How to hatch chicken eggs

Embarking on the journey of hatching your own chicken eggs can be an exciting and rewarding experience. In this guide, we will walk you through the entire process, from choosing the right incubator to knowing when your chicks are ready to hatch.

If you are looking to buy fertile eggs please try our chicken category

Eggs to hatch

If you are going to hatch eggs you can't just buy some eggs from the supermarket, you need eggs that have been fertilised, often advertised as "fertile chicken eggs". Not all incubators are the same and you will pay for both quality and features, some requiring more intervention than others and not all breeds of chickens are the same with 'layers' (known for laying eggs), 'meat birds' are harvested for cosumption and dual purpose which are a balance between the two.

What is an incubator and why do I need one?

An incubator is a device that provides a controlled environment for hatching eggs. It regulates factors such as temperature and humidity, which are crucial for the successful development of embryos inside the eggs. If you're planning to hatch chicken eggs without a hen, an incubator is necessary to simulate the conditions typically provided by the mother hen.

 If you were looking for an incubator please try our tools and equipment category.

What are the features I should look for in an incubator?

Important features to consider in an incubator include capacity (how many eggs it can hold), types of egg turning (automatic, semi-automatic, or manual), and the ability to control and monitor temperature and humidity. Some high-end models even come with digital displays and alarms for easier monitoring and control.

What settings should I use for hatching chicken eggs?

The age of the eggs, how they are stored, tempreature, humidity and turning duration will impact how many chicks hatch ("hatching rate" is often described as a percentage, if you are getting less than 60% there is room for improvement).

Temperature for hatching chicken eggs is usually around 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit), some prefer slightly warmer e.g. 38c and believe this results in more female chicks, with slightly cooler hatching more males.  The ideal humidity is around 50-60% for the first 18 days, increasing to 60-70% for the last few days before hatching.

How often should eggs be turned in the incubator?

Eggs should be turned at least three to five times per day during the first 18 days of incubation. This helps to prevent the developing embryo from sticking to the shell and promotes healthy development. Many incubators offer automatic or semi-automatic turning features to ensure consistent turning at set intervals.

How does humidity impact egg incubation?

Humidity plays a crucial role in egg incubation. If the humidity is too low, the eggs may lose too much weight, causing the air sac to be too large. If the humidity is too high chicks may be unable to move into the hatching position, or the membrane may be too rubbery for them to break through.

Impact of egg humidity in detail

Humidity plays a crucial role in egg incubation. An eggshell is porous, allowing oxygen to pass through to the developing embryo and moisture to evaporate from the egg. As the egg loses weight during incubation, its air sac increases in size. The egg needs to lose the right amount of moisture for the chick to develop properly. If the chick has developed to the correct size, it will break through to the air sac to take its first breath of air. About 24 hours before hatching, the chick will 'pip' or make a small hole in the shell to breathe.It needs to have enough room inside the egg to turn around, break through the eggshell, and eventually emerge as a chick.

The concentration of water vapor in the air, or humidity, influences the rate at which moisture evaporates from the egg. Higher humidity reduces the rate of evaporation, and lower humidity increases it. For a successful hatch, moisture must evaporate from your eggs at just the right rate, which means your eggs must lose the correct amount of weight over the incubation period.

For forced-air incubators, the optimum average humidity range during incubation is generally accepted as 45-50% for chicken and quail eggs and 50-60% for ducks and geese. During the last three days of incubation, the humidity inside the incubator needs to be higher (typically 65-75%) to keep the membrane soft enough for the chicks to break out. Once a chick 'pips', the membrane is at risk of drying out, so humidity must be increased about three days before the hatch day.

If the incubation humidity is not optimal, embryos or chicks may die in the shell or abnormal hatchlings may occur. If the humidity is too low, the eggs may lose too much weight, causing the air sac to be too large. In the early stages of incubation, embryos may stick to the shell membrane and die. Chicks that do develop will likely be too small and weak, and are likely to die before hatching or shortly after. If they do hatch, they may have deformities like crooked toes or a twisted neck.

If the humidity is too high, the eggs will not lose enough weight, resulting in a too small air sac and chicks that are too large for the available space. Chicks may be unable to move into the hatching position, or the membrane may be too rubbery for them to break through.

When should I stop turning the eggs and increase the humidity?

On day 18 of incubation, you should stop turning the eggs and increase the humidity to around 60-65%. This period, often referred to as 'lockdown', allows the chick to position itself correctly for hatching. It's also important not to open the incubator during this period to maintain the necessary humidity and temperature.