By now you’ve selected your hatching eggs, you’ve set your eggs in your incubator, started picking out baby chick names (naming them all flowers would be really cute) and now comes the best part. Today we’re talking about the very last three days of incubation (called lockdown) and hatching. The actual hatching part. Also known as THE BEST PART!
Three days before your planned hatching date, you’ll put the eggs on what’s known as lockdown. In the morning, stop turning the eggs. If you use an automatic egg turner, take out the turner and lay the eggs on their side on the bottom wire mesh rack inside the incubator. It’s important to note the orientation of the eggs when you take them out of the turner. Make sure you place the eggs on the wire rack the same way you took them out of the egg turner. At this point in the incubation process, the baby chick is positioning itself for hatching. It’ll look for that air sac at the big end of the egg, get settled in and get ready for pipping.
You’ll also need to pump up that humidity to about 65% (again, look at the instructions on your incubator for what it recommends). Not enough humidity can cause dryness, which means the chick can have trouble getting through that tough shell or won’t get enough air. Too much humidity can cause the chick to drown. No pressure. But for real, keeping the humidity steady isn’t hard. When you have the incubator open to stop turning the eggs, put in some extra water and control the humidity with the vent plug.
Now, it’s time to wait. Watching chicks pip and hatch is kind of an amazing thing. The baby chick will pip at a shell hundreds of time before it finally hatches out. It’s crazy how precise and strong these babies are. Once one starts to peep and come out of the shell, it’ll tell the others that it’s cool to come out and encourage them to join in. True story. Another true story is that you shouldn’t help a chick out of its shell. If you think a chick is stuck, it’s probably because it’s not done pipping yet. It can take up to 12 hours sometimes for a chick to emerge from the shell. If the chick hasn’t made progress for awhile, it might be because it’s resting. Hatching out of a shell takes a lot of work, you guys! Just sit back and watch the miracle of mother nature.
Once a chick emerges from its shell, it’s all wet and gooey. It’ll lay down to catch its breath then within a minute or two, it’ll get up and start awkwardly stomp around the incubator like a tiny drunk dinosaur (that would make an excellent band name). Give it time to dry off in the incubator for a while before you transfer it to the brooder. Keep in mind that every time you open up the incubator, the humidity will drop a little bit, so be lightning fast and check to make sure that you don’t have any chicks that are mid-emergence. A sudden drop in humidity for a prolonged amount of time can cause the inner lining of the shell to essentially shrink wrap the chick. Just be careful before you open up the incubator. It’s ok to leave the chick in the incubator for a while, they don’t need food or water for 24 hours post-hatch. While they’re inside the shell, they soak up all the nutrients they need for the first 24 hours through the yolk.
For your brooder, all you need is a tub, box, or what have you with clean bedding and a heat lamp. The next day, introduce chick starter and fresh water. And there you have it! You’ve just successfully hatched out your own chicks. We just finished up our first hatch of the year. We started with 25 eggs and as I type this, we’ve had 16 completely hatch out with 3 or 4 still pipping. This is by far the most successful hatch we’ve ever had! And we’ve had some real bad hatches before.. last year we had 2 eggs out of 16 hatch out. So sometimes you don’t have great hatches, and that’s ok. But don’t give up!
As soon as this hatch is complete, we’ll clean out the incubator and get ready for the next round of hatching. Once you incubate for the first time, you’ll see how addictive it can be. Happy incubating! (Also, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a baby chick birthday party on hatch day)