Hatching Eggs: Getting Started with Incubation
How-to for the complete waterfowl, quail, and chicken egg hatching process
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Add to your flock by hatching eggs in the incubator from a quality egg seller and experience the joy of welcoming new life.
Hatching eggs is a great way to add to your homestead flock. There are three ways to get chicks for your flock. The first is to keep a rooster and a few hens. The eggs from those hens will be fertile from the expected mating. Add a broody hen and 21 days later you have new chicks. Not every chicken keeper can or wants to have a rooster on the property though. In that case, you still have options in addition to purchasing new chicks. First, you can buy hatching eggs for sale and place them under a broody hen. Make sure she has a clean nest, available food and water and she will take care of the rest for you.
The incubator method is the other option when hatching eggs. Using hatching eggs for sale from a reputable, quality egg seller, is fun for the whole family. Incubators are available at all price points. The lower-priced Styrofoam style incubators may take a little bit more hands-on management, but they can give great results. Add a reptile humidity gauge and a wet sponge in a dish, to these models. Higher cost incubators offer more bells and whistles with monitors for temperature, humidity levels, and automatic egg turning mechanisms. With the large assortment of products, it’s easy to find an incubator that meets your needs and your budget.
Acquiring Hatching Eggs and Getting Set Up
Hatching eggs are normally shipped priority or you can choose to pick up if the distance allows. It’s exciting to get started but there are a few things you should do before you set the eggs in the incubator.
Allow the eggs to sit for 24 hours to acclimate. This is important especially after a journey through the post office system. In the meantime, set up the incubator and give it time to come to the right temperature. I like to have mine running at least 12 hours before setting the eggs. This way I can check for any temperature variations and allow the humidity to stabilize. If you have an automatic incubator, choose the settings based on the type of poultry you are hatching.
- Keep the incubator from sitting in direct sunlight from a window, door or skylight.
- Protect the incubator from pets and small children.
- Use a power strip to avoid damage from power surges.
- Don’t open the incubator more than necessary.
Setting the Eggs
With everything ready, set the eggs in the incubator. I like to place a pencil mark on one side of each egg so I can see that they are rotating. If you are turning the eggs by hand, plan on three times a day. You will stop turning eggs or turn off the auto turner for the last two days of incubation.
Maintaining the Appropriate Temperature Inside the Incubator
Opening the incubator too often results in temperature drops. There will be a few times that you need to open the incubator. If you don’t have an automatic egg turner, you need to turn the eggs three times per day. This is as simple as carefully rolling each egg a quarter turn in rotation. Mark one side of the egg with a pencil to see where they are in the rotation.
In addition to rotating, the eggs will be handled when candling to check development. With some models of incubators, the water reservoir, for humidity, will require opening the lid to refill.
Candling Hatching Eggs
Candling the eggs at certain stages of development will allow you to see if the hatching eggs are on track to hatch. When an egg is developing correctly, the first candling at eight to 10 days shows a system of veins visible through the eggshell. Candling lights can be purchased, but a small LED flashlight is often bright enough to do the job.
Soon after, a dark mass can be seen when candling. That is the developing embryo. As it grows, you will see less veining.
At the end of development, right before the eggs are placed on lockdown, the chick takes up most of the interior space with an air cell at the large end of the egg. The yolk absorbs into the chick’s abdomen during this time and serves as nourishment for the first two or three days post-hatch.
When to Toss Eggs That Are Not Developing
Candling hatching eggs gives us a good view as development progresses. By 15 days, if the egg has no veining, and is mostly clear, the chances that it will develop are almost nonexistent. It may be that the egg was older or not fertilized. This is not uncommon. Toss any non-developing eggs before they explode in the incubator. Broken eggs in the incubator spread harmful bacteria which can jeopardize the entire hatch.
Different Species of Poultry have Different Incubation Length
Although most poultry will hatch between 21 and 30 days, it’s important to know a closer time frame for the hatching eggs in your incubator. Bantam chicks and dwarf breeds and quail all have the tendency to hatch earlier than the 21-day norm for standard chicken eggs. Ducks, geese, and other large fowl take closer to 28 to 30 days.
Lockdown Period at the End of Incubation
It’s important to know the range of time for hatching because, during the final 48 hours, you will stop turning the eggs. Place a paper towel or other non-slip covering on the incubator floor. This gives the chicks a less slippery surface for trying out their new legs.
During the lockdown period, increase the humidity by filling the water reservoir completely. Put a guard over the water pot to keep chicks from drowning. Humidity during the final days helps the chicks hatch without getting stuck in the egg membranes.
Why is the Humidity Level Important?
Humidity needs to be controlled in order to have a healthy result from hatching eggs. Keep the humidity during development at a lower level, around 40-50%. During the final three days, referred to as “lockdown,” increase humidity to 65%. This helps prevent the egg membranes from drying out too much during hatching and causing a condition known as shrink-wrapping.
When you don’t have a means to measure the incubator humidity, an alternative is to weigh the eggs for moisture loss. During a normal course of incubation, hatching eggs lose approximately 13% of their weight.
During the hatch, resist the urge to open the incubator each time a chick has hatched. They will be comfortable in the incubator for a few hours. Open the incubator in batches to remove several at a time. The only caution I will say about this is I have had some rowdy, newly hatched chicks turn the unhatched eggs too much, resulting in chicks dying in the eggs. If you feel it necessary to remove active chicks, do so as quickly as possible to maintain humidity levels.
The Chick Looks Like it is Stuck in the Shell!
When you find a chick struggling to break free, do not be quick to assist. Opening the incubator drops the humidity level, which can make everything worse. Remember that some chicks will take close to 24 hours to completely hatch. If you jump in too soon, you risk pulling a chick from its shell before the abdomen has finished absorbing the yolk and closed completely.
Hatching eggs for your flock is a wonderful experience. The process allows you to have a hands-on approach to the full range of chicken care.
All photos by Ann Accetta-Scott (A Farm Girl in The Making).
Originally published in the February/March 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.
2 thoughts on “Hatching Eggs: Getting Started with Incubation”
Its intresting having to learn more about poultry with you. Thanks alot.
Actually absolutely none of that needs to happen for incubation! No adding water, no lockdown, no counting days to hatch, no marking eggs will out do any incubation process you have!