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Incubating Eggs to Raise Chicks

The following directions are suitable for the amateur or hobbyist homesteader who wishes to experiment with incubating eggs. This can be a great family time with the children. Children love the responsibility of rotating the incubating eggs and enjoy watching peeps hatch out of their eggs.

A day or two before planning to incubate set up the incubator according to the incubator’s directions. See notes for homemade incubators below. Place the incubator somewhere that is out of the way; but is easy enough to get to and will not be forgotten. Inside the house or garage where the temperatures and moistures are fairly constant works well. There is always a chance of an egg getting broken, and there are odors associated with the incubation process.

If the incubator does not have an artificial way to control the humidity, fill a container with water. Place an old rag or a piece of paper towel into the water of the pan of water with the edges extended out over the sides of the the container to wick the water into the air. The more rag or wick exposed to the air the greater humidity. The less rag or wick the less humidity. Set this container with water and rag into another a slightly larger empty container to catch any moisture that may drip off the rag being used for a wick. Set the containers in to the incubator. If using a shallow pan, small stones or marbles can be placed in the pan of water to help keep the newly hatched chicks from falling in and drowning. It is recommended that the relative humidity is around 75 percent. If you notice condensation building up inside the incubator that is probably a good indication that the humidity is too high or if you notice a chalky or powdery feel to the eggs the humidity is too low.

A day or two before eggs are placed in the incubator, set incubator temperature for the correct temperature. We have always used a still-air incubator with temperature set about 100-101. Forced air incubator will need a slightly lower temperature. Always, check the temperature at egg level. If there is a need to open incubator to check temperature, check the temperature immediately after opening as the temperature will quickly begin to fall. Wait an hour or two and check temperature again.

Only store eggs for a week to ten days after the date in which the egg had been laid. Store eggs with point down in cool area. Gently turning the eggs daily leaving them pointed down until you are ready to incubate. It is recommended to store eggs for incubating between 50-60°F. Cooler temperatures than that will cause the eggs to sweat or freeze and higher temperatures will stress the eggs. As long as you do not keep the eggs in the refrigerator or leave them in the hot sun you will probably be able to hatch some of them.

If the incubator does not rotate the eggs mark the eggs to track rotation. Lay each egg on the side and use a pencil to mark an “X” one side of the egg and on the opposite side of the egg place an “O”. Do not use anything other than a pencil. Lay the eggs inside the incubator on their sides all with the “X’s” facing upward. When the eggs are rotated, the eggs will be gently turned that all the “O”s will be facing upward. With each rotation alternate the “X” and “O” marks. It is recommended to turn the eggs three times a day. Pick three times during the day that suit your schedule. The times do not necessarily have to be evenly spaced, just three times that work with your schedule. If you forget to turn them a time, turn them when you remember or at the next scheduled turning. Turning the eggs is not an exact science, but it is necessary for good results. Be sure to turn the eggs at least once each day.

Once temperature is set and stabilized in incubator, place clean fertilized eggs free from any obvious defect into the incubator. See below for mail order eggs and supplies. Do not wash the eggs. Washing removes the protective coating from the egg. For the best results use average size for breed, well formed, clean eggs. It is best to incubate in the spring, but as long as heat and shelter is provided chicks can be hatched at any time of the year.

Take note of the date in which the incubation was started. Do not rotate the eggs after day 18. If started in the afternoon use the following date for the reference date. There is a lot of preparation necessary for the day the chick’s hatch. The chicks should hatch day 21. If the temperature is a little high they could come day 20 and if the temperature is a little low they could come on day 22. It is possible to have chicks hatch outside this timeframe, but survival rates are almost non-existing.

When the chicks hatch, a means to keep the chicks warm will be necessary. Commercial breeders use brooders. Brooder lights for homemade brooder can be found at you local hardware store. See notes below on homemade brooders.

The chicks will need a source of heat, food, and water. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. A still air incubator should have been heated to 100-101 degree Fahrenheit. Any major change in temperature will greatly stress the newly hatched chicks. Leave the birds in the incubator until the brooder is ready and the chicks have dried. This will encourage the birds that have not hatched to work a bit harder. The chicks should be moved within a few hours of hatching to a brooder for nourishment where they will stay until fully feathered.

See article on How to Raise Chicks (coming soon)

Mailorder Eggs and Chicks:
There are many good on line sources for purchasing eggs and chicks. These links were included for convenience and not meant to be an endorsement. If you would like your hatchery listed here, please contact us.

Notes on Homemade Incubators:
An incubator or brooder can be made with a few simple items of a box, an incandescent light bulb for a heat source, and a thermometer. Homemade incubators and brooders can be dangerous. The light bulb can cause burns and/or cause fires. For liability reasons, I cannot indorse a homemade incubator or brooder.

By no means are we experts when it comes to chickens and hatching eggs, but we have learned a few things incubating eggs for our children to watch and to increase our flock.

Our first attempt we started out with three dozen eggs and ended up with about a dozen twisted toed roosters. We followed the directions of a so-called expert, and could not understand why we achieved such poor quality.

Our last several attempts we had a very good success rate. Almost all the eggs incubated had hatched and were healthy except for the few that I made the mistake of grabbing a marker for a pencil to mark the “X” and “O”.

We would like to hear about your results and experiences, feel free to drop us an email letting us know about your experience. If you have questions, we would be glad to help.

I am utterly convinced that God had made the world perfect. Although we now live in a fallen world, God’s design of a chicken and her ability to take care of her young is very remarkable. Even while they are still in the egg.

Normally, a hen will lay an egg a day, until she laid out her clutch. This takes a week to two weeks depending on the individual chicken and her breed.

Typically in the spring, she seems more interested in incubating the eggs. While considering weather conditions, it is cooler but not freezing and not sweltering either. In the spring, it usually rains a fair amount thus raising the humidity. Ideal conditions for incubating eggs.

The hen while incubating the eggs remains constantly on the nest only to leave for brief periods to get nourishment. Several times a day she will rotate the eggs. At the end of three weeks (21days) the peeps hatch. Within a few days the hen and her young leave the nest. The mother hen is able to tell when the last living chick has hatched.

See Article for Caring for Newly Hatched Chicks (coming soon)

Article and photographs are courtesy of C.Tshudy.

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