Incubating chicken eggs is a fragile but rewarding practice; below is a guide to get you started.
Types of Incubators
The right incubator unit for you will depend on the quantity of eggs you incubate and how often you plan on incubating chicken eggs. If you use an incubator infrequently, you may want nothing more than a simple still air incubator. For those who know they will be using their unit more often, a forced air incubator may be well worth it. Unlike a still air unit, a forced air unit has a fan which evenly distributes heat. Another choice to make is whether or not you prefer to manually turn your eggs or use an automated egg turner. Keep in mind, manually turned eggs must be turned three times a day.
Incubator Climate Control
Temperature, humidity and ventilation are extremely important factors in incubation. The temperature of an incubator should be between 99°-102°F. To keep the temperature constant keep the room temperature at 70°F and be sure to not place your incubator in direct sunlight or a draft. An incubator’s humidity should be kept at 55% until the last three days of incubation when it is raised to 65%. Low humidity in an incubator is likely to cause under-sized chicks, chicks getting stuck to their shells and even death. Ventilation is needed so the embryo receives proper oxygen.
Eggs should be set in the incubator within a week of being laid. Eggs that are not set within 10 days of being laid have a much lower hatch rate. Shipped eggs should be allowed to rest for 24 hours before being placed in the incubator.
Before setting your eggs in the incubator make sure you have thoroughly disinfected it with a bleach water solution. Always remember to wash your hands before and after handling your eggs!
Candling the Eggs
To determine if an egg contains a live embryo a practice called candling is conducted on each egg. Candling is most accurately conducted on the 8th day of incubation or after. The procedure entails holding an egg up to a special light in a dark room. If a dark spot is seen in the egg that is an embryo. If the egg is clear, then no embryo exists and the egg can be discarded.
The End of Incubation
On day 18 place a thin cheese cloth under the eggs. This will catch the mess the hatchlings are about to create. Most chicks should be hatched by day 21. Chicks that hatch after day 22 are likely to be unhealthy. When the chicks start to hatch, lower the temperature to 95°F. Let the chicks stay in the incubator until their feathers are dry and fluffy before moving them to their brooder.
After 21 days of nurturing your incubating eggs you will have new baby chicks and get to embark on a whole new adventure of raising them! For this next step, we recommend you see our article on Raising Baby Chicks 101.