Using an Incubator to Hatch Eggs
Using an Incubator to Hatch Eggs

Using an Incubator to Hatch Eggs

Hatching fertile chicken eggs can seem overwhelming and difficult at first, but I’ve found it’s really pretty easy! After a little bit of trial and error…and eventually success…I would love to share some tricks and tips with you! From fertile to hatched only takes about 21 days, and it’s an amazing process to watch!

Choosing an Incubator

After hatching some babies under a broody hen I decided to jump in and try an incubator. The first couple of tries were with a very cheap 7 egg capacity manual incubator from Amazon, and it was an epic fail in every single try! In order to successfully hatch eggs you need to monitor and maintain 3 main factors: temperature, turning, and humidity. The temperature needs to be about 99.5 degrees F. This can vary a little, but aim for about that! Eggs need to be turned from side to side either manually a few times per day in the first 18 days of incubation, or with an automatic turner. As you can probably guess, my cheap incubator was a manual turner. It kept my eggs in a vertical position and I tilted them from side to side 3 or 4 times daily. I now prefer an automatic turner, and to me it’s worth a little extra money. Humidity needs to be close to 50% for the first 18 days, then turned up to 60% in the last few days before hatch.

After the cheap Amazon incubator experience I decided to rent one of those huge foam ones (Little Giant) from our local hatchery. That bad boy cooked my babies. It was very sad! I tried a couple rounds, and it just wasn’t able to keep a consistent temperature, so I gave it the boot!

I did some research and asked fellow chicken addicts for incubator recommendations, and finally landed on the Nurture Right 360. It incubates 22 eggs at a time, has an automatic turner, and is able to keep the temperature and humidity consistent. For the price point it is by far the best that I know of! Please note that I found it on Amazon for around $140 and free shipping, but for some reason it is currently showing for much more. I’m not sure if the price went up permanently, or if it is simply not available. If the incubator is too expensive at the first link I shared try Tractor Supply Co! FYI Brinsea seems to be the highest quality for incubators, but I’ve found the extra cost unnecessary, unless you’re hatching silkie eggs. They are more sensitive! If you go with the Nurture Right keep an extra thermometer in there. Mine tend to run low!

Choosing your Eggs

Once you have your incubator the next step is to choose eggs. In order to hatch babies you need eggs that are fertile, clean, and from healthy parents. You can order fertile hatching eggs from a breeder, or you can use your own eggs from your yard. Obviously you need a rooster to make your hens’ eggs fertile. In order to check for fertility you need to look at the yolk. There should be a small white bullseye shape on it if the egg is fertile. If the egg isn’t fertile it’ll just be a single white spot. See the following picture. Both yolks have very clear white bullseyes and are therefore fertile. Whoever laid these eggs will continue to have fertile eggs, unless your roo stops doing his job!

Eggs will remain fertile for up to a couple of weeks, but I recommend storing them for no more than 1 week before incubating. Store them at room temperature until you are ready to incubate them all together. I keep mine with the fat side up, so the air cell stays put! That air cell needs to stay in the fat side of the egg, so that the chick can breathe before hatching. More about that later! Also be careful not to wash your eggs too roughly. God designed eggs with a bloom, which is a thin layer of film the mama covers them with to keep them from going rotten before hatching. You can gently wipe off dirt or grime with a damp cloth, but be careful not to take off the bloom!

I currently have 3 Nurture Right 360 incubators, that are constantly working! I save my rainbow and silkie eggs throughout the week to start a new batch after disinfecting the incubator between hatches.

Setting your Eggs

Set up your incubator according to the manual and let it run without the eggs until the temperature and humidity are set. Place the eggs on their sides into each slot of the turner and let them cook! Your job from day 1 to day 18 is to make sure the temperature and humidity stay consistent, and to check the eggs periodically to make sure they are growing. After they’ve been incubating for 4-5 days you can check for signs of life! You’ll hopefully see something like the following picture. I call this phase the spider baby phase. Use your candler on the fat end of the egg. It works the best if you have a dark room! If you look closely at the red blob in the middle of the spidery blood vessels you can even see a heart beat sometimes! In less than a week you can see the baby chick moving around inside the egg!

The First 18 Days

Like I said, your main job in the first couple of weeks is to make sure the incubator stays consistent in temperature and humidity, and that the egg turner is working. Your user manual should tell you how to check the egg turner. See the following video for what it looks like to check the turner in a Nurture Right 360. Check for dead eggs at 1 week and again at 2 weeks. You’ll want to remove those, so they don’t rot and explode in your incubator! Healthy eggs should have blood vessels growing consistently, and you should be able to see that baby moving from 5 or 6 days until the end. Please note that when the chick becomes large enough to fill the egg it won’t move as much, because it starts to run out of room…don’t worry if you only see tiny flickers towards the end! The eggs’ air sacs should also be growing, and you’ll notice that by day 18 they are about a quarter or even a third of the way down the side of the egg.

Lock Down

Starting on or around day 18 the eggs should go on lock down. During lock down the turner should be removed and the eggs should be left alone as much as possible. This will allow the chicks to get themselves into the correct position for hatching. I have to be honest that I tend to check them, even during lock down, but most people suggest leaving them completely alone, unless you know for sure that there’s a problem. Make sure the humidity is close to 60% during lock down, and most people also turn the temperature down by half a degree to keep the eggs from drying out. I keep mine at 99.5. Once lock down happens you may get some early hatchers…especially if the eggs are particularly small! The chickadees will poke their little beaks through the membrane on the inside of the egg and into the air sac. You can hear their adorable chirps during this time, even before they crack the egg open.

You’ll know your babies are super close to hatching when they start to pip! The pip is a small hole they poke in the shell to allow for more oxygen. Once they pip your job is to continue to leave them alone! It can be hours, or even more than a day, before they zip. Zipping means they start chipping away at the shell in a circle. Once zipping starts they usually hatch within an hour!


Transfer to the Brooder

I like to let my babies fluff up in the incubator before moving them to their brooder. They tend to flop all around, disturbing the other eggs, though, so sometimes I move them to the brooder and under the heat plate while they’re still wet. Just be careful not to open your incubator too frequently while babies are still hatching. A quick drop in humidity can cause the membrane to dry onto the chicks. Have fun hatching!!!

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