Friday, January 29, 2010

Incubating Chicken Eggs

Incubating eggs is something that everybody should do at least once. That’s why I feel deprived – I’ve never done it before! My interest in incubating eggs lead me to google some simple designs for home made incubators, although most of them I couldn’t make due a lack of parts. The website that I consulted was written close to 10 years ago and it said I could make one for just under US$10. Well I didn’t achieve that, but after splashing out for a $28 thermometer I did manage to make mine for around $35. You can check my other posts for instructions on making your own incubator to hatch chicken, duck, quail, guinea fowl and maybe even peacock eggs. Although you may want to wait until you see a post here titled something like “success with my first batch”! (-updated)
My eggs are at day 13 now. I’ve been candling them most nights since about day 5 to check their progress. When you candle the egg at day 13, you pretty much just see a big black portion of egg and an air sack. The reward comes when you see the big black part move, it’s amazing! And to think that this came from a normal egg, in just 13 days under the heat – wow.

Tips for incubating eggs

  • Keep the temperature even, but don’t worry too much about slight deviations as long as they’re both up and down. The eggs will hatch at the right time as long as the average temperature was around 37.5C (99.5F) and the extremes didn’t kill the embryo. Mine got to 39.8C at one point, but have still shown normal development. For the most part I haven’t let them drop below 36C or rise above 39C
  • Candle regularly. Candling is when you get to see what is actually going on, it’s like an x-ray of the egg, or equivalent to an ultra sound of a baby but using light instead. To candle you need to be in a dark room. Shine a light through the egg and you will see what is going on inside. At day 3 or 4 you’ll see some veins, at day 5 or 6 you’ll see the chick’s eye – a little black spot in the egg. At day 13 I’m starting to see a growing black shadow across the egg that moves sometimes. You can candle as many times as you like without hurting the chick development, as long as you’re gentle and don’t let the temperature drop too low. I use a desk lamp with a small box over it. The box has a small hole where I put the egg.
  • Turn the eggs two or three times a day. The embryo can get stuck to the shell if it’s not turned regularly. Apparently the hen will turn the egg around 99 times per day in the process of sitting on her clutch of eggs. Two times is a minimum for incubator eggs, and three times is recommended as this means they’ll be on a different side each night. Stop turning on the 18th day, as the chicken is getting into position for hatching and you don’t want to confuse the wee fella.
  • Keep notes. I keep notes of the temperature and humidity at each time I check, turn, candle or raise the humidity of my incubator. I want to know the differences between two hatches if I ever do this again. I want to know what I did right and what I did wrong. These notes will be very valuable at that point, so keep a pen and paper near your incubator to record what’s happening.
  • Check temperature regularly. I haven’t adjusted my thermostat for the last three days, but before that I was tweaking it often to try and get the right temperature at all times. I read on a commercial incubator (a hovabator) that you would need to check it at least three to four times a day. This is pretty labour intensive given that incubation period is 21 days. But it’s so important as you don’t want to cook your chicks.
Candling equipment
This is the box and lamp that I use to candle my eggs. Put the box on top of the light bulb, the egg on top of the hole in the box and all is revealed.
Those are all the tips I have for incubating your eggs at the moment. Visit BackYardChickens for more tips on incubation and their forums have some great pics of candling (some of the best I found). And good luck for your eggs if you decide to incubate!

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