How To Start Hatching Chicken Eggs: The Complete Guide
Some chicken keepers think hatching chicken eggs is as simple as making toasted bread. You just prop the eggs in the incubator, wait for 21 days, and tada! You have chicks.
It doesn’t work that way.
If you want to hatch chicken eggs on your own, you will need to pay extra special attention, especially when turning the eggs, or else they could result in an abnormally developed chick. Worst, dead.
Here’s how to hatch chicken eggs with and without an incubator.
- What You’ll Need
- 7 Easy Steps: How to Hatch Chicken Eggs Using An Incubator
- 5 Steps: Hatching Eggs Without An Incubator
- Final Thoughts
What You’ll Need
- An incubator (if needed)
- Incandescent gooseneck lamp (if required)
- Plastic storage bin with lid
- Cloth towel or newspapers
- Spray bottle with water
7 Easy Steps: How to Hatch Chicken Eggs Using An Incubator
If your hens are not laying eggs, there may be external factors affecting its process. But if they do, you can help facilitate the hatching process with an incubator. Here are the steps on how to hatch chicken eggs using incubators.
1. Set Up the Incubator
If you choose to hatch your fertile eggs using an incubator, you should set it up at least a week before obtaining the fertile eggs. Incubators are enclosed structures that contain a heater and a fan to keep the eggs warm for 21 days.
The best egg incubators often have automatic features, such as a fan or egg-turning capabilities, making it much easier to distribute heat evenly.
Wash the incubator with a solution that contains 10% bleach, then scrub it with warm soapy water before rinsing it thoroughly for complete sanitization. After it is completely dry and clean, turn it on and set the temperature and humidity levels.
Make sure to set it up where the temperatures will remain steady and not be affected by drafts. The optimal temperature for incubators is 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the hygrometer to maintain the humidity levels throughout the incubation period. Make sure the container is ventilated throughout the process as well, and increase ventilation after day 18.
2. Obtain Fertile Eggs
The second step is to obtain the right chicken eggs. You can collect fertile eggs from chickens that live with a rooster, from breeders, or poultry farmers with roosters. Even online hatcheries sell fertile eggs.
Before the incubation period, the embryo still needs proper care. Store the eggs in an egg carton. The smaller end of the egg should be pointing downward. Ensure that the container is in a cool area with around 55 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of about 75% (1).
High humidity can cause condensation to form on the eggshell. Low humidity during storage can make the egg lose internal moisture and kill the embryo.
You should not keep them longer than seven days, especially at room temperature. Even if the eggs are not yet incubated, make sure to rotate them once a day until you place them inside the incubator.
3. Set The Eggs
After setting up the container’s optimal temperature and humidity levels, it’s time to place the eggs inside. This step is known as “setting the eggs.”
You should set at least 6 of them inside at a time. Chicks need to be part of a flock, and hatching with others is especially crucial for newborn chicks to be comfortable and happy. Fewer eggs, on the other hand, will typically result in just one or no hatches.
Set them up with the large end facing upwards. The narrower side should be placed face down in the tray. You should set the chicken egg incubator at 100.5 degrees F and 55% humidity. This temperature will ensure the air bubble inside does not grow too large.
If you have a still air incubator, you’ll need to open the incubator at least four times a day to allow fresh oxygen to enter. For a forced air incubator, just watch out for the temperature levels.
4. Rotate The Eggs
Once you have set the eggs, it’s time for the incubation process. A crucial aspect of this is rotating them every day. When you rotate the eggs, the yolk is turned with the albumin, or egg white, away from the shell. This makes it safe for the fetus resting on top of the egg until you shift it again.
If the fetus is caught between the shell and the yolk as it develops, it may cause fatal damage to the developing baby bird.
If your container has an automatic turning capability, then you should leave it alone. However, if your incubator doesn’t have this feature, you should manually do it 3 to 5 times per day until day 18. How do you keep of which ones you have rotated?
Use a pencil and gently mark X on one side. Some chicken owners use sharpies or pens for marking chicken eggs. However, there is a possibility that the ink can seep through the shell.
Try not to keep incubators open for too long as you rotate the eggs. Whenever you handle the eggs, make sure you wear clean gloves or wash your hands thoroughly to avoid transferring germs or skin oils.
5. Candle The Eggs
You can candle the eggs between days 7 and 10 to check and see if the embryos are properly developing. Candling means shining a light through the shell (2). You can candle light-colored shells easily, but darker ones require brighter light to see inside.
Candling detects bloody whites, blood spots, or meat spots, and enables observation of germ development.
Check a few eggs at a time rather than all at once and allot only 5-10 minutes for candling. You can use a flashlight or purchase specialized candling equipment.
So, how do you spot a bad egg? There are two ways to tell. First, if the egg’s inside is transparent with no dark areas or visible structures. And second, there’s a red ring visible.
If there are blood vessels visible inside, the embryo is alive. You can typically observe blood vessels between 7 to 10 days of incubation. After 18 days, the baby bird will take up most of the space inside, and it will appear dark. Sometimes you may be able to see movement.
Here is how the eggs would look like from day 1-21.
If there are any leaking or broken ones, remove them to avoid any contamination. They are not likely to develop into baby chicks or emerge properly.
After candling each egg, move them back to the incubator and continue to turn them until the eighteenth day.
6. Help Baby Chicks Prepare for a Higher Hatch Rate
On day 18, the fetus will be fully developed into a chick. Raise the relative humidity level to 70% and increase the ventilation in the incubator. The temperature should remain at 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit with no risks of fluctuation.
Another thing you can do to help the baby hatch is to stop turning the egg. Leave it with the larger side facing upward. The air bubble on the wider side gives the hatchling space to breathe during the process. Inside, the chick will be positioning itself in preparation to emerge.
7. Let the Chicks Hatch on Their Own
By day 21, chicks will usually hatch on their own. After about 23 days, candle any unhatched ones to check if they are still alive. If there isn’t any movement, discard them.
It is essential to let the newborn pip on its own when you begin to see cracks form in the shell. Do not try to help them! Even if you have the best intentions, prematurely pulling off the shell can accidentally cause severe and fatal bleeding.
The blood vessels inside the egg need to be completely dried up for the baby bird to detach itself from the shell safely. It will typically take 5-7 hours for a newborn to emerge completely, but it can take up to 24 hours for some.
When new baby chicks start peeping, this will encourage more hatchlings.
Once all of them have hatched, you can lower the incubation temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the hatchlings to fully dry, and then move them into the brooder.
There is a 50% chance that you can end up with a few roosters in your flock. If this happens, check your town ordinance to see if you can keep it. If not, prepare a plan to send the rooster to another home.
5 Steps: Hatching Eggs Without An Incubator
If you are interested in hatching eggs without an incubator, you can use a heat lamp and use some insulating material to keep them warm. Here are the steps to help you hatch chickens without using an incubator.
1. Build Your Own Warm Container
The easiest way to keep eggs warm is to place them under a broody hen. Unlike other modern chickens, broody hens still have the motherly instinct and will take care of them for you naturally (3).
When a hen is broody, it means her maternal instincts have kicked in. Her hormones are surging and telling her it’s time to sit on and hatch some eggs.
You can place them under a broody chicken while sleeping to avoid getting pecked and watch if she adopts them as her own. Broody chickens are much cheaper and require less attention from you. The broody hen will keep the eggs warm and turn them about 50 times a day. Believe it or not, hen talks to their eggs (4).
Alternatively, you can build your own with a styrofoam box or plastic bin. Make sure there are ⅜-inch holes in the lid for proper ventilation. Your box should be big enough to include a gooseneck incandescent lamp. Lay a cloth towel or newspapers down in the bin and the gooseneck lamp on top.
Even if you don’t have an incubator, you need to keep the temperature at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, turn the eggs 3 to 5 times every day, and maintain the humidity level at 45% between days 1-18 and then around 65% after day 18.
2. Find Fertile Eggs
Just like we stated above, you can find fertile eggs from a variety of producers. You can find them at some feed stores in the spring. Many suppliers also sell them online.
It’s optimal to find a source close to your home to avoid excessive jostling and temperature fluctuations. Transportation can be hard on a developing embryo, and there is no guarantee that any mail orders will hatch. However, eggs that are straight from the coop have a 75-90% chance of surviving.
Choose well-formed eggs, full size, and clean. Do not manually clean them. You want to preserve the natural coating on the outside of the shell. Be as gentle as possible when handling them. Fetuses are susceptible to sudden movements.
If possible, transfer the eggs directly under your broody chicken or to your homemade container. However, you can store them in egg cartons for up to 7 days with the larger side pointed up. Keep them stored at 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit with 75% humidity until they begin the growing process.
3. Maintain the Right Temperature and Humidity
This step is critical to raising eggs successfully. Use a thermometer to check the surface temperature daily to ensure there is no fluctuation. You can determine how far they should be from the lamp by seeing how much distance is needed to keep the surface area at a regular 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The eggs require misting daily with pure water. You can mist them using a spray bottle. The humidity needs to be between 40-50% for the first 18 days of the incubation process. Spray them more regularly after day 18 to keep the membrane inside from drying out once it hatches.
4. Turn The Eggs
You will need to turn the eggs need at least three times a day until the 18th day. Space out the rotations throughout the day. If you can invest in an automatic turner, you don’t need to worry about remembering to turn them daily and avoid opening the lid.
Mother hens will constantly be turning and jostling her eggs. If you placed them under a broody chicken, they would do the turning for you.
5. Leave The Eggs To Hatch
When it’s time for chicks to pip, lay them down on their side to increase humidity and leave them alone. You don’t have to turn the eggs. The chicks will emerge naturally. It is essential to keep the temperature stable and the humidity high.
They may take between day 18 and 25, so be patient if your new chicks seem to be taking longer than expected! A healthy newborn may take around 36 hours to emerge fully. If the humidity remains high, the chick will be fine, and you may have a higher hatch rate.
While it might sound complicated, hatching chicken eggs is really easy and fun – if you put in the time, energy, and commitment into caring for them.
If you have a broody hen, let her do the job. Mother Nature does it better than humans ever could. However, incubators (homemade or store-bought) will do the job just fine.
Just make sure that it has consistent temperature and humidity so chicks can survive inside the eggs. Don’t forget to turn the eggs too!
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!
Yes, you can help a chick out of its egg. However, it is typically not recommended to help a hatchling emerge even if it is struggling or seems to be taking much longer than others.
Healthy babies will pip, known as pecking a hole in the shell, and then spend a few minutes to a few hours unmoving until it begins pecking against the wall again to unzip itself. This process of unzipping should only take about an hour once it starts.
If it is unable to unzip itself despite hitting its beak against the shell repeatedly or is unable to kick itself free, you may be able to help it out of its shell.
You can help a stuck chick hatch with a clean rag and a large bowl of warm water. First, take the chicken egg out of the container or away from the mother hen (if possible!) and put it in a warm spot, replacing the lid right away.
Moisten the membrane around the opening where the chick pipped. You can do this by wetting the rag in warm water, encircling the entire shell, and then squeezing a few drops of water on the exposed membrane. Be extremely careful not to drown it by squeezing out too much water or dropping it directly into its beak. Give just enough water to moisten the membrane on the outside.
You can then pick off the bits of membrane and egg shells where the chick already started the hole. If it is healthy inside and worth saving, the bird will kick its way out after separating the shell into two halves. This process is crucial for its leg development.
The membrane should not bleed when you pick off bits of the shell. If there is some bleeding, immediately put it back into the incubator. It is a sign that it is not quite ready.
It can take anywhere from 12 to 18 hours for an external pip to hatch. However, it may take others up to 24 hours.
The first visible sign of an external pip is a little break on the egg shells’ side. It can look like a tiny little crack or a mere bump, but that is the chick’s first attempt at pecking its way out. The process can take a long time, and it is crucial to remain patient.
Some hatchlings may not have absorbed the yolk fully and may need more time than others to let the blood vessels absorb into the membrane and cut off the vascular system between the egg and the bird. It is vital to let nature run its course at this point, even if it takes a little longer than 24 hours.
- Incubating and Hatching Eggs. Retrieved from: https://alec.unl.edu/documents/cde/2017/livestock-management/incubating-and-hatching-eggs-2017.pdf
- Candling Eggs. Retrieved from: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/eggs/res26-candling.html
- What To Do With A Broody Hen. Retrieved from: https://starmilling.com/what-to-do-with-a-broody-hen/
- 10 Things. ToLove About Chickens. Retrieved from: https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/things-to-love-about-chickens/
Alex lives in the sustainability capital of Australia (Byron Bay) where the local community thrives and strongly supports self-sufficient living and green tech entrepreneurship. He began Eco Peanut in 2014 with the mission to spread bite sized sustainability advice to the masses.