If you’re taking on the task of raising your own chickens at home, and have decided to literally start from scratch by hatching them from an egg, there is some basic information that you’ll need in order to do it correctly.
Work With Your Chicken: Natural Is Best
As with most animals, when it comes to rearing young, it’s usually best to just let Mother Nature work her magic. If you happen to have broody hens in your flock – Yay for you! A good mother hen will know all the right things to do and will do them at the right time without fail.
Hatching chicken eggs is almost an exact science. There’s a lot that goes into hatching them correctly, such as turning them over X amount of times per day, keeping them at an exact temperature, and being willing to dedicate as much time and focus as needed.
A good mama chicken will ensure to take care of all that and more and that is definitely a perk of having broody hens. Not to mention that she will also take charge of nurturing the chicks after they’ve hatched, which will definitely help when it comes time to incorporate the little ones into a bigger flock.
However, sometimes those in the chicken community will encounter a hen that is not broody at all. She may reliably lay eggs, but will prefer not to sit on and hatch them. This disposition can be a challenge for those that are looking to breed chickens to sell or those that want to increase the number of chickens in their flock, especially if they don’t know how to hatch the eggs themselves.
No Broody Hen? No Problem!
It definitely gets a little more complicated if you have to learn how to hatch eggs yourself, but it’s not impossible. There is pricey equipment required, as well as a lot of time-consuming activities. It’s important to know that the average incubation time for chicken eggs is 21 days, but can occur anywhere from 19 days to 28 days depending on different factors and conditions.
1. Buy A Good Incubator
The first thing you will need to do is find an incubator. There are many different incubators available on the market and they vary in many different ways. There are many factors to consider, such as price, size, and capacity, so you will need to do your own research on which incubator will work best for your situation.
If you plan to be hatching chicken eggs more than once and have the money to do so, you should invest in an incubator with a turning rack, a built-in thermometer, and a hygrometer to measure the humidity (more on that later).
2. Selecting Your Eggs
After you’ve secured your chicken egg incubator it will be time to select your eggs for hatching. For best results, you want to select eggs that are under seven days old and medium in size. Generally, larger eggs tend to hatch poorly as their size may prevent it from maintaining the proper temperature and smaller eggs usually result in small chicks.
You will also want to pick eggs that have a durable shell, as thin shells and cracked shells will make it hard for the eggs to keep in the moisture required for the chicken to develop. A cracked shell may also allow for the penetration of the disease or illness which will greatly affect the chick’s health overall.
You can find fertilized eggs online if you don’t have your own chickens that lay eggs to choose from. Going this route may be a little trickier as eggs don’t tend to travel very well. If the eggs are mishandled in any way, there’s a chance your hatch rate will be significantly lower. Just imagine all the shaking your eggs will have to endure before they can make it safely into your incubator.
If you have to get eggs from another source than your own backyard chickens, your second best option would be to find a local farm that’s selling them. Buying your fertilized eggs locally will allow you to pick out your own eggs and ensure that they are safely transported to their new home. Bring towels or a blanket to wrap them in to help cushion the ride.
3. Candling Your Eggs
Don’t worry, you don’t have to use an actual candle, that’s just the term. Basically, you hold up a light to the egg so you can get an idea of its properties. Candling an egg is necessary to ensure that you have picked out eggs that have been fertilized and actually have a chance of hatching. If you’ve had children, you can think of this as a sonogram of sorts.
You should candle an egg around day 7, but if you don’t see any veins or a semblance of a baby chick by day 10, you may have picked out a dud. If you do see a little baby chicky moving around in there, it’s time to get it into your incubator as soon as possible.
For more information, check out our complete guide on candling eggs.
4. Know The Numbers
The optimal temperature for your incubator will depend on whether you have decided to go with a still air incubator or a forced air incubator. If you’re unsure which one you have, make sure to double-check the manual that should have come with it.
The temperature that the egg should consistently maintain is 99.5°F. Since you are unable to know the exact temperature of the egg on the inside, you will want to set the temperature of your incubator somewhere between 97°F and 103°F.
Finding the exact temperature for your particular incubator will take a little trial and error when you begin to hatch your own chicken eggs. After a few rounds, you will be a pro and hit 100% hatch rate success (or very close to it).
You will need to pay close attention to the humidity level inside your incubator regularly. Humidity also plays a very important role when it comes to hatching eggs. You will want to maintain a range of 40% to 50% humidity for the first three weeks and then increase it to around 50% to 60% humidity for the last three days. To ensure that you have the proper temperature and humidity at any given time during the hatching process, you should look into purchasing a good thermometer that includes both measurements even if your incubator already displays it.
You can never be too careful and having a thermometer will help to double-check that the measurements are correct. A degree or two can make a huge difference – literally a life and death difference – since not maintaining the proper environment at all times for your hatchlings will lead to a lower successful hatch rate.
You will also need to remember to turn your eggs as frequently as possible. A hen tends to constantly be moving her eggs around and will turn them as many as 50x per day! You just need to ensure that it’s an odd number of times (so that the hatchling can sleep on the opposite side daily), and that it’s at least three times per day for the first 3 weeks.
After day 18, you shouldn’t turn them at all. Not rotating them will allow the chick inside to acclimate to the shell’s orientation and it will help give them the confidence to break through the shell, or “pip”.
5. Become Meticulous With Notes
Another important side note that will help increase your success rate is to make sure that you become good at record keeping. Knowing when the last time was that you turned your eggs and what exact temperatures worked best will give you the huge advantage of replication. This way, you can repeat a successful round next time you’re ready to hatch another batch.
You can either do this in a simple bulleted note form or create a chart that will be easy to read with a quick glance. You want to include things like times, temperatures, humidity levels, hatch results, and any other information you can think of that will lead to improvement for next time.
These notes will be especially helpful if you don’t currently have a high success rate. Having them for reference will give you the opportunity to see where you may have gone wrong before and then you can make sure to avoid that issue next time.
Any Day Now!
After day 18, you should leave your incubator closed at all times. It’s more important than ever to keep a constant watch over the temperature and humidity (which is why you should invest in that thermometer mentioned earlier). Day 18 is where you will need to go into full time chick-monitoring mode because after day 18 the chicks can literally hatch at any time.
As long as you’ve followed these tips and taken care of the eggs correctly, you should have some baby chicks in less than a month. After they’ve hatched and have learned to be a little active and walk around on their own, it’s time to move them to your brooder or coop. If you have other chickens in your coop, you’ll need to give the little ones their own area to roam around freely until they’re big enough to be fully integrated with the older chickens. It may take a couple of months, but after this you’ll have new chickens that are ready to become productive members of your flock!