Saturday, December 28, 2013

Incubating and hatching eggs

Want to hatch your own chicks?

You have three choices:
Buy an incubator. 
Have a friend with an incubator. 
Hope one of your hens goes broody.

Foam incubator without turner
Most incubators will do the job for you. The most basic is the Styrofoam version without a fan or turner. From there you can go up to fancy ones which have a fan and automatically turn the eggs. 

If you choose an incubator without a turner, put a pencil mark on each egg. Turn the eggs a half turn each night and morning. If your incubator has a turner put the egg pointy end down you’re good to go. Do not turn the eggs or open the incubator after the 18th day.

It takes 21 days at 99.5* (with a fan) or 101.5* degrees (without a fan) measured at the top of the eggs to incubate a chicken egg. Click here to learn about what happens inside the egg during those 21 days. Turkey and waterfowl eggs incubate for 28 days, except Muscovy ducks which take 32 to 35 days.

The white of the egg becomes the chick. Just before a chick hatches the yolk is absorbed into its body. This allows the chick to go 48 to 72 hours without food or water after it hatches.

Any thermometer will work in an incubator. You just need to calibrate it. We prefer a digital meat thermometer. Ice water is 32* after it’s set for a while. So if yours reads 35* you know where you are at. It can be a little harder if you have an incubator thermometer since the low end is about 90* Calibrate a regular one first then put them both in the incubator and compare.

The humidity in your incubator should be around 50 to 60%. You can adjust it by opening or closing the air holes in the incubator. Do not close all the holes as the eggs need fresh air. 

Broody hens to hatch eggs.
Not all breeds will go broody. (Click here for signs of broodiness) If you get lucky enough (relatively speaking), you can leave the broody hen with the others until you have saved enough eggs to set her. She will need a place of her own to set (not the same pen).

Fix a nice nest with plenty of bedding, put in the eggs (about six for bantams and 12 for standard). Move the hen when it’s dark This gives her time to get used to the new place & eggs. After a few days if she rolls an egg out don’t put it back. Somehow she will know when an egg is bad.

Hatching eggs.
Store-bought eggs will not hatch. You can buy eggs and have them mailed to you. We have not had success with this. With your own hens, collect as often as you can or find someone nearby to buy eggs from. Do not wash the eggs you want to hatch or put them in the fridge. If an egg needs washing–wash it and eat it. 

Put the eggs in a carton pointy end down with a small block under one end. Switch ends night and morning. They should keep for 14 days or so before they should be put in an incubator or under a hen. Fifty degrees is best, but just do the best you can.
Do not put eggs in every day. Once every other week is fine. 

Candling eggs, the government way.
Candling eggs is a way to check whether they are fertilized. You can make your own candling tool by cutting an inch hole in a box and putting a light bulb under it. Some of the new LED flashlight will work also. Of course you can buy a ready-made one, but that’s not necessary.

With white eggs at about seven days you should be able to see blood vessels. Brown and green eggs are more of a challenge. The best is to wait ‘til 14 days. You should see an air space and not be able to see through the egg. 

When incubating waterfowl eggs toss any that are not fertile. They may explode in your incubator.

I know it’s hard not to open the incubator after the 18th day but you can cause a lot of trouble if you're impatient. Open it on the 23rd day. Helping chicks out of their shell really doesn’t work. If they are dry and stuck to the shell you might try putting a couple drops of warm baby oil and put them back in the incubator.
Once the chicks are dry, move them to their brooder.

As always, post your questions in the comments section.

--Dale aka Turkeyman