While chickens are natural incubation experts, many breeders find that utilizing an incubator can give them more control over their hatch, ultimately leading to higher hatch rates than nature provides.
However, incubation is a trial-and-error process that can sometimes lead to unforeseen complications. Here are some common incubation questions, and advice from the pros on how to best handle them.
How Do I Increase Incubation Humidity?
Managing humidity during incubation is extremely important to a successful hatch. If your humidity is too low, then excess moisture will be pulled from the egg, leading to reduced hatch rates.
Many incubators come with a water tray that, when filled, will provide ample humidity. However, sometimes the conditions in your location, or your egg type, may require there be additional humidity provided for your hatch to be successful.
Pro Tip: If your humidity within your incubator is too low, even when filled with water, there are additional measures you can take to increase the humidity.
The easiest way to do this is simply by adding a (clean!) sponge to your water tray. This will increase the surface area and allow more moisture to be absorbed into the air more quickly. A common household sponge will work just fine, as long as it rises above the surface of the water.
How Do I Reduce the Humidity in an Incubator?
We have discussed how to raise your humidity, but what do you do when humidity is too high? You have tried all of the normal techniques, such as opening any vents and removing the water source, but you are still having issues.
Humidity that is too high can lead to issues during hatch, such as chicks drowning inside the eggshell, so maintaining appropriate levels, especially during your final days of hatching, is especially important.
Pro Tip: You use rice to repair electronics that have been impacted by moisture — you can do the same here!
To quickly reduce the humidity within your incubator, open the incubator, wipe out any excess moisture, and place a container of rice inside to help pull extra moisture from the air and from your eggs. You will start to see results pretty quickly. Once you have it back down to where you need it to be, add water in small amounts, and only when needed.
If your incubator water tray makes this challenging, try using a small cup of water that you can quickly remove and replace to simplify this process.
How Often Should I Turn Eggs?
For bird eggs, it is important that you regularly turn your eggs in order to keep the yolks from sticking, and to allow them to absorb nutrients from the albumen.
This is easily accomplished by adding an automatic egg turner, however this is not an option for all breeders due to the price. So how do you manage egg turning when incubating on a budget?
Pro Tip: The key to manual egg turning is scheduling. Before you begin your incubation, understand the turning requirements your birds have (typically 3-4 times per day) and plan for how you will incorporate that into your current routine.
For those with jobs outside the home, we recommend turning before you leave for work in the morning, turning again once you get home, and once more before bed. You may even want to use your phone to set alarms to remind you to turn your eggs.
Which Way Do I Turn the Eggs?
Now that you have scheduled your egg turning intervals, you will want to pay attention to the direction that you are turning your eggs. If you are continuously turning them the same direction, the yolk sac can become twisted, and may even break or tear, causing the egg to stop developing.
Pro Tip: We recommend drawing arrows on each side of your egg, one pointing to the left, and one pointing to the right.
When you turn your eggs, always turn them the direction the arrow is pointing. This way, you can keep track of which eggs you have already turned based on the direction of the arrows, and you know which way your eggs need to be turned the next time.
What Do I Do When Eggs Start to Hatch?
You have done everything right, and now your first eggs are hatching — how exciting! So now what? The first instinct that many people have is to immediately remove them from the incubator into the brooder so that they can start to eat and clean up.
Pro Tip: We recommend removing dry chicks from your incubator once per day. Hatching is hard work, so allowing them time to rest and clean themselves up a bit before moving them to brooder will only help to increase their vitality. This also helps to reduce disruption to your environment within the incubator, giving those late hatchers just as good a chance at success as the first pips.
Removing chicks one at a time as they hatch leads to frequently opening the incubator, impacting the temperature and humidity requirements needed for hatching, so they less frequently it is opened, the better chance of success all eggs have of hatching.
Final Notes on Incubation
Chicken egg incubation is an exciting process that can turn into a viable money-making opportunity for many breeders. Whether you are looking to grow your own flock or to sell your chicks, using an incubator can help you to get higher hatch rates, can expand your hatching season, and is a great educational experience for kids. Good luck, and happy hatching!
Emily Baker and her husband, Christopher, created and launched the Incubators.org website, a complete incubation and poultry supply business, in 2010. Emily has personally assisted thousands of hobbyists and breeders in selecting appropriate incubation equipment and supplies, proper use of that equipment, and providing general incubation support. She has also had multiple articles published regarding incubator selection and technique.
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