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If you raise chickens, why not try hatching eggs to add your own chicks? Here’s our beginner’s guide on how to hatch eggs in 21 days. It’s a fun, suspenseful, and often wonderful experience.
Watching eggs hatching into fluffy chicks is amazing. There’s a reason that children sometimes incubate eggs as a class project in primary school. However, it can also be slow, frustrating, and fiddly, especially for first-timers who don’t know what to expect.
Rest assured! We will cover everything you need to know to get started in your home.
Hatching eggs is a relatively simple process, but there are still a few pieces of equipment you will need to get started - most importantly, the incubator.
An incubator is a substitute mother hen for your unhatched eggs, doing the vital work of keeping them warm. It also ensures the heat and humidity of the eggs’ environment are constant, which is crucial for healthy development. Some incubators will also turn the eggs for you.
Before you place any eggs in the incubator, disinfect it with a 10 percent bleach solution, and turn it on for a trial run. Place it somewhere with relatively stable temperatures, not directly by an A/C unit or under a window. Ensure the interior temperatures and humidity remain stable before placing your eggs inside. Which leads us to…
Eggs! The most reliable place to get fertilized eggs is from a local hatchery. The more local your hatchery, the better; the less time your eggs spend in transit, the healthier they will be.
If you have a rooster who lives with your hens, you can also get fertilized eggs from your backyard! This is undoubtedly the easiest, most affordable option.
How Long Does It Take For Eggs to Hatch?
Chicken eggs must incubate for about 21 days (three weeks) before hatching. This timeline will let you know what to do and when to have the best chance of hatching healthy chicks.
Before incubation, eggs can be stored in a cool, dry space for up to seven days. Only do this if you are collecting your own eggs and want enough to set. Set at least six eggs at a time; chickens are flock animals, even in utero, and they will not thrive if set or raised in small numbers.
Place the eggs “upside down” in the incubator, with the smaller end pointing down and the larger, rounded end sticking up. Start the incubator at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent humidity.
Throughout the first 18 days of incubation, it’s important to turn each egg 3 to 5 times per day, every day. This is the same thing a hen would do if she were sitting on the eggs, and it ensures the embryo remains correctly oriented on top of the yolk, and also—believe it or not—keeps it from sticking to the sides of the shell.
If you bought a self-turning incubator, you can sit back, relax, and let the robots do the work for you!
Otherwise, turning the eggs is relatively simple.
Wash your hands or wear clean gloves, as germs from your hands that touch the porous eggshell can transfer to and damage the embryo.
Then open the incubator and simply rotate each egg, keeping the orientation—with the small end pointing downwards—the same.
If you want help remembering which eggs have been turned, mark them with a pencil—but never a pen! The ink can seep through the porous shell and damage the chick.
Days 7 to 10:
After about a week, your eggs will be ready for candling. Candling is a way to tell whether your embryos are developing properly by shining a light through them.
It can be tempting to candle your eggs before a week is up, or to candle them more than once, as it’s exciting to see your chicks developing! However, eggs and embryos are fragile, and should be handled as infrequently as possible, and for the shortest possible length of time.
Turn off the lights and shine a small torch through the eggshell; darker-shelled eggs require a brighter light. This will enable you to see which structures are developing inside the egg.
If you see a structure of blood vessels, potentially with a dark patch where the chick is developing, congratulations! This is a healthy egg, well on its way to hatching.
If you see a small red circle, the embryo inside the egg has died at some point during development.
If you see no internal structures at all, that egg was infertile.
Although it can be sad, removing eggs that aren’t developing correctly is essential. Otherwise, these eggs may contaminate the healthy eggs still growing in the incubator. Any eggs that break or leak during incubation must also be removed regardless of how they look during candling.
Days 11 to 18:
Keep turning those eggs 3 to 5 times daily, to avoid fatalities. Three turns are the minimum, and five turns are ideal.
Remember to wash your hands or wear clean gloves before touching the eggs to avoid disease and other issues.
Days 18 to 21:
Good news! After 18 days, you can finally stop turning your eggs! The chicks are big enough to keep themselves correctly oriented and unstuck without your help. Before you kick back and relax, turn the humidity up to 70 percent to help prepare the chicks for their big day.
Break out the trumpets and confetti, because your chicks are about to hatch!! Eventually.
As any mother will tell you, the baby will come out when it’s good and ready, and that might take a while - anywhere between 5 to 24 hours for chicks.
Once they start hatching, as agonizing as the wait can be, it’s important to let them come out at their own pace. Removing the shell too soon can tear blood vessels still attached to it, injuring or even killing your chick.
Chicks are very social, so once one chick emerges and starts peeping, the others will be even more eager to join it. Don’t worry if some or even all of your eggs don’t hatch on Day 21; it can take up to 23 days for some eggs to hatch, especially if they were stored before being incubated. By Day 23, candle any unhatched eggs to check for a living embryo, then discard them.
Caring for Chicks
Once your chicks hatch, any chicken-keeper knows the work has only begun. However, once they’re all hatched, I give you permission to do what I did when I successfully hatched my first brood and throw yourself a five-minute dance party. I recommend doing the Chicken Dance.
Once the high has worn off, turn the heat on the incubator down to 95, and make sure your brooder is warming up and stocked with food and water. Let your chicks dry off in the incubator before transferring them to the brooder.
Congratulations! You’ve just grown yourself a new flock of birds from scratch! Hatching eggs is thrilling in itself, but I think the best part is yet to come: watching these tiny chicks grow up and learn to navigate the world all on their own. See how to raise baby chicks.
Years from now, you can watch them fighting over food scraps and bickering at one another in the yard, remember the day you watched them come into the world, and look back with pride on all the work you’ve done to get them from a few cells in a fragile eggshell to the beautiful birds in your backyard!