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Hatched chicks

Incubation 101: Successfully Hatching Your Own Chicks

Hatching your own chicks is a fulfilling adventure that can add a new dimension to your backyard chicken experience. Whether you're aiming to expand your flock or simply marvel at the process of new life emerging, incubating eggs at home is a rewarding project. Here’s a straightforward guide to take you from egg selection all the way to hatching and caring for your new chicks.

Step 1: Selecting the Right Eggs

The journey to successful hatching starts with selecting the right eggs. It’s crucial to ensure that the eggs are fertile because not all eggs have the potential to develop into chicks.

Finding Fertile Eggs

To begin with, you need to source your eggs from a place where there’s a rooster present. If you have a rooster in your flock, the eggs your hens lay will likely be fertile. If not, you can purchase fertile eggs from a farm or breeder. It’s important to note that supermarket eggs are not fertile since they come from hens that haven’t been around a rooster.

Choosing the Best Eggs

When picking out eggs for incubation, opt for those that are of regular shape and medium to large size. Eggs that are too small, oddly shaped, or have visible cracks are less likely to hatch successfully. Also, cleanliness matters, but avoid washing the eggs as this can remove their protective coating, making them vulnerable to bacteria.

Storing Before Incubation

If you're not ready to start incubating right away, store the eggs in a cool place, around 50-60°F. The eggs should be kept pointy end down and gently turned daily to keep the yolk centered. This rotation mimics the natural turning a hen would do and is crucial for the eggs' development.

Step 2: Setting Up the Incubator

An incubator creates the perfect environment for eggs to develop. Setting it up correctly is key to a successful hatch.

Choosing and Setting Up Your Incubator

There are different types of incubators to consider. Automatic incubators are convenient because they handle the egg turning and regulate temperature and humidity for you. If you go for a manual incubator, you’ll need to turn the eggs yourself and keep a closer eye on the temperature and humidity levels.

Regulating Temperature and Humidity

Your incubator should be set to a steady 99.5°F. This temperature provides the ideal warmth for embryo development. Use a thermometer placed at egg level inside the incubator to get accurate readings. Humidity is also critical: keep it at around 50-55% for the first 18 days and then increase it to 65-70% for the final few days before hatching. Most incubators come with water trays or channels that you can fill to maintain the right humidity levels.

Ensuring Proper Ventilation

Good airflow is vital to ensure that developing chicks get enough oxygen. Make sure your incubator has vents or other mechanisms to allow air circulation. Adjust these as needed to maintain a stable environment.

Step 3: Incubating the Eggs

With the incubator set up, it’s time to place the eggs inside and start the incubation process, which typically lasts about 21 days.

Loading and Turning the Eggs

Place your eggs in the incubator pointy end down. If your incubator has an automatic turner, follow the instructions for setting it up. If not, you’ll need to turn the eggs by hand at least three times a day. This is to ensure that the embryo doesn't stick to one side of the shell. Marking one side of each egg with an “X” can help you remember which side to turn next.

Monitoring and Candling

It’s important to monitor the temperature and humidity levels daily, making adjustments as needed to keep them within the ideal range. Minimize opening the incubator to avoid fluctuations in these conditions.

Candling is a technique where you shine a bright light through the egg to see the developing embryo inside. You can do this around day 7 and again on day 14 to check for signs of development. By day 7, you should see a network of veins and a dark spot, which is the growing chick. Remove any eggs that don’t show signs of development to prevent them from affecting the others.

Step 4: The Hatching Process

As the 21-day mark approaches, the final stages of incubation are crucial.

Preparing for Hatching

From day 18 onward, stop turning the eggs. This is known as the "lockdown" period and gives the chicks time to position themselves for hatching. Increase the humidity to 65-70% to help soften the shells, making it easier for the chicks to break free.

Watching for Pipping and Zipping

During the hatching process, chicks first create a small hole in the shell, known as "pipping." This is followed by "zipping," where they peck around the shell in a circular motion until they can push it apart. It can take up to 24 hours for a chick to fully hatch, so patience is key. Avoid opening the incubator during this time to maintain the right environment for the chicks.

Post-Hatch Care

Once the chicks have hatched, leave them in the incubator for about 24 hours to dry off and rest. They can survive on the yolk they absorbed before hatching and don’t need food or water immediately. When they are fluffy and active, transfer them to a brooder with a heat lamp, food, and water.

Step 5: Caring for Your New Chicks

After hatching, the real fun begins as you care for your new chicks.

Setting Up a Brooder

A brooder is a safe, warm space for your chicks to grow. It can be a simple box or a more elaborate setup, as long as it provides warmth and protection. Start with a temperature of about 95°F and decrease it by 5°F each week as the chicks grow and feather out. Use absorbent bedding like pine shavings and avoid slippery surfaces that could cause leg problems.

Feeding and Watering

Provide a high-quality chick starter feed that has all the nutrients they need. Fresh, clean water should always be available. Make sure the water dish is shallow to prevent drowning; you can add marbles or pebbles to the water to keep the chicks safe.

Monitoring and Health Checks

Keep an eye on your chicks several times a day. Watch for any signs of distress or illness, such as pasty butt, where dried poop blocks the vent. Clean the brooder regularly to keep it dry and hygienic, which helps prevent diseases and infections.


Incubating and hatching your own chicks is a wonderful experience that connects you more deeply with your flock. By carefully selecting and handling the eggs, setting up and monitoring the incubator, and providing proper care after hatching, you can ensure a successful and enjoyable hatching process. Remember, patience and attention to detail are key. Enjoy the journey and the reward of seeing new life come into your backyard!


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