Farm Life How-To: Hatching Chicken Eggs Using an Incubator

Farm Life How-To: Hatching Chicken Eggs Using an Incubator

It’s almost spring, and that means chicks will arrive soon at the local feed store. However, if you have never watched new baby chicks hatch, it’s one of the coolest things to experience. I’ll give you a brief tutorial and I hope you consider trying it.

I hatch chicks in small quantities so that I can continue the great laying qualities I’ve developed within my flock. I’ll discuss more about my flock in a future post, but today let’s focus on the “How To” aspect. For the incubator, I use a Brinsea Mini II Advance incubator that holds 7 eggs at a time. It’s user friendly and quite hands-off with the automatic turner feature.

Before you can begin hatching, you must first source your hatching eggs. You can find fertile hatching eggs from local farmers or purchase fertile eggs from many hatcheries. I have also had success with hatching eggs purchased through eBay and Craigslist.

Once you have your fertile eggs, they need to rest for 24 hours before you set them into the incubator. Leave them at room temperature in a cardboard egg carton with the eggs’ rounded ends facing up. Letting them rest will allow the tiny embryo on the surface of the yolk to settle from the trip and for the eggs’ internal temperatures to stabilize.

Chicken eggs take 21 days to develop and then hatch. For the first 18 days of incubation, the incubator environment should be maintained within a small range of temperature and humidity:

  • 99.5 degrees F
  • relative humidity at 45-55%

My Brinsea Mini II Advance incubator is great at maintaining the temperature, but the humidity is not automatic and there is not a way to measure it. In the center of the incubator base is a small divided well for holding tap water. The instructions with the incubator say to keep water in one half of the well for the first 18 days, and then add water to both wells for the final 3 days of incubation.

I like to candle my eggs on day 7 and 14 of incubation. Candling means using a powerful light source to see inside f the egg. By day 3 of incubation, tiny vessels can be seen and you can be assured that you have fertile eggs. If any eggs are not developing by day 7, I remove them from the incubator so they do not rot and explode, which would ruin the entire clutch of eggs and contaminate the incubator.

Eggs should be turned at least 3 times a day to prevent the embryo from sticking to the inside of the eggshell membranes and for proper chick development. My incubator has an automatic turner, but if yours doesn’t, turning by hand will be necessary. I mark an X and an O on opposite sides of the egg so that I can visually see that proper turning happens, even if I use the automatic turner.

During the final 3 days of incubation, the eggs go into “lockdown”. On day 18, make to following changes to your incubator to prepare for the hatch:

  • Temperature stays the same, 99.5 degrees F
  • Increase humidity to 55-65%, this helps prevent membranes from sticking to chicks during hatch
  • Stop turning the eggs for the final 3 days 

The chicks will begin to chirp inside of the egg at around day 20 of incubation. When you hear this chirping, the chicks have done what is called “internal pipping”. They have broken through a membrane into the air cell and are now breathing room air. Hatching will happen soon!

You will then see a tiny hole in each egg as the chick is beginning their hatch. The tiny hole and beginning of the hatch is referred to as the “external pip”. Next, the chick will rest a lot and then work to chip away at the shell around the perimeter. This step is called the “unzip”. Then the chick will push and struggle to free itself from the shell halves. It can take up to 24 hours from the time you see the first external pip until the last chick frees itself from the shell.

After the chicks have hatched, they need to stay in the incubator and dry completely before you move them into a brooder.  I’ll write about how to brood chicks soon!

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