As breeders, we are always striving for the perfect hatch- the 100% mark. We know it’s possible, we’ve heard of others who have accomplished this goal, and maybe we have gotten it just right a couple of times ourselves. So why can’t we get 100% hatch 100% of the time? We do everything just exactly the same, expecting the same results, but often we find that is simply not the case. However, although we can’t always be perfect, there are steps we can take to get the best results possible. Let’s look at some common “danger areas” and how we can resolve or avoid them.
When incubating eggs, there are 4 components that determine your ultimate success- egg fertility, incubation temperature, incubation humidity, and egg turning. Finding the perfect blend of these components will ultimately lead you to the best possible success rates.
How do I know if my eggs are fertile?
It all starts with the eggs. No matter how well you manage the other components of your hatch, if you don’t have good, fertile eggs, they simply aren’t going to hatch. Hens will lay eggs regardless of whether or not they have mated with a rooster. If you do not have a rooster in your flock, or your female has not been exposed to a male, then your eggs can not be fertile. If a male has been present and an egg has been produced, it is virtually impossible to tell if the egg is fertile or not until after about 3 days of incubation. At this time you can test your eggs by candling them. You should see red veins beginning to appear throughout the egg, indicating that it is fertile. A non-fertile egg will look exactly the same as it did on day one, clear with the dark yolk being the only visible component. If you are uncertain about an egg, leave it for a day or two more, and if there is no progress by that point, then you can remove it from the incubator as an infertile egg. This will not impact your hatch rate, as it is only determined based on the number of fertile eggs that were placed in the incubator.
Did You Know? An egg can be held for about 7-10 days at low room temperature (65-70 degrees Fahrenheit) prior to incubation without significant risk of permanent damage to the egg. This is important because many breeders don’t have enough eggs laid in a single day to begin incubation, so this allows you to collect eggs for multiple days and set them all at the same time.
How important is temperature to egg incubation?
Egg development will not begin until the egg reaches a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintaining a consistent temperature will help to ensure that your eggs are all developing at the same rate and will lead to similar hatch times for the eggs. For chickens, this is typically 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit. When using an incubator, you will want to make sure that your incubator is properly configured prior to introducing your eggs. This way you will be able to avoid any issues or address them ahead of time. Once your eggs have been added to the incubator, you will want to monitor temps for the next 12-24 hours as adjustments may need to be made to account for the adjustment in mass inside the incubator. Incubator temperature stays the same throughout incubation and hatching, so once it is set, you should not have to adjust it again unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer’s instructions for your incubator. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue to monitor it on a daily basis to ensure that your machine is working properly and maintaining correct temps.
Did You Know? The best way to check the temperature in an incubator is by using a probe thermometer and a small cup of water. Place the cup inside the incubator and allow to regulate the temperature- usually a couple of hours is plenty. Use your calibrated probe thermometer to test the temperature of the water. This most closely mimics the mass of your eggs and will tell you want your internal egg temperature is, rather than just measuring the temperature of the air. Adjust your temperature until your water reading is the temperature you want your eggs to be at.
Why should I worry about humidity?
Humidity is the level of moisture in the air. This is important to incubation because it impacts the water being absorbed through the porous shell of the egg. While humidity is important throughout incubation, it is most important during your hatch. Humidity that is too high can cause excess moisture within your eggs, causing your chicks to drown in their shells. Humidity that is too low can make it challenging for the chicks to break through their hard shells. The right level of humidity depends on what type of egg you are incubating. Finding the right level will allow your eggs to be soft enough for your chicks to break through. Resist the urge to open your incubator multiple times throughout the hatching process to check on your progress. This will dry out the eggs and make it more difficult for the remaining chicks to hatch correctly. Many breeders refer to hatching as “lock down” because they do not want to disturb their chicks during this crucial time.
Did You Know? Humidity can be measured using either a digital hygrometer or by using a wet bulb measurement. While wet bulbs have often been considered to be the more accurate of the two, modern technology has made it so that digital hygrometers are more accurate than ever, and are often quite sufficient for measuring humidity within an incubator.
Do I need to turn my eggs and if so, how often?
The main difference between bird and reptile eggs is that while bird eggs require turning, reptile eggs should not be turned. They should be placed in the incubator with the same side up as when you removed them from where they were laid. With birds, it is typically recommended that you would turn them 3-4 times each day. When you turn your eggs, you will want to flip them one direction, and then when you turn them again, flip them back the other direction instead of continuously spinning them the same way. For example, if you turned all of your eggs to the right in the morning, the next time you turn you would flip them all to the left instead of turning them to the right again. The reason for turning eggs is not only to keep the embryo from sticking to the outer shell, but also to move the yoke through the nutrient rich whites of the egg. While human babies receive nutrients from the mother over time, an egg already has all of the nutrients it needs contained within it. By turning the egg, the yolk will move and be exposed to a new area to absorb nutrients from. Turning your eggs is the same as feeding them, so doing it at regular intervals is best. We recommend breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late night snack before bed. This should only be done for the incubation part of the cycle- you will stop turning your eggs prior to hatching, for chickens this would be day 18.
Did You Know? If you are not available to turn your eggs during the day, you can turn them in the morning, late afternoon/early evening, and then again before bed. Of course, there is a much easier method you could use- an automatic egg turner! Egg turners typically come preset with special motors that have an extremely slow turn cycle, and are designed with the busy breeder in mind. Even if you prefer to hand turn your eggs, having an egg turner can prove to quite literally be a life saver if an emergency were to arise.
By monitoring and maintaining these 4 components of incubation, you are setting yourself up for the best possible hatching rates. Of course, there can still be unforeseen events that can have an impact on your hatch such as bacteria spread, machine malfunction, or even genetic disorders/disease. Incubation and hatching is a learning process, and when dealing with living animals, it can be a real challenge. Don’t get discouraged- if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!