for at least 24 hours before setting the eggs inside. Actually 3 or 4 days is much better. This will give you time to learn what is happening inside your incubator and make adjustments to temperature as needed. Keep an eye on temperature and humidity to make sure the incubator is running at the correct settings and the temperature is stable. This goes for auto or manual. If the temperature is too high you could cook the eggs – too low and they may never hatch.
Remember, you only to need to make a tiny adjustment to make a difference in temperature inside the incubator.
 

Setting the eggs

Before you place your precious cargo into the incubator – If using a manual turn incubator it is important to mark the eggs so that you can see which ones need turned. You can use the number '1' on one side and '2' on the opposite. Or, 'X' and 'O'. Doesn't matter what you use, just so you can identify a 180 degree turn of the eggs. Mark with a pencil! Do not use a texture marker as the ink can seep through the porous shell and cause problems. Use A Pencil!
Once you place the eggs in the incubator you will notice an immediate drop in temperature. Whatever you do – don't adjust the thermostat. The temperature has dropped because;
  1. You opened the incubator and left a good bit of warm air out.

  2. The eggs you just placed inside are up to 150C (20+0F) colder than the internal temperature of the incubator.

The temperature will soon be back to where you had it set. Just let the thermostat do it's job.
If, however the temperature does not go back up after 4 to 6 hours, you can make the tiniest adjustment possible to help. Then hover over them to make sure the temperature does not go higher than it's supposed to and adjust accordingly.
Remember that through out the incubation period the temperature may rise or fall inside the incubator. This is an indication of the air temperature only. The egg temperature is the average of the high and low reading. For example, let's just say that you notice the temperature is at 36.90C (98.40F). So you make a note of it. Later that day you notice the thermometer reads 38.80C (101.80F). That is a variance of 1.90C or 3.40F. However, the average temperature of the egg is 37.90C or 100.20F. Well within the norm.
That being said, that's actually quite a lot of variance if for no apparent reason so I would be watching it like a hawk for the next 8 to 10 hours. (Was the incubator opened? A blast of cool air through the door? Power outage?)
For the first day, the eggs do not need to be turned. However for the rest of the incubation period, except for the last three days, they must to be turned at a minimum of twice daily (every 12 hours). Every 8 hours is better if you can. Be gentle – too rough a treatment will harm the developing embryo. But then again, don't take all day. The longer the incubator is open the cooler the air inside is getting.
Be cautious when turning eggs that your hands are free of chemicals, moisturizers, etc. If you are in dry conditions moisten your fingers before handling.
From here on it is important to keep track of the days. Whether this is your first time or not, it's even a better idea to keep a journal of events during the incubation period. Temperature and humidity readings, turning times, any adjustments – circumstances and results, end results, hatch rate, etc. This will be invaluable information for you in the future.
 

Hatch Day

For chickens, this is day 21. You have not turned the eggs for the last three days and the eggs have begun to pip, or break through the shell usually on day 19 or 20. Sometime on this 21st day you will have new babies!
Don't get over excited if they don't all hatch today, though. It could be that despite all you do the temp or humidity was a bit low or high overall. (This is where the journal begins to show it's importance for the next batch!) Or it could be that the newest eggs hatched first and the others will take a little longer. Wait at least until day 23 and see. If there are still eggs at the end of this day, candle to make sure they are still alive or not and decide then.
Once your babies have hatched, leave them in the incubator until they are fluffy and dry. The peeping and noise they make will help encourage the others to come out. It's best to move them to a pre-warmed brooder when they are ready however, I have left babies and eggs in our incubator for up to 4.5 days while the last ones hatched, then move them together.
On day two after hatching they will begin to get hungry and thirsty. You will need to have fresh water and food at the ready. I have always fed my babies cooked rice and finely chopped egg yolk for the first few days and then slowly begin to replace with chick crumbles. At first it doesn't hurt to help them know where the food and water is by gently dipping their beaks in them.
 

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