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It’s spring, and around here, that means it’s hatching season! As soon as the chickens start laying really well again, we go into a hatching frenzy. Our family loves to incubate eggs. We make sure we have enough for us to eat, some to sell to cover the feed bill, and ALL the others go into the incubator! We especially make sure to put the more “rare” eggs in the incubator. So the turkey eggs, duck eggs, bantam eggs, and our pretty blue chicken eggs, always go in.
Incubating is a bit of an art. It takes a bit of knowledge, a bit of finesse, and a WHOLE LOT of patience. Chickens take 21 days to hatch. I don’t know about you, but to me, those 21 days seem like the longest days ever! But I promise, it’s well worth the wait to incubate eggs.
What’s the best incubator to get?
Choosing an incubator can be a bit daunting. They can get expensive, and it’s hard to know what the best one to get. It is, after all, an investment that you will hopefully have for years. Here are a few options to consider when purchasing an incubator.
The DIY incubator
If you are on a really tight budget but still want to incubate eggs, you could do a DIY incubator. They of course won’t have all the bells and whistles that some have, but they should still be able to hatch out eggs for you. You will have to buy a thermometer to keep in your DIY incubator, but you may be able to just find stuff around your house to use.
Lots of people use a styrofoam cooler as an incubator, and this seems to work good for some. Just keep in mind that you will have to manually turn the eggs a few times a day.
Basic, small hatch incubator
If you only want to hatch a few eggs at a time, there are a few good small-hatch options. There are some pretty cheap basic ones that you have to manually turn the eggs. These are especially good for teaching kids how to incubate eggs, but not if you want to hatch out a lot of eggs every year.
This is the incubator I have had for 2 seasons, and I haven’t had any issues with it. It has digital temperature (although it’s in Celsius) and humidity displays, and an automatic turner that rotates the eggs every 2 hours. This incubator also has a timer, and an alarm on it to warn you if the humidity or temperature is off. It’s a good quality, budget-friendly incubator for someone that wants to hatch out a lot of eggs, without having to turn the eggs manually.
Top of the line counter top incubator
If budget isn’t much of a concern, I would strongly recommend the HovaBator. They are well-known for quality incubators. Their Genesis 1588 Deluxe Egg Incubator is truly top of the line, with digital temperature and humidity displays, and automatic turner, you really can’t go wrong. This is one of the best machines to incubate eggs with.
If you are wanting to go pro and hatch chicks for a “living” (is that even a thing??), you will most likely want to check into a cabinet incubator. They hold the most amount of eggs, and have high quality digital temperature and humidity displays to make sure you get the most successful hatch rates.
Start with a clean incubator
Before you start to incubate eggs for the season, you should clean your incubator to limit bacterial growth in the incubator. If you don’t start with a clean incubator, the high temperature and humidity will create a smelly, bacteria-prone environment. Some clean their incubators with bleach, but I personally don’t. I like to use vinegar to clean my incubator. The incubator doesn’t need to be dried, as that aids in the humidity; but if you used bleach to clean, please make sure you rinse well and let it air out.
Set and check the temperature and humidity
The incubator should be at a constant 100 degrees Fahrenheit (or 37.77 degrees Celsius) at all times during the incubating process. The humidity should be around 45-50 for the first 18 days, with a higher humidity (65-75) for the last few days.
You should turn on the incubator at least 24 hours before you intend to place your eggs in it. This will help you make sure the humidity is at a good level and the temperature is constant before you put in your eggs.
Gather your eggs
You can gather eggs for up to about 7 days to put in the incubator. Keep in mind that in nature, a hen will lay eggs until she thinks she has “enough”, then she will sit on them constantly until they hatch. You should choose fairly clean eggs (in order to further limit bacterial growth), but don’t wash them. The bloom that is on the eggs will further protect the growing fetuses from bacteria.
While you are gathering your eggs, store at room temperature with the “pointy end” down. Try to avoid any extreme temperature changes.
Place eggs in the incubator
When you have gathered all the eggs you want (within the 7 day time frame), it’s time to place your future feather babies in the incubator. Put the eggs pointy end down in the incubator. If your incubator doesn’t have an automatic turner, you will need to turn the eggs at least 3 times a day. It’s a good idea to put an X on one side of the egg. This will help you make sure that each egg gets turned properly. X up one turning, X down on the other turning.
Maintain the proper environment
Once you set your eggs, your biggest responsibility (besides manually turning) while you incubate eggs is maintaining the proper environment in the incubator. Keep an eye on both the temperature and the humidity. If you have the incubator in a good area, it should maintain temperature pretty well. Keeping the incubator in a cold area like a basement, or in a sunny window where it will get lots of temperature fluctuations, can cause issues.
Sometimes you may have to add water to the incubator to make sure the humidity stays at optimum levels. When you do this, carefully pour a small amount of water into the bottom reservoir of the incubator. Try not to splash water on the eggs.
Candle the eggs after 1 week
After 1 week, you should candle the eggs to make sure they are developing properly. Trust me, this is important! I didn’t do this once, and an egg that didn’t develop rotted in the incubator. This rotten egg POPPED and sent green, icky egg slime all over the incubator. It stunk up the house for the whole day! So please, candle your eggs. Your nose will thank you!
You can buy an egg candler, but I personally use the flashlight on my cell phone. After one week, you should see veins developing throughout the egg. You can see what your eggs should look like at 7 days here. Candling eggs can be somewhat addicting, but don’t do it too much. I suggest only candling the eggs at 7 days and at 18, before your eggs go on lockdown.
Put eggs on lockdown at 18 days
On day 18, you will be putting your eggs into lockdown. I would suggest candling your eggs one more time at this point, to make sure none are bad. At this point, you will be able to see a heartbeat, and movement when you candle the eggs. If there is a ring of dark blood at the top of the darker area, and no movement, the egg is dead.
After you check your eggs, add more water to the incubator, to raise the humidity up to about 65-75%. Your eggs will no longer need to be turned. If you’ve been turning by hand, stop. If the incubator has an egg turner, disconnect it. During lockdown, it’s important not to open or reach into the incubator at all. An open incubator will lose humidity quickly, which can cause the eggs to be “shrink wrapped”.
Watch for hatching
At day 20-21, you will start to hear chirping from the incubator when the eggs are close to hatching. That’s right, they actually chirp INSIDE the egg! Talk about exciting!
During the hatching process, you will see a small hole in the egg. This is called “pipping”, and is followed by a crack. You should see movement and struggling from inside the egg. This is a good thing, as the struggle to hatch makes the chick stronger. It is not uncommon for a chick to take up to 24 hours to hatch fully.
Resist the urge to help the chicks out of their shell. “Helping” them can actually hurt them. Chicks are pretty fragile, and you can do some serious damage pulling pieces of egg shell off of them. It is a good idea to actually leave the chicks in the incubator for a few hours after hatch. The heat and air flow in the incubator will help them dry off and fluff up.
Enjoy your chicks
After your chicks are hatched, move them to a brooder, and enjoy them! These fluffy babies are so fun to watch. If this is your first time with chicks, you should check out our e-book, Chickens For Newbies. I also have a printable chick supplies list that you can find on our Subscribers Only Resource Page. Just enter your email below to get your password!
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