Chickens / Incubation

A Beginner’s Beginner’s Guide to Incubation

   My second batch of hatching eggs has arrived!  For reasons I will explain in another post, I have decided to raise Wheaten/Blue Wheaten and Silver Ameraucanas.  I have received eight eggs of each, for a total of sixteen beautiful eggs!

   As promised, I will (erm, hopefully) lead you through this process from beginning to end.  So, here goes the first edition of  A Beginner’s Beginner’s Guide to Incubation.  Ha!  (Get it?)

   It takes approximately 21 days for chicken eggs to hatch.  When incubating eggs, the internal temperature of the egg needs to be a steady 99.5 degrees.  This can dip a little for a short time daily; broody hens will get up once a day to eat and relieve themselves.  Eggs are turned several times daily; a broody hen moves eggs beneath her.  Artificial incubation uses automatic egg turners to reduce handling, but many people write an X on one side of the egg and an O on the other to guide hand turning three times a day.  Humidity should be lower for the first 18 days and then raised for the last three days of lockdown.  The exact humidity is a topic of great debate, and it seems that these settings are very dependent upon the environment.  Further, humidity is of great importance: Humidity that is too high or low can both result in, to put it delicately, unhatched chicks.

   It all begins with an incubator.  Those who hatch many chicks frequently have large, expensive machines called cabinet incubators.   At the other end of the spectrum, companies like Brinsea offer small, plastic incubators for under a hundred dollars that have few bells and whistles and hold about seven eggs.  Also under a hundred dollars, you can purchase a still-air hovabator, often by a company called Little Giant, LG.  It is a Styrofoam, still-air incubator without a thermostat.  Still-airs have no fan, so the temperature within the incubator varies, which can be fine but is not preferable.  You can also buy an automatic egg turner for the LG and most other incubators.  In the $100-$400 range, there are many great incubators from Brinsea and other companies.  Brinsea’s run a bit more expensive and offer upgrades such as a humidity control. 

   I opted to buy a HovaBator Genesis 1588 and paid about $175 with shipping.  Strengths: Circulated air, thermostat, upgrade of automatic turner which holds up to 42 eggs (more can be stacked without the turner).  Weaknesses: Styrofoam, so more likely to harbor bacteria; manual humidity control. 

  Humidity is controlled by filling troughs in the plastic liner on the bottom of the incubator with water.  I run a piece of plastic aquarium tubing in through a vent hole, through the wire grate on the bottom into the trough so that I can add water without opening the incubator, warmed as not to lower the temperature.  Because the humidity is dictated by the amount of the water’s surface area, I am using a piece of aluminum foil to cover part of the trough, limiting the humidity.  I am measuring the humidity with the Caliber III and the temperature with the Brinsea SpotCheck thermometer with the probe within a water wiggler to simulate the conditions within an egg as I explained here

   My shipped eggs are resting in the tub, a cool location, next to a bowl of water.  The incubator is warming up, and I’m playing with the aluminum foil to try to obtain 35% humidity for the first 18 days.  I’ll be setting the eggs tomorrow afternoon, and they will be due on May 28th!

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