Expert Tips for Incubating Chicken Eggs
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The easiest way to incubate and hatch fertile chicken eggs is to have a broody hen do all the work for you. What’s a broody hen, you wonder? This hen has undergone progesterone-induced changes that make her want to sit on eggs to hatch them and brood the resulting chicks. A broody hen will take care of ventilating and warming the eggs and will handle all of the turning and chick-rearing duties as well. (Not all hens will go broody.)
If you already have a laying flock and one of your hens becomes broody, she can incubate her own eggs, or you can place fertile eggs obtained elsewhere in her nest, and she will do her best to hatch them. Many folks try to prevent their laying hens from going broody because they don’t lay eggs while hatching and raising chicks – if you want to hatch a few chicks though, a broody hen can be a godsend.
When most folks think of incubating eggs, their minds turn to any manner of electromechanical devices that provide the right temperature and humidity. There are two principal categories of incubators suitable for the home flock: still-air and forced-air.
Still-air incubators lack mechanical air circulation. Forced-air incubators use a fan to circulate internal air. Both types of incubators may be equipped with automatic or manual egg turners, and both offer some means for managing relative humidity. Incubator capacity and price vary widely, so it’s wise to consider how many eggs you are likely to hatch in a year before you take the financial plunge. If you choose a small incubator without an egg turner, just remember that it is up to you to turn the eggs at least twice a day.
Experts recommend that you set the temperature of your still-air incubator to 101 to 102 degrees to best avoid the formation of cold spots on the inside. Set forced-air incubators at the desired temperature because the moving air creates a more uniform temperature environment. All incubators should be turned on, adjusted and monitored for at least a day before you set the eggs. Check the temperature with a thermometer that you know to be accurate because a degree or two one way or the other can make or break the hatch. In a still-air incubator, the thermometer should be placed about the height of the top of the eggs.