If you have hens there may come a time when you want to expand your brood and see little yellow fluff balls running around the coop. Chances are you do not have a cockerel and, without their assistance, chicks will not be the outcome. More often than not, simply asking like-minded friends or having a quick internet search will reveal plenty of cockerel owners ready to let their feathered friend have his moment. Alternatively, you can actually buy fertilised eggs for the sole purpose of hatching.
Why Incubate Chicken Eggs?
Nature states that once a hen lays fertilised eggs, her instincts will take over and she will rarely leave the nest. Keeping the eggs warm and turning them is her number one priority until they hatch. However, some hens (particularly young mothers-to-be) can be neglectful, which will result in eggs never hatching.
Things don’t always go to plan and there is no shame in incubating chicken eggs, farmers and small keepers tend to rely on it to ensure the safety of the chicks. So, if you want to act like mum and witness your chicks hatching in front of your very eyes, keep reading!
Correct Incubator Set Up
Investing in the tools of the trade before you get your hands on some eggs is integral. Incubators can be as affordable or expensive as you choose. Some chicken enthusiasts even take the time to make their own from scratch. Regardless of your incubator set-up, they will need to be set up as follows:
- It is imperative that the egg is kept at 37.5°C (99.5°F) at all times. Even the smallest fluctuation in temperature can kill the embryo.
- For the first 18 days of incubation, the humidity of the incubator must be between 40 and 50%. For the remaining 3 days (eggs usually hatch in 21 days) the humidity should rise to between 65 and 75%.
- Egg shells are actually porous and chicken foetuses breathe through the shell. Ventilation is key to chick survival and incubators must have ample holes or vents to allow oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.
- The incubator must rest in a place that has as much of a constant temperature as possible. Many people use basements, utility rooms or spare bedrooms.
- Remember, incubators that do not turn the eggs automatically means you will need to do so manually.
Natural Egg Fertilisation
Whether you have a cockerel on loan or he is your own, the majority of eggs laid by your hens will be fertile. Undoubtedly, the eggs that come from your own garden will be of the best quality as you have witnessed the entire journey so far. The eggs only need to leave the coop and enter your incubator as soon as possible.
Purchased Fertile Eggs
It goes without saying that purchasing eggs which are already fertile can put some barriers in the way. A great option is to ask a friend or local farmer if they have any potentially fertile eggs going spare. Alternatively, many outdoor or country stores sell fertile eggs in the spring or have notices up containing the contact details of people who will be able to help. A quick Google search and a read of reviews will also reveal the best places to buy fertile eggs online. The eggs will arrive in no time at all, very safely packaged. However, with this option, there is more scope for the eggs not to hatch or break during transport.
Chicken Egg Incubation Process
Before placing your eggs into the incubator, make sure the equipment has had 24 hours to reach and settle at the correct temperature and humidity. On average, it takes 21 days for a chicken egg to hatch from the start of incubation. You will need to maintain the environment of the incubator throughout this period. Most bought incubators adjust the temperature automatically, which is very handy for newbie hatchers. Adding water into the pan in the incubator is a way to boost humidity. Simply add a sponge in if the humidity is too high. If you don’t have the time to religiously check the incubator, invest in one that does it all for you.
Here are some things to remember:
- The temperature must remain at 37.5°C
- Humidity on and up to day 18 needs to be between 40 and 50%
- Humidity for the last three days needs to be boosted to between 65 and 75%
- If you are rotating your eggs manually, draw an X and O on each side to help you keep track
- Eggs do not need to be turned from day 18 onwards
Chances are you will wake up at the crack of dawn on day 21 and sit in front of the incubator. It is a very exciting day and watching chicken eggs hatch is one of life’s little miracles. You will notice that a couple of days before hatch day, the eggs may be moving on their own. The chicken is becoming active and getting ready to make their entrance into the world.
When you see your eggs, you may notice that some have tiny holes in. This is where the chick has begun to hatch; pecking a little hole in the shell to take their first breath. Usually, after this point, the egg will lie dormant for six to 12 hours. There is no need to panic, this is simply the chick adjusting to the oxygen and resting before the huge energy expenditure that is hatching.
When the chicks start hatching, refrain from helping them, no matter how awkward they look or how long it is taking them. They are more than capable and it saves any injury. Remember, they are tiny and weigh a matter of grams!
Leave the chick to adjust once they have hatched. You will notice their feathers are wet, so let them dry off in the incubator before moving them to their brooder. Your chicks will take to their feet and become incredibly fluffy during this period.