I love baby chick season. I go to places like Tractor Supply and gaze longingly at the baby chicks for sale, trying my best not to “accidentally” come home with new babies. My husband, on the other hand, waits anxiously for the day that I send him a picture of some baby chicks that “somehow” ended up coming home with me. I have ended up with many chicks this way. I have also “accidentally” ordered chicks online when my friends ask, “who wants to order chicks with me?” I also love hatching chicks.
Hatching chicks is a great way to add more babies each year with minimal cost. To hatch chicks, you need some important tools. The first is fertile eggs. For this, you Need a rooster. If you do not have a rooster you will not have fertile eggs from your chicks. However, you can find someone who has a rooster and get eggs from them. There are many people online that will sell hatching eggs, or you may have friends that will give you some. *Please remember that just because you have a rooster does not mean your eggs will be fertile.
The next thing that you need is an incubator. They come as simple and as fancy as you may want. I went with a simple, cheap Still Air Incubator. This right here is probably the most expensive thing you will need to get when starting. I spent maybe 60 dollars on my incubator years ago. I hatch one to two clutches of eggs a year. Considering baby chicks can be a few dollars each and turkeys, even more, I have saved tons of money hatching my own babies.
So you have gotten your supplies now, it is time to set up a space to incubate the eggs. When you set up your incubator, you want to choose a room that stays at as even a temperature as possible. If your incubator is in the direct sun or in a room that gets really cold, you may have trouble keeping the temperature and humidity correct. It is vital that your eggs are kept within a certain range for temperature and humidity to hatch correctly. I use the dial on the incubator to monitor temperature and humidity as well as another thermometer inside the incubator next to the eggs. The second thermometer is a backup to be sure the readings on top are correct. The incubator I have runs at about the right temperature so I don’t have to adjust the settings too often. We have had days where it suddenly gets hot in the room with the incubator so we need to adjust the settings to compensate for that.
To start your incubating process, I recommend turning on your incubator a few hours to a whole day ahead of putting the eggs in. This lets you check that it is working properly and get the temperature up before adding the eggs (you may notice a change of temperature when the eggs are added, that is normal, and adjust the settings accordingly.) The humidity levels are just as important as the temperature. I keep a cup with some water near the incubator adding water as needed. Here are the settings you want for chicken eggs:
- Temperature between 99-102 degrees F
- Humidity between 50-65%
Now that everything is ready, it is time to add your eggs. Be sure to refer to your incubator’s directions for the maximum number of eggs they recommend. The most I have ever done is 18 at a time. I don’t like doing more because I feel like everything gets too crowded. I like to mark my eggs with X’s on one side and O’s on the other to help me keep track of how I am rotating them. In the last batch I tried to hatch I marked some with smiley faces because they were slightly older and I wanted to know which ones hatched. I rotate my eggs 3 times a day. First thing in the morning, after lunch, and in the evening. Don’t worry if you only get 2 rotations in on some days, as long as most days have 3 rotations you should be fine.
After about a week, you can candle your eggs to check for development. The best way to do this is to hold a light at the wider end of your eggs. You want something that will provide a focused light like a small but bright flashlight. When you candle your eggs you are looking for a dark patch in the eggs with veining. If you don’t see this the eggs were not fertile and will not develop. At this stage, any eggs you are sure are not developing can be removed and disposed of. If you have darker eggs and can not get a good look at the inside of the egg just keep them and rotate as normal. I like to candle my eggs about once a week on day 7 and 14 of incubation and then one last time around day 17 before we put the eggs in lockdown. The kids especially LOVE the days we candle the eggs.
The last steps for incubation are lockdown and hatch day. Lockdown is the day you Stop rotating the eggs. On this day (day 18 for chicken eggs) you do nothing, do not move the eggs. Only open the incubator at this stage if the humidity is not holding and needs adustment. It is during these last 3 days of incubation that your chick is getting ready to come out. Rotating them at this stage will make it hard for them to move into the correct position to hatch. Here are some important things to do to prepare for lockdown:
- Lower the temperature to 98.5 degrees F
- Raise the humidity to 65% (you can add extra water or even wet sponges to keep the humidity up)
- Remember if the humidity is to low the egg may stick to the chick and cause it not to hatch correctly.
- Do not turn the eggs
Finally, you have made it to hatch day!!!! Your babies will begin to come out of the eggs at this stage. Your first egg to hatch will take the longest, it could take most of the day. Chicks will start cracking open their eggs and take breaks frequently during hatching (getting out of your egg is hard work.) You don’t have to be concerned unless it takes more than a day for them to get out, or if they stop moving and making noises. It is not advised to help your chick get out, not only may you hurt the chick but if your chick can not get out on its own, chances are it did not develop correctly in the first place. One thing you can do to help motivate your chicks to come out is to peep or whistle to them. You will notice that after the first baby hatches the rest seem to hatch much faster. Part of the reason this happens is that they are being jostled and can hear the other chick out of the egg. This helps to motivate them to get out now.
Once the babies have hatched, resist the urge to open the incubator and get them out. You need to leave them for a day in the incubator to dry out completely. Once they are dry you can take them out and get them straight into a brooder. Don’t worry that they need food at this stage, they have gotten enough nutrition from the egg to be fine long enough to dry.
Well that’s it. It is really simple and rewarding to hatch your own chicks. Next week I will be giving you a look into how to care for your new babies so be sure to check back.
Hatching Info for Chickens and Turkeys:
- 21 days to hatch
- Day 18 lockdown
- Days 1-17: Temperature: 99-102 degrees F, Humidity: 50-65%
- Days 18-21: Temperature: 98.5 degrees F, Humidity: 65%
- 28 days to hatch
- Day 25 lockdown
- Days 1-24: Temperature: 99.5 degrees F, Humidity: 55%
- Days 25-28: Temperature: 99 degrees F, Humidity: 75%