How to Incubate chicken eggs without the Hen?
Mothering chicken eggs is not for everyone, but if you think it might be your calling, here’s how to do it. Once a hen lays a clutch of eggs, instincts take over. They constantly fuss over them, adjusting them just so throughout the day and rarely leaving the nest for more than a few minutes. Motherhood is a big responsibility for a young hen if she’s the least bit neglectful, her babies will never hatch. Or worse, you may hatch with deformities.
Modern chickens, it turns out, are not always very effective mothers. Whether it’s genetic or culture, who knows, but they get distracted, other hens oust them from their nest, the rooster comes by there is no shortage of things that can go wrong. For this reason, most farmers and backyard chicken enthusiasts don’t trust incubation to their hens, they take it upon themselves to do the brooding work instead. You can also buy day-old chicks and skip the incubation process, but it costs more. Plus, why would you want to miss out on an opportunity to experience one of life’s miracles?
These are the following steps to Hatch Chicken Eggs:
Set up an incubator:
Depending on how many eggs they accommodate and how automated they are, incubators run from around $50 for the homesteader favorite “Hova-Bator” into the thousands of dollars for commercial-scale incubators. With top-of-the-line incubators, you put in an egg, close the door, and out pops the chick three weeks later. You can also go the DIY route, which saves money but is almost as much work as sitting on the eggs yourself. No matter how fancy or jerry-rigged, all incubators must accomplish a few basic things:
Temperature: Not To Hot
Maintain a temperature between 100-102 degrees with a still air incubator and 99-99.5 with a forced-air incubator. Your goal is to keep the temperature inside the egg as close to 99.5 degrees as possible. Since you can’t actually take the temperature inside the egg, the best you can do is maintain a slightly higher temp outside the egg.
If you make give temperature to high you will lose your chicks. So be careful about the temperature. By all means, keep your temperature between 100-102 degrees, but if the worse happens, do not panic and assume all is lost.
Humidity: Shrink-Wrapped Eggs
Keep your humidity between 40-50% days 1-18, then increase to 50-60% on days 18-21. Humidity is important, especially in the last days of incubation. If the humidity is too low, you run the chance of your chicks getting “shrink-wrapped”, and unable to break out of the egg. The last thing anyone wants is to get super excited for hatch day, only to have fewer eggs hatch because the chicks died. You should keep a digital thermometer in the incubator that measures both temperature and humidity. It’s been a lifesaver and it keeps you from guessing. You try to adjust the temperature by opening and closing the vents instead of turning the dial. It’s a slower and less dramatic change.
Ventilation: Eggs Need To Breathe
Eggshells are porous, allowing oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to exit; incubators need to have holes or vents that allow fresh air to circulate so that fetuses can breathe.
Homemade versions usually involve some sort of insulated box a cheap Styrofoam suffice for the heat source and a pan of water with a sponge in it will make the air humid. Low-end-commercial incubators don’t amount to much more than this, but the more you pay, the more automated the temperature and humidity controls will be.
A high-quality thermometer and hygrometer(a device to measure humidity) are the most important tools of incubation; cheap models are usually not accurate enough. If you are not working with an incubator that has these instruments built-in, opt for a combo.
Thermometer/Hygrometer with an External Display:
These have a sensor that goes inside the incubator with an LED screen on the outside that shows the temperature and humidity readings without having to open the incubator and ruin your carefully calibrated environment.
Hens fussing that a hen does over her egg comes from an evolutionary instinct to constantly move them about (Roll Them). The finely tuned ecosystem inside a chicken egg is kept in balance by constantly changing the position of the egg. High-end incubators have a built-in-egg turning device, but there are also standalone egg turners that can be placed inside a homemade incubator to do the job. Or, you can rotate manually according to the instructions below:
The incubator should be placed in a location with the least possible fluctuation in temperature and humidity throughout the day a basement is ideal, a sunny window is not.
Find fertile eggs:
If you already have a flock of chickens that includes a rooster, the majority of the eggs they lay will be fertile. Collect them as soon as possible after laying and transfer to the incubator. If you don’t already have chickens, find a friend or a nearby farmer who does and ask if you can buy some fertile eggs. Some feed stores sell fertile eggs in the spring and there are many suppliers that sell eggs online.
The closer to home, the better the egg source. The jostling about and fluctuations in temperature and humidity that occur during transport are hard on the developing fetus. Hatching rates on eggs straight from the coop are often in the 75 to 90 percent range; with mail-order eggs, there is no guarantee that any will hatch.
When picking eggs to incubate, use those that are clean, well-formed, and full-size. Above all, do not clean the eggs there is a naturally occurring coating that is vital to the success of the embryo. Wash your hands before handling and be as gentle as possible, as the embryo is extremely susceptible to damage from the sudden movement.
Ideally, the eggs are transferred directly to the incubator, but it’s possible to store them in egg cartons if needed. Kept at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees and 75 percent humidity, the development of the eggs can be delayed for up to ten days without sacrificing the viability of the embryos. However, they
must be stored with the fat side of the egg pointed up to keep the embryo alive.
It takes 21 days on average for an egg to hatch once incubation begins. Before placing the eggs inside, turn on the heat source and measure the temperature and humidity over 24 hour period, making adjustments as necessary to create the optimal environment. If the humidity is too high or low, use a sponge with more or less surface area to adjust it. Raise and lower the temperature of the heat source in tiny increments until the temperature reads 99.5.
Once the incubator is functioning properly, it’s just a matter of maintaining the environment until the chicks hatch. Place the eggs on their side in the incubator, close the door and check the levels religiously to make sure nothing goes askew. Water may have to be added to the pan occasionally to keep the humidity up. On day 18, add more water to boost the humidity level.
If you are going to turn the eggs yourself, there is a standard method to mimic the efforts of a hen:
- Draw an “X” on one side of the egg and an “O” on the other to keep track of which eggs have been turned.
- At least three times a day, gently turn the egg over; more frequent turning is even better, but the number of turns per day should be odd(3,5,7, etc.) so that the eggs are never resting on the same side for two consecutive nights. Experts also recommend alternating the direction of turning each time the goal is to vary the position of the embryo as much as possible.
- Continue turning until day 18, but then leave the eggs alone for the last few days.
Candle your eggs: Ancient Ultra – Sound
Candle your eggs starting on day 7. If you have a darker egg, you might have to wait until day 10, but you definitely want to candle them at some point. Candling an egg just means looking at the inside by shining a light through the egg. You should see veins and eventually a chick moving in there( which is the coolest thing ever, aside from seeing a human in the womb). If by day 10, you only see the yolk( looks like a shadow and the rest of the egg clear), then the egg either was not fertile or the embryo never developed. Eggs that do not develop the need to be removed.
By day 18, the embryo has developed into a chick and will take up most of the space in the egg. The chick is preparing to hatch. You can do a few things to best help the baby chick prepare:
- Stop egg-turning at day 18 with the larger end of the egg facing up. At this point, the chick will position itself for hatching inside the egg.
- Maintain a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit but increase humidity to 70%.
In the final days before hatching, the eggs may be observed shifting about on their own as the fetus becomes active. The chick will eventually peck a small hole in the large end of the egg and take its first breath. It is normal at this point for the chick to rest for six to 12 hours while its lungs adjust before continuing to hatch. Resist the urge to help with the hatching process it’s easy to cause injury!
The peeping of the new baby chicks will encourage un-hatched eggs to also start hatching. When the chicks have all hatched, the incubator temperature can be lowered to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the chick is free from the egg, let it dry off in the warmth of the incubator before moving it a brooder, where it will spend the first weeks of its life.
When you move them to the brooder, make sure your brooder is at least 95 degrees but not too hot or the chicks will overheat. Usually, keep a 95-100 degree.
Newborn chicks have a harder time regulating their own temperature, so always keep the thermometer in the brooder too. You may use straw in your brooder because we have it on hand. Some people use wood chips; if you use wood chips, use larger ones so the chicks don’t try to eat the fine shavings.
If there are still un-hatched eggs at day 21, don’t despair. It is possible that timing or temperature went slightly away, so give the eggs until day 23. Candle any un-hatched eggs to see if they are still alive before discarding them.
Keep in mind that when hatching eggs, you will likely end up with roosters. There is a 50/50 chance that a chick will be born a rooster. There is no good way to determine if a male or female chick is developing inside an egg. Some town ordinances do not allow backyard roosters, so have a plan for re-homing a rooster if you can’t keep him.
If you decide to keep a rooster, it is suggested to only have one. In addition, one rooster per 10 hens is typical for continued breeding. Any over-breeding and injury.
Give your chicks a Probiotic in their Water:
Give your chicks a probiotic in their water. Most people used to think probiotics were a useless trend, but after losing some newborn chicks inexplicably, people gave them probiotic in their water and it has better results.
Benefits of probiotics:
- The probiotics help establish good gut flora
- Aid in helping the chicks poop correctly
- Avoid pasty butt (pasty butt is when a chick’s feces dry and cover their vet, and they are no longer able to poop correctly). Pasty butt is the number one killer of newborn chicks.
Chicken / Poultry Breeder Associations
|US Poultry & Egg Association||United States||USPA|
|American Poultry Association||California||APA|
|Ohio Poultry Association||Ohio||OPA|
|National Chicken Council||United States||NCC|
|British Poultry Council||United Kingdom||BPCE|
|Poultry Club of Great Britain||United Kingdom||PCGB|
|Association of Poultry Breeders in EU||Europe||AVEC|
|Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc||Australia||ACMF|
|Australian Poultry Hub||Australia||Poultry Hub|