How to use an egg incubator
How do you incubate chicken eggs in an egg incubator? is a question raised quite often by new backyard farmers. The incubation process mainly revolves around temperature, humidity, and regular turning of the eggs. If you are looking to incubate other eggs, such as quail eggs or turkey eggs, the optimal values may differ slightly. However, the basics are the same for all kinds of poultry. I will explain how to take care of the three most important factors (temperature, humidity, and turning) and finish with some general tips and tricks.
What should the temperature be in an egg incubator
The optimal incubation temperature for chicken eggs is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius). However, if you are using a still air incubator, adding 1-2 degrees may yield better results. Egg incubators that have an air vent or an air fan should stay as close to the 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit as possible. The same temperature works for most other poultry, such as quail eggs, duck eggs, and turkey eggs.
It is very important that the temperature stays as close to 99.5 degrees as possible at all times. This includes the lockdown period. Even small fluctuations in temperature may kill the fertile eggs. Upward temperature fluctuations are the most dangerous.
However, according to some research having a cooling period during the 16th day of hatching may in fact improve the hatch rates. In the research the chicken eggs were cooled to 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) on the 16th day, which lead to an increased hatch rate. Since then, more chicken breeders have confirmed improved hatch rates with regular cooling, in order to mimic the natural environment better. At any rate, if you do want to try out cooling, use a high quality egg incubator with cooling functionality such as the Brinsea Octagon 20 Advance. Also don’t start cooling earlier than the 16th day of hatching as that may harm the eggs.
What should the humidity be in an egg incubator
The optimal incubation humidity for chicken eggs is less straightforward. For starters, I would recommend keeping the humidity at 40% for days 1 to 18, and 65% during the lockdown period. Keep in mind that the best level of humidity depends a lot on local factors. Some chicken breeders have the best results with so called dry breading, where they keep the humidity as low as 25% during the first 18 days. Others report having the best hatch rates when using a humidity as high as 60% during the first 18 days. The same goes for the lockdown period. Some breeders go as low as 55%, while others go as high as 80% humidity.
During the incubation process you should check the eggs with an egg candler every week to measure the air cell growth. For chicken eggs you want the air cell to be about 4% of the total volume of the egg after the first week, 9% after the second week , and 13-14% after the third week.
I’ve also written a more extensive guide on how to control humidity in your egg incubator over here.
How often should you turn your eggs in an incubator
Chicken eggs should be turned daily during the hatching process in order to make sure the embryo does not end up sticking to the shell. You can turn the eggs one of a few times per day, but it should always be an odd number of turns. This is because you don’t want the same side up two nights in a row. Most breeders turn their egg just once or three times a day. Turning the chicken egg more often does not seem to yield better results. It is important that you remember which side has been up, and to do so you might want to mark the shell with a marker. Just place a cross on one side and make sure that the cross is up every other day.
Some egg incubators come with an auto turning feature, such as the Brinsea Octagon 20. Those auto turners do not need any additional turning. If you try to turn manually as well, make sure you don’t accidentally turn the egg when the incubator has already turned the egg just before.
During the lockdown phase it is best to put the eggs on their side. This way the chick can pip the shell easily.
General tips and tricks
- Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. Sometimes up to three days more or less, but most of the time it will be exactly 21 days.
- You can candle the eggs regularly to throw out any bad eggs. If you leave bad eggs inside the incubator it will not only causes bad smells, but may also lead to the other eggs getting infected with diseases.
- If you live in an area with occasional power outages, consider buying a fallback power supply.
- After hatching, the little eggs can stay in the incubator for another 2-3 days without any food or water. This is because just before pipping, the chicks absorb the yolk in the egg. This gives them enough nutrients to last a few days. So don’t worry about taking the chicks out immediately after hatching if there are still closed eggs.