For those looking to expand their backyard flocks, hatching eggs at home can be a fun project. It is a 21-day process to incubate chicken eggs and includes an egg incubator to help regulate temperature, humidity, and egg turning. Feed a full chick starter feed from hatch until week 18, or when the first egg arrives, to help baby chicks start strong once they’ve hatched.
Incubating eggs is a fun, 21-day project that can be successful with a few special pieces of equipment and careful attention. You will be able to hatch baby chicks that grow up to become part of your backyard flock, with care, vigilance and preparation.
For a step-by-step guide to hatching eggs at home, keep reading:
Safe fertile eggs and chick starter feed prior to incubating chicken eggs:
Of course, eggs are the first thing you’ll need to hatch chicks. The eggs must be fertile for hatching to occur. From hens who are housed with a rooster, fertile eggs can be obtained.
Eggs sold in grocery stores are not fertile, but if put in an incubator, they will not develop into baby chicks. It is usually important to order fertilised eggs from a hatchery or from poultry farmers with roosters in their flocks. Anyway, make sure that your fertile eggs come from a flock approved by the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) to help reduce the risk of disease.
A fertilised egg can be kept in a cool room at a steady 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit (not in the refrigerator-too it’s cold!) before incubation for a maximum of 7 days. If the fertilised eggs are put in the warm incubator, they will develop with the proper incubator set-up and care over the course of 21 days.
Be sure to stock up on chick starter feed before your baby chicks hatch. If they hatch and are put in the brooder, a newly hatched chick would need free-choice access to full feed immediately. It is depending on your flock goals to select a chick starter feed and whether your chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis. You can start Flock Strong with a chick starter feed, such as Start & Grow, Start & Grow Medicated or Organic Starter-Grower, whether you buy chicks from a local store or incubate eggs at home.
How to set up the incubator for the egg
By using an egg incubator, fertile eggs can be hatched. An incubator is an enclosed structure with a fan and heater during the 21-day incubation period to keep eggs warm. We suggest using an incubator with some automated features when deciding which incubator to buy, such as egg turning (which is important for the growth of chicks and to prevent the chick from sticking to the inside surface of the shell) and a fan to allow even distribution of heat.
Around one week prior to the delivery of fertilised eggs, prepare the incubator. Wash it with a bleach solution of 10 percent, followed by hot soapy water and a thorough rinse to ensure that you begin with a sanitised setting. When the incubator is clean and dry, turn it on and verify that it can maintain a steady temperature and humidity level. Then, in an environment where ambient temperatures are constant, with no chance of draught, position the incubator.
Within the incubator, temperature and humidity are important factors for successfully hatching eggs.
The recommendations recommended are as follows:
- Temperature optimum: 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit
- Temperature range: degrees 99-102 Fahrenheit
- Let the temperature not fall below 99 degrees Fahrenheit
- Do not allow 102 degrees Fahrenheit to last more than a couple of hours.
- To ensure the gauge is functioning correctly, double-check the incubator thermometer with a medical thermometer positioned nearby.
Day 1-17, relative humidity: 50-55 percent
Equivalent to 85-87 degrees Fahrenheit wet bulb temperature
To promote proper humidity, keep water channels in the incubator complete
Relative humidity, day 18-21: Increase the relative humidity to 70% on day 18:
To ensure humidity levels are right during the incubation period, use a hygrometer
Open the incubator only if necessary, which will allow heat and humidity to escape and can affect the hatch’s performance.
Increase ventilation, especially from days 18-21, as embryos grow bigger.
Keep these tips for hatching chicken eggs in mind. The specifications and incubation times will be different if you are hatching eggs from other animals, so you will need to study those criteria and change your incubator accordingly. For that reason, it is not recommended that eggs from different species be incubated at the same time in the same incubator.
Day 1: Change of eggs
You are able to position the eggs inside the incubator once you have the incubator set-up and have analysed the settings to ensure accuracy. “Setting the eggs” is called this process.
Plan for a minimum of six eggs to be established at one time. The setting of fewer eggs often results in one or no hatchlings, especially if the eggs have been shipped. It is particularly important for newborn chicks to have the number of chicks hatching together because chickens are flock animals and need to be content with companions. With the larger end facing up and the narrow end facing down in the incubator, put the eggs in the egg tray of the incubator. With 50-55 per cent humidity, set the temperature to 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Day 1-18: Eggs to transform
The incubation process starts after setting up the eggs. Turning, or spinning, the eggs is an important part of this process.
In order to keep the developing chick from sticking to the shell, eggs must be physically converted. The embryo should rest on top of the yolk in a more scientific way. If the egg isn’t rotated, the yolk appears to float upward, on top of the albumen (egg white) towards the shell. As a result, it is possible to wedge the developing embryo between the yolk and the shell, causing potentially fatal harm. The yolk transforms inside the albumin by turning the eggs, shifting the yolk away from the shell once again and making it secure for the embryo on top before it is time to transform again.
Eggs need to be turned at least 3 times a day, and it’s even better at 5 times. It is recommended to gently make a mark with a pencil (never a pen!) if you turn the eggs manually, which will help you keep track of which eggs have been turned. If you have an automatic incubator, it can turn your eggs on and remove the need to open the incubator repeatedly (check the user manual).
To avoid the transmission of skin oils or germs to the developing chick, be sure to wash your hands or wear clean gloves until you touch the eggs.
Days 7-10: Eggs for candling
Eggs may be candled at the middle of the incubation period, at 7 to 10 days, to determine if the embryos are developing properly.
The act of simply shining a light through an egg is called candling. The easiest way to candle are white and light-colored shells, while darker shells need a brighter light. A simple flashlight is the best way of candling an egg, but there are advanced pieces of equipment specifically designed for the job. Do not remove the eggs from the incubator for more than 5-10 minutes, and do not candle the eggs all at once. Schedule a few candles at a time to allow the eggs to remain inside the incubator.
Read the following explanation from extension.com to grasp what you’re looking for when candling eggs:
- If the inside of the egg is transparent, i.e. free of visible structures or dark areas, the embryo has died very early, or the egg is infertile. Remove the incubator from this egg.
- If a ring of red is visible inside the egg, at some stage there was an embryo, but it died. Remove the incubator from this egg.
- There is a live embryo inside if you can see blood vessels inside the egg. In chicken eggs, blood vessels are usually found within 7 to 10 days of the incubation of an egg. The embryo takes up most of the egg after 18 days of incubation and appears as a dark region inside the egg. Within the egg, you will often see movement.
- Remove them from the incubator if you find damaged or leaking eggs, as they are not likely to be viable and can contaminate the incubator. Return the eggs to the incubator after candling, and return to the day 1-18 turning cycle.
18-21 Days: Pre-hatching
The embryo has grown into a chick by day 18 and will take up most of the room in the egg. There’s a chick waiting to hatch. To better help the baby chick prepare, you can do a few things:
With the larger end of the egg facing up, avoid egg-turning at day 18. At this stage, inside the egg, the chick will position itself for hatching.
Maintain 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, but raise the humidity to 70 per cent.
Day 21: Chicks start hatching from baby chicks
Usually, chicks will hatch on the 21st day. The process could take a little longer if the fertilised eggs were cooled prior to incubation. If you do not have a hatch on day 21, give the eggs a few more days.
Let the chick hatch on its own when the big day comes. Don’t make an effort to help. Blood vessels that have not dried up yet can still bind the shell to the chick, and excessive, potentially fatal, bleeding can be caused by premature pulling of the shell. It may take up to 24 hours for a chick to fully hatch, but 5-7 hours is more common.
The new baby chicks’ peeping will allow unhatched eggs to start hatching as well. The incubator temperature can be reduced to 95o Fahrenheit when the chicks have all hatched. They can be put into the brooder once the chicks have dried, which should already be up and running at a temperature of 90-95o Fahrenheit. There should also be food and water in place.
If on day 21, there are already unhatched eggs, don’t despair. The timing or temperature might have gone slightly awry, so give the eggs until Day 23. Candle some unhatched eggs before discarding them to see if they are still alive.
Bear in mind that you are likely to end up with roosters when hatching eggs. There is a 50/50 chance of a rooster being born to a chick. There is no good way to test