Below I will go through a few vital points that you need to consider in order to get the best results possible. Get them all right and you should be hatching in the 90% range but get any of them wrong and you could be disappointed come hatch day. The good news is you will learn every time you incubate a batch of eggs and it won’t take too long that when things don’t go as planned you will more than likely understand why.
So lets get into it:
1. Quality, health & diet of breeding stockAll of the points above will have a huge affect on the quality of the eggs you are incubating. It is ridiculous to think that eggs from poorly bred chickens fed food scraps will produce eggs you will get good results from.
Make sure you get your fertile eggs from a reliable breeder who has good bloodlines and feeds their birds a healthy diet.
The conditions the birds are kept in will give you an idea if the breeding stock are well looked after.
Also ask the breeder if his chooks are up to date with worming as this all has an impact on the eggs.
Remember once the egg is laid there is nothing you can do to improve it.
2. Egg storage & age of eggsEggs sent in the post are bound to give you low hatch rates. They will be knocked around, left in the sun, and lord knows how old they are. Never blame a poor hatch from posted eggs on your incubation techniques as you’re behind the eight ball from the start.
I recommend eggs should be no older than 7-10 days before being put into the incubator. Every day thereafter will slow down your hatch.
If you’re collecting your own eggs then each day store them in a cool spot out of direct sunlight ie your pantry in an egg carton with the pointy end down. DON’T PUT THEM IN THE FRIDGE!!
Collect the eggs for 1 week then set all the eggs in the incubator on the same day.
3. A good quality incubatorGet this part right and numbers 4 & 5 should be much easier to master. There are a lot of poor quality incubators on the market which aren’t certified for use in Australia. If your budget doesn’t allow a good quality incubator and you must buy one of these cheap Chinese ones then be careful where you set it up as untested and uncertified electrical products can be a fire hazard, so I’d be putting it out in the shed.
Once you do get your incubator be sure to set it up exactly as per the instructions as most models have been tested and perfected over many years and so following the manufacturer’s guidelines will see you getting the very best from your machine.
Also set up your incubator in a room that doesn’t have fluctuating temperatures and out of direct sunlight. It’s a good idea to set it all up, fill the water channels as per the instructions and then plug it in and run it for 24 hrs before you put the eggs in, or at least overnight. This way you can monitor the settings and know that you are placing the eggs into the perfect environment.
4. TemperatureAnother vital aspect in the process is temperature, get this wrong and hatch rates will quickly drop to zero. You must keep in mind first and foremost that all incubators are designed to keep the temperature set at a certain level, 37.5 degrees Celsius is generally considered the ideal temperature although some people will argue slightly higher is best. Once again, stick with the incubator instructions and you can’t go wrong.
Always remember that the incubator CANNOT reduce the heat if the room is hotter than inside the incubator. I have people ringing me saying that the incubator temp has soared and so it must be faulty. This is not the case. Usually they’re trying to hatch through the hottest days of summer and the incubator will cook your eggs every time.
The same applies with humidity (see below). In super humid conditions externally, the incubator humidity will sky rocket.
5. HumidityA big no no is to open the incubator all the time to check the eggs. This will mess with the conditions every time and mess with your hatch rates. Manual turn incubators must be opened to turn the eggs but make sure you are efficient with this and only open the incubator for the minimum time needed.
Make sure all channels are filled (and kept filled) as per the instructions. Don’t forget it is the amount of surface area of the water, not how deep the channels or dishes are that make the humidity higher or lower. Ie a large saucer of water (bigger surface area) will make it more humid than a smaller dish of water (smaller surface area)
Some incubators have external access to the water channels which means you never need to open the lid, this is a great feature and worth looking out for.
Also add lukewarm water not cold. If you fill the channels with freezing cold water it will probably take an hour or so for the incubator to be at the ideal temp/humidity again, which is not what you want.
6. Egg turning
If manually turning eggs keep a cross (X) on one side and a (0) on the other written on with a grey lead pencil or similar. This way you will always know which eggs have been turned as you’re doing it. Then have all the crosses up in the morning and all of them down at night. A third turn in the middle of the day (if possible) can also be a good idea.
If you have an incubator that rolls the eggs. Make sure all eggs are able to roll freely. Some can get stuck so just keep an eye on them. Maybe even put the X and 0 on the eggs also so that you can see how evenly all eggs are turning.
The “rocking” method is my preferred way to turn eggs. Pointy end down the eggs will be rocked backwards and forwards by the incubator. It is a fool proof way to make sure all eggs are being moved evenly, no need to mark them as this all happens automatically.
Whichever way you turn the eggs, remember stop turning them 2-3 days before hatch day and leave them on their side so that the chicks can start "pipping" through the shell.
7. Cleanliness - (bonus tip!)Incubators are amazing at replicating the conditions of the mother hen but you need to be aware that the mother will hatch her eggs and then move on with her clutch. She doesn’t keep hatching clutch after clutch over and over in the same tiny space. If she did the nest would get pretty messy wouldn’t it? So you need to ensure that every time you hatch a clutch of eggs the incubator is properly cleaned with hot soapy water and disinfectant then dried out properly before the next batch. We all know how messy an incubator looks after the eggs have hatched but this is a very important step, clean clean clean!
Also keep your incubator in good working order. Store it when not being used back in it’s box and in a dry place. It’s also not a bad idea to have a couple of spare parts handy just in case something decides to fail right at the crucial time ie. mid incubation!!
Don’t forget - enjoy the process and don’t get too down on your mistakes.The important thing to remember is not to get too discouraged if things don’t go perfectly. It’s all a learning curve and the fun of it is understanding what might have gone wrong then making the tweaks and changes to improve hatchability next time round.
Before long your entire clutch will be jumping out of the eggs like superman!!