Tips and advice for hatching chicks in an incubator

I’ve hatched a few chicks and ducklings in the last 3 years, and I’d like to think I have enough experience to be able to pass on a few tips and some advice on to others thinking about hatching them too. Hatching chicks is becoming increasingly popular I think, and so I wanted to pass on some of my knowledge.

I’ve hatched in an incubator 3 or 4 times, have had surprise chicks from a broody hen twice, and allowed a broody hen to hatch eggs once. All experiences were very different, so today I’m going to focus on incubating chicken eggs.

Tips and advice for hatching chicks

I’m assuming you’ve never incubated or hatched eggs, and that you’re doing your research on how to go about it – probably how you came across this post – or you’re just interested in the process. If you do know a little about hatching chicks, then I might repeat a few tips you’ve already heard or know about.

Take “how-to” articles with a pinch of salt

When I hatched my first eggs, I was a complete novice and really should have been given more time to research and study the topic. Our first to hatch, Bob the Duck, was a complete whim and not something we had planned on at all. I happened to mention to a friend of ours – who runs a farm – that I really wanted a pet duck after having baby sat one in my teen years. He went off to the pond, found a few eggs, candled them, put them in a box, and insisted we’d be fine and all would go well.

Turns out the eggs were from Crested ducks, which causes a mutation to the skull. With both parents being Crested ducks, the ducklings would either never hatch or hatch with a crest too. Only one hatched, Bob, and she sure enough had a nice little hairdo going on.

Anyway, my point being I had to learn what to do and quick. On the way back from the farm we bought an incubator and I researched like mad. I found a lot of the information contradicted itself, and pretty much had to do what I thought best from the wealth of knowledge from the internet. I’ve now refined my technique, and am pretty pleased with my hatch rates and percentages.

Don’t take the first article you read as gospel. In general, how to hatch them is pretty straightforward, but many will say things like “turn eggs twice a day”, and another will say “turn only once a day”. Yet I find my sweet spot in turning 3 times a day. Follow what the pros say, but use your own logic and common sense too.

Make sure you have time to dedicate to it

It’s not too bad while they’re still in their eggs, but once they start to hatch you want to be on full alert. I was there for most of my hatches, unless they were quick and caught me off guard while I was in the shower or something. On the whole though, you want to be at least at home and checking in every so often to make sure everything is going smoothly.

If the egg shell dries out before the chick has got out, then it can stick to the chick. This then MUST be wet or at least damp before gently removing it, or you’ll rip the chicks skin and it’ll be very hard to stop the bleeding. I’d also recommend taking the chick out of the incubator and into a brooder once it’s fully dry and more aware as it could overheat.

Make sure you have space in case of 100% hatch

I’ve always seen people say that you should buy more eggs than needed since there’s a high chance of them not hatching. I’ve also seen that 70% is a normal hatch rate. While this is true, and you should always account for eggs not hatching – nature knows best! – don’t go in thinking that if you buy 10 eggs, you actually only need space for 7 chickens.

I’ve had 100% hatch rate on more than one clutch of eggs, and had to give 3 of them away to a good home. Don’t think that you definitely won’t have 100% because it can happen, and you know it’d be typical for it to happen when you’re not ready!

Keep a little medical kit, just in case

I’ve had all sorts of “medical emergencies” happen with chicks, and this is another reason why you should be around to check on them as often as possible. Bob pulled her umbilical cord – yes, they have one – off and made herself bleed, I’ve had another chick peck at the umbilical cord of a mid-hatch chick – another reason to move them off into the brooder when you can – and I’ve even had a mother hen attack the last chick to hatch in her clutch, pecking a whole into its head.

It’s not all fun and games!

All survived, because we acted quickly and took care of the problem. The likelihood of it happening isn’t very high – I’ve not seen very many others talk about things like this – but it can happen and it pays to be prepared!

Don’t interfere unless necessary

Unless something bad happens like I mentioned above, or shells get stuck, then leave them to it as much as possible. Cuddling them and making them tame – if that’s what you want – should be done since they’re young, but as for hatching  and such they need to do it on their own if possible.

Like a mother hen would, teach them where the water and food is, but don’t hand feed them straight away. You end up with chicks that don’t understand they need to eat from the dish, and not off the end of your finger! It’s hard to break the habit once they’ve started it, especially when you need to make sure they’re eating enough each day. I’ve don it myself, stupidly, so believe me when I say it’s not fun!

Hatch more than one if possible

I know the idea of having one being your best friend is adorable, but it can become more of a chore than you think. Bob was the only one to hatch, and while she was too small to go out with the chickens she lived in the house with us. She imprinted on us, and would come to us calling her name and would follow us around the house – something she never stopped doing – but at night she needed to sleep in a box next to the bed with my hand in the box so she could sleep in my hand.

Sounds cute, but every time I moved or either of us got up in the night she screamed bloody murder. We had to sleep with a light on, because she had to have the heat lamp on her still. It’s a bit like having a newborn, but one that can’t sleep, eat, or exist without you being close to them.

Hatching more than one means they have company, and friends to play with. They’re never alone, can learn from one another – once one can jump/ fly, expect them all to be everywhere if you haven’t got a guard up! – and it helps them develop normal behaviors as they’re not focused on trying to do what you’re doing.

I hope this post has been helpful, and have fun hatching chicks in the Spring!

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3 thoughts on “Tips and advice for hatching chicks in an incubator

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