The brilliant thing about using a chicken egg incubator is that it puts you in almost total control of the 3-week process of incubating and hatching chicken eggs.
No more being tied to the rigid daily routine of caring for a broody hen. No more hanging about in the wind and rain as your broody demonstrates her individuality!
An incubator is a heated container designed to reproduce the conditions of temperature and humidity experienced by eggs in a nest and underneath a brooding hen.
There are a huge range of incubators in terms of size, design and construction, levels of automation and, of course, quality. All good incubators have transparent windows to enable inspection of the incubating eggs.
In automatic-turning incubators the eggs are placed on a tray or a rack inside the cabinet and a mechanism of some sort causes the eggs to turn.
In non-turning incubators, it is your responsibility to manually turn the eggs 3 or 5 times a day. Although automatic machines are more expensive, your freedom may well worth the extra cost?
Maintaining an even temperature is vital for incubating eggs. Even though modern incubator cases are made of highly insulating materials, the incubator needs to be sited out of the sun and out of drafts.
You should also place your chicken egg incubator in a safe position where it won’t be bumped or vibrated, by opening or closing doors for example.
And since every function of the incubator is powered by electricity, you need to make sure that the power cannot be accidentally switched off. A power-off alarm is a very valuable precaution.
Preparing And Testing Your Incubator
If you have a brand new chicken egg incubator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions when setting it up. Also when testing that everything is working properly.
If you have an old or second hand incubator, always clean and sterilise it thoroughly with a suitable disinfectant before testing that every function is working correctly.
Cleanliness and hygiene in the preparation and operation of a chicken egg incubator is vital to achieving a successful hatch!
After a day or two of warming up and being tested, your incubator is ready to receive its’ valuable cargo of fertile chicken eggs.
Setting the Eggs
If you haven’t already done it, mark your eggs with an ‘ X ‘ to help you with turning, or so that you can check the eggs are being turned by the auto-turning mechanism.
Following the manufacturers instructions, you can now load up your chicken egg incubator.
Day 1 begins!
It is also a good idea to keep a detailed record of everything that happens throughout your incubation project.
This record should include egg parentage details, candling results, any unusual observations, dates and times, and even daily weather conditions.
Running the Incubator
Other than keeping an occasional eye on temperature and humidity, your next task is candling eggs on day 7 to remove any clear unfertile eggs.
If your incubator is not automatic, you will also need to turn the eggs every day, on 3 or 5 occasions.
Candle again on days 14 and 19, and remove any eggs that have not progressed.
On day 18 stop turning the eggs. Well you don’t want your baby chickens to be born dizzy, do you? Also increase the humidity whilst keeping your chicken egg incubator well ventilated.
On day 20 you can start listening out for subdued cheeps and watching for signs of chipping on the eggs.
You also need set up a heated rearing box in a secure outhouse, or somewhere convenient indoors, ready to receive your newly hatched chicks.
Hatching Chicken Eggs Now!
On day 21, clunking and party noises from your chicken egg incubator will announce that you are the proud parent of beautiful baby chicks!
The first to hatch will likely have come from the freshest eggs at setting. New laid eggs hatch a day earlier than those that are a few days old at setting.
When chicks first emerge from their shell, their feathers are wet and they are exhausted from their efforts to escape. In fact, they look fairly horrific!
It’s important to avoid opening the chicken egg incubator until all the chicks are dry and fluffy, and then move the chicks to the rearing box. Put them under the heat lamp after dipping their beaks in the water container.
The heat lamp should be raised or lowered so that the chicks are spread out around the periphery of the lamp. If they are piled up under the centre of the lamp, they are too cold and the lamp needs lowering.
The drinker should be about 6″ from the lamp.
Because they have only just absorbed the yolk, the chicks will not need food for the first day or two after hatching.
Analyse Your Results
Unfortunately you will usually have failures of some sort. Eggs that didn’t progress, eggs that failed to hatch, early or late hatching, unhealthy chicks and so on.
By keeping detailed records of your chicken egg incubation project, you will be able to analyse what happened and improve on your success in future hatches.
Raising Your Baby Chickens
Growing-on of the chicks is described in additional articles.
A comprehensive description of hatching chicken eggs in an incubator is given in “Hatching Chicken Eggs Made Easy – Using An Incubator” in the recommended reading section.