Chicks! Little fluffy puffs of sunshine.

Easily Hatch Out Chicks with an Incubator

Eggs in the incubator.
Eggs in the incubator.

You are ready to hatch out your own chicks! Here is the help you need to walk you through, step-by-step in getting those fertilized eggs to transform into fluffy little balls of sunshine!

Choosing an Incubator

There are a number of possibilities when it comes to incubators with different options and price points. When choosing an incubator, keep in mind, all are NOT created equal. You want to spend time doing research because this will be an investment in your homestead.

Read the reviews. I believe all incubators are going to have some reviews with a few bad ratings because hatch out rates vary based on when eggs were collected, their viability, fertilization, and also depend on humidity and temp consistency for those 21 days. Some folks would rather just blame it on the incubator.

HOWEVER, if you are seeing a lot of feedback that the incubator does not hold the temperature well, or that they can’t get the temperature or humidity to stay consistent, then don’t let the price point sway you into “well, maybe”. It’s just not worth it.

When doing our research, we found that the one with the best price point for hatch out rate reputation was this one: The Hovabator 1602. As you can see from the picture above, we also got the egg turner and the humidity/temperature gauge.

The beauty of a larger incubator is that you can always hatch fewer eggs in it, but will have room for seasons when you want to hatch out more.

A Word About Egg Turners

You will see that some incubators come with the option to come with an egg turner. This is not 100% necessary. Egg turners, though, are a welcome investment on our part. Life gets busy on the homestead and it is great to have one less thing to check on in the busy season.

The incubator we purchased came with the egg turner as well as the temp and humidity gauge. When you have an automatic egg turner, this will also allow you to open the lid of the incubator less often. In this regard, you will be keeping temperatures and humidity more consistent because you are not having to open the incubator for a period of time to rotate the eggs. Optimization of hatching relies on consistent temperature and humidity levels.

Collect your Hatching Eggs

You can do this in two ways:

1) Buy hatching eggs from a reputable breeder. This would mean asking people who hatch and raise poultry where they get eggs, if you know any. If not, reading reviews and learning as much as you can about the quality of their operation. Or, if it’s a local farmer, you may want to visit their farm and see how their operation is set up to ensure their quality matches yours.

2) Gather your own eggs from your flock. Once you have an established flock, you can collect your own. The advantage of using your own flock to hatch out is that the birds who live on your property are best suited to that environment. What does this mean? Well, they have thrived on your property. Their genetics of parasite immunity as well as heat and cold tolerance for your area have allowed them to survive and thrive where you live. These genetics will be passed on to your chicks. Therefore, you are essentially breeding chickens who are genetically the best adapted to live on your property and in your specific climate.

IMPORTANT: Your eggs should not be older than 10 days old. Any older and you are not going to get a good hatch rate.

Setting Up Your Incubator

No matter which incubator you have chosen, set it up according to manufacturer’s instructions. This is an important step, of course.

The directions to set up should include how to fill the water to create humidity in your incubator.

Put the incubator in a room that will have consistent heat between 65 and 80 degrees Farenheit. Make sure it is in an area that has good airflow. Do not set the incubator in an area that the sun will shine on it.

Set CLEAN eggs (the best that you can get) which you have collected with the last 10 days (or the ones you got from a reputable breeder). Do not overcrowd them.

Running Your Incubator

Now, you are going to keep an eye on your incubator. Try not to open it as much as possible. If you have the automatic egg turner, this will help you.

You are going to keep the humidity between 45% and 55% while the eggs are setting. If it’s low, refill with tap water to keep the humidity up to this range. This humidity level will change during the last two to three days of the incubation (days 18 through 21) – known as the “lockdown” phase of hatching.

Temperatures should always be right around 100 degrees. This is the same for both setting and hatching.

Checking for Viability

You put these eggs in, hoping that they are fertilized. But, how do you KNOW they are fertilized and you won’t wind up with month old warm eggs at the end of all of this effort? Candling!

Candling is the process of using a light to see shadows and hints inside the egg that a chick is growing. I could rewrite a lengthy explanation of how to do it and how often, but here is a post that has all the information you will need.

There is nothing so amazing as watching life form and grow inside those eggs.

Keeping the Temp and Humidity

Make sure you keep the temperature and humidity consistent throughout the 21 days. That means commit to making time every day to check in on your eggs. If you miss and the humidity or temp go down below what is specified, you risk a low hatch rate.

Time for “Lockdown”

Assuming you are hatching out chickens, on day 18, you should stop rotating the eggs and change the humidity to reach 55% to 65% humidity. Failure to raise the humidity will “dry out” the inside of the egg and the chick will be “shrink wrapped” with it’s own membrane and dry up it’s air sac.

Do not disturb the egg. Now is the time to wait. You are in the home stretch and baby chicks will soon be here.

Pip and Zip

On day 21, you will see a little hole in the egg shell. The little chick has “pipped” and this begins the hatching process. The little chick can now breath air from the outside world.

Next, the little chick will “zip” a line along the egg. Pipping and zipping usually occurs the fat end of the egg. This, however, is not necessarily always the case.

development of chick in egg
top egg is “pipped” but at the small end Bottom egg is “zipped” at fat end.

Eventually, the chick will make it’s way. Usually within three to four hours of the pip, the chick is out. It could also take up to 24 if the chick is in the wrong position (pip and zip at the small end).

Here’s a video recap for you!

Helping the Helpless

What do you do if it pips and doesn’t zip? What if it zips, but doesn’t break out? You can wait and watch. Keep in mind, you “could” help it out. If you do, remember that this bird was not strong enough to hatch and is probably a weaker constitution and may not make it.

The call is yours. It is admittedly difficult to see how nature behaves sometimes because it feels so cruel.

How Long to Wait

If your temperate and humidity are within a “goldilocks” range, your chicks will be begin pipping and hatching on day 21.

However, sometimes eggs don’t all hatch on day 21. This could be your temperature was too low at some point. However, if the majority of your eggs have hatched and you have waited 24 hours after the last one to hatch, the remaining ones probably aren’t going to hatch.

It is reported by some sources that chicken eggs can hatch up to day 24. However, if the majority of your eggs have hatched, there is a good possibility that the remainder will not after 24 hours.

Some Didn’t Hatch!

As mentioned before, you need to keep your temperature and humidity within the specified ranges. These are two major contributors to the hatch rate. Hatch rate of 70% or over is a good range. However, if your hatch rate is lower than 70%, the following are probably the culprit.

  • Dirty eggs
  • Infertile eggs
  • Eggs were not turned consistently
  • Moisture too low
  • Temperature too high
  • Poor flock health (remember visiting the reputable breeder?)

If your hatch rate is 70% or greater, there are really no adjustments you need to make to your humidity and temperature if all the other issues were addressed in the above list.

However, you will need to examine the eggs that did NOT hatch to help you narrow down the culprit.

If the chicks began developing and then stopped at some point, this is an indicator that you need to adjust your temp or humidity.

According to the Hovabator site, “if (the rest of the) eggs hatched on time, then begin any adjustments with the humidity first…. Make only one adjustment and then test it on a setting of eggs before making any other adjustments.”

“The purpose of supplying moisture in and incubator is to prevent excessive drying of the natural moisture from within the eggs. The correct amount of humidity can be determined by the size of the air sack when candled, or by weighing the egg to gauge percent of weight loss. Both methods require knowledge and experience that first time
operators usually do not have.” (Hovabator)

What this indicates is that there is a learning curve. You will need to try adjusting your humidity next time.

All Chicks Onboard!

You keep all your chicks in the incubator until all have hatched and dried out. Chicks can survive the first 48 hours without food or water. So even if you wait on those “late hatchers”, the first to hatch out will not suffer.

Moving to a Brooder

Once everyone is dried out, you can move them to your brooder to keep them until they are fully feathered out. You can find more on how to do that here (How to Raise Chicks).

Congratulations! But be warned, once you have done this, you may become addicted to hatching them out! It’s hard to pass up little baby fluff balls for sure!

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