Incubating Chicken Eggs

For some this might seem ridiculously basic, but to incubate and hatch chicken eggs, you must start with fertilized eggs. That means that the hens  have been living with a rooster.

Ideally the eggs should go straight from the coop to the incubator, but the incubation can be delayed for about 10 days without damaging the embryos. Store them in an egg carton with the large end up, and keep them between 50 and 60 degrees. Do not wash the eggs because they have a naturally occurring protective coating.

Step 1- Set up your Incubator

The incubator pictured is by Brinsea and I know a lot of people love them. They do tend to be on the pricier side. We currently have a Little Giant Still Air Egg Incubator 9300 that I got on Craigslist. I do recommend the automatic egg turner, but it is also just fine to turn the eggs every day by hand. I will leave links to both incubators at the bottom of the page.

Your temperature should be set to 99.5 degrees.

The humidity should be between 40% and 50% for the first 18 days, and between 65% and 75% for the last 3 days. My incubator has grooves at the bottom that I fill with water. A sponge soaked with water is also effective.

Step 2- Incubate

Once incubation begins it takes 21 for chicken eggs to hatch.

It is a good idea to run your incubator for 24 hours before you add the eggs to make sure the temperature and humidity are staying consistent. Once the eggs are placed, it is just a matter of maintaining the environment until they hatch.

If you are turning the eggs manually it will need to be done 3 times a day, every day, until day 18. Then leave the eggs alone until they hatch.

-Draw an X on one side, and an O on the other for an easy method of making sure every egg is turned. Use a colored pencil, not a marker. The eggs are porous, and you don’t want chemicals leaching through the shell.

Step 3- Hatching

In the last few days you may start to see the eggs moving as the chick becomes more active. As the hatching process begins, the chick will peck a small hole in the shell and take its first breath. Then it may rest for up to 12 hours. Do not help the chick with the hatching process! Once the chick is free of the shell allow it to dry off inside the incubator where it is warm and cozy, then move it to your brooder.

To learn all about raising baby chicks, click here!

Little Giant Deluxe Incubator w/Egg Turner

Brinsea Products Mini II Advance Automatic 7 Egg Incubator, One Size

Brinsea Products USAC26C Maxi II Advance Automatic 14 Egg Incubator, One Size

Raising Baby Chicks

There are lots of ways to get chicks. Ranch supply stores usually get them in sometime in the middle of March. A local farmer might be selling chicks. You could order them from a hatchery. We bought a broody hen sitting on 12 eggs one year(only two hatched). You can also incubate fertilized eggs and be a part of the whole process! Check out my post on incubating here.

Most chicks that you can buy will only be a few days old, and you’ll need some sort of a brooder. This can be an elaborate brooder that you purchase, or it can be as simple as a large box, or a water trough from a ranch supply store.

Supplies

Brooder

– Heat lamp(with extra bulbs)

Simple Deluxe Clamp Lamp Light with 8.5 Inch Aluminum Reflector 150 Watt with 6 Feet Cord UL Listed

Feeder-you can purchase a feeder, which is especially nice if you have a lot of chicks, but I have also just used a dish from my kitchen.

Harris Farms Plastic Hanging Poultry Feeder, 10 Pound

Waterer– I do recommend getting a decent sized one, otherwise you will be constantly checking and filling water.

Harris Farms Plastic Poultry Drinker, 5 Quart

Feed– We use an organic chick starter feed. I will warn you that it is usually about double the price of the regular chick starter. We can get into a conversation about organic vs. nonorganic at another time, but as far as we’re concerned, its worth it. This is one we have used in the past.

Naturally Free Organic Starter Chick Feed, 25lbs, Non-GMO Project Verified, Soy Free and Corn Free

Bedding– Wood shavings(not cedar which is toxic) are probably my favorite. But if you already have hay or straw for other animals, that works just fine. I have also seen people using newspapers, but that is not my preferred bedding because they end up with poo all over their feet unless you are really diligent about changing it out.

Kaytee Aspen Bedding, 8.0 Cubic Foot Bag

Once you’ve got your chicks situated, it’s just a matter of keeping them warm, fed, and watered until they are old enough to start spending time outside. You can purchase a thermometer to keep an eye on the exact temp. of the brooder, and we used one when our brooder was out in the shed the first year. But I have found it to be just as effective to watch the chicks behavior. If they are all huddled under the heat lamp, the brooder is too cold. and the lamp needs to come down. If they are all huddled as far away from the heat lamp as possible, they are too hot, and the lamp needs to go up. If there is an even distribution of chicks eating, drinking, sleeping under the lamp and wandering around, your temperature is good.

Troubleshooting For the first week, keep an eye on the chicks’ rear ends. You are watching for something called “pasting”, or pasty butt as my neighbors call it. This is when the droppings stick to the chick and clog the vent opening. Use a warm moist paper towel to soften the wad of droppings before carefully picking it off.

It is also important to  keep the bedding nice and dry. Moisture combined with the warmth of the brooder provide a delightful environment for fungal growth, and the chicks can end up with a respiratory infection called Brooder Pneumonia.

Congratulations!

Between 4 and 6 weeks your chicks will feather out (get their adult feathers). Between 6 and 8 weeks your little roosters will start to find their crow(its pretty funny watching them practice). And between 20 and 24 weeks your hens will start to lay eggs!!!