There’s nothing much more rewarding than caring for and incubating chicken eggs. As the time passes, you anxiously wait for those amazing little miracles of life to finally break free of their calcium carbonate confines, while you stress about all the things which could go wrong in the meantime. Fear not, this chicken egg incubator guide will put your mind at ease.
The rewards are worth it though, as you find yourself continually amazed at how much needs to happen inside those fragile shells before those first tiny cracks towards freedom start appearing.
Why Use a Chicken Egg Incubator
Once she has laid her clutch, the mother hen will become a creature of instinct. She will fuss over the eggs, rarely leaving them for more than a few minutes at a time, and you will see her continually adjusting their position.
She instinctively knows that one little slip up could mean the difference between life or death for her babies, and if the eggs do hatch, any mistakes on her part could result in one or more of the chicks developing with deformities.
However, hens aren’t always perfect mothers; they can easily get distracted, other hens may bully them off the nest, or the rooster my come along and disturb her. In short, anything and everything could go wrong at any time, so a mother hen just can’t be trusted with such a delicate job.
Therefore farmers and many backyard chicken enthusiasts will use an egg incubator, as it removes random chance from the equation and dramatically improves the odds that the eggs will make it through to hatching time.
Incubating Tips and Tricks
Baby chicks are sticklers for timing and will hatch right on three weeks (21 days). If you incubate on Saturday, you can expect to see a bunch of tiny chicks furiously striking out for freedom three weeks later, almost to the day.
While day 21 is where you will see most of the eggs hatch, there may occasionally be times when you will notice one or two busts out a little early or arrive a day late. This behaviour is perfectly reasonable for some chicks whose biological clocks may have gone a little awry.
Selecting and Storing Eggs
You won’t have much success with eggs bought from the grocery store, as these are not fertile. Instead, you will need to order your eggs from hatcheries or poultry farmers who have roosters in their flocks.
Eggs destined for the incubator should be clean and even shaped. Don’t wash them beforehand, as this will remove the protective layer, or “bloom,” which is a barrier against bacteria and disease.
Once you have suitable eggs, you should aim to incubate them within one week, and less than ten days after they have been laid. After ten days, the success rate of hatching drops dramatically.
You also need to store the eggs correctly before incubation. Store the eggs in cartons or cases with the large end of the egg pointing up. Ensure the storage location has a temperature which remains between 5 to 21 °C (40 – 70° F) with 10 °C to 16 °C (50-60 °F) being optimal. Humidity should remain steady at around 75%. Eggs you plan to hatch should not be stored in the fridge.
Eggs which are going to be stored for 2 or 3 days will need regular positional changes to prevent the yolks from sticking to the shells. An easy way to do this is to prop a carton up on one end with a block of wood or a brick, and then each day change the end. If you plan on incubating within one or two days of receiving your eggs, then you don’t have to worry about this procedure.
Position the Chicken Egg Incubator
If your chicken egg incubator is new and this is your first time at incubation, you should make sure you are proficient in its operation. You don’t want to be fumbling around figuring it out on a live run, as this will make your eggs vulnerable to your every mistake.
Your chicken egg incubator should be placed in a location which you know maintains a steady temperature without too many heavy fluctuations. This means no windows, as the sun will likely raise the temperature too high and destroy the embryos. A room with a temperature between 21 and 24 °C is ideal. Also, make sure the room has a reliable electrical source in which to plug your incubator.
Your eggs will be fine with short outages, but if the power goes out overnight the dramatic and lengthy temperature change will result in dead embryos.
When you’re finally ready to incubate, plug the incubator in and allow enough time to ensure the temperature is sitting steady between 37 and 38 °C (99.5–100°F).
Humidity levels are important too and should be maintained between 50 to 55% for the first 18 days. Raise the humidity up to 60 – 65% for the final three days. You can use a pan of water to keep the inside of the incubator nice and moist for your developing chicks and adjust the levels as required by increasing or decreasing ventilation through the incubator.
Choose Your Chicken Egg Incubator
Maintaining the correct temperature for your developing chicks is vital to the success of your hatch. For best results, use an incubator which has monitors for both temperature and humidity, so you will know when adjustments are needed.
A chicken egg incubator with an accurate thermometer and hygrometer and good temperature control will also increase your chances at a successful hatch. Humidity and temperature alarms will be able to alert you to any dangerous conditions building up inside the incubator and give you time to rectify them immediately. This is much better than finding out that the temperature or humidity went out of whack, possibly for hours without you knowing.
You may notice the eggs rolling about and seemingly having a life of their own during the last few days. This is merely the result of an active foetus building up momentum and strength to make the final break into the outside world.
After a while, you will see a tiny beak poking a small hole in the large end of the egg. At this point, the chick will be tired and will need to gather its strength over the next 12 hours while its lungs adjust to breathing the outside air and it builds up for the final push to freedom.