Hatching eggs from your own flock is a fun and cost-saving activity for you and your family. If you don’t already have chickens, you can purchase fertilized eggs to incubate and hatch at home!
To collect fertilized eggs from your hens, you must have a rooster. If you have a specific hen or hens you want to breed to one rooster, keeping them together but away from the rest of your flock will ensure your rooster only fertilizes those hens. If you aren’t particular on which hen is bred with what rooster, collecting any egg will work. To ensure all of your eggs are fertilized, make sure you only have between 7 to 10 hens per rooster.
When determining which eggs you want to hatch, consider the temperament of the hen and rooster. Chicks often have traits that their parents had – ex. Broody hen or aggressive behavior. Choose only well-formed, clean eggs. Overly large or small eggs often do not hatch well. Incubating dirty eggs may contaminate your incubator causing poor hatching results. To help determine which eggs are best for hatching, looking at a dozen eggs in an egg carton will make the odd shaped or sized eggs stand out. When collecting hatching eggs during extremely cold (below 32º) or extremely hot (above 86º) weather, collecting them twice a day will preserve their quality and hatchability.
If you are waiting to have enough eggs to hatch, storing your eggs is the perfect option to collect enough to fill your incubator or restock your flock. After collecting your hatching eggs, storing them in an egg carton with the pointed side down is best to achieve a healthy hatching egg. The opposite, blunt end of the egg contains the air sac which is crucial to your chick’s development. Storing them in an egg carton also helps protect them from being shook or damaged when adding more eggs. You will also need to store your eggs in a cool, dry location at about 55º and 60% humidity. Using a storage tote or similar container with a lid will make it easy to maintain the perfect conditions. If you are storing your eggs for multiple days before incubating, you will need to turn your eggs each day to prevent the air sac from sticking to the side of your egg. Rotating them between one side and the other is best, don’t flip them upside down. This would damage the air sac. The easiest way to turn your eggs is to prop your carton on the side of the tote at a 45º angle and switch sides the next day. Continue doing this until you are ready to incubate your eggs.
Once you know you have enough eggs to fill your incubator or the desired amount you want to hatch, you’ll need to test your incubator to make sure it works properly. Run your incubator for a day or so to ensure it remains at the perfect incubating temperature, between 99-102º, and the perfect humidity, between 45-50%.
It’s now time to add your eggs to your incubator! Before placing your eggs, gently mark each side of your eggs with a symbol – ex. One side an X and the other an O. Place your eggs gently on their side in the incubator, the larger, blunt end of the egg should be slightly higher than the pointy end. This placement will make it easier for the chicks to break through the shell when they are ready to hatch. Record the day you add your eggs to the incubator and how many you added. Based on the day you start incubating your eggs, your chicks should hatch around 21 days later.
Rotating your eggs during incubation is a crucial part of hatching your eggs. Some incubators have automatic egg turners which will make this part super simple. For incubators that don’t have a turner, you will need to rotate your eggs 3 times per day. This is where the symbol you drew on your egg comes in handy! Rotating your eggs helps the temperature stay constant throughout your egg, this is also the same behavior a hen does when incubating their own eggs. Between days 7 and 10 of your incubation process, you can candle your eggs to check for viable chicks. Candling your eggs is when you use a light source to view how much space the embryo occupies within an egg. After 7-10 days, you should see the development of the chick. If you can’t see anything, the egg you are candling will not develop into a chick and can be removed from the incubator.
Three days before your eggs are due to hatch, stop turning your eggs or turn off the turner on your incubator. At this point in the incubation period, your eggs are developed and there is no need to turn them. You also need to turn your humidity up to 65%, this helps the chicks easily break through their eggs. Once your chicks start hatching, don’t remove the chicks until they are completely dry. The drying process can take 4 to 6 hours. Chicks can also be left in the incubator for 1 to 2 days, but you must lower the temperature to 95º. After your chicks have hatched and dried, they can be moved to your brooder. Check out our articles about raising chicks and setting up the perfect brooder!