Egg to chick in 21 days

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Hatching eggs can be incredibly rewarding. You get to watch life form, teach your children about embryonic development, stress over your hatch, and get chickens out of the deal to boot!

Basket of eggs

We started with a Styrofoam incubator

It did well enough for teaching the little monsters and as a hobby hatching. Since we are branching out and trying to make an income from our hobby we have upgraded to a cabinet all in one like this one.

For the purposes of this post though we’ll stick to the hobby hatch.

First, you’ll need to select eggs. Well shaped eggs have an obvious pointy and fat end. This is important with an egg turner especially because you need it to be fat end up. You don’t want eggs with lumpy shells because that could make it harder on the chick to hatch and they’re already having a tough time of it. Viability is best in eggs that are less than 7 days old and drops significantly after day 10. You can have hatching eggs shipped to you, but they will need to rest for a day before popping them into the incubator too. They’ve traveled a way to get to you after all. Local eggs are better and eggs from your own chickens are best. That way you can guarantee their freshness. That being said, I can ship you hatching eggs depending on the season. 🙂

Set up your incubator to maintain temperature and humidity for 24 hours. For a still air incubator you’ll need a steady 102 degrees. One with a fan needs to stay at 99 degrees. Humidity should be 45-50% for the first few days and then raised to 60-65% during “lock down”. If your incubator does not have the digital display ( or at some point it is broken ) all is not lost! You can buy a thermometer and hygrometer at most outdoor stores or even at Wal-Mart. I had them in the incubator even with the digital display as back up and in case the display’s probes were off and I just didn’t know it. I’m trusting like that.

Eggs turners are awesome by the way. If you don’t have one you’ll need to turn your eggs at least three times a day and five times is better. ( Did I mention that egg turners are awesome? )Always turn your eggs an odd amount of times to make sure they don’t spend two nights in a row on the same side. You can keep track of all of them by taking a pencil, or non toxic marker,  and marking one side of the egg with an X and the other side with an O.

 

After the first 24 hours you get to put your eggs in! With an egg turner you want to do this with the fat end up. That’s where the air pocket is and how you want the chick to orient itself inside the egg to hatch.

And now we wait…. but in the mean time you also get to candle them to see progress! I usually candle once a week and discard any that are not developing. A rotting egg can explode in the incubator and ruin your hatch. Not to mention stink. Badly. Even natural fertility rates are not 100% and a 50% hatch is still a good one.

Candling should be done in a dark room with the only light source being under the air pocket in the egg. You can buy egg candlers specifically or you can just use a flashlight with your hand cupped between the light and the egg. I use the flashlight on my phone by holding the egg on top of the light. The exception to this rule is quail eggs. I usually only bother to candle them right before lock down. Quails do every thing fast.

Chickens should hatch in 21 days, quail in 18, and ducks in 35. 2-3 days before hatch day you should stop turning eggs or take them out of and remove the egg turner. This is referred to as the “lock down” period and when you will raise the humidity and do NOT open the incubator until they have hatched.

*Keep in mind that chicks do not keep calendars. They may hatch a day or two earlier or later than your projected date.  You are not the boss of them; they do what they want!

There are a few ways to raise the humidity. Your incubator should have wells in the bottom of it (below the screening) for water. You can plug up the holes if you took them out to hold humidity in, or you can add wet sponges. Humidity should also rise while they are hatching but not significantly.

Now the hatching process! The initial bump in the shell is called a pip.

chick pipped
pipped egg

You still have a long way to go! Chicks may take up to a whole day after pipping to do anything else. During this time they are absorbing the yolk and learning how to breathe. Do NOT open the incubator with a pipped egg! This can not be said enough! DO NOT OPEN THE INCUBATOR! A big dip in humidity could dry out the membrane still inside the egg and effectively shrink-wrap your chick thus killing it. 

The next step is zipping. The chick will turn all the way around “unzipping” it’s shell. And then rest some more… I know, I know! I can’t wait either! But chicks don’t speak English and they do what they want. In all fairness hatching is a lot of work. Remember when you were born? Me either, but having given birth I can confidently say that someone else did all the work.

Finally hatching!!!

Did you think it would be cute? Sorry, you still have to wait for them to get all dried out and fluffy.

You’ll need to leave the chick in the incubator for a while to dry and get it’s feet under it. DO NOT OPEN THE INCUBATOR! Chicks can live off of the rest of the yolk they absorbed for another couple of days and you don’t want to endanger any of the other eggs that may be hatching. It’s ok that the hatched are rolling them around. They are in a lot less danger from other chicks than if you opened the incubator at this point.

After all the chicks have hatched and are dry (seriously, give it a couple of days) you can move them into a brooder that you should have set up already.

Wipe out the incubator and clean the screening. Disinfecting the incubator can be done with a 10% bleach to water solution by spraying it down and letting it soak for a while. Ideally, leave it out in the sun to dry for a couple of days. If you plan to hatch more regularly you’ll want to seal the inside of a styrofoam incubator to prevent nastiness from getting into the pores of it. I would recommend doing this by smoothing on a fish aquarium sealer. I have heard of using latex paint but can’t personally vouch for the safety of it.

So now what do you do with the chicks? See here for more info.

 

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