How we broke all the chicken incubation rules and still hatched chicks!

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What came first, the chicken or the egg? Well in our case, the egg did!  Keep reading to learn all you need to know about hatching chicks.

Since we moved into our new place, we have been wanting to get chickens.

Originally, we were going to be patient (something I am terrible at) and wait until next year in the spring to get chicks and then go from there.

Then we started thinking, well if we wait until spring to get baby chicks, we won’t have eggs for another 6 months or so!

hatching chicken eggs

In our house, we go through eggs quickly, so getting eggs out of our chickens as soon as possible is what we were shooting for.

We were heading into late September, which means week old chicks are harder to come by.

There was a lady that I found through a Facebook marketplace that had some eggs that her hen was sitting on.

She said they would be ready in about 10 days or so. She also happened to have some cool breeds that would possibly lay colored eggs.

This started to get us really excited. We could have a colorful egg basket.

We started doing some more research on different breeds of chickens that lay colored eggs and we were hooked.

Our list of chicken breeds we wanted was getting longer and longer!

About 10 days passed and I reached out to the lady on Facebook and she was sad to inform me that something had gotten into her eggs and eaten the growing chicks!

This kind of burst my bubble as I was so excited to be getting cute fluffy chicks soon!

Chicken eggs in a bowl

Plan B

I began calling around everywhere! Every IFA, Cal Ranch and Tractor Supply that was somewhat near by got a phone call.

We did find a couple of stores that had some chicks, but their selection was limited and not the breeds we wanted.I’m

I started looking on Facebook and joined a few local chicken Facebook groups to see if anyone had any chicks they were selling.

Alas, no luck!

I have to admit it, I was starting to become a little chicken obsessed, but then I found a lady who had hatching eggs!

Why didn’t I think of this sooner? And who knew people sell fertilized hatching chicken eggs.

I then started to see that this was an actual thing. I found a few different ladies that had some hatching eggs for sale.

We decided to incubate

We didn’t have a broody hen to sit on them, but we got an incubator and bought a BUNCH of hatching eggs! This is where the fun began, and we were stoked.

Hatching Chicken Eggs

We started off with 42 eggs! We had NEVER done this before so as complete rookies I started researching and asking lots of questions. I had chickens growing up but never hatched eggs in an incubator.

It seemed like everyone said it is best to fill your incubator with as many eggs as it will hold.

This is because the chances are very high that you will lose a bunch due to them not being fertilized or dying during the incubation period.

Our incubator was full with 42 eggs and 13 different chicken breeds. (Yes, we went a little on the wild side with the variety of different eggs.)

My husband was starting to think I had gone chicken crazy, but to be honest he was excited for this whole experience too.

Incubating Chicken Eggs

The incubation period is 21 days and there are a few VITAL requirements needed for success.

Being first-timers at this game we did our best, but we seemed to break a lot of the rules (not on purpose) but we did still manage to hatch eggs.

We had chicks hatching unexpectedly early and some hatching late, so it was definitely a whirlwind of events.

I will go over the guidelines and rules for the best possible outcome for having a high hatch rate.

The incubator guidelines

It is important to run your incubator for about 24 hours prior to adding your eggs. This is to ensure everything is working correctly and you can hold a steady temperature and humidity.

We bought our incubator used so we definitely wanted to make sure it was working well before we began incubation.

* When loading the incubator be sure to place the eggs pointy side down if you are using an egg turner.*

What is the best temperature?

It is best to keep your temperature between 98-101 degrees Fahrenheit. Our temperature did fluctuate a little bit, but it always stayed within that range.

The sweet spot is about 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Depending on what type of incubator, you have (forced air or still air) might determine the best temperature.

The one that we had a forced air incubator (an incubator with a fan inside to circulate the air) and keeping it around 99-99.5 degrees Fahrenheit was perfect.

We used this thermometer that we set inside the incubator and it was able to tell us the temperature and the gage the humidity. Ours from Walmart, but you can also find something similar on Amazon.

Thermometer

What about humidity?

Humidity is definitely important in the chicken egg hatching process. Achieving the right humidity will really give you the best hatch rate.

In every egg that is laid an air bubble forms inside of it.

This air bubble is crucial for the developing chick inside and also when it begins to hatch.

Too little humidity and the air cell will not grow at all and too much humidity and the air cell will grow too big not allowing enough room for the chick.

Your incubator will have water reservoirs where you can add water to help get the humidity to where you need it.

For the first 18 days, you want your humidity to ideally stay between 40-50%. We live in a very dry state so our humidity would sometimes drop down to the 20-30% but we did the best we could to keep it up.

After day 18 you need to increase your humidity to about 60-70%.

This can be done by adding more water to your chambers in the bottom of your incubator.

We also added warm, wet paper towels and laid them in the channels along with the extra water.

Since we are in such a dry state, we also cut up some cheap sponges, soaked them in water and laid them in the corners and sides (underneath the wire grate) of the incubator.

Keeping the correct humidity consistently was tricky but we did all that we could.

Egg turner

The eggs need to be turned at least twice a day. This can either be done manually or with an automatic egg turner

We opted for the latter. Turning 42 eggs 2-4 times a day was just not realistic for us. It was worth it to buy an egg turner and not have to worry about it.

Candling the eggs

This was one of my favorite parts (apart from seeing them hatch, of course) but I LOVED candling them.

I would honestly count down the days to when we could candle and see the chick’s development.

The rules on when to candle seem to vary. Some say you can candle as much as you want, others say keep it to a minimum.

We decide to go with somewhere in between (although I would have candled every day if my husband let me).

We candled at day 7, 11 and 18. Some people will just candle at a week and then once more before lockdown.

You can buy an egg candler or just simply use a flashlight. We used a long skinny flashlight that worked great.

You want to make sure to candle in a completely dark room. Some eggs will be easier to see the development than others.

Your darker eggs like marans or olive eggers will be tricky, and you may not be able to catch anything until day 18 or it is just a waiting game to see if they hatch.

By day 7 you should be able to see some development, but by day 11 or so it should be much clearer.

If we were unsure on day 7, we waited until the next time or right before lockdown to take out any bad ones.

You’ll want to look for veins, a dark spot (the embryo) and movement.

By the second time we candled, we could see some definite movement in some of the eggs. By day 18 movement was very clear.

When candling be sure to wash your hands prior and also be as quick as possible.

You don’t want the incubator left open too long. Use caution when handling the eggs and try to avoid candling one egg for too long.

Check out these pictures for examples of egg candling.

Lockdown and hatching

Now, this is where it gets really exciting. After 18 days of incubating you enter what is known as “lockdown”.

This is where you increase the humidity, stop turning your eggs and don’t open the incubator until they hatch!

Chicks should start hatching at around day 21 (within a 24 hour period) and from what I read it seems as though they are pretty timely little critters.

BUT…this was not the case for us….

As day 18 approached we were getting excited to candle that evening.

We got our toddler into bed, cleaned up the kitchen and toys and we suddenly hear a “cheep cheep” from the closet.

Side note, we had the incubator propped up on an extra laundry basket in our closet. Weird, I know but for some reason, it seemed like an ideal spot for it.

I dismissed the cheeping sound I heard as it was only day 18 and we hadn’t even candled for the last time yet.

Then I heard it again. “Cheep cheep”. At this point, I thought I had gone crazy but decided to check the incubator out.

I took a look inside and to my astonishment, there was a chick hatching.

We hadn’t even removed the egg turner yet, so the chick was hatching while still in the turner. I called out to my husband and he didn’t believe me for a second.

A chick hatching 3 days early, that is crazy! I have to be honest, I got kind of nervous and excited all at the same time.

Chicken eggs in incubator

It was happening and we weren’t even ready.

*Note to self, always be prepared!*

We weren’t sure what to do because you aren’t supposed to get the hatched chicks out until all eggs have hatched or until the chick has dried and fluffed up.

Well, neither of these things had happened and our newly hatched chick was struggling and stumbling about in the very inconvenient egg turner.

Breaking the rules

This is where our rule-breaking began…. (don’t necessarily advise you to break the rules, we were just given no other choice)

We let her dry off for an hour or so while we prepared a makeshift brooder and ran to Walmart to get a heat lamp, and then we opened the incubator….

After that we got the new chick settled in her new environment and hoped she would survive the night and not get too lonely or cold.

We then proceeded to candle the rest of the eggs for one last time.

We took the egg tuner out and placed 4 dividers in the incubator.

There were SO MANY breeds that we wanted to somehow separate them so we could have a better chance of telling them apart.

All the eggs except about one or two were showing life and movement. This was exciting but also scary as we weren’t sure how many others were going to hatch early.

We were hoping we didn’t ruin anything by opening the incubator if others were close.

Then we upped the humidity and hoped for the best. Over the next couple of days, we had more chickens hatching when they weren’t supposed to.

We had no other choice

Weighing up the options and the timing of things, we did have to open the incubator a few other times to remove early hatched chicks.

I know opening it up during lockdown is a big “no no” but we really had no choice.

We had added a few eggs a day late when we started the incubation process, so we were concerned about leaving early hatched chicks in there for too long if the ones added late weren’t supposed to hatch for another 4 days.

When we did open the incubator, we did our best to make sure to check none of the other eggs had pipped and begun hatching.

If the humidity drops when an egg is trying to hatch, that can cause the chick to get shrink-wrapped and die.

*You can always fill an empty spray bottle with warm water and mist the air around the incubator when you open it to keep the humidity up.*

Even though we didn’t follow all the rules completely we did our best and had a decent hatch rate considering this was our first attempt.

After candling the second time we had about 24 eggs that were fertilized and developing.

Almost half of the eggs weren’t even fertilized and just a few had begun developing and died.

Out of the 24 eggs we ended up with 16 healthy chicks that hatched and have been thriving since.

The 8 that didn’t make it seemed to have stopped developing and we may have just simply missed the signs when we candled.

Hatched baby chickens

We will do it again!

This was such a fun experience and I am so glad we didn’t just buy chicks.

Incubating our own eggs was a great learning experience and so rewarding.

We are excited to try this again in the spring and hope to be able to achieve a better hatch rate, and also avoid breaking the rules!

Baby Chicks recently hatched

Have you incubated chicken eggs before? How successful has your hatch rate been? I would love any other tips!

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