How to Successfully Incubate Peahen Eggs

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How to Successfully Incubate Peahen Eggs

By Craig Hopkins – Indiana, United Peafowl Association. People who raise peafowl have several options to choose from when it comes to the incubation of peahen eggs. The peahen eggs can be incubated using natural methods, artificial methods or a combination of both. These methods have both advantages and disadvantages that should be considered by each individual interested in incubating peahen eggs. I have used all methods and have found that artificial incubation best suits my needs in raising peafowl and is the method focused on in this article.

First: Prepare the Breeders

Successful incubation of peahen eggs starts before the first egg is even laid. Breeder birds should be free of external and internal parasites. There are many products available to make this easy to achieve. The breeder birds should be on a chicken or pheasant layer feed at least a month before the first egg is expected to be laid. Oyster shell should be provided to the birds free choice. Housing for the breeder birds should be cleaned out prior to the laying season to reduce the chances of disease and to minimize the disturbance to the birds. Healthy breeder birds produce healthy, viable peahen eggs —the key to successful incubation.

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Next: Prepare the Equipment

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Craig Hopkins hatches his peahen eggs in a GQF incubator. He has found that the humidity level in the incubator plays the biggest role in successful incubation of peahen eggs.
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When incubating, Craig sets the eggs on their side and turns them twice a day by hand as well as using the auto turner in the incubator. The eggs are marked by pencil with the date they were set and a line on the opposite side of the egg so he quickly knows which ones have been turned 180 degrees by hand. Along with the temperature and humidity range that Craig maintains, the hand turning and setting of the eggs on their side has resulted in hatch rates of better than 90%.

Preparation of incubators prior to setting peahen eggs in them is another key to successful incubation. Whether the incubator is new or one that has been used for years, the temperature and humidity settings should be checked prior to the beginning of each laying season. The temperature should be measured in many locations to ensure that the proper temperature is kept throughout the incubator. The thermostat should be set so that a temperature of 99 to 100°F is consistent throughout. I use incubators which have air circulation fans in them to help maintain a uniform temperature. Many forced air incubators come with the thermometer placed in the top portion. If these are tall, narrow incubators, the temperature at the bottom can be 1-2ºF cooler. This can lead to a lower hatch rate of peahen eggs in the bottom trays. The accuracy of the thermometer in an incubator should be checked against a proven thermometer. I use an ordinary, household, mercury thermometer for this check. If an incubator will not hold a uniform temperature, this can point to a bad switch wafer, heating element, fan motor or door seal. These problems should be fixed before peahen eggs are set in the incubator.

I have found through the years that the humidity level in the incubator plays the biggest role in successful artificial incubation of peahen eggs. I maintain the humidity level at 60%. This converts to a wet bulb temperature of 86-87ºF. (The humidity required for normal development of the embryo may differ according to your particular climate and geographical location). The humidity level can be measured with a hygrometer or through the use of a wet bulb thermometer and a conversion chart. The humidity level can be adjusted by opening or closing the vents on an incubator to allow more or less air to enter and escape. The humidity level can also be adjusted by the use of a water pan in the incubator. The water evaporation is controlled by the surface area of water in the water pan. In other words, water will evaporate more quickly from a large, shallow water pan than from a smaller, deeper water pan—even if both pans contain the same amount of water. The more water evaporating from the water pan, the higher the humidity level.

The placement of an incubator can make achieving the desired setting much easier or much more difficult. An incubator should be placed in an area where the temperature and humidity are fairly constant. A basement or a room which is heated and cooled are good choices for the location of the incubator. An outbuilding or barn that is not temperature and humidity controlled are poor choices because it is very difficult to get the incubator properly adjusted. This is because of the large temperature and humidity swings that most areas experience during the incubation season.

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On the 26th day of incubation, Craig moves the eggs to a hatcher. The hatcher temperature is the same as the incubator, but maintains a higher humidity level.

The preparations mentioned earlier should be done far enough ahead of time to allow for the proper adjustments to be made before it is time to set the eggs. The last thing that I do before I set the first egg is to clean and fumigate the incubator. This ensures that the incubator is free of harmful bacteria which can contaminate the eggs. The use of a separate hatcher will greatly reduce the chances of bacteria forming in the incubator because all the mess and fluff associated with the eggs hatching is confined to the hatcher. The hatcher should be located in an area where it can be cleaned regularly to minimize the bacteria build up in it.

Set the Peahen Eggs

Now that the incubator is ready, it is time to set the eggs. I lay the peahen eggs on their sides in the incubating trays with the pointed end of the egg tipped slightly down. The eggs are marked on one side with the date that the egg was set, and a line is marked 180º from the date on the other side of the egg. Always use a pencil or crayon to mark the eggs. Never use a permanent marker because it can kill the embryo. My incubators have automatic turners which tip 45ºF in either direction every 2-3 hours. I have found that the hatching percentage can be greatly improved by turning the eggs over 180ºF twice a day in addition to using the automatic turner. This is where the egg set date and the line marked on the egg come into play.

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Once the chicks are stable, they are moved to a brooder. Note the use of the non-slippery floor material.

I set my eggs in the incubator daily and I never hold eggs more than seven days before setting them. If the eggs are to be held a few days before incubation begins, they should be kept at 55-60ºF in a dry location and the eggs should be turned twice daily. During the incubation season, I candle the eggs once a week to check for fertility. If an egg shows no signs of development after 10 days of incubation, it should be removed so that it doesn’t spoil and possibly contaminate the other eggs in the incubator. I leave the fertile eggs in the incubator until the 26th day of incubation. The eggs are then moved to the hatcher where they will usually hatch within two to three days. The eggs are no longer turned while they are in the hatcher so that the chick can properly orient itself for hatching. The hatcher is run at the same temperature as the incubator but with a higher humidity level. This can be done by adding an extra water pan. The higher humidity helps prevent the membranes in the egg from drying out too much while the chick is hatching. Once the chick has hatched, it will stay in the hatcher for about a day or until it can stand on its own and move about easily.

The information presented in this article has been gathered over many years and is intended to answer some of the more common questions about incubating peahen eggs. This information can be used on other types of eggs as well, with only slight adjustments for temperature and humidity required. I have used these techniques to incubate and hatch chicken eggs, pheasant eggs, quail eggs, swan eggs, rhea eggs, emu eggs, duck eggs and goose eggs.

The key to successful incubation of peahen eggs is attention to detail.

For more information about raising peafowl, see the United Peafowl Association’s website: http://www.peafowl.org/

Originally published in Backyard Poultry August / September 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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