If you’ve ever looked into the idea of hatching your very own fluffy little chicks, you may have come across the term “candling”. If you haven’t, and are now curious what a candle has to do with chickens, you’re in luck! This guide will be a breakdown of everything you will need to know about candling eggs.
What Is Candling Eggs?
First, it’s necessary to understand what candling an egg means. If you’ve ever had a baby, or known someone that has, you may have seen a picture of a sonogram. Candling is similar to that. It just involves you placing your egg over a bright flashlight (or candle if you want to do it the old-fashioned way) to see the inside. This light will allow you the possibility to be able to see the very first glimpse of your new baby chicken.
That is, of course, provided that your egg is fertilized and housing a viable embryo. Depending on how far along the chick’s embryo is, you may see anything from a couple of small lines to a large dark mass (which is the body of the chick growing swimmingly!).
Candling is a great way for you to keep a record of the progress your chick is making regarding its growth. Speaking of progress, you should make sure to have a notebook handy any time you are candling your eggs. You should be taking efficient notes with all the details of your hatching process. You may also want to consider labeling or numbering the eggs with a #9 lead pencil or permanent marker to keep better notes and easily differentiate your eggs.
Why Candle Eggs?
So, maybe you’re asking yourself, “Why do I have to candle my eggs, aren’t all fresh eggs from chickens just fine to hatch into new chickens?” The answer is definitely not. For example, eggs that you get at your local supermarket will never become baby chicks, no matter how fresh they are or how long you leave them in the incubator.
The point of candling is to ensure that your chicks are progressing and growing inside the egg. It’s necessary to keep a close eye on the progress it’s making so you can know when to expect it to hatch. Also, bear in mind that it can take anywhere from three to four weeks to hatch a chicken egg.
When you pair that with the fact that it requires a lot of time and attention in order to achieve a high hatch rate, you definitely don’t want to waste time nurturing an egg that will never end up hatching in the first place.
Know The Lingo
It’s important when talking chicken eggs that you know the lingo. When it comes to growing and hatching fowl eggs you will encounter one of three types of eggs. Those 3 types are winners, quitters, and yolkers.
A “winner” is an egg that is fertilized and eventually hatches into an adorable fluffy chick (Yay!)
A “quitter” is one that has been fertilized and begins the process of developing the chick, but encounters a problem and eventually stops growing and becomes unviable.
Lastly, a “yolker” is an egg that was never fertilized to begin with and will never hatch.
It’s crucial that if you come across any yolkers or quitters in your bunch that you remove them asap. If you’re not sure and want to give it another day or two, that’s fine. Give it one last chance and see if anything begins to grow, but don’t wait too long. Eggs that are not growing into a baby chick can end up rotting and bursting inside your incubator. This can lead to not only unpleasant smells, but bacterial contamination of your winners.
How Often Should You Candle?
Incubating and hatching your eggs requires a lot of exact procedures. In order to have a high success rate, you need to ensure that you’re maintaining the proper temperature, the correct humidity level, and that you’re turning them throughout the time. Since you want to know where you’re starting the progress and need to keep track of the gestation of the chicks, you should begin candling before you even place them inside your incubator.
In total, you should only end up candling your eggs two to three times throughout the process. Too much candling can be bad as eggs are very sensitive when it comes to the internal temperatures and moving them around more than necessary (in and out of the incubator for example) can hamper their development.
When hatching your own eggs, you should begin incubating them when they are around 7 days laid. If you candle at this point, chances are you won’t be able to see anything. That’s because they’re too early in the process to have developed anything that’s viewable by the naked eye. So, don’t assume at this stage that they’re all yolkers and throw them out! Go ahead and place them all in the incubator.
Since the chick would not have developed much by day 7, this first candling is a good time to inspect the eggs for any imperfections or cracks. If you find any, make sure to mark those for a more thorough inspection later. A crack in an egg may be harmless, but sometimes can allow for the intrusion of harmful bacteria. Depending on the progress of the gestation, if any, a cracked egg may require tossing in the future.
Let The Incubation Begin!
After the initial candling around 7 days, you will want to go ahead and place them directly in your incubator and proceed with the rigorous incubation process. Make sure that you are keeping the correct temperature of 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. You will also want to ensure that you’re turning them an odd number of times at least 3 times per day (if not more).
You will want to perform the second candling around day 14. Make sure that when you take the eggs out to candle them that you do it quickly and carefully. The eggs should not be out of the incubator for more than 20 to 30 minutes as their temperature will begin to fall below the required threshold.
By day 14, your winner eggs should be filling up nicely with the baby chicks. At this point you will need to weed out any quitters and yolkers in the bunch. With a winner, you will see a network of veins, possibly the eyes of the chick, and the outline of the bird’s embryo. If you’re really fortunate, and pay close attention, you might even get to see the embryo move!
Now, a quitter may be a little more difficult to distinguish. Oftentimes, there will be a visible blood ring which will look like a dark red circle inside. If you see this ring it is a clear indication that the egg has failed. When an egg is a quitter, it is usually due to a bacterial issue. These eggs should not be eaten, but rather discarded right away.
There may be other times where you will see just a few dark spots or streaks, which look a lot like the beginning phase of a healthy winner. If you’re not 100% sure it’s a quitter, be sure to mark it and go ahead and place the egg back in the incubator. You will need to check just those questionable winners in a day or two. If there’s no progress by that time, consider them quitters and ditch them.
Yolkers are more cut and dry to detect. If it’s past day 14 with nothing going on inside the egg from the start, and there haven’t been any visible changes from a week ago, you can be sure that the egg is a real yolker and no baby chick is going to be coming. These should definitely not be eaten either, just in case you’re wondering.
Get Ready Because Here They Come!
There should be no more candling after you reach day 17. In fact, nothing should be done with your eggs after day 17. Chicks can start hatching as early as day 18, all the way up to 28 days, so the eggs need to be left alone inside the incubator after 17 days so they can finish the final touches of the gestation. Soon, you’ll get to see the chicks pip, or break through the shell and hatch.
Candling eggs is not difficult once you get the hang of it. It’s probably one of the easiest aspects of owning chickens. If you want a professional candling set, you can likely find one of your local pet shop or farm supply store. You could also opt to use a regular old flashlight or an app on your phone. As long as you do your candling in a darkened room, there’s really no right or wrong device as long as it’s a bright light that you can safely shine into the egg without too much heat.
After your first couple of hatching batches, it’ll be super easy to differentiate the winners from the yolkers and quitters. Just remember to candle on day 7, day 14, and day 17 at the latest – no more past that. From day 18 on, it is smooth sailing to cute new chicks!