If you’ve ever considered hatching your
own chickens, spring is the perfect time to do it because it’s not too hot and
not too cold, making it easier for the new chicks to acclimate to the weather
once out of their shell. There are a couple of different ways to hatch
chickens, so we’re breaking out a step-by-step guide we hope is helpful.
Step 1: Obtain your Eggs. If you don’t
breed your own chickens,fertile eggs must be bought through hatcheries or
poultry farms. Be advised that shipped eggs (those ordered online) are
typically harder to hatch than those which are locally sourced.
Step 2: Incubator or Broody Hen? There
are pros and cons to each option; incubators allow total control during
hatching, but can be considered unnatural and may cause guilt or pressure if
things aren’t a total success. Using a broody hen, a female chicken who sits on
and tends to the eggs, is much more natural but can be unpredictable –
sometimes the hen isn’t feeling broody and can’t be forced to. Lastly, an
incubator yields more eggs but can be temperamental if settings aren’t perfect
or there’s a power outage.
Incubation Insight: Put your incubator in
a place where the temperature will remain consistent (away from windows or
doors with a draft) and be sure to read the manual cover to cover so you know
how it operates. The ideal temperature for incubation is between 99 and 102
degrees Fahrenheit (99.5 is often recommended) and humidity should be between
50 and 65 percent (60 being recommended.)
Step 3: Set the Eggs. After monitoring
the incubator for 24 hours for consistency, warm the fertile eggs to room
temperature to avoid too much temperature fluctuation when they go into the
incubator. Place the eggs on their side in the incubator, with the larger end
slightly higher than the pointed end to allow for proper alignment for the
embryo, which is important when it comes time to hatch.
Pro-Tip: Write down the date of
incubation, as most chicks will take 21 days to hatch; some may take a little
longer, but you want an estimate of when to expect them.
Step 4: Keep ‘em Movin’. The eggs should
be turned a minimum of three times per day at regular intervals, but five is
ideal. It’s recommended to lightly draw an X on one side so you don’t lose
track of which eggs have been turned, and make sure your hands are always
clean. Stop turning at day 18 to allow the chicks to position themselves for
Step 5: Raise the Humidity. During the
last three days you’ll want the humidity around 65 percent, so add warm water
or a sponge as necessary to keep the humidity up.
Step 6: Prepare for the Hatch! Once you’ve stopped rotating the eggs, the most viable ones will hatch in 24 hours so place some cheesecloth under the egg tray to catch any debris and leave the incubator closed until the chickens hatch. Once hatched, the chicks will need to be kept warm and safely near their starter food and a shallow pan of water. As always, we recommend talking with a veterinarian or your local hatchery for further care tips.
Lastly, be prepared: you will have some roosters in your newly-hatched flock, which some communities have regulations against so be prepared to rehome any males in the brood; you may even be able to ask the place you got the eggs from if they’re willing to take in any males. Have fun and enjoy your new chickens!