It’s that time of year when thoughts turn towards getting or hatching some chicks, so we thought we would dedicate this article to hatching eggs whether they be your own hens or bought eggs. There are a few important points to know when hatching for the first time, so if you are a hatching novice, read on!
Hatching chicks is as much an art as it is science. Once you have discovered the best and most successful routine for you – stick with it. We will mention two ways of approaching your hatch. Both have been successful for different people. While one method may not work for you, don’t give up trying the other method.
Hen vs Incubator
If you are lucky enough to have an annual broody hen, you might consider putting at least some of the eggs under her, as long as she will accept them.
My personal preference is to use a broody, it is much less stressful and time consuming. In my experience the broody can do a better job without the fuss and worry of an incubator. She will hatch them for you and take care of the chicks without any bother.
If the eggs are rare or valuable or you don’t have a broody, you may want to use an incubator only. If your not sure what incubator to purchase, please see our in depth incubators reviews and how to use them.
Always get the incubator out and do a ‘test run’ on it to check that everything is working correctly prior to using it. While you are at it, wipe down the incubator thoroughly with a disinfectant or sanitizer to ensure that it is clean and germ-free. See our incubator guide here.
Your Own Eggs
Hatching eggs from your own birds is generally more fruitful. You are able to check for fertility prior to setting your eggs if you want to and you can do a variety of eggs if you wish. The most suitable eggs come from hens over two years old. By this time, the egg ‘factory’ is in great working order and producing eggs that are perfect for hatching.
In selecting eggs suitable for hatching, you will need to remember the following points.
- Do not use eggs that are odd shapes, wrinkled, cracked or marred in any way. They will likely not hatch for you.
- Do not use eggs that are very pointy or ones that are round – you should be able to clearly determine the blunt end.
- Store them at around 55F while you are collecting them (pointy end downward) and turn them at least once daily.
- Do not use the first eggs from a new laying pullet. They will possibly not hatch well.
- Do not wash your eggs. Clean all dirt from the shell without removing the bloom.
A simple sanitizing solution can be made for your eggs of 1 teaspoon of bleach added to 1 quart of water. Water should be above 101F to ensure that the germs do not enter the egg through the pores in the shell.
Wash gently in the solution and leave to air dry – do not rub dry as this removes the bloom.
Buying hatching eggs is always a gamble, so make sure your source is reputable. Sadly, there are several scammers out there who will happily sell you hatching eggs knowing the eggs aren’t fertile or viable.
Reputable dealers will give you lots of information and should have a good/excellent review from previous buyers.
Some of the issues you likely won’t know about prior to setting these eggs are:
- Flock health – lymphoid leucosis (among other diseases) can be transmitted through the egg.
- Overall poor quality of the flock
- Improper storage
- Were they fertile?
Although eggs are usually very well packed for their journey, many will not make it through the postal service. Even though the package may be marked as ‘live embryos’, ‘fragile’ etc. the package will be subject to shaking, tossing and other physical contacts through the sorting process.
Eggs are made to be resilient, but there is a limit to the amount of abuse they can take before they become too addled to use.
Do not use supermarket eggs – they are not fertile.
How To ‘set’ Your Eggs
Before you set your eggs, there are a few things you need to do to prepare for the best chances of hatching.
You will need to clean and sanitize your incubator first. You will also need to run the incubator for at least 24 hours to make sure temperature is reached and maintained. If you have an automatic turner, make sure it too is in good working order.
If you have the money available, it is extremely useful to have a humidity monitor. They can be bought quite inexpensively through online hatching suppliers or pet stores in the reptile section.
If your eggs have traveled any distance to get to you, they will need to settle for at least 12 hours, pointed end down. This resting period helps to settle the contents of the egg before you start the incubation and give them the best chance of hatching.
If you have collected your own eggs, make sure they are clean and stored properly prior to setting them in an incubator. Eggs lose fertility rapidly after the seventh day, so try to set them before day #7.
Candle them prior to setting – this will check for any hairline cracks in the shell that may not be visible to the naked eye.
Your incubator is working and your eggs are ready – so let’s get hatching! Place the eggs in the incubator. Some incubators have holes to sit the eggs in others have a tray with wire separators.
The eggs should be set pointy end downward. In the wire rack system you can achieve this by either standing them upright, or resting them on their side. Eggs should never be placed in the incubator with the pointed end up.
You will need to adjust your humidity to be not less than 25-30% in the first 18 days, although some folks have great success with a dry hatch (very low humidity).
The two major causes of failure to hatch are temperature and humidity.
You will need to check the temperature several times during the first couple of days to ensure that it is steady. Small fluctuations are tolerable but large ones can cause trouble.
A small fluctuation occurs every time you remove the lid of the incubator but the temperature should return to normal within 30 minutes or so. The ‘normal temperature for the incubator will vary for each incubator, but for chicks it is usually around 99.5F.
Wet or Dry Hatch?
Humidity can be a bigger problem. Many experts believe that ‘dry hatching’ is the best way to go. The theory is that many chicks drown in the shell because the air cell is not big enough.
The air cell in the egg needs to increase in size over the incubation time to accommodate the chick breathing when it pips internally – if the air cell is not big enough the chick will not survive. The moisture lost from the egg should equate to roughly 13% of the eggs’ weight before hatching.
If you wish to weigh the eggs prior to hatching this is an excellent way to determine how the weight loss is progressing.
In dry hatching the humidity is kept as low 15-30% until the last three days. If you chose to use this method you will need to candle at days 7 and 14 to determine if the air cell is large enough.
If the cell is progressing well, stay at the humidity level you have chosen, if the cell is still on the small side, decrease the humidity a little.
On Day 18, you need to ramp up the humidity to 65-70%. The high humidity is needed to help the chicks escape from the shell and avoid being ‘shrink-wrapped’.
A ‘wet’ hatch is the most used method of incubation. You try to keep the humidity at around 40-50% for the first 18 days then increase to 70% + for the lockdown period.
Most incubators give you instructions for the wet hatch method along with notes on the development of the air cell and weighing the egg.
The dry hatch method can be found here: http://chickscope.beckman.uiuc.edu/resources/egg_to_chick/procedures.html
Avoid opening the incubator after day 18, this is lockdown and the chicks are getting into position to hatch so don’t move them around.
Candling is a useful little tool that can give you vital information about chick development. It can be a bit tricky to master but is well worth the time and money invested.
A good ovascope or candler will cost you anywhere from $13.00 – $94.00. If you intend to use it a lot, spend a little more money. If you are only hatching one or two times a year, a cheaper model should suffice.
At Day 7 you will also be able to see if the embryo is developing or not, this is the time to remove ‘non-starters’. How do you know if they are non-starters?
When you candle at Day 4-5, you should start to see some fine veins start to develop inside the egg. By Day 7 you can see a blob with a large dark center – this is the eye.
This link gives you pictorial development of the chick in shell.
On Day 21 you should be rewarded by little peeps from the shells and some cute little fuzz balls emerging.
Don’t remove them right away, let the incubator dry them off and warm them. They do not need to eat for 24-36 hours and their peeping will act as encouragement for the ones yet to emerge.
Once they are dried and warm you can move them over to the brooder and introduce them to food and water.
Everyone does it a little differently. If you think about how the Mother Hen does it, we seem overly fussy!
Some of my past hatches have been disappointing, so this year I am going to try a dry hatch or two to see how they compare.
If in the past you have used the wet hatch method and it has worked well, stay with it! If you are uncomfortable using the dry hatch method, stick with the wet hatch. If you have been disappointed with previous hatches (low hatch rates, weak/poorly chicks), be daring and try something new!
It is important to keep notes and monitor the progress of your chicks. Those notes will come in handy on successive hatches where you can fine tune your particular method.
Remember to continue taking motes after the hatch for at least a couple of weeks. You may think this boring or mundane, but in review you can often see things of interest after the fact.
We hope you have enjoyed this piece and that it helps you with your future hatches, let us know what you think and if you have any tips/tricks you use during hatching please share with us.