How to Hatch Chicken Eggs in an Incubator
This guide shares step by step instructions for hatching chicks in an incubator.
If you would like to hatch a clutch of eggs but you don’t have a broody hen, you need an incubator! There are many different models of incubator with great features available for sale online or at your local farm and feed store. I recently received the Hova Bator 1602N incubator to review for Incubator Warehouse. (This link to Incubator Warehouse is not an affiliate link…I received this incubator to review. However, this post does contain affiliate links through Amazon. Please see full disclosure below.)
Choosing an Incubator
If you are low on time and energy, there are incubators available that will automatically turn the eggs and keep the proper temperature and humidity levels. You will need to spend more for these features, of course. Basic incubators such as the Little Giant model are much more affordable and will do a great job. If you take a small step up in price and purchase the Hova Bator 1602N incubator, you will also receive the circulated air fan kit to provide a more even temperature for the developing embryos. Some folks will even opt to build their own incubator with these parts available through Incubator Warehouse.
Setting Up the Incubator
Place your incubator in an area where the temperatures are between 70-80 F and remain stable throughout the day, for best results. Avoid areas where the sun will shine on the incubator, or drafts or a heat duct will blow on it. The most common incubators do not have an automatic thermostat that keeps the interior of the incubator at the proper temperature at all times. So fluctuating room temperature may reduce your hatch rates. Make sure your incubator is level and safe from pets and young children.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the thermostat or air circulation fan if necessary and this is your first time using the incubator. If appropriate to your model, place the plastic liner and wire floor in bottom of incubator and fill the humidity trough with water (check the instructions for directions). Plug incubator into a power strip with surge protection (plug into a secure outlet, where it won’t be pulled out or jostled), place a thermometer inside the incubator (or use an Incutherm Plus Hatch Monitor) and allow temperatures to stabilize. Adjust the thermostat so that interior temperature is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit for best results. Unless you have a pre-set thermostat (shown above), you may need to adjust the thermostat several times and check the temperatures over a day or two before adding eggs. It may be difficult to adjust the temperature to exactly 99.5 F, but do your best to keep the temps between 98.5 and 100.5 F. When the temperatures have stabilized inside the incubator you are ready to add eggs!
Selecting and Caring for Fertile Eggs
For best results, select eggs with:
- Normal size (no double yolks or small pullet eggs)
- Normal shape (avoid wrinkled or misshapen eggs)
- Strong shells
- Clean, but not washed
To provide the best care for your hatching eggs:
- Avoid handling eggs unnecessarily
- Wash hands before touching eggs
- Do not refrigerate eggs...store at 55F & 75% relative humidity
- Hatch eggs within 1 week of laying
- Store eggs with small end down, at 45 degree angle
- Turn eggs each day so yolk doesn't stick to shell
Starting the Hatch!
Chicken eggs require 21 days at temperatures of approximately 99-100 F to hatch successfully. I try to maintain a temperature of 99.5 F to 100 F. Make sure that you will be able to care for the incubating eggs during the hatch period. Mark each egg with an x on one side and an o on the other for keeping track of turning (unless you have an automatic turner). Lay eggs on wire rack in the incubator so that all eggs have either the o or the x facing up. Place thermometer level with the top of eggs for an accurate reading.
Mark your calendar with the following information:
- Date that hatch began
- Day 10 (watch temps)
- Day 18 (stop turning eggs)
- Day 21 - Hatch Day!
Every Day: Turn eggs 3 times (or more) each day so that embryos do not stick to the inside of shell. Check the humidity tray to make sure that the water doesn't dry out. Add warm water to tray as needed. Make sure you don't get the eggs wet when you add water. Don't keep incubator open any longer than necessary to turn eggs and add water. Check temperature several times a day to make sure the eggs are not getting too cold or too hot. Be careful not to adjust thermostat too much or too often for best results. You may wish to candle the eggs several times during the hatch to see how they are developing. Be sure to minimize the time spent handling them.
Watch The Temperature
About half way through the hatch period the embryos will begin producing their own body heat. It is necessary to watch for rising temperatures at this time. Adjust the thermostat slightly to keep the temperatures at approximately 99.5 F. Watch for the temperature change around day 10 to make sure the embryos aren't overheating.
Preparing for Hatch Day
Three days before the hatch date, stop turning the eggs. If you have an automatic turner, remove it from the incubator at this point and lay the eggs on the wire floor of the incubator to prevent injury to the chicks. Leaving the eggs still for the last three days allows the chicks to assume hatching position so they will have an easier time pipping through the shells. You might want to place some paper towels under the eggs at this point to make clean up of your incubator easier. Do this quickly to prevent chilling the chicks.
You will normally hear the chicks peeping in their shells for a day or two before the eggs hatch. Your cat or dog may notice this before you do!
Hatching at Last!
You will probably have trouble controlling your impulse to help chicks break through their shells and remove them to their brooder right away. However, it is important to let them work their way out on their own and keep them in the brooder until they are dry. If you remove each chick as it hatches, the temperature and humidity levels in the incubator will drop, exposing the rest of the unhatched chicks to cold and dry shells that are harder to break through. When you have a number of chicks hatched and dry, remove them quickly, if you must. Be prepared to adjust the thermostat to keep the temperatures stable.
Note: If you have a chick that is having trouble hatching and seems weak (not just resting) after a long period of time, you may want to help it out a little. Be sure that you keep the chick warm and the membrane moist. Take care not to cause bleeding by pulling the membrane off too quickly. I've only had to help a chick once. After almost 24 hours of trying to break free, the chick was exhausted. I successfully pulled enough of the shell away, carefully, so that the chick was able to finish the hatch on its own. I would only do this as a last resort, however.
Make sure you have the brooder set up and warmed to the proper temperature for a day or two before the chicks are due to hatch. For instructions on caring for your fluffy little peeps, check out my article How to Care for Day Old Chicks.