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Chicken Egg Incubation

Overview

Incubating chicken eggs can be a tremendously rewarding experience for adults and children of all ages. Overall, it is an easy task that can be successful for anyone as long as some simple instructions are followed.

With such a wide variety of species available and their meat and eggs being some of the most nutritious and healthy animal proteins, a variety of chickens are a valuable addition to farms and backyard chicken breeders.

Incubation Duration

21 Days - Stop turning eggs after 18 days - Last 3 days referred to as lockdown

Incubation Temperature

98 to 101 degrees fahrenheit

Incubation Humidity

55-65% - Humidity is one of the main determining factors in the hatch rates of your eggs. This does not need to be precise and can fluctuate. Remember, we are mimicking the natural hatching environment. The main idea is to not have your eggs too dry (under 50% humidity) or too wet (over 80% humidity) for prolonged periods of time.

Being too dry means that the air wicks away moisture from the egg and thus drys out the embryo and amniotic sac inside. Moisture is the key to all life on earth and your little ones need it to develop.

Being too wet is also an issue as a "moist" environment can become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus which can attack your eggs. Healthy eggs do have an immune system that can usually fend off any of these attackers, but it is better just to prevent their exposure in the first place. Excessive moisture can also cause your eggs to absorb too much from the environment causing pressure to develop and build inside the egg. Prolonged exposure to extremely high humidity can allow this pressure to kill your eggs.

Now that you know how important humidity is to your eggs, and your hatch rates, you should not go overboard and check your humidity every hour. Humidity naturally will fluctuate in your incubator and it fluctuates widely in nature. The key is to shoot fo the 55-65% and if it is slightly lower or higher some days then dont worry about it. This fluctuation will seem natural to your eggs and they will do fine. Just watch for trends and if  your air is consistently too dry or to moist then take steps to correct the situation.

If the air in your incubator is too dry then more water needs to be added to the environment- generally through use of a water cup or water tray. If it is too moist then more ventilation is needed. Try opening vents just a little at a time and wait several hours to test the humidity because small vents can drastically affect the humidity.

Preparation

Preferably order or aquire your chicken incubator well in advance of getting your chicken hatching eggs. This will allow you to get everything set up without having to keep your eggs unincubated any longer than they have to be.

Every incubator is different and setting them up can vary depending on type. Generally you will set the temperature to 100 degrees and fill the water tray inside the unit. Then place in any accessories such as egg turners, thermometers, hygrometers. Once everything is all set up you are ready to add your chicken eggs.

Egg Setting

Chicken eggs should be placed "pointy" end down in the incubator or egg turner. If there is no way to achieve this they will still hatch lying on their side but this could effect hatch rates negatively.

Egg Turning

Chicken hatching eggs should be turned 5 to 7 times per day and if turning by hand they should always be turned an odd amount of times. Turning the egg prevents the embryo from touching and attaching to the membrane inside the egg which could cause abnormal growth. The most convenient way to turn eggs is to purchase an egg turner. This also helps you to maintain a consistent humidity, since your incubator does not have to be opened the recommended 5-7 times for hand turning eggs. During the last 3 days or lockdown turning should be stopped and the incubator should be opened up as little as possible.

Determining Fertility

Chicken egg fertility is very rarely 100% and on average one could expect 50-75% fertility to be normal depending on the season, other environmental conditions, and the rooster and hen themselves. At day 3 of incubation you can take a small flashlight or egg candler and place it to the egg. Then view the egg from the side to see the development inside. Being in a dark room aids being able to see the veins and small embryo developing. Seeing the color pink as opposed to yellow or amber is a good sign as well as the veins and small mass which is your baby chicken.

Eggs that are cracked or that have develped a foul smell should be removed immediately as they could harbor bacteria and disease which you do not want spreading to your other eggs.

Hatching

At day 18 of incubation the eggs should stop being turned and the door to the incubator should be opened as little as possible. You do not want all of your precious humidity escaping and leaving your eggs in dry air. This can cause a shrink wrap effect of the membrane when the egg shell is broken by the chick-  meaning the membrane will clling to the new baby chick. This can cause them to becaught and thus unable to emerge from the egg and suffocated.

Brooding

After your chicks hatch they will need to be kept in a warm environment for a couple days until they are all dry and fluffy. You can keep them in the incubator or in a specially made brooder so as to keep them warm just like their mommy would. This allows them to adjust to their enviroment without having their immune systems depressed because of being cold and wet.

Summary

Chicken egg incubation is an easy and fun activity and we know it can seem like there is a ton of information to absorb. Don't worry. Just take things step by step and remember that these eggs have been hatching in the wild for thousands of years without exacting requirements. Using an incubation unit is mainly intended to maximize your chances of having optimal hatch rates- we want to make sure you have as many baby chicks as possible!