Incubating eggs at home
Incubating eggs can be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. With hard work and perseverance, you will enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of successfully hatching chicks or ducklings.
This article aims to give you an informative guide for successful hatching. If you have further questions, call the Poultry Centre team. We are happy to help
Setting up for success
Unsurprisingly to start incubating, you will need an incubator.
Get to know your appliance and read through the instructions thoroughly before starting. You should know all the functions of your apparatus before you think about putting an egg inside.
All crucial information needed to set up your incubator is provided with the appliance. Trust that the incubator’s manufacturer knows best and follow their instructions.
We have a wide range of incubators available. If you need help selecting a suitable incubator, please visit us and talk to our Poultry team.
The Who, Where and When for incubating eggs
You must be actively engaged from the time of egg collection, to the hatching of the eggs, until their lives lived under your care end.
The eggs require daily care and if your incubator does not rotate the eggs, then you are expected to turn them up to 5 times a day.
You must be present and committed as you are now their mama.
Place your incubator in an insulated room or building that will remain a consistent temperature. Do not place your incubator next to radiators, draft-y areas or near blowing air conditioning. We must create a stable environment.
Once you collect the eggs, let them ‘set’ (explained below). After setting, place your eggs inside the incubator.
Incubation times are dependent on the type of egg you are hatching. The incubation process is estimated to take 21 days for standard poultry, whereas ducklings require at least 28 days.
Collecting your eggs
Firstly, get your fertilised eggs!
If there is a rooster in your flock then you are already on your way to collecting fertilised eggs. After mating – hen eggs laid between 7 and 10 days after could be fertilised and will remain so for around two to three weeks even if they don’t mate again.
How can I tell if my eggs are fertilised?
Unfortunately, there no absolute way to definitively tell without looking – inside. Testing the eggs will be the only way to really know for sure that your incubating fertile eggs. Sacrifice a few so that you can examine the yolk.
Fertilised eggs have a small white bullseye in the yolk called the blastoderm. This collection of cells, when incubated, have the potential to hatch into a chirpy chick. If your eggs have the ‘bullseye’ in the yolk than it is highly likely that the eggs in you’re incubator are fertilised.
I don’t have a rooster; how do I get fertilised eggs?
Fertilised eggs can be purchased from many suppliers and breeders across the UK. Occasionally we will also have eggs for sale at the Poultry Centre and you should check our social media and sign up to bird alerts to find out when they are available.
Eggs do NOT travel well.
If you are shipping eggs or choose to have them sent via postal and delivery services, you reduce your chances of successful hatching. Position shipped eggs point-side downwards for at least 24 hours to allow for the air-cell to reposition.
Opt for local suppliers and collection only (handle with the greatest care) to make sure you don’t quite literally scramble your eggs on the journey before they go into the incubator.
Can I eat fertilised eggs?
Yes. If you collect eggs regularly before the mother hen begins to nest them and you haven’t begun the incubation process – your eggs are perfectly safe to eat. You are NOT eating a chick.
Phew now we have our eggs it’s time to incubate!
Setting the eggs
Let the eggs come up to room temperature before being placed inside the incubator. A cold egg going straight into a warm incubator can cause moisture condensation on the shell which then leads to potential disease and reduced hatching rates.
Always store the egg point-side down to ensure the air cell is not broken or dislodged. Don’t leave eggs setting longer than seven days as an absolute maximum.
Starting the process of incubating eggs.
Firstly, we need to check that;
a.) The appliance is working as intended (You read the instructions already, right?)
b.) The temperature, humidity level and controls are all calibrated correctly per the incubators instructions.
For successful egg hatching we are controlling these three variables to the best of our ability;
Optimal temperature for an incubator usually sits at the 37c-38c mark. Fluctuating temperatures are detrimental to the egg so keep consistent temperatures. Check your instructions as different machinery may suggest different temperatures.
Between 50% -60% humidity is ideal for most of the incubation process. Don’t let humidity drop below 25% whilst the eggs are setting and turn up the humidity to 60% -70% for the final three days during the lockdown period. (More on ‘lockdown’ later).
Like all living things, eggs require oxygen. As the embryo develops, oxygen levels needed will increase.
Insufficient oxygen due to poor air circulation will be a problem, potentially leading to hot and cold spots around the egg. This reduces the probability of successful hatching.
Bring the incubator up to temperature by leaving the apparatus turned on for 24 hours prior to the eggs going inside.
Get the right equipment.
When incubating eggs, it is good practice to invest in good thermometer and hygrometer to measure the temperature and humidity of your incubator, even if your device displays that information for you.
Accurate measurements of your environment increase your chances for successfully hatching.
Time to incubate the eggs
Wash your hands, please. Place your eggs carefully into the incubator positioning the pointed end angled downwards.
Turning the eggs
When incubating eggs, you must turn the eggs regularly. This action mimics the efforts of the brooding hen in her nest.
Turning is integral to the process and can be done by an automatic egg turner if you have one. If not – you must manually turn your eggs with clean and careful hands. This process should be done three or five times a day.
If you are turning the eggs manually, mark the egg differently on two opposing sides using a pencil. This will serve as a reminder for which eggs you have turned already.
Repeat this process daily until the ‘lockdown’ (day 18 for poultry) – Three days before your chicks are due to ‘pip’
Tip – Turning the eggs an odd number of times ensures that egg is laying overnight on alternate sides, further enabling good airflow around the egg.
At this point you may wish to see the development of your little chick (or lack thereof). Candling can be compared to observing a foetus during an ultrasound scan, we are examining the egg for life.
It is important to distinguish that candling will not tell you whether an egg is fertilised or not. Candling highlights the egg inside, allowing you to confirm that your fertilised egg is indeed developing and assess its progress.
You can candle eggs carefully, 7 days after the egg has been in the incubator.
No fear this isn’t anything to do with COVID.
Lockdown is natures turn to take over. Three days before the end of the incubation period stop turning the eggs and set them on a level surface tray inside the incubator in hatching positions. (On their side with the pointed end angled slightly downward and the larger surface facing upward).
Do not move or open your incubator now! Your chicks are getting into position to ‘pip’ open the shell.
Once your chicks have pipped, they can take anywhere from one day up to 4/5 days to fully emerge from their shell. They have used up a lot of energy and will need to rest up and take in oxygen.
It is important after ‘pipping’ to leave your chicks to emerge by themselves to avoid lasting damage to the chick. If you are really concerned for their welfare, give us a call and we can offer specific advice for your situation.
We really hope your hatching was successful and that you are now blessed with many tiny new chicks brimming with personality and a love for their new mama.
It is extremely rare to achieve 100% hatch rates so do not be disheartened if all of your eggs didn’t make it.
As poultry lovers we implore you to be considerate of all the factors that come with incubating eggs such as the lives and aftercare of your chicks.
There is always a 50/50 chance for your chicks to be male or female and furthermore, there is no sure way to determine the sex before the chicken is around 4-6 months old.
As fellow poultry keepers you are risking breeding cockerels and must ensure their welfare and take appropriate actions.