When Hatching Chicken Eggs, There are Some Things You'll Want to Consider to Be Prepared and Successful.
Number of Eggs to Hatch
How many eggs do you want or need to hatch? Fertilized chicken eggs are generally sold by the half dozen so you'll want to plan based on multiples of 6.
When hatching chicken eggs you will get half cockerels and half hens, on average. Also, you are unlikely to successfully hatch every egg.
If you’re curious about what’s inside that egg you’re hatching, you can check out the parts of an egg here,
Once you begin incubation, it should take about 21 days for your eggs to hatch. If an egg doesn't hatch by the 24th day, I'm sorry to say, it probably won't.
Using an Incubator
An Incubator is meant to be a stand in for the mother hen when hatching chicken eggs, providing warmth and the right conditions to promote life for your unhatched chicks. Choosing the right incubator can play a big part in getting a good hatch rate.
In addition to having a good incubator, you’ll want to read and understand the directions prior to putting your unhatched eggs in it.
Things like having the correct temperature and humidity will also play a big part in a good hatch rate so you'll also want to have and know how to use a good thermometer and hygrometer. Learn more about hygrometers here.
It’s best to set everything up 24-48 hours before putting your eggs in it.
Eggs should be clean and dry when you put them in the incubator. It's also a good idea to candle your eggs prior to putting them in the incubator to check for any cracks in the shell and then a few times during incubation. Learn more about candling here.
Turning the Eggs
There is a lot of debate over how often eggs need to be turned. Some people feel that the eggs aren't turned in nature, so why do it? (In reality, hens are jostling and moving their eggs throughout the day similar to an automatic turner, it's probably just something that you haven't noticed.)
The answer to that is that by turning them you help to improve your hatch rate. Turning helps keep the embryo from possibly sticking to the side of the egg and dying.
There isn't a lot of consensus on how often to turn or which technique is best for successfully hatching chicken eggs.
If you're use an automatic turner and turning racks, put the pointed end of the egg down. Most of these will turn about 4-6 times a day.
If you're using racks, but doing it manually, you'll still want the pointed side down. From my research, rotating them 90° or 1/4 turn, 4 times a day seems to be a good rule of thumb.
In both cases, you'll want to remove them from the turning rack and lie them on floor of your incubator on day 18. There is no more turning during the last 3 days of incubation.
If you're not using racks and your eggs are just lying on the floor (like in the picture above) it is recommended that you turn them 180° or 1/2 turn, an odd number of times (3-5 is good) so they don't always end up on the same side. This helps prevent the embryo from sticking to the side, which, as we mentioned, improves hatch rate.
A good way to keep track of the eggs is to put an X on one side and an O on the other side in pencil or some other non-toxic method. You can use a timer to remind you of when to do it.
In all cases, keep handling and candling the chicken eggs to a minimum, always handle eggs with care, and make sure your hands are clean and dry prior to handling the eggs. Any dirt or oils on your hands can clog the pores of the egg affecting air exchange.
Normal hand soap and warm water should be fine for hand washing.
You do not want or need to turn or handle the eggs during the last 3 days of incubation (often referred to as the lock-down period). Once your eggs do hatch, resist the temptation to open the incubator. Newborn chicks can easily survive up to 48 hours after hatching and the ones that are hatched will help encourage the others to hatch with their chirping and cheeping.
The experience of being there when new life comes into the world is one that your family will always remember and treasure.