Let me preface this with, this was my FIRST time hatching eggs. I read a lot of chicken books found at Barnes & Noble, but experiencing the process first hand is life-changing.
First, I had to decide on an incubator. I asked some accounts I follow on Instagram if they had any recommendations and most said to buy a Brinsea. I wanted to make sure it was foolproof and could hold at least a dozen eggs, so the model I picked is the Maxi II Advance. This one is great because it has an automatic turntable, programmable temperature, and humidity. It is pretty much a setup and walk away system. When you order it, the box comes with one hatch mat inside that you will need when there are 3 days left, which is the lockdown phase. I’ll explain that soon.
Let’s make sure your chickens have somewhere to live though before they hatch…
Another thing to setup is a brooder box. We made one out of a Rubbermaid tub with a wire lid. This is where the chicks will stay for the first couple of weeks of their life. Ours stayed in the laundry room, so I could check on them frequently and the temperature was stable. There is a little dowel in the corner, so they can practice roosting on it. The lid is a rectangle made of 4 trim pieces of wood we had on hand with wire stapled to the edges to cover the top. We got our inspiration from Fresh Eggs Daily.
The chicks will need a way to stay warm in the brooder. We decided on the Brinsea EcoGlow Safety 600 which can fit 20 chicks. I was concerned with using the light bulbs in our home, since they can cause a fire if not properly secured. This warmer was the perfect solution.
We allowed our 6 chicks to stay in this brooder box with warmer until they were 3 weeks old. After that, they went in our neighbors grow-out pen, which they call the “chicken nursery” until they are fully feathered at 8 weeks. The grow-out pen is attached to the side of their barn, so we did hang a warming light in there for the chicks.
Ok, back to hatching eggs…
-Time to put your eggs in the incubator. First, write in pencil “top” on one side and “bottom” on the other. Even with an automatic turn tray, you’ll want to make sure it is working properly. Next, look for the air cell, which is at the round end of the egg. I place them in with the roundest end towards the center of the incubator.
(we started with 11 eggs)
-Follow the settings suggested in the manual for chicken egg settings. Typically it takes 21 days to hatch, but the first pip can happen at 20 days.
(A pip is when the chick makes its first crack on the shell)
-Day 3 I candle the eggs to look for veins. At this step, the chicks will look like spiders in the eggs. If there is no activity in the egg, then I toss the unfertile ones. It is usually pretty obvious with light-colored eggs, but harder with dark ones. On dark eggs, I draw a line with a pencil outlining the air cell. If the air cell grows over time, then you know it is fertile.
(At this time, we discovered 1 was not fertile, so left 10 eggs in the incubator.)
-Around day 14 I usually candle the eggs again to make sure the chicks are growing. Sometimes embryos can die resulting in a bloodline. In this case, you’d want to toss those eggs, since it is not viable.
-Day 19 is lockdown day. This is when you fill the humidity chamber with water all the way and do NOT open the lid until ALL chicks have hatched.
Do Not Open The Lid After Day 19 Until ALL Eggs Have Hatched!
This step is really important, as I said above, because if you open the incubator after a chick has pipped, then they could be shrink-wrapped inside the egg to its membrane. You do not want your chicks stuck or then they can not zip around to hatch. Also, after the first pip, it can take 24 hours until the chick hatches. For more details on this, I highly recommend this book.
-Day 21 is hatch day! I like to leave the chicks in the incubator until all eggs have hatched and they are fluffy. Chicks can stay in there for up to 3 days without food or water. Before hatching, chicks absorb the yolk in the egg as nutrition to help keep them full for the first couple of days. However, If they have all hatched and are fluffy, then you can take them out and do not have to wait 3 days.
(3 eggs did not pip and one chick died 1 hour after hatching, so overall we ended up with 6 healthy chicks.)
Taking them out of the incubator
When putting each chick in the brooder, you’ll want to put their beak in their waterer so they take a drink. Then set them down and let them go get warm under the warmer. It is important to put marbles in the tray of their water dish, so the chicks do not fall in and drown. I usually leave the marbles in for the first week and then remove them. Also, put their food in something that is shallow and they can walk across. They do not quite know where to go for food right away, so letting them walk across it ensures they are pecking at their food. About day 3 I put their food in a food container. For natural ways of taking care of your chickens, check out the book. I love making our chicks tea to help give them a healthy boost.
A note on their food, I highly recommend the Scratch and Peck Chick starter kit along with all of their products. You’ll want to feed your chicks a high-quality feed and even ferment it for them. More to come on how to ferment your chick feed soon! For now, check out THIS YouTube video on how to ferment feed.
Most of all, have fun!
Hatchinging chickens is a wonderful journey and gives you the opportunity to bond with your chickens before they were even born.