The art of chicken hatching is one that many homesteaders have mastered over the years. Theres an awful lot of science involved in the process that can make it overwhelming for beginners, but it doesn’t have the be that way. In this post I’ll share with you everything you need to know for a successful chicken hatch!
Every February, I fire up my incubator for a busy chicken hatching season. A great birthday present I received as a beginning homesteader, chicken lover and teacher.
I usually hatch about 5 rounds of chicks each season to refresh my flocks, raise point a lay hens and sell day old chicks. We also sell heritage breed fertilized eggs to other farmers and share with them the following tips for success. These are just some of the ways you can earn an income from your homestead.
Chicken hatching is just one of the many things to learn about keeping chickens. With backyard chickens gaining popularity again this is a great gateway into homesteading!
Chicken Hatching Step by Step
Hatching chickens is as simple as these five steps:
- Choose an incubator
- Collect fertile eggs
- Incubate eggs at ideal temp and humidity
- Manage Incubating Process
- Watch the chicks hatch
I’ll go through all the following steps in more details below. But 1st don’t forget to download the cheatsheet to print off and post next to your incubator! Do this now…
People often ask, How long does it take for chicken eggs to hatch?
It’s important to know just how long it takes for chicken eggs to hatch so that you can be prepared, and control the environment for the chicken eggs as best as you can.
Some things you’ll need to consider before jumping on board with hatching your own chickens are the length of time necessary to care for the incubated eggs.
From when a mother hen lays a fertile egg or you have a big enough batch of eggs for a broody hen or incubated eggs, the length of time for the chicken eggs to hatch is anywhere from 18-24 days. With the hatch day often happening at 21 days.
If you’re ready to provide the attention necessary to act as a mother hen (turning eggs, candling, adjusting temperature and humidity etc) for the entire incubation period, and after when caring for the chickens then keep reading!
1. How to Choose a Chicken Incubator
First things first, is you need to get your hands on an incubator. This is the incubator that I have, It’s the Genesis Hova Bator. I personally love the huge window option with this particular one.
GET THE BEST INCUBATOR ON THE MARKET
There are all sorts of options out there. There are even tutorials to make your own, but I don’t advise that. Most have options for fans, windows, temperature controls and humidity readers. I reccomend getting one that has all these indicators.
Chicken Hatching with a Broody Hen
If you don’t have an incubator, you can still hatch chicken eggs using the natural way- a broody hen. I’ve heard of farmers using their broody hens to hatch duck eggs as well. Or a duck to hatch chickens. Farm life is so fun!
A broody hen will sit on the eggs for the same length as the fertile eggs go in an incubator, turning the eggs herself and providing the optimal temperature and humidity.
Chicken hatching with an incubator will mimic this natural process and with this guide, your help and a great incubator you will have a great hatch rate too!
Hen Lifecycle Basics
What comes first the chicken or the egg? If you’re incubating eggs with kids it’s always fun to ponder the question with them and teach them the basics of the chicken lifecycle. Egg-chick-Poult- Hen/Rooster. I always have this poster in my classroom to teach my students the lifecycle of a chicken.
2. Gather Eggs for Chicken Hatching
You’ll need to have access to fertilized chicken eggs to incubate of course! Wether you already have chickens and a rooster or are purchasing fertilized eggs from a chicken farmer it’s a good idea to find out if they are fertilized.
Chickens should be with the rooster for a month before incubating to ensure they are fertilized without breaking an egg to check. If you’re purchasing the eggs ask what their recent hatch rates are. Of course this can’t be guaranteed as it depends on the incubating conditions. More on that in a bit.
Once you’ve had some practice I recommend checking out poultry breeder auction sites for rare and fancy fertilized eggs to try hatching.
By then, you’ll want to know what breed of chickens you’re interested in. I recommend reading this article from Pioneer Settler on choosing breeds.
Just be aware that a backyard mix is the cheapest and best way to go when starting out.
Tips for collecting and storing chicken eggs for hatching
If you are collecting eggs from your own flock to incubate there are a few things you need to know.
Store eggs pointy side down in cartons. Label breeds with permanent marker if you’re hatching more than one breed at a time. Do not store eggs in fridge. Store in a cool dark place like a basement until ready to add to incubator.
Eggs can be stored up to one week before putting in the incubator. I don’t recommend eggs any older than a week. I do flip the carton over twice a day.
Don’t wash the eggs as this will remove the eggs protective coating and expose the egg to bacteria. Instead, try and collect eggs more often to ensure they are clean. I was told dirty eggs don’t hatch, but I did have a few really dirty ones that came in the mail and some did hatch.
Choose eggs that are larger and have an obvious pointy end. Smaller eggs are harder to hatch and result in smaller birds. Of course there’s a difference in egg sizes for breeds so I try to hatch similar sized eggs together for a successful hatch.
My last tip for gathering eggs. Do your best to follow the steps above, but in the end try to fill your incubator, because you never know what might happen. Below I’ve labelled eggs using a pencil with the date they were collected.
Just be prepared eggs that are old, dirty or cleaned, odd shaped or cracked are far less likely to hatch and if they do there is a higher risk of that chick having issues.
3. Incubate for Chicken Hatching
You’ll need a humidity and temperature reader for your incubator and an automatic egg turner. These are the ones I have and have had a lot of success with. I recommend that you have an automatic egg turner it makes life easier and increases your success rate.
Every time you open the incubator the temperature and humidity is affected. The more constant it is the better for the developing chick.
You’ll need to find a safe quiet space in your home for your incubator. A place away from the dog and the kids. Ultimately a place where it won’t get bumped.
Also it should be in a place where the temperature is regular. This is tricky in our house with our woodstove being the main heat source and families central living area so I’ve had my best luck in my bedroom by our baseboard heater. This way I don’t miss the excitement!
Watch this quick video on setting up your incubator.
If hatching chickens at home with your children you’ll have to get creative where you put the incubator for optimal safety!
This is the ultimate science experiment to do at home with your kids! Check out more fun science activities for kids here.
You’ll want to turn it on a few days before starting. Add your water to bring the temperature and humidity to the right levels and ensure everything is in working order.
You will need to know the ideal temperature and humidity. This is where science plays a large part. Your incubator needs to mimic the environment that a broody hen would create for her eggs.
The hen provides an ideal temperature and a humidity for the eggs to hatch successfully. She turns her eggs a few times a day to prevent them sticking to the shell, and to ensure proper development
For the first 18 days in the incubator the humidity should be set between the ideal range of 40-50%. Your incubator instructions will tell you how to control the humidity. In my water tray, I am to fill the first pathway to maintain this ideal humidity.
One thing I’ve learned is to have a liquid measuring cup filled with room temperature water next to the incubator for a quick and easy way to add more water.
If the humidity is too high the developing chick, the embryo, can drown during hatching time.
If there is too much water, instead of taking it all apart, use an eye dropper to suck out the excess. Whenever making adjustments, remember to be careful yet quick.
After day 18 the humidity is increased to 60-70% and held there, this prevents the membrane from sticking to the chick and drying out during the hatch. Having the humidity too low during this crucial time can result in chicks getting stuck, getting injured or dying in the shell.
The incubator should be set to maintain the temperature at 99.5 F for the whole time of the incubation. Any fluctuations in this temperature can kill the baby chick. That’s why we find it helpful to have the temperature set and be consistent for at least a day or so before we add the eggs.
Start Incubating Eggs
Once you’ve got your incubator at the correct temperature and humidity it’s time to add your eggs. This is the exciting part!
Place your eggs in the automatic egg turner pointy side down. Make sure you leave the few spaces around the turner engine empty to ensure no eggs crack. I learned this the hard way.
Once you add your eggs that’s it, do not add any more eggs afterwards. This will cause the humidity to change and your overall fertility rate.
4. How to Manage Incubating the Eggs
Mark on your calendar the day and time eggs were added. Count 21 days ahead and put a big star to represent hatch day!!
Turning the Eggs
When I first incubated chicken eggs in my classroom, we used an old incubator from the science lab. We had to turn the eggs ourselves. Do you think I could remember to do this?
Let alone come in on the weekends to do this? Since then I opted for an automatic egg turner to ensure my success. It was the best investment in this effort.
The other downfall to not having an automatic egg turner is that you have to open the incubator three times a day, which means the temperature and humidity are risked. It’s not worth it.
So lesson is…. buy an automatic egg turner!
Day 14: How to Candle the Eggs
After two weeks of incubating, it’s time to see if your efforts are starting to pay off. You can check the eggs to see if the embryo is developing by candling them.
I always candle the eggs to see which eggs have “taken” and remove the eggs that aren’t developed and throw them in the garbage. Make sure you do this before someone goes to eat them!
There are all sorts of tools you can use to candle eggs. I simply turn the lights off in the evening and turn my cellphone flashlight on. By placing the egg over the light I can start to see what’s happening. Take one egg out at a time and try to keep the others warm while you do so.
If the egg is are developing you will see visible veins in the shell and eventually just go dark (where the chick is!) Check out some images here.
Eggs that aren’t developed will glow as the light shines straight through the entire egg. Either the egg was not fertilized or something went wrong in the first two weeks. Oh well, time to nestle in your fertilized eggs, only another week or so until the hatch!
Day 18: Lockdown eggs and prepare for the hatch
On day 18 it’s crucial you prepare your eggs for hatching. Do this removing eggs from the egg turner, or stop turning eggs manually. Add a bit more water to increase the humidity to the 60-70 % mark .
Wish your chicks good luck. From now on in, you will not remove the eggs from the incubator until they are all hatched- around 24 days.
5. HATCHING DAY!
Eggs take 21 days to hatch. They will hatch earlier or later than day 21 depending on the conditions of the incubator. I’ve had chicks hatch on day 19 and as late as day 23. This is a good test of patience!
Listen for peeping as a first sign of the hatch. They usually hatch around the same time of day that they went into incubator. Remember that your eggs are on lock down, that includes the chicks as well. So don’t take the newly hatched chick out of the incubator right away.
WAIT FOR CHICKS TO COMPLETELY HATCH !
Chicks will survive off their yolk sacs for up to 3 days. I always give my eggs this long to hatch. The late eggs to hatch usually have more of a struggle as the temp and humidity changes with the hatching process and the activity of the hatched chicks.
My advice is to resist the urge to help chicks hatch if they get stuck in the shell. Opening the incubator will cause the egg to almost seal them in making it harder .
From my experience, any chick that I have had to help hasn’t survived or has had major problems like a broken neck or splayed legs.
Now is the time to make sure you have your brooder ready to go with adequate bedding, feed and water. Something similar to the set up below. Click on the image for more details regarding this specific brooder available on Amazon.
- Choose an incubator
- Collect fertile eggs
- Incubate eggs at ideal temp and humidity
- Manage Incubating Process
- Watch the chicks hatch
That’s it on how to incubate chicken eggs and hatch baby chicks successfully. I hope these tips help and you have a successful hatch rate!
DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE CALENDAR
Join below for instant access to this members only download!
For existing members, click here to log into the library. You can download the printable labels in our members only area. Password included in every newsletter!
WANTING TO RAISE CHICKENS FOR EGGS?
More than ever, every homestead should have a set of backyard chickens in their yard. In this post I’ll show you just how to get started raising backyard chickens for the absolute beginner. In just a month, you’ll be collecting eggs daily!