There comes a time in every farmer/homesteader’s lives where you fall victim to peer pressure and you break down and buy an incubator so that you can hatch your own chickens. It’s ok, you made the right decision. Hatching out your own eggs is the funnest! Hatching out your own eggs and watching that first baby chick pip through the shell is truly a farming/homesteading miracle. The first time can be intimidating, but don’t be nervous! I’m here to hold your hand through it. We’ll get through it together, and then you’ll be hooked. Here’s the first installment of our beginner’s guide to incubating eggs and hatching out your own baby chicks!
You may ask yourself, when are you ready to incubate and hatch your own eggs? We started hatching our own last year after we were 1) tired of buying chicks from “big box” hatcheries, 2) we loved the genetics of our current flock and 3) bio-security. Even when you buy chicks from somebody local, you never know what their flock has been exposed to or has immunities to. It’s a lot safer to hatch out your own chicks so that from day one, you know that they are raised in a clean, healthy environment. If any of these three reasons apply to you, you might want to consider hatching out your own eggs. Plus, as I’ve said before, it’s a lot of fun.
Collecting Hatching Eggs
So you’ve decided to hatch your own eggs. Good for you! You can start by collecting eggs from your coop, just make sure your nesting boxes are clean (because you don’t want to wash the eggs you’re planning on hatching). And then, not to be captain obvious, but collect only the best eggs. For our first hatch this year, we’re incubating Marans eggs and Olive Egger eggs. Since color and size are important to us, we’re only collecting the darkest colors, the best shape, size and laying frequency. We have one Marans that lays pretty light color eggs for her breed, so we’re not collecting her eggs and then therefore not continuing the light color gene. If you have one chicken that is your bright and shining star, make sure you collect her eggs and not the eggs of the chickens that don’t have the most desirable traits. Also, don’t keep any eggs that are too small or too large for the breed.
After you’ve collected some, you’ll need to test their fertility rate. Not to be captain obvious again, but you need a rooster in your flock in order to incubate the eggs. And you need to make sure that the rooster is doing his job of fertilizing those eggs. To test fertility, I like to take four eggs that I would normally save for hatching and break them open to take a look at the yolks. If two of the eggs are fertilized, I can pretty much say that half of the eggs I collect will be viable for hatching. If you have a low fertility rate (anything until 50%) I suggest waiting until the weather warms up a little bit so that the roosters are a little more active with the ladies.
How do you know the eggs are fertile? I’m glad you asked. In every yolk there is a little white dot called the blastodisc. The blastodisc is the hen’s genetic material. When a rooster fertilizes the egg, there will be a bullseye type ring around the blastodisc. When incubated at the correct temperature and humidity, this will turn into an embryo and eventually a chick. You can eat fertilized eggs, there’s nothing wrong with that. You are NOT eating baby chicks when you eat fertilized eggs. No need to freak out or be weirded out, city folk.
If you plan on buying your hatching eggs, make sure you are buying them from a trusted dealer who knows how to properly ship hatching eggs. If this is your first go at incubating and hatching eggs, I suggest keeping it simple (and cheap) by hatching eggs from your own flock.
Storing Hatching Eggs
As you collect your hatching eggs, store them at room temperatures with the big end up, small side down. You can store your hatching eggs for about six days. After that, the chances of successful embryo development starts to decrease. As you store them, rotate the eggs two to three times a day at a 45 degree angle. We like to keep them in an egg carton and put one end slightly elevated in the morning, and then turn it in the evening so the other end is elevated. Again, don’t wash the eggs you plan on hatching. Washing them will take away the bloom on the shell that prevents the insides from any harmful bacterial.
Selecting the Incubator
While you’re collecting the eggs, take this opportunity to get your incubator together. There’s many different types of bators out there. We like to use the Genesis Hova-Bator. It’s a styrofoam table top incubator with a digital temperature and humidity display that also comes with an automatic egg turner. It’s a great incubator for a medium size hatch (40-50 chicken/duck eggs). It’s easy to use, easy to clean and fully automatic. Basically just plug it in and go. I give it 9 peeps (roughly converted that’s 5 stars and 2 thumbs up).
If you’re looking for something smaller, I’ve heard wonderful things about Brinsea’s Mini-Advance 7 egg incubator. And a great economically friendly incubator is the Little Giant, which can be found at most farm supply stores.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can build your own incubator! Here’s some great links with designs and plans:
- Incubator made from a Coleman cooler
- Incubator made from an old cabinet
- Cheap Homemade Styrofoam Incubator
- Aquarium Incubator with Egg Turner
We’re planning on setting our first set of eggs on Wednesday, March 4 and invite everyone to join us in a hatch-a-long and set your eggs on March 4th as well! Comment below or on our facebook page if you want to join!