Hatching Chicken Eggs: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Hatching chicks can be an exciting and rewarding experience for those interested in raising chickens. However, the process of hatching chicken eggs can seem daunting for beginners. In this article, we will explore the basics of hatching chicks and provide step-by-step instructions on how to hatch chicken eggs in an incubator.

Understanding the Basics of Egg Incubation

Understanding the basics of egg incubation is essential to ensure a successful hatch. This section will cover the types of incubators, incubation period, and conditions needed for successful egg incubation.

Types of Incubators

There are several types of incubators available in the market, including still-air incubators, forced-air incubators, and cabinet incubators. Still-air incubators are the most basic type of incubator and are made for small-scale hatching. We had a couple of these years ago, and the hatch rate with them was terrible, sometimes as low as ten or twenty percent. Because they are the cheapest, they are popular, but I don’t recommend them.

Styrofoam Incubator
Styrofoam Incubator

After giving up on the cheap styrofoam incubators that have no fan, no thermostat readout, and no humidity readout, we switched to a Brinsea incubator and have been very happy with it. This is an updated version of what we have, and it’s tempting to buy it, but the ones we have are still working great.

Brinsea makes forced-air incubators for chick hatching, which are more advanced and use a fan to circulate air evenly throughout the incubator. This type of incubator will result in a much higher hatch rate, especially if it has digital displays that show the temperature and humidity level. Some even have an alarm to alert you when either falls outside the optimum range for hatching eggs.

Brinsea Incubator
Brinsea Incubator

Cabinet incubators are the most advanced incubators, suitable for large-scale chick hatching. They have all the bells and whistles and are big enough to hatch hundreds of eggs.

Incubation Period and Conditions

The incubation period for chicken eggs is typically 21 days. During this period, the eggs need to be kept at a constant temperature and humidity level. The ideal temperature for incubating chicken eggs is between 99 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is crucial to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the incubation period, and if your incubator does not have a thermostat with a display, a thermometer must be used to monitor the temperature.

Humidity is another critical factor in egg incubation. The ideal humidity level for chicken eggs is between 50 and 60 percent. A hygrometer can be used to monitor the humidity level, and water can be added to the incubator to increase humidity.

Preparing for Hatching

Selecting Fertile Eggs

It is important to note that only fertilized eggs can be incubated to hatch chicks, which means there must be enough roosters in the flock to ensure fertilization of eggs. A ratio of one rooster for every ten hens usually works. The eggs should be collected and stored in a cool and dry place before incubation.

When selecting fertile eggs, it is important to choose eggs that are fresh, clean, and free from cracks or damage. Eggs that are more than 7 days old are less likely to hatch successfully, so it is best to use the freshest eggs possible. We can get more than enough eggs from our hens on a daily basis to fill up our incubator, so I always use eggs that are no more than a day old.

If you can’t get enough eggs in one day, wait until you have enough so all of the eggs will be due to hatch on the same day. Humidity levels need to increase around hatch day, so you should not keep adding more eggs to the incubator. Follow the “all in, all out” practice.

row of eggs

Setting Up the Incubator

To set up the incubator, you should first clean it thoroughly to ensure that it is free from any bacteria or dirt that could harm the developing eggs, especially if it has been used before. Once the incubator is clean, you should set the temperature to 99.5°F and the humidity level to around 50%. It is important to maintain these levels throughout the incubation period, as any fluctuations can harm the developing embryos.

If your incubator has an egg turner, you should also set it up at this time. The egg turner will rotate the eggs automatically, ensuring that the embryos develop evenly. If your incubator does not have an egg turner, you will need to turn the eggs by hand at least three times a day.

Candling the Eggs

Around day 5 to 7, the embryos inside the eggs should be visible when the eggs are candled. Candling involves shining a bright light through the egg to see the embryo and blood vessels. This can be done using an egg candler or a bright flashlight in a dark room. Candling is important because it allows you to check the development of the embryos and remove any eggs that are not developing properly.

If eggs are not developing, they will rot and could explode in the incubator, which is a very stinky mess.

The Hatching Process

Hatching usually begins around 21 days from the time the eggs are set in the incubator until the chicks start to hatch. Here are some key steps to follow during the hatching process:

Monitoring Temperature and Humidity

Maintaining the right temperature and humidity levels is critical for the healthy development of the embryos inside the eggs. The temperature should be kept at around 99.5°F (37.5°C), and the humidity should be between 50-60% for the first 18 days, and then increased to 65-75% for the final few days before hatching.

Without enough humidity, the chicks will get stuck to the shell. They will not be able to turn 360 degrees inside the shell, which is what they have to do to completely pip the shell all the way around.

Turning the Eggs

You no longer turn the eggs during the final three days of incubation. During the first 18 days of incubation, chicken eggs should be turned regularly to ensure the embryos develop properly. This can be done by hand or by using an automatic egg turner. Turning the eggs helps to prevent the embryos from sticking to the inside of the shell and promotes even development.

On hatch day, the chicks start to pip, which means they will start to crack the shell with their egg tooth. This can take several hours. Once the chick has pipped, it will rest for a while before starting to unzip the shell. This is when the chick will start to break free from the shell and emerge as a fluffy chick.

Caring for Newborn Chicks

Setting Up the Brooder

Once the chicks are completely dry, you can move them from the incubator to a brooder. A brooder is a warm and safe environment for the chicks to grow and develop. The brooder should be large enough to accommodate the number of chicks you have, and it should provide enough space for them to move around freely.

The initial brooder should be lined with paper towels to provide an absorbent surface for the chicks.

It is important to maintain the right temperature in the brooder. The temperature should be around 95°F for the first week, and it should be reduced by 5°F each week until the chicks are fully feathered. A heat lamp or a brooder plate can be used to provide heat.

chicks in a water trough brooder

Feeding and Watering

Baby chicks need to be fed and watered regularly, starting within a day or so of hatching. They should have access to fresh water at all times, and the water should be changed daily to ensure cleanliness. A waterer specifically designed for chicks is recommended to prevent drowning.

Chick feed should be provided in a feeder that is easy for the chicks to access. The feed should be high in protein and specifically formulated for baby chicks. It is important to monitor the chicks’ intake and adjust the amount of feed as necessary.

To learn more, check out Chicken Feeders: A Comprehensive Guide for Poultry Owners

Common Issues and Troubleshooting

Addressing Incubation Challenges

Incubating chicken eggs and hatching chicks can be a rewarding experience, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges, which can result in low hatch rates. Here are some common issues and troubleshooting tips to help ensure a successful hatch:

  • Temperature Fluctuations: Temperature fluctuations can harm developing embryos or cause them to hatch late. It’s important to monitor and maintain a consistent temperature throughout the incubation period. If temperature fluctuations occur, adjust the temperature accordingly and monitor closely.
  • Humidity Levels: Proper humidity levels are crucial for healthy hatching chicks in an incubator. Low humidity levels can result in a dry hatch, causing chicks to get stuck in their shells, while high humidity levels can lead to bacterial growth and suffocation. Use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels and adjust as needed.
  • Infertile Eggs: If an egg does not hatch, it may be infertile. Infertile eggs will not develop into chicks and should be removed from the incubator.

Health Concerns in Hatchlings

Hatchlings are vulnerable to a variety of health concerns, and it’s important to monitor them closely for any signs of illness. Here are some common health concerns and how to address them:

  • Cold Stress: Hatchlings are unable to regulate their body temperature and can easily become chilled. Ensure the brooder temperature is set to the appropriate level and provide a heat source such as a heat lamp.
  • Dead Embryos: Dead embryos can be a result of genetic abnormalities or improper incubation conditions. Remove any dead embryos from the incubator immediately to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Suffocation: Chicks can suffocate if they become trapped or piled on top of each other. Ensure that there is adequate space in the brooder and provide a clean and dry surface for them to rest on.

By being aware of these common issues and taking the necessary precautions, anyone can successfully hatch chicks and raise them into healthy adults.

These are the two-month-old pullets and cockerels that we hatched in our incubator. The girls will be moved to the henmobile in a couple months, and the boys will become dinner.

Check out this list to see all the chicken books I’ve reviewed.

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2 thoughts on “Hatching Chicken Eggs: A Step-by-Step Guide”

  1. Thanks very much be blessed I learned a lot actually. but why some time my chicken don’t lay eggs in raining seasons what can I do?

    • Hi Noel
      Is your rainy season during time of year when the days are shorter.
      Many people experience this during the winter, and some will choose to put lights on a timer in their hen house to artificially stimulate the hens to lay.
      In my personal opinion, if nature has set up a timeframe for the hens to rest, I feel they should rest, so this is not something I do in my hen house 🙂
      Here is much information on all things chicken. I hope you enjoy!


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