How to Improve Hatch Rates

Reader Contribution by Troy Griepentrog

In Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch, I wrote that there are pros and cons to both natural incubation (broody hens) and artificial incubation (using electric incubators). One of my broody hens left a nest of eggs, and the electricity was out for a while. But there’s good news, too.

Although the temperature in the electric incubator dropped to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, 12 of the 35 pheasant eggs still hatched. That’s a 34 percent hatch rate. It wasn’t a total loss.

After the broody hen left the nest, I put them under a different broody and none of them hatched. (OK, that’s not good news.) But another broody did a great job and hatched seven of the nine eggs she was sitting on — a 78 percent hatch rate. Even if you average the two hens, that’s still a 39 percent hatch rate.

Of the 214 pheasant eggs we were incubating in the GQF 1202A incubator, 86 chicks hatched (40 percent). Because we wanted to set all the eggs at one time, we stored 152 of the hatching eggs for four days before them in the incubator. About 44 percent of the fresh eggs hatched. Only 39 percent of the eggs hatched from the group that was stored longer. All the eggs were shipped to us through the mail, so none were perfectly fresh.

We also didn’t turn 42 of the eggs for the first six days of incubation. This was a test to see how not turning the eggs would affect hatch rates. About 42 percent of the eggs that were turned more frequently hatched. They were turned automatically every four hours from the second day of incubation through the fifteenth day of incubation. Only 33 percent of the eggs that weren’t turned as frequently hatched. I stopped turning all the eggs about eight days before they hatched because I was going to be out of the office. Normally, I’d stop turning the eggs only three days before they’re supposed to hatch.

This was a limited test, but the advice of most experts to turn eggs frequently and not store them before incubation seems to be accurate. If you store eggs or don’t turn them, you can expect lower hatch rates. We also noticed several chicks with leg problems. Although this could be genetic, most likely the problems were due to infrequent turning of the eggs and storing the eggs too long.