Alright friends, this is part two in our guide to incubating and hatching out your own eggs. Earlier we talked about collecting eggs for hatching and choosing your incubator. Now that you have your hatching eggs patiently waiting on standby, and your incubator cleaned and ready to go.. just sitting there, watching you. Whispering to you as you walk by. Taunting you. Begging to be plugged in, allowing you to bask in the soft glow of a dimly lit lightbulb. It’s time, kemosabe. Time to warm up that incubator and anxiously wait three weeks for a tiny crack in an egg. Part two in our beginner’s guide to incubating and hatching eggs is all about setting up your incubator, setting the eggs and things to do to help you pass the time so you don’t drive yourself crazy staring at a glowing styrofoam box.
Get Your Incubator Ready
A day or two before you set your eggs, take the time to set up your incubator. You want to set your incubator away from drafts, windows, vents and a lot of foot traffic. And obviously where a constant light and humming sound won’t bother you. I.E. Don’t put it on your nightstand or underneath a kitchen window. Incubators are really sensitive to ambient temperature and obviously you don’t want your incubator to be accidentally bumped. So put a moratorium on playing football in the house these next few weeks. We keep ours in our office or guest room.
Now that you have the perfect place for your incubator, plug that baby in and get it warmed up! You do NOT want to plug in the incubator, immediately set your eggs and hope for the best. You want to introduce the eggs in a nice consistent environment. Let your incubator get warmed up for a day to two and make sure you have all the kinks worked out.
Temperature and Humidity
Follow the factory instructions for setting up your incubator. We like to use the digital Genisis Hovabator. All you have to do is place the wire mesh screen on the bottom and set in the automatic egg turner. Once you plug it in, it automatically heats up the proper temperature and shows the exact temp on the digital read out screen. To set the humidity, all you have to do is pour 1-2 cups of cool water into the tray below the mesh screen and the humidity percentage will also display on the screen. There’s a red plug that you can remove to slightly lower the humidity or put it back in to increase it or keep it stable. Temperature should be at a consistent 99.5 degrees. Our Genesis Hovabator recommends humidity during egg setting to be between 45%-55%. I’ve also read that humidity should be around 60%-65% during setting. You can sneak by on the exact humidity numbers but the combination of poor humidity AND poor temperature will cause major problems. Poor hatch rates are commonly at the fault of having a humidity that’s too high during the first 18 days and too low during the last 3 days (“lockdown”). So our advice? Keep everything consistent during the incubation period.
Positioning and Turning the Eggs
Positioning and turning of the eggs is just as important as temperature and humidity. If you’re not using an egg turner, lay the eggs on their side just as they would lay naturally, mark one side with an X and one with an O to help you when turning the eggs. If you’re using an egg turner, place the small end down, the large side up. The reason for this is the position of the air sac inside the egg. If the small end is placed up for a prolonged period of time, the embryo will form with its head toward the small end and have trouble getting air while pipping.
The eggs should be turned about 3 times a day if you don’t have an automatic egg turner. But if you don’t have time to wait by your incubator and hand turn them, we strongly suggest using an automatic egg turner. It’s just so much easier and less headache and anxiety for you. If the egg isn’t turned during the early stages of incubation, the developing embryo will end up sticking to the inside of the shell and won’t develop properly, giving you abnormalities with hatched chicks, or eggs that won’t even hatch at all.
Other than turning of the eggs or adding water for humidity, do not open up the incubator to play with the eggs or anything. It’s a very “look but don’t touch” sort of deal. Remember you want to keep the temperature and humidity as consistent as possible! Of course, in mother nature, a mother hen will get up off of her nest and get food and water about once a day, therefore leaving her nest. This is normal, she knows when she needs to get back to the nest. So opening up the incubator for turning or egg candling may change humidity and temperature for a little while, but it’s ok. Don’t freak out. But for the majority of the time, temperature needs to be at 99.5 degrees and humidity around 50-60%.
Mark Your Calendars
Now that you have your eggs set, it’s time to mark your calendars! Mark your calendar 18 days from the setting date. This is your “lockdown” date. And 21 days from your setting date (3 days from your lockdown date) is your hatching date!
In between now and then, keep an eye on your temperature, humidity and turning. And try not to drive yourself crazy. This is where the phrase “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” becomes a real thing. 21 days seems like a long time to wait but it’ll fly by faster than you think! Keep yourself occupied by some of the following: you can start getting things ready for your brooder, paint your bathroom, marathon watch all of the Star Trek: Next Generation episodes. Just some suggestions. We’ll see you back here in 18 days for our beginner’s guide on lockdown, hatch day and the first few days with your new chicks!