It takes about 21 days to hatch chicken eggs. (Serama take about 18-20 days to hatch) In order for chicks to develop properly, you will need to make sure your incubator is equipped with a very accurate thermometer and Hygrometer (to monitor the humidity). I cannot stress this enough! Even the best incubators out there can be off, always double check humidity and temperature! Here are the recommended settings to be maintained for a successful hatch:
It's quite normal for humidity to fluctuate at times throughout the incubation period. As long as it does not drop very low or raise up to a really high percentage you should be okay. During winter months you may find that the humidity is more difficult to maintain and in the summer months you may struggle to keep the humidity low. Follow your incubator manufacturer’s directions for how best to maintain humidity. Generally, you add humidity by increasing the surface area of the water reservoir and you lower humidity by allowing more fresh air intake. If your incubator is struggling to maintain humidity I suggest for you to reach out to your incubators manufacturer.
Getting Ready to Set the Eggs
Usually you should NOT set shipped eggs directly into an incubator upon their arrival. They need at least 12-24 hours to allow the yolks to settle and to reach room temperature. Setting cold eggs in a warm and humid incubator may cause the eggs to crack and the embryos may risk dying. Always bring eggs to room temperature before placing them into the incubator. With this being said sometimes eggs can be delayed in the mail and I have personally given eggs a few hours to come to room temperature and placed them into my incubator as soon as possible. If air sacs seem to be detached I will place them into the incubator without turning the egg turner on for at least 3-5 days of incubation.
Before you handle hatching eggs, always wash your hands thoroughly to prevent bacteria from entering through the porous eggshell. DO NOT WASH THE EGGS Place the eggs into a cardboard egg carton with the pointed end down and set in a quiet, draft free spot. If you are holding the eggs for longer than 24 hours before beginning incubation, prop one end of the carton up a few inches. Rotate which end is propped up approximately every 12 hours. This helps prevent the embryo from sticking to the shell membrane. However I do not recommend for shipped eggs to sit out longer than 24 hours after arrival.
When you are ready to set the eggs into the incubator, mark an X on one side of the shell using a soft pencil, and an O on the other end. During the incubation period, you will rotate the eggs. Marking the shell helps you visualize that they have been turned properly and frequently. Even if you have an automatic turner in your incubator, marking helps you ensure that the turner is working properly. Usually if you are getting eggs from us they will already be marked and labeled by breed so you can go ahead and use that as your gauge if hand turning the eggs.
The first 17 days you will turn the eggs by hand (if you do not have an automatic turner) at a minimum of every 8 hours. Better hatch rates are usually the result of more frequent turning, but the trade-off is every time you open the incubator it loses heat and humidity. So if you have an automatic egg turner you wont have to worry about opening the incubator as often. Many people find that hand turning every 6 to 8 hours to be the “sweet spot." If you do not turn the eggs, the tiny embryo can stick to the shell membrane and may die. During the first 17 days, you will also monitor the temperature and humidity, adding water to the water reservoir as necessary to maintain the humidity. It is good practice to candle the eggs (using an Egg Candler (High powered flash light) to view the growing embryo). Day 7 and Day 14 are the best days to observe changes in the embryo. On Day 7-10 you should see a small dark spot with a few blood vessels radiating from it. The 7/10-day old embryo will resemble a spider on the yolk. At Day 14, the embryo is much larger and it should be difficult to see through the egg when candling, but you should be able to see through the air sac at the large end. At this stage you are likely to see the chick move inside the egg. If any embryos appear to not be developing at Day 14, remove and discard these eggs to avoid a rotten egg exploding inside the incubator and possibly ruining the rest of the hatch.
Lockdown Days 18-20
We call the final 3 days of incubating “lockdown” because you will not be opening the incubator until after all the chicks have hatched and dried off. On day 18 of the incubation period, you should stop turning the eggs by hand or turn off and remove the eggs from the automatic turner. The chicks are nearly fully developed and they will position themselves inside the egg to prepare for hatching for the next few days. You also want to increase the humidity to around 60%- 65%. Again, the humidity is a range and not an exact number. Some breeds do better with a dry hatch while others need somewhat more humidity. The day before the hatch you should prepare their brooder and have everything ready for them to be moved into said brooder. A few hours before opening up the incubator we recommend to turn on the heat lamp or brooder plate to ensure the temperature is accurate and everything is working.
On around day 21 you will begin to hear peeping from the inside of the eggs. Some of the eggs will likely begin to rock around a bit as the chick starts to pip through the shell. Hatching takes a lot of energy and it will be a slow process usually taking a full 24-72 hours for all chicks to completely hatch. Make sure that the chicks are completely dry and fluffy before you open the incubator to move them into their brooder. The first hatchlings will be okay to go 48-72 hours without eating or drinking while they wait for all chicks to hatch. Some chicks may struggle to hatch, but do not open the incubator or try to assist unless you are sure that the others have already hatched. If you open the incubator mid hatch you risk shrink wrapping the other unhatched chicks. Which will result in a poor hatch. We will try to assist any stragglers towards the end of a hatch ensuring that majority hatched.
After all the chicks have hatched you will then move each one into its brooder. Try to show the chicks where their water and food is by dipping their beaks very carefully into the water plate. Once all the chicks have made it to their brooder, make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect the incubator/Hatcher following the manufacturer's directions. A 1:10 bleach/water solution can be used for sanitizing however we prefer to use an Oxine Solution when it comes to disinfecting poultry items.
Good Luck with your hatching adventure and don't forget to send us some pictures or videos of your sweet chicks!
- Masha at Mockingbird Homestead
Let us know in the comments section below, your experience with hatching chicks!