All About Incubating Chicken Eggs

Learn how to raise chickens by incubating chicken eggs.

| May/June 2014

  • Four cute and fuzzy baby chicks sit on a perrch.
    Photo by E.A. Janes/Age Fotostock/FirstLi
  • Newly hatched baby chicks stay warm under a heat lamp in a brooder.
    Photo by B.P. Lemmon
  • A hen and her chicks forage in the yard.
    Photo by Fotolia/nmelnychuk
  • The candling of an egg allows the observation of the development of the chicken or duck embryo inside the egg.
    Photo by Fotolia/Anyka
  • A still wet, newly hatched chick sits in the nest box, looking at its new surroundings.
    Photo by Fotolia/Anyka
  • A larger incubator from Brinsea is capable of holding large eggs, such as chicken or duck eggs, as well as smaller eggs, like quail eggs.
    Photo courtesy Brinsea
  • A small round incubator from Brinsea keeps chicken eggs at the perfect temperature and humidity until the eggs hatch.
    Photo courtesy Brinsea

Being “refugees” from the hustle and bustle of city life, we retired to a rural setting, where we bought raw acreage and began the process of developing it with a house and a couple of outbuildings for storage and shop facilities. It was the beginning of our brave attempt to be as self-reliant as possible. We had little previous experience with rural living and took the learn-as-you-go approach.

With the advent of spring one season, we were looking to replace a few of our chickens. When first considering livestock, we settled on raising chickens for eggs and meat; we bought 15 chicks at the local feed and grain store, ending up with 13 hens and two roosters. While the chicks were housed in temporary brooder facilities, we quickly constructed a coop and an appropriate outside run for that size of flock.

Once mature, the hens laid anywhere from six to a full dozen eggs a day in the first year, depending on their moods, the weather, and the season. The roosters fought and played Casanova to the hens throughout the year, with one becoming dominant and the other so intimidated he could not go outside without being chased back into the coop.

Let’s try this

The idea of motherhood seemed completely foreign to our hens, and egg-laying became more or less a drop-and-walk-away affair. Around the first week of April, a co-worker loaned us a tabletop incubator so that we could try our hand at hatching eggs.

Not knowing what we were doing, we hit the books, reading up on the subject of small-scale egg incubation. While nothing is fixed in stone, we knew that it would take 21 days to hatch, that the temperature needed to be maintained continuously at 99 degrees (ideally 99.5 in a forced-air incubator, and 102 in a still-air incubator) with a 10-minute cooling period twice a day, and that the humidity should be a constant 75 percent, meaning adding water to a trough in the incubator at least once a day — this all depends on the model of incubator you are using. Also, if your device doesn’t have an automatic egg turning device, you’ll have to be on hand every day, at least three times a day, to manually turn the eggs side to side, not end to end — the pointed end of an egg should never face upward. Eggs need not be rotated after the 14th day of incubation, and during the last three days, they should not be rotated — this allows the chick to become oriented and prepare for breaking out of the egg.

Check the instructions given in your incubator’s owner’s manual for temperature, rotation and humidity directions specific to your model.

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