May 11, 2016

Incubator 101


Spring time, baby chicks and ducklings go together like peanut butter and jelly.

How to incubate eggs


Many chicken owners want to hatch replacement chicks at some point. I'm no expert, but I've hatched many batches of chicks, a batch of assorted ducks and the latest, a batch of Muscovy ducks. Here is what I've learned.


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There are a lot of images in this post, thank you for your patience as they all download. Some of the photos show our chickens' brown eggs as well as some of our white Muscovy eggs - don't worry, your eyesight isn't to blame for the different colors. 

store display of incubators

Most of us have an inexpensive, still-air Styrofoam model. Some brands come with an egg-turner, or you can buy the turner separately. We have two; one has an egg-turner unit. These units hold many more eggs than the digital one we own.

Digital egg incubator

We also have this plastic, forced-air unit (above). It has a digital thermometer, so we just set the temperature we want (I use an online calculator to convert °F to °C) and it automatically keeps the heat just right. It turns the eggs automatically, although it's a rudimentary system. It only holds nine chicken or duck eggs, but one advantage is that it holds them in the natural position - on their side - instead of upright.

Duck eggs in MagicFly incubator

I do wish both kinds had a hygrometer that would measure the humidity, but I guess we can't have everything.

A dozen eggs

You'll want to put all of your eggs into the incubator at one time. If you need to "hold" eggs until you have enough to fill your incubator, place them pointed end down in egg cartons, and tip them back and forth an odd number of times per day (three is recommended).

I do this by putting an object under one end of the carton. When it's time to tip the eggs the other direction, I move the object to the other end of the carton, which tilts them in the other direction.

It's best to use eggs that are five days old or less, perfect in shape with no cracks. Don't use small eggs or double-yolked eggs, or eggs that are dirty. Don't wash the eggs, as it washes off the natural covering and allows air inside the egg. Handle eggs with clean, dry hands.

Temperature in incubator

Turn on your incubator and let it come up to the correct temperature. Look here for a chart of temperatures and hatching times. Add a bit of water to add some humidity. You might put a small jar of water in a Styrofoam incubator, or a one-inch square piece of sponge. I just add a small amount of water to the bottom of my plastic unit. If you need to increase the humidity, you can use a larger piece of sponge.

DIY egg candler

Candle the eggs before you put them in the incubator, to look for hairline cracks and other imperfections. (This is my DIY egg candler: a powerful flashlight topped with a roll of toilet paper which directs the light through the egg on top.) I can't see anything when I candle brown eggs though; white eggs are much easier. Draw an X on one side, an O on the other with pencil, and if you can see it, outline the air pocket.

If you have an egg turner you won't have to worry about turning the eggs manually, but you should check daily to make sure the turner is working. Without a turner, you'll need to turn the eggs several times a day. Use the X and O to know which side should be "up".

Eggs with air pocket markings

Candle the eggs weekly and trace the air pocket each time. It should have grown each week. This is how you can judge whether the humidity is too high or too low: in low humidity the air pocket will grow quickly, in high humidity it will grow more slowly.

Muscovy eggs need to be cooled daily during the latter part of incubation. I used the directions at this site when I hatched our Muscovy eggs.

Chicken eggs hatch in twenty-one days. Remove the egg turner two or three days before hatch time and place the eggs on the hatching tray. Don't turn them any more. You might need to reduce the temperature a bit, and add a bit more humidity. Refer to your incubator's operating manual for this information.

Candling a duck egg near hatching time

I candled this Muscovy egg at hatch time; you can see how large the air pocket is. You might also hear the eggs peeping and they might rock back and forth. I held the egg to my ear and I could hear, or maybe feel, a slight rhythmic "thump" as the baby inside pecked at the egg.

Once they break the shell, called "pipping", you'll soon have babies. Sometimes they hatch very quickly, other times it takes awhile to break that shell in half.

The first duckling has hatched!

Humidity at this point is important. You don't want the egg and the membrane to dry out so that the baby can't get out, and you don't want the air so moist that the baby can't breathe. I wish I could tell you how humid you want it, but it will depend on the humidity in your home and other factors.

I leave the newly-hatched chick or duckling on the hatching tray until it's well dried. I believe they peep encouragement to their siblings too. When the hatched babies get too active and are bouncing the other eggs around I move them to the brooder.

Newly-hatched ducklings drying out.

There are usually a few eggs that don't hatch. Dispose of these carefully; if they break they can be pretty stinky. Clean your incubator carefully before putting it away or using it again.

Have you hatched eggs? What kind?



NOTE: Do not feed medicated feed to waterfowl.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, 
I will receive a small commission, but it doesn't affect the price you pay. 
Thank you for supporting Oak Hill Homestead!



This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


~~~~~

My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at:
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12 comments:

  1. How FUN! I hope to someday incubate our own eggs. Will pin this for later. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. You'll enjoy it, Grace!

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  2. Oh my goodness! I never realized how much there is involved! Those ducks are so sweet looking. See, I told you I always learn something new here! ;0D

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad to pique your interest on some new subjects, Daisy. :-)

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  3. Hi Kathi,
    Your pictures are wonderful. It is amazing how life evolves and grows from a tiny egg into a full chick or full grown chicken. Thanks for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Marla. There is something indeed miraculous about watching over eggs that hatch into chicks. It never gets old. Thank you for stopping by.

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  4. Thanks for adding yet another favorite to From The Farm! Hope to see you again this week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Heather, I'll be sure to stop by!

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  5. Another beautiful post about the life, I never got a chance to see hatching of chick or duck,with this post and pictures I were able to feel that experience. Thanks for sharing with Hearth and Soul blog hop.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Swathi. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  6. I just found your site.
    Love it.
    Thanks so much for sharing your life with the rest of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Crystal, I'm so glad you're here!

      Delete

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