Knowing how to incubate eggs can be an inexpensive way to increase your flock and make money selling chicks. There is an initial investment but in the long run, it can save time and money. Learn everything you need to know to decide if you should incubate eggs.
However, some people prefer incubating their own and that’s just fine. Knowing how to incubate eggs properly is essential to those who choose to do it.
Many of those who raise heritage breeds choose to use this method instead of setting a hen. The joy they receive from watching the chicks hatch is important to them, after all, a hen will not let you get too close!
How To Incubate Eggs
Incubators can be purchased or you can make your own. They range in size from holding a dozen eggs to holding thousands. Making your own incubator is a bit tricky, but I know many people who do it.
You can use eggs from your own flock, fertilized of course or you can purchase them from a local farmer or farm supply. Even if you order them, they are much cheaper than chicks.
You can expect a hatch rate of about 70%, but more than that is not uncommon.
I have a friend who recently lost their incubated eggs due to power failure following a storm. There are a few non-electric models available, but most of them run on electricity. A backup power source is a good idea.
Be sure you read the instructions that come with the incubator you choose.
I know we don’t like to do that, but it’s important to familiarize yourself with the workings of your incubator as each is a little different.
It’s universally known to run your incubator for at least 3 days before you add eggs to it. This is just so you can determine any problems without risking the life of your eggs.
It’s especially important to be sure the incubator is keeping the correct temperature and humidity level for the type of eggs you’ve chosen to incubate.
Making Your Own Incubator
The most important part of making your own incubator is making sure you can consistently maintain the proper temperature.
I’ve known people to use cardboard boxes, wood, or even styrofoam to make their own incubator.
- The size of your incubator should be at least 11 inches high, 11 inches wide, and 16 inches long.
- A see-through top-hinged door will allow for easy access and visibility of the eggs and the thermometer.
- To prevent heat loss, Do Not open the incubator while in use unless absolutely necessary for turning eggs or such.
- Your incubator will have to be well ventilated. Put holes at the top of two sides and at the bottom of the ends to allow or good air circulation.
- A wire mesh shelf fastened 2 inches above the bottom of the incubator will leave room for a pan of water to be slid under it. This will provide the necessary humidity.
- A wet-bulb thermometer is used to measure humidity. You can find these at any farm supply and maybe even a hardware store. Most incubators include them.
- If you make your own incubator, you’ll have to turn the eggs yourself.
I have to tell you the hatch rate of homemade incubators is 50% or less because it’s tricky to maintain proper humidity and heat. I don’t mean to discourage you. Some people have higher success rates than others.
I’ve read of odd ways of hatching chicks that aren’t reliable and have low hatching rates. Some old-timers were known to wrap fertilized eggs in cloth and place them in a bucket beside the wood stove in an effort to hatch them.
Some people have used light bulbs as a heat source. They suspended the bulb directly over the top of the bucket of wrapped eggs.
Temperature and Humidity During Incubation
- A brooding temp of 99.75 degrees is universal among chicken breeds. You won’t be surprised to know it’s the exact temp under a mother hen!
- 85% humidity is ideal. During the last week of incubation, the humidity level should be raised to 90%.
- The incubator should be kept in a well-ventilated, temperature-controlled room.
- Avoid placing it in direct sunlight, next to a heat source, or in a drafty spot.
- Any time your eggs get over 103 degrees F, your undeveloped chicks will die.
- Most incubators turn the eggs for you! Some cheaper models do not and you will have to turn them yourself.
It may cost more to get one that automatically turns them, but I wouldn’t want to have to remember when it’s time to turn them or to be strapped to monitoring them so closely.
A good incubator will come with everything you need. If you go with a cheaper model that does not have a thermometer or wet-bulb thermometer, you will have to buy them.
Turning The Eggs By Hand
If you have to turn the eggs by hand, there are a few important things to know.
- Start turning your eggs on day 2 of incubation.
- The mother hen turns her eggs instinctively and you’ll need to mimic that. Turn each egg one quarter turn to halfway around at least three times a day.
- Turning them so often will cut down the risk of losing some from their staying in one position all night while you sleep.
- If you don’t turn the eggs regularly, you’ll have chicks that die from not hatching properly and from deformity during development.
- Placing a mark on each egg will help you keep track of which way you last turned them.
- Never use anything but a pencil or non-toxic material to write on your eggs. The shells are semi-permeable and what you use to write with can be leached into the egg, possibly harming the developing chick.
- Starting on day 10, turn the eggs so the larger end is facing straight up or to the side pointing up. This is important because the chick is beginning to lengthen in the egg and its head will develop in whatever end is up. The larger end is its natural place of development.
- On day 19, stop turning the eggs. It takes 21 days for a chicken to hatch.
- The mama hen will stop turning them and talk to them in low chattels as she listens for them to peck and chirp. I’ve been able to hear the little cheeps when I’ve checked on my setting hens. Even after 40+ years, I still get excited!
Why Do I Have To Rotate The Eggs?
Someone asked me why you have to place them in a certain position when they’ve seen them in other positions under their hens. That’s a good question. The answer is simple.
A mother hen does what we cannot do. She’s with them all the time. Constantly turning and repositioning the eggs underneath her. Just because we don’t witness it, doesn’t mean she’s not doing it.
The best mother we’ve ever had is a Black Australorp hen. You can see her pictured above.
What to Do When the Chicks Hatch
I know it’s hard, but don’t help the chick out of the shell!
It can take several hours up to a couple of days for the chicks to completely hatch. A freshly hatched chick will be wet and tired.
Rushing the process can harm them as they are busy drawing the last of the yolk into their bodies so they have something to live off of the first three days of life.
A freshly hatched chick may appear sick, but don’t worry. Give him some time. It will hobble around and may even appear disoriented, probably because it is.
Let the chicks dry and gain some strength. Soon enough they’ll look fluffy and cute.
Once they have hatched and the first chicks are three days old, remove them to their brooder. You can read our article about brooding chicks for instructions on this next step.
If you’re hatching something other than chickens, don’t worry. While the basics are the same, every incubator comes with directions for how to incubate eggs of various poultry.
Incubators: Low End to High End
Choosing an incubator can be overwhelming today. There are so many options! How do you decide?
You can do research, read reviews, and talk to people who use them.
There are four basic things you want in an incubator.
- See through top
- Temperature control with display
- Humidity control with display
- Auto-turning of eggs and timer control
We’ve made a few selections for you from the low end price range, mid price range, and high end price range. Hopefully, we can help make some of the decision making struggle easier for you.
I will say, in my opinion, paying a little more for a mid to high end model is worth it.
Low End Model
Mid Range Model
High End Model
Most incubators come with specific instructions for hatching various types of eggs. They will include their temperature, turn rates, and humidity needs.
It’s a pretty easy job now to incubate your own eggs since most incubators allow you to set the turn rate, temperature, and humidity level and then pretty much walk away.
It is, however, important to understand the basics and know the hows and whys of the process.
Do you prefer to incubate eggs or let your mama birds do it?
As always, we’re here to help.