How to Start Hatching Chicken Eggs: The Complete Guide
Buying chickens from the store every spring isn’t a sustainable way to raise a flock.
Chicken owners need to learn how to hatch chicken eggs, thereby allowing them to maintain a fertile flock and save money.
Hatching chicken eggs is easy, so don’t worry! You can do this with just a bit of information and practice.
What you will need
What You Need
General (yet actionable) Tips for Incubating Chicken Eggs
There are several things you need to know, no matter the route you choose to hatch your chickens.
The most common question: "how long Does It take to hatch chicken eggs?"
Eggs typically hatch in 21 days. Of course, that will vary with every clutch.
You might check your incubating chicken eggs day 20 and find some are hatching!
A few might not hatch until day 22.
However, 21 days is a good guideline to follow.
Chicken egg incubation times don’t vary too widely amongst breeds.
Pick clean, undamaged eggs for incubation
Eggs should be set within a week after laying, and it is best not to store them before incubation.
If you wait ten days to set, you’ve probably waited too long and the chances of hatching drop.
So how do you know if the eggs you’ve chosen are fertilized?
An easy method is called candling and involves shining a bright light onto the egg so you can see what’s happening inside.
To learn more about candling, and the various stages of chicken egg development, check out this article on PoultryKeeper.com.
Don’t believe the myth that turning eggs isn’t important - it's essential...
You've probably heard from sources that turning eggs isn't important. Don't believe this myth.
During the last 3 days - YES - you don't have to turn the eggs.
Turning prevents the developing embryo from touching the membrane and sticking to it, which could lead to abnormal growth.
You don't want abnormal growing chicks, do you?
But up until this point, you definitely SHOULD be turning the eggs.
How many times?
Glad you asked - at least 3 times a day. More information here.
How to Incubate Eggs (with an incubator)
You have your eggs and your incubator. You are ready to start hatching some eggs!
Let’s take a look at how to incubate eggs step by step.
Prepare Your Incubator
Before putting your eggs into the incubator, you need to plug it in and set it to the correct temperature.
(Don't have an incubator just yet? No Problem! We'll show you how to make your own homemade incubator in 6 simple steps, Check it out here.)
The best incubator temperature for chicken eggs is 99 to 99.5 degrees F, or 37 to 37.5 C for a forced air incubator.
A still air incubator should have higher temperatures, around 101 to 102 degrees F, or 38 to 39 degrees C.
Humidity for hatching chicken eggs matters as well!
For days 1 to 18, the humidity should be 45 to 50%. Then, the humidity should increase in the final days to 65%.
If you want to learn more about proper incubator conditions, check out this article, which also has a good incubator humidity chart for chickens.
Mark Your Eggs
The mother hen naturally knows how to rotate her eggs throughout the setting process, but it isn’t so natural for a human.
One of the best tips is to use a non-toxic marker and draw an X on one side and an O on the other side.
Doing so allows you to see whether or not you have flipped your eggs sufficiently. Be sure to turn them at least three times a day!
Put the Eggs in the Incubator
As soon as your incubator is up to the correct temperature and humidity, you can set your eggs inside.
Put your eggs into the incubator with the narrow end lower in elevation.
You need to rotate your eggs three to five times daily, so set the alarm on your phone for the first 18 days.
After that, you can stop turning and wait for the eggs to hatch. Typically, an egg hatches three days after you stop turning.
How To Hatch Eggs At Home (Without an Incubator)
If you don’t have an incubator at home, you have two options: create a DIY incubator or allow a hen to go broody.
Allow Your Hen To Go Broody
A broody hen is probably the easiest way to hatch eggs.
Incubating chicken eggs is pure instinct for your hen, and she will do all of the work for you - she’s therefore the way to go for hatching chicken eggs naturally!
Find a Broody Hen
Hens tend to go broody during the spring and summer.
You will notice that she spends more time in the nesting boxes.
When you go to collect the eggs, she may guard them and act aggressively. Broody hens aren’t known for their kindness!
Set up an Isolated Housing Area
You don’t want the broody hen to stay in the coop with the rest of the flock unless you have a way to keep them separate.
Once the baby chicks arrive, they become targets for the rest of the flock and can be pecked.
An ideal solution is to set up a box that is sheltered either inside of the coop or in the run, so long as the box provides appropriate shelter.
Put the Fertile Eggs in the New Housing Area
Next, remove the fertile eggs from under your broody hen and put them into the new nesting box area.
Three to five eggs is a normal clutch size, but you can add more if you have a larger hen. Put the hen into the broody box.
Feed and Water
You will need to encourage her to leave the eggs each day to drink some water and eat.
Some hens will starve themselves once they go broody, and you don’t want that!
Encourage her with food, treats, and water.
You can also replace old nesting materials when she moves. Don’t disturb her eggs!
Let The Hen Do The Work
From here, you can just let the hen do the work! She knows what she is doing.
Once the chicks are hatched, provide chick food. She will teach her chicks how to feed and drink water.
Mother Nature truly is amazing!
How to Create A DIY Incubator
There is the chance that none of your hens want to go broody when you want to hatch eggs.
In that case, there are ways to hatch without an incubator. You have to create the right environment for the hatching eggs.
Here is what you need to do.
Get a Plastic Bin
You might have some plastic storage bins laying around. Think the Rubbermaid ones for storing extra clothes. You need a lid. A clear bin is best because it allows you to see the eggs.
Depending on the number of eggs you want to hatch, you need to get at least one desk lamp. It is possible you’ll need more than one lamp to fit all the eggs in the light.
Create the Space
Next, place a soft towel on the bottom of the bin. The eggs should be on a soft surface that won’t allow them to roll around. You want the lamps to be inside of the bin, shining down on the eggs.
Put the Eggs in the Bin
Mark the eggs just like you would if you were using an incubator. Then, set the eggs in the bin.
To control the temperature, put the lamp closer to the eggs. Then, spray the eggs with water to create humidity.
You will still need a thermometer and hygrometer to make sure you’ve created the right environment for the eggs.
Remember to Turn and Wait
Now, all you have to do is turn the eggs.
However, with a homemade incubator, you need to turn five times rather than three times.
The incubation time should still be 21 days, so long as you have maintained the correct temperature and humidity.
Interesting facts about Hatching Chicken Eggs
What happens inside of those chicken eggs is truly fascinating!
As you look at your eggs you might wonder, how does a chicken egg develop?
Here is what you want to know!
- Interesting work begins around day 8. At this stage, feather buds begin to grow, as well as the egg tooth, which is used to peck out of the egg.
- By day 13, your baby chick is two-thirds developed! That is a lot of growing in such a short period. Its eyelids are almost grown over its eyes, it has formed claws on its toes, and there is down all along its spine.
- Days 14 through 19 consist of the chick moving into the right position for hatching and absorbing the yolk. By day 19, most chickens are getting ready to start hatching out of their egg!
- On day 20, your chick begins its journey through the stages of chicken egg hatching. This is when the yolk is fully absorbed into the chick, allowing them to survive for a while after hatching without food or water. The egg tooth will penetrate the membrane, and the chick can start to breathe air from the air cell within the egg. At this point, you may notice a hole in the shell.
- Day 21 is when the magic begins. Whatever you do, never try to open the shell yourself. You can kill the chick by doing so! You might notice pipping sounds. The chick knows what it is doing as it uses a wing for a guide and legs to create a hole. Soon, it’ll push out of the egg entirely. Your new chick has arrived!
Learn more about the development of chicken eggs with this day by day guide.
Taking Care of Hatched Chicks
Your chicks are here, but the work isn’t finished just yet.
You have to take care of these babies until it is time to put them outside in the coop with the rest of the flock.
Chicken development after hatching happens rapidly. Your chicks will look different almost every day!
Don’t rush to take your chicks out of the incubator. Chicks can generally survive for 2 to 3 days without food and water because of the nourishment from the eggs.
If you keep your chicks in the incubator, they will increase in activity.
In general, leave your chicks in the incubator from 24 to 48 hours.
Now, you’ll have to feed and water your chicks once you remove them from the incubator. There is no special amount that they will eat.
However, they must have access to fresh food and water at all times.
Unsure of exactly what to feed your new additions?
Check out our guide on healthy choices for chickens here for more information.
The rapid-fire chicken growth stages after hatching happen over a period of about 6-8 weeks.
The chickens will grow in size. Their feathers will turn from baby chick down to true feathers. You will notice their activity levels increase as well as their appetite.
Make sure to put a roosting bar in the box for them to practice!
Learn more about the first couple months with this article from Backyard Chicken Coops.
And if you need some further guidance with your chickens past the 60 day mark, learn how to raise your adult chickens here.
Now You Know How to Hatch Chicken Eggs
While it might sound complicated, hatching chicken eggs is really easy!
If you have a broody hen, let her do the job.
Mother Nature does it better than humans ever could. However, an incubator (homemade or store bought) will do the job just fine.
Make sure you remember that consistent temperature and humidity are essential for the survival of the chicks inside of the eggs.
Also, failure to turn your eggs could result in an abnormally developed chick, so be sure to set those alarms.
Do you have any tips or tricks for hatching eggs?
Let us know in the comments and remember to share if you found this helpful!