Who can resist adorable, fuzzy, and affectionate chicks!?
Hatching chicken eggs is an educational and rewarding experience, but before you start you need to know everything from setting up your incubator to hatching day.
It takes 21 days to hatch chicken eggs so close attention must be paid throughout the process to avoid any issues.
Interested in hatching chicken eggs yourself?
Keep reading for a 21 day step-by-step guide to hatching your own eggs…
Contents and Quick Navigation
- What To Know Before Hatching Chicken Eggs
- How To Set Up An Incubator
- 21 Day Guide To Hatching Eggs
- What is Next? (Incubator To The Brooder)
- 5 Tips For A Successful Hatch
- Frequently Asked Questions
What To Know Before Hatching Chicken Eggs
Before hatching your eggs you need to make sure you have the following equipment:
- An incubator
- A plastic storage bin (with a lid)
- Cloth/rough paper
- Fertile eggs
You should start by buying fertilized eggs. They can be bought from breeders, poultry farmers with roosters, or even ordered online from hatcheries. It is important to keep in mind that fertile eggs do not travel well and should be ordered from a source as close to home as possible.
While the hatching rates of eggs placed into incubators straight from the coop are around 90%, none of the eggs ordered through the mail are guaranteed to survive. Abrupt movement as well as temperature and humidity fluctuations during transportation reduces the chicks’ survival rate.
If you are able to pick your own eggs in person, it is highly recommended that you do.
You will want to choose clean, full-sized, and well-formed eggs. You can also candle the eggs to check if the yolk is still intact within your egg.
All your eggs should be stored for at least 3 days in an egg carton with the egg’s slimmer end facing downward to help prepare them for incubation. Make sure that your eggs are kept in a cool environment around 55-65°F with a relative humidity of 70-80%.
Your fridge will be too cold for your fertilized chicken eggs.
It is recommended that eggs are incubated within 7-10 days of being laid.
How To Set Up An Incubator
Your incubator will need to provide controllable heat for your chicken eggs.
It will need a thermostat and a way to monitor (or even add) humidity inside of the incubator.
Features that help increase the hatch rate include:
- A form of circulation (e.g. a fan)
- Temperature and humidity monitoring/control system
- Automatic egg turning
If you need help finding an incubator, read 5 Best Chicken Egg Incubators: What to Know Before Buying.
You should set up your incubator at least a week before getting your fertile eggs.
During the set up you will need to sanitize your incubator with a 10% bleach solution followed by soapy water and a rinse. Allow the incubator to dry fully before turning it on and setting the temperature and humidity levels.
Your incubator’s location is important.
Make sure that it is not placed in an area with drafts or direct sunlight.
The ideal chicken egg incubation temperature is 99.5°F.
Use your thermometer to confirm that the temperature in your incubator remains between 99-102°F and your hygrometer to maintain about 55% humidity. Any variation in temperature and humidity can be deadly.
Depending on the type of incubator you have, it is recommended that still air incubators are opened at least 4 times a day and forced air incubators be monitored for fluctuations in temperature.
A critical aspect of hatching eggs using an incubator is rotating your chicken eggs at least 5 times every day.
If your incubator has an automatic turning capability, make sure to test it before setting your eggs. Automatic turners are highly recommended not only because it minimizes any human error during the incubation process but also simplifies the process for you.
Once you have confirmed that everything is working, it is time to start hatching your eggs!
21 Day Guide To Hatching Eggs
Day 0: Setting Your Eggs
You should start by letting your stored eggs warm to room temperature for 4-8 hours before putting them into your prepared incubator. Cold eggs placed directly into a warm and humid incubator can lead to contamination or suffocation.
I generally recommend setting at least 6 eggs at a time. This makes sure that your chicks will be happy and comfortable surrounded by their flock.
The eggs should be set with the large end facing upwards and the narrower side facing down to allow the chick’s head to face towards the air cell of the egg. The eggs should not be positioned upright but at a slight angle – think of how they would naturally lay in a hen’s nest.
Once inside the incubator, do not adjust the temperature or humidity for 4 hours unless drastic changes occur. After 4 hours you should make any necessary adjustments to allow for only a 0.5° difference above or below 99.5°F.
At this point your 21-day incubation period starts!
Day 1-18: The Set Stage
During this period turning the eggs as frequently as possible is crucial.
Though once every hour is considered the gold standard, turning the eggs at least 5 times every 24 hours until 3 days before the hatch is the minimum requirement for success.
You can easily keep track of the eggs that have been rotated by using a pencil to gently mark an “X” on one side of the eggs. It is not recommended that sharpies or pens are used to mark your chicken eggs as there is a possibility that the ink will seep through the shell.
Always wash your hands before touching the eggs.
You should monitor the incubator’s temperature and humidity levels every few hours during this period.
Take special care in keeping the incubator closed as often as you can. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity will affect your hatch rates.
You will repeat this process from day 1 all the way through to day 18.
The only exception to this is at day 10 when you can candle the eggs to check on your chicks.
Candling helps you to observe the embryonic development of your new chicks with your own eyes. Though commercial candlers can be bought at reasonable prices, it is possible to candle your eggs by using a small, focused flashlight in a dark room.
You can easily confirm the formation of your chick’s embryo after about 8 to 12 days of incubation. At this point, a living embryo can be seen around the wider end of the egg as a dark spot surrounded by faint blood vessels.
To compare an infertile egg will easily allow light to pass through your egg.
You should remove any infertile eggs at this point.
Day 18-21: Lock Down and Prehatching
Day 18-21 is a critical time that is often known as the lockdown period.
At this point the chicks are preparing to hatch and there are several things you can do to help your new baby chicks in their preparation:
- Completely stop turning your eggs and leave them alone with the wide end of the egg facing upwards.
- Decrease your incubator’s temperature by 1°F.
- Increase your incubator’s relative humidity to 65-70%.
At this point your chicks are moving into their final position and should be left alone. You should avoid opening the incubator’s lid or moving it around.
Day 21: Hatch Day
At this point you should hear peeping coming from the inside of your eggs!
You will begin to see your eggs rock around as the chicks pip the shell.
When the chicks start to hatch, it is important that you are patient and let them go about this process on their own. There could be some blood vessels that have not yet dried completely and pulling the shell apart prematurely can cause fatal bleeding.
Most chicks will fully hatch in around 5-7 hours, but some can take up to 24 hours.
As long as your humidity remains at an increased and constant level, your chicks should be fine, and your hatching rate should be high.
After pecking their first hole, the chick will rest and let their lungs adjust before continuing.
This pecking requires a lot of effort from your chicks and they will be very active before taking long breaks. The peeping of your first few hatched chicks will encourage those that have not begun already to start.
Once all of your chicks have hatched you should increase the ventilation in the incubator and let your chicks’ feathers dry for about 24 hours. Your new chicks will be okay to go 24-72 hours without eating or drinking while they wait for the rest of the chicks to hatch.
Only after your newly hatched chicks are all dry and fluffy can you open your incubator and move them into a pre-prepared brooder at 90-95°F with food and water. This is where they will spend the first few weeks of their lives.
Read The 5 Best Chicken Brooders: The Complete Guide for help picking a brooder.
What is Next? (Incubator To The Brooder)
You should wait until your chicks are dry before moving them to their brooder.
Moving the chicks prematurely can give them a chill.
You should keep an eye out for panting as this suggests the chicks are dehydrated and should be removed from the incubator as soon as possible.
The brooder should be pre-heated and contain water and food.
As you place each chick into the brooder, dip their beak into the water so they know where to drink from.
Your brooder’s floor should be covered with paper towels for the first few days. Sprinkle chick starter feed on the floor of your brooder – the sound of feed dropping should encourage them to start eating.
Then leave your chicks to rest.
Although it is crucial you spend time with your new flock to get them accustomed to you and humans in general, allow some time for your chicks to adjust to life outside of their egg.
After a few days you can sprinkle into the feeder to help get your chicks accustomed to feeders.
At this point you can change their bedding from paper towels to pine shavings. For more help read What To Expect Bringing Baby Chicks Home For The First Time.
5 Tips For A Successful Hatch
1. Hatch A Plan
Whether you are hatching eggs for the first time, or a seasoned vet, having a step-by-step plan will be crucial to the success of your hatch.
A simple step-by-step plan helps to keep you on track and will help you tackle each key step of the incubation process.
2. Set Your Incubator Up Properly
Before you start you should make sure that the incubator can hold temperature at 99.5°F.
It is a scary thought but even one degree higher or lower for more than a few hours can negatively affect or even terminate your chicken embryos.
Your incubator’s relative humidity should be tested too. It needs to be around 55-60% until the lockdown period at 18 days, where your humidity levels should increase to 65-70% for the final days of incubation.
Making sure that your incubator works properly will help improve your odds.
3. Set Your Eggs Correctly
Allow your eggs to warm to room temperature before placing them inside your incubator. This will help to avoid condensation buildup before placing them
You should also make sure that the small end of your eggs face downward. Eggs must be turned at the very least 5 times every 24 hours until the 18th day of incubation comes around.
4. Keep Records
Keeping a record and scoring against your step-by-step plan will help to make sure that you do not miss any key steps.
It is crucial to track:
- Egg turning
- Number of incubation days
- Relative humidity levels
5. Be Patient
Although a 21-day incubation period may not seem long, as your hatching day approaches it’s easy to become impatient.
Stick to your plan, do not skip any steps, and give the chicks time to hatch naturally. It often causes more harm than good to try and speed up this process.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if my chick has pipped but is not making any progress?
As much as you want to help you should not help with the hatching process. There could be some blood vessels that have not yet dried completely and pulling the shell apart prematurely can cause fatal bleeding.
Can chicken eggs hatch without an incubator?
In the wild chicken eggs are hatched by a broody hen.
She will sit on your eggs to keep them warm, turn the eggs an average of 50 times a day, and defend her nest against any predators that try to get in between her and the eggs – that includes your fingers!
What is the success rate of hatching eggs?
Fertile eggs generally have an 88-90% chance of hatching.
Eggs tend to fail for two reasons: either they are infertile, or the embryo died. Embryos will typically die either during the first 3 days or last 3 days of the incubation period
What if my chicken eggs have not hatched after 24 days?
Unfortunately the chances of a hatch coming from these eggs are slim to none.
If no signs of life are visible then the eggs should be discarded.
This article has covered everything you need to know about hatching eggs.
Although Mother Nature inevitably does it best and it does not get any better than a broody hen, hatching chicken eggs using an incubator can be a fun and educational experience.
Not only does hatching eggs using an incubator give you the freedom to choose when you want to have chicks, you would also have the opportunity to raise various rare breeds that may not have otherwise survived under the supervision of a broody hen.
Do not forget that the more research and time put into preparing for the arrival of your new flock members, the more successful you will be.
Wash your hands, keep a watchful eye on your incubator’s temperature and humidity, turn your eggs often, and have fun.
Let us know in the comments section below how many eggs you have hatched…
Great article, I may just try my hand at this next season.
Best of luck Mike 🙂
Great article, last fall I hatched 50 at a 100% hatch. Now I have 125 in my wonderful homemade incubator. I do a couple things differently, I do check my embryos while on lockdown to make sure they’re okay, I’ve never had a problem doing that.
Would you be interested in sharing instructions for your homemade incubator? It sounds like you have a good set up. I’ve tried a few homemade ideas I found online but none worked out. 😳