How to Hatch Chicks With An Incubator
If you would like to hatch chicks in an incubator at home, you’re not alone! Many backyard chicken keepers are interested in hatching fertile eggs from their own flock or from a friend’s hens. There are plenty of reasons to hatch your own chicks, such as avoiding the stress that shipping can cause for your little fluffballs. There are often chicks that don’t survive the trip and that can be hard to deal with, especially if you have children or you think of your chicks as pets.
Another reason to hatch your own chicks is to raise a more self-reliant flock. You might enjoy reading my article How to Choose the Best Broody Hens for a Self-Reliant Flock.
There are some things you’ll need if you wish to hatch chicken eggs at home without a broody hen to do the work for you. An incubator is necessary, as well as a reliable thermometer, and a brooder box to keep your chicks warm until their feathers fill in.
I’ve hatched lots of chicks over the years and I’m happy to share the things you’ll need to know in this post.
Choosing an Incubator to Hatch Chicks
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 on these features, of course. Basic incubators such as the Little Giant model are much more affordable and will do a great job. Consider purchasing an incubator with an air circulation fan 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. (This is NOT an affiliate link)
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. 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). Place the plastic liner and wire floor in the bottom of the incubator and fill the humidity trough with water.
Plug the incubator into a power strip with surge protection. Place a thermometer inside the incubator, and allow temperatures to stabilize.
Adjust the thermostat so that the interior temperature is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit for best results. You may need to adjust the thermostat several times and check the temperatures over a day or two before adding eggs. A preset thermometer makes this step unnecessary.
It may be difficult to adjust the temperature to exactly 99.5 F, but try 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 the small end down, at a 45-degree angle
- Turn eggs each day so the yolk doesn’t stick to the inside of the shell
Starting to Hatch Chicks
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 hatching 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 the 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:
- First Day of Hatch
- 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 the shell. Check the humidity tray to make sure that the water doesn’t dry out.
Add warm water to the tray as needed. Make sure you don’t get the eggs wet when you add water.
Don’t keep the 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 the thermostat too much or too often for best results.
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 in Your Incubator
About halfway through the hatching 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 Chick Hatch Day
Three days before the chick 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 their proper 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 cleaning 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 Chicks… At Last!
You might want to help chicks break through their shells and then move them to their brooder right away. It’s important to let them hatch 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. This will expose the rest of the unhatched chicks to cold. It will also cause the eggshells to dry out, making them harder to pip 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.
Should You Help a Chick Hatch?
Note: If you have a chick that is having trouble hatching and seems weak after several hours, you may want to help it. 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 pulled enough 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 at the proper temperature for a couple of days 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.
Are you hatching chicks in an incubator this year? Have you ever hatched other poultry besides chicks? I enjoy hearing about your experiences!