For the last several years every Spring our family has made it a tradition to go to the local farm store and pick out six to twelve baby chicks to raise. Well, this year on a whim I decided I wanted to incubate and hatch our own fertilized eggs. You see last year we ended up getting a baby chick that was a rooster and not a hen. When you go to the farm stores they usually have the breeds separated and have a sign above them that states what the “sexed” rate is. Essentially most people want to raise chickens for the eggs and for that you need hens, not roosters. The “sexed” rate is that which the supplier has said what percentage will be hens. The majority of the breeds you see will be anywhere from 95-98%. There are some breeds that are not sexed at all and we would usually steer clear of those. And so this year because we have a rooster I decided I wanted to share our chicken egg hatching process with you all.
Sometimes roosters get a bad rap for being mean, attacking humans and crowing loudly at very early hours of the mornings. Our rooster has been great, with no attacking and some light crowing. After he “found” his crow last year we used a trick I found on the interwebs of Google: we fastened a small strip of velcro lightly under the feathers around his neck and it caused the crowing to be not as loud and more like a burp. Our rooster is in the picture below, second from the right.
Now rumor has it that if you have a rooster in your flock your hens’ eggs are more than likely fertilized. Although once they are collected and placed in the fridge the incubation process stops. We have had a broody hen in the past although usually during the summer (a broody hen is one that wants to sit on her nesting box all day and wants to become a momma hen and hatch her own eggs). Once the Fall weather started our hen “broke” of her broodiness so having a hen hatch eggs was not really a feasible option.
I was talking to a family friend about hatching eggs and she mentioned that she had an incubator that we could borrow to hatch eggs and from that moment I was sold!
Supplies Needed for Chicken Egg Hatching Process
- Incubator (there are many styles and price points available and some that include an egg turner)
- Automatic egg turner (unless you want to hand turn them I highly recommend this as the majority of the time it’s a set it and forget it)
- Egg candler
- Surge Protector
We collected 18 eggs and gave them a light wash and then let them sit on the counter in an egg carton for a day until we had the incubator all set up. Once the eggs are collected it is important that they are stored with the pointy side of the egg down.
The incubator hadn’t been used in years so I gave it a wash, read the instruction manual and plugged it in. We also borrowed an electric egg turner from our friend as this is an important part of the process if you don’t have the egg turner you will have to do this manually. It is important to place a thermometer in the incubator and give it at least a day to make sure it stays at 99.5 degrees for incubation. After we plugged it in we had to adjust the temperature over several hours to get it just right.
Once the incubator was ready all the eggs were placed in with the pointy side of the egg down. We also made sure to add water to the wells on the bottom of the incubator as this is needed for humidity during the process. (So many things to remember but oh so exciting!)
The instruction booklet for the incubator mentioned that you can “candle” the eggs after several days in the incubator. This means you can shine a bright flashlight under each egg to see if you have any embryo growing. I had several problems doing this after several days, one was that I really couldn’t see anything and second I was using a flashlight and it was hard to see when trying to hold my hand to block the light.
After texting my friend she advised me to wait until at least a week of being in the incubator to candle the eggs. In the meantime, I also decided to order a cheap candle tester light from Amazon to help in the process. This turned into being a great purchase as when I went to candle after a week it was so much easier to see since the candler light comes with rubber attachments to help block out the light and let the egg sit on top.
The advice I had read said to candle the eggs at day 7 and day 14 (chicken incubation is 21 days total) this way you can see if there is no embryo and toss the egg if needed. After doing this we had to toss about 6 eggs that had no signs of anything growing inside and a couple that had a black ring around them on the inside which meant that something had started to grow but had stopped somewhere along the process.
Once day 18 came around that is when the eggs go on “lockdown.” This means we remove the egg turner, place them on the metal grate and can no longer open the lid until the chicks hatch.
On day 20 I was awakened by the sound of chirping and noise at 12:30 am. Our first egg was hatching!! I snapped a quick picture and then shut the door to our bedroom so that I could go back to sleep without hearing the sounds (I am a light sleeper). I was excited to wake the kids up in the morning and have them peer through the windows to see our first baby chick. She didn’t look much different from when I saw her first thing, maybe a little bit drier and slowly getting her footing. One important thing I read about and was told multiple times was: DO NOT HELP THEM HATCH!
We all watched in awe as she would start to walk and then lay down and rest, hatching out of an egg is a lot of work! We also noticed that several other eggs had started showing “pips” or signs that some other chicks were ready to make their appearance. So over the next several hours, we had 3 other chicks hatch! It was a very exciting day but it did end on a sad note as the last chick that hatched did not end up living. After hatching she had a bloody mucus near her rear that we thought was part of the egg but after several minutes we noticed the mucus getting bigger and bigger meaning she was having some type of bleeding or issue with her internal organs.
So we ended up having 3 good chicks and once they were mostly dried we took them out and had a small brooder that we had made up in our pantry for them.
As for the rest of the eggs, we were advised to wait a couple of days after their “due date” as some can be delayed. We waited three days and saw no signs of anymore hatching so we took the eggs out and disposed of them. If you wait too long they could start to smell and no one wants that.
After the first hatch, we did a second hatch. My friend has a Lavender Orpington hen and rooster so she gave us a dozen eggs to hatch as I have always wanted a lavender Orpington chicken. They have a purple hue in their feathers! This hatch was more successful and we had seven chicks at the end.
What We Learned in the Hatching Process
- Place the eggs in and as much as it is tempting to open the lid, leave them alone
- Continue to monitor the water wells and make sure they are filled so that there is constant humidity (I don’t think we were consistent with this the first time around and that could have been a problem)
- Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling or candling the eggs and when you do limit the touching of the eggs as much as you can