Hatching season is here, and that means incubating. It doesn't matter if the chicken or the egg came first, because you'll be handling plenty of both!
A chicken will hatch from its egg after only 21 days, and it is crucial to properly care for them during those 3 weeks.
While mother hens are good at taking care of their chicks, they are busy and can easily get distracted, accidentally hurting their eggs. When humans intervene, we actually increase the success rate and yield of healthy baby chicks.
If you have never incubated eggs before, or just need a refresher course, we will break down everything you need to know on how to hatch chicks safely and smoothly.
Raise Healthy Chickens
Healthy chicks can only come from healthy moms. Make sure your chickens have plenty of room outside and are living a stress-free lifestyle. Stressed-out chickens are less likely to produce eggs.
Remember, every chicken needs 1 square metre inside and 3 square metres outside. Cramped coops will not lead to egg-lined shelves.
Fill in any gaps in their diet with whole ingredient supplements. The 3kg Eton TSF Feeder is a great option for hanging your feeder and adding nutritional supplements. You can't have healthy chicks without healthy hens!
Make Sure You Start With Fertile Eggs
Without a rooster in your coop, your eggs will not be fertilized, and you will not have any hatching eggs. If you do have a rooster and are still not hatching, your man is past his prime, and you'll need a new rooster to take over.
If you lack a rooster, ask a local breeder or another farmer for some fertile eggs before you get started, so you do not waste your time with incubation.
It is possible to receive eggs in the post, but this is a risky move that often results in half your shipment of eggs getting smashed. You must also sanitize any foreign eggs of any bacteria they may come with or pick up on their journey.
Who Will Do The Work?
The very first step is deciding if you will do the work, or let mother nature take over. If you truly want to go with a hands-off approach, your broody hen will do the work of an incubator for you.
She will sit on the egg for 21 days of incubation until, hopefully, the baby bird properly hatches. But be aware that there is a risk of the chicken not surviving. Plus, a bird that is raised by its mother will be more feisty around humans and fiercely protected by an angry hen.
Be sure your poultry always has plenty of access to water by installing a Poultry Font Drinker which will slowly release water all day. A healthy hen has plenty of water and will lay better eggs when fully hydrated. She will also be calmer when water is close while incubating.
If you want to control all parameters, incubate your own eggs and hatch friendly chicks!
Set Up Your Incubator
You can buy a cheap incubator for as little as £50, although they run into the thousands for high-end industrial-level incubators.
It is also possible to DIY your own. However, you must make sure your parameters are exactly right and consistent to ensure success.
Whether you buy the most expensive incubator on the market, or you just jerry-rig your own out of cardboard, they all need to control these three basic aspects:
The chicken eggs must be kept at a temperature of exactly 37.5C (99.5F) at all times for the entire incubation period. Even a single degree higher or lower risks losing the egg. If this precise temperature in the incubator is lost for only 2 hours, the embryo will be terminated.
The humidity changes during the incubation period. From days 1-18, the eggs should be in an environment between 40-50% humidity. For the final 3 days of incubation, the humidity needs to be raised to a max of 75% to alert the egg that hatching will be happening soon.
The reason eggs are so sensitive to temperature and humidity is that, believe it or not, shells are porous. The shells even allow oxygen in and out to keep the chick alive. Keep your incubator well ventilated and allow for moving air to pass through. While it is more difficult to hold a consistent temperature and humidity in an open system, this is the only way to let the birds hatch.
If you plan on creating your own incubator, invest in an accurate thermometer and hygrometer (which measures humidity) to monitor the conditions daily.
Mother nature does not provide such exact parameters when it comes to temperature and humidity, so you will have a higher yield from your self-incubated eggs than you would find in the coop.
Rotate The Eggs
Mother hens have an innate instinct to fuss around with their eggs and rotate them every so often. The eggs will only hatch if rotated correctly and placed in the right orientation. Always start with the larger end of the egg facing up. Some fancy incubators have built-in turning mechanisms that carefully rotate the eggs an exact number of times a day with minor interruption.
Should you need to practice hand turning, follow these steps carefully and delicately in your incubator.
- Turn the eggs an odd number of times a day. Usually, three to five times is enough. An odd number of turns helps distribute the fluids in the eggs evenly, so they do not drown. An improperly turned egg is also at a higher risk for birth defects as it could stick to the inside of the shell.
- Place two different marks on the top and bottom of the egg to remember their placement. Each night the egg needs to land in a new position, so keep track of the orientation every day.
- Keep turning every single day until day 18. After that, you can leave them alone as you enter lockdown.
It is nearly game time now. The days of incubation from 18-21 are known as ‘lockdown’, meaning hatching is imminent. Make sure your rotating mechanism is turned off and humidity is cranked up to 75%.
Now leave your incubator well enough alone. If you've followed all the instructions correctly, the eggs will start to wobble and move on their own. The chicks will peck a small hole in the shell and start poking out their heads to greet you.
It should only take a few minutes for the hatching process to complete and your incubator to be full of newborn baby birds!
Hatching Eggs Complete
Let the chicks dry off and fluff up before moving them out of the incubator and into a brooder.
The baby birds will live on the nutrients from the shell for 3 days but then require fresh food and water. Give them very small bowls of water and food, as clumsy babies have been known to drown in large water bowls.
Make sure they are well-fed and clean up their droppings every day until they are large enough to leave the brooder. In a few weeks, the birds will be able to join the coop.
The teenage birds will love this top-notch Ascot Outdoor Feeder perfect for both free-range chickens and those in a small coop. It is a low stand feeder that will attract smaller birds and lower the chances of aggressive interactions with larger birds.
You can read all day about the tribulations of the hatching process, but there is much to be learned from trial and error. Follow these steps and get proper equipment from Dalton Engineering to streamline the process.
If you want perfect hatchlings every time, check out all the equipment for egg care from Dalton and let the experts do the hard work for you! You can incubate eggs like a pro and hatch happy and healthy baby chicks in just 21 days and continue to grow your coop into a full-grown flock.