Incubation is certainly a process of poultry raising that attracts plenty of questions.It is a process if carried out correctly can bring you loads of satisfaction or if done incorrectly loads of frustration. In the following article I will attempt to provide you with all the secrets to help make the process a positive one for you.
Egg collection and storage remains a very important start to the whole process and regular collection from the nest of clean eggs along with storage of your eggs pointy end down in a stable temperate area of the home, Iusually store in the laundry as I find it is not affected as much by huge temperature change. Eggs set for incubation are best stored for about 7 days, after which the hatchability rate will gradually decrease each day. Choose only eggs for incubation of regular shape as oversize eggs or irregular shape are generally infertile. Remember to turn eggs at least once a day whilst storing. Incubate only eggs that are clean as soiled eggs can bring about bacterial disease in your incubator. Clean eggs with a damp cool cloth and where possible avoid scratching the shell. I find it is best to fill your nests with pine shavings which will go along way to eliminating soiled egg shells.
Time to set your eggs. At this point I would suggest running your incubator at least 24 hours prior to setting as you need to be sure your incubator is holding steady constant temperature as any big fluctuations will lead to a disastrous hatch. Depending on the type of incubator your using will determine the temperature you need to run at, generally still air incubators (without fans inside) run at 100.5 to 102.75 °F (38-39 °C), whereas most fan forced incubators run at 99.5 to 99.75 °F (37.5-37.6 °C). But please check your manufactures instructions.
Ventilation remains an important factor in incubation. the room where the incubator is located should be well ventilated yet not drafty. A room temp of around 20 °C is perfect but not always achievable.
Humidity remains one of the biggest problem factors in incubation of eggs, most manufactures will have details of what preferred humidity levels are for their incubators. Although inexpensive it is my experience and information from others that the polystyrene incubators still remain a big problem with humidity control with many people reporting mixed results over hatchings, this still remains an area of trial and error to obtain a result that best suits your location. As humid coastal north area will obviously require less water requirements in the incubator than say an incubator located in the central west dry humidity areas. I have included a troubleshooting chart at the end of the article to help solve these problems with humidity.
Candling your eggs after about 10 days is very good way to see how your fertility is going. It involves shining a candling torch into the big end of the egg from where you should be able to see embryo development taking place with a healthy air sac showing. Eggs showing a dark brown ring around the air sac can be considered embryos that have died during early development, clear eggs showing no development are infertile. (Please see planet poultry fertility page).
Chicks Hatching in Incubator
At 18 days of incubation stop turning your eggs. On about the 20th day (sometimes sooner with bantams) your chicks will begin to pip through the egg shell, this leads to hatching on the 21st day. It is very important during this period, however tempting you avoid opening your incubator till all eggs are hatched. Opening and closing your incubator will have disastrous effects on your hatch at this point!!
It is inevitable that some chicks will hatch faster then others, avoid helping chicks out of their shells, let nature take its course.
Allow at least a few hours from end of hatch till chicks are all fluffed up before shifting to their brooder. Chicks can survive fine in the incubator for at least 24 hours before shifting, remembering they still have egg yolk in their bodies to provide nourishment.
Still preferred by many old breeders as the only way to hatch chickens.
Personally I prefer to machine incubate as I am not relying on a hen to go broody at the right time. If you do decide to hatch naturally avoid the large heavy breeds as they tend to be clumsy and break eggs in the nest. Ensure any birds used for setting are free of lice or mites and make sure the hen is still hoping of the nest to feed each day as it is not uncommon for a hen to be so involved in setting to actually forget to get off the nest and eat.
Whatever way you choose to incubate we wish well with your new brood!!!