21 FAQ About Incubating Chicken Eggs

FAQ INCUBATING CHICKEN EGGS

Whether you are new to incubating chicken eggs or are an enthusiast, there is always something new to learn. I learn something new every single time I use my incubator to hatch out eggs. The following are some top expert answers to FAQ about incubating chicken eggs.

Feel free to jump ahead to any of the answers by clicking the link to the question below.

1. How do You Store Fertile Chicken Eggs

rotate eggs 45 degrees a few times a day. shipped eggs tilted for 24 hours prior to incubation
IF STORING FERTILE EGGS, ROTATE 45° A FEW TIMES A DAY UNTIL READY FOR INCUBATOR.

Fertile chicken eggs that will be used for incubation should be stored in a temperature as close to 55℉ as possible. The eggs should be rotated 45° a few times each day to prevent the yolk from floating to the top and sticking. (This would stop the embryo from growing.)

If you plan on incubating fertile eggs, it is best to do so within 7-10 days of being laid. After this time, the viability of the embryo decreases.

2. How long Does it Take for a Chicken Egg to Hatch in an Incubator?

Research different incubator models before purchasing one.
IT TAKES 21 DAYS FOR CHICKEN EGGS TO HATCH IN AN INCUBATOR.

Under optimal hatching conditions it takes 21 days for a chick to hatch in an incubator. If the temperature and humidity are not just right, it can cause the chicks to hatch earlier or later, but the hatch rate is not as good and the health of the chicks can be affected.

Slightly higher temperatures during incubation can cause the chick to hatch a day earlier. Slightly lower temperatures during incubation can cause the chick to hatch a day later. In both situations, the hatch rate is less and the risk of malformations is greater.

dirty eggs
TRY TO CHOOSE EGGS FOR INCUBATING THAT ARE NOT TOO HEAVILY SOILED.

3. Should You Wash Chicken Eggs Before Incubating?

You should not wash chicken eggs before incubating. When an egg is laid, it has a protective coating called a “bloom” or “cuticle” that protects it from bacteria penetrating through its pores. If you wash it, you will also wash some of the bloom, predisposing it to becoming contaminated.

Try to choose eggs that are not to heavily soiled. If they have chicken poop on them, I wouldn’t use them at all. Choose eggs that appear clean. You will have a better hatch rate with clean eggs.

Always wash your hands before and after handling the eggs. Washing your hands helps to remove oils that can potentially clog the pores of the egg. It also helps stop cross-contamination.

4. Why do Eggs Explode in Incubator?

AN EGG CAN EXPLODE IN THE INCUBATOR IF IT BECOMES CONTAMINATED.

An egg can explode in the incubator if it becomes contaminated. Eggs are very porous and bacteria can be drawn inside, especially if the bloom has been removed. Bacteria grows in moist, warm environments and over time will develop pressure inside the egg until it explodes.

Washing a dirty egg not only removes the dirt or chicken poop from an egg, but it also removes the protective “bloom” from the egg. This is what helps to prevent bacteria from penetrating through the pores and into the egg, contaminating it.

When a dirty egg is washed, especially with cold water, it will draw the contents inward. This is how bacteria gets inside the egg, contaminating it.

If you must wash a dirty egg for incubating, wash with water that is 20° warmer than the egg. This way there is less of a chance of the contaminants being drawn inside.

This is why it is important to choose eggs that are not heavily soiled and not to wash eggs before placing them into the incubator.

WASHING EGGS BEFORE INCUBATING PUTS THEM AT HIGHER RISK OF BECOMING CONTAMINATED.
WASHING EGGS BEFORE INCUBATING PUTS THEM AT HIGHER RISK OF BECOMING CONTAMINATED.

To prevent eggs from exploding in your incubator, remove non viable eggs. When you candle and do not see any development or development has stopped, remove these eggs. And always handle fertile eggs with clean hands.

If you smell a rotten egg smell coming from your incubator, its important to inspect your eggs. Sometimes a contaminated egg will begin to ooze its contents because it is under so much pressure.

An egg that explodes in your incubator is putting the rest of the eggs at risk of becoming contaminated, not to mention it is a nightmare to clean a contaminated incubator! It is best to do as much as you can to prevent contamination in the first place.

5. How Many Times a Day Do You Turn Chicken Eggs in Incubator?

Eggs in Incubator Upright and on Their Side

Chicken eggs should be turned a minimum of 5 times a day for days 1-18. Days 19-21 is called “lockdown,” when the baby chick is positioning itself for hatching and chicken eggs are not to be turned. If you are using an automatic turner, remove the turner at then end of day 18.

Turning the eggs will prevent the embryo, which sits on top of the yolk, from floating to the top and sticking. An embryo that sticks to the membrane will not develop.

Turning the eggs also nourishes the embryo with nutrients and flushes metabolic waste away from it.

A HEN WILL TURN HER EGGS A FEW TIMES EACH HOUR.
A HEN WILL TURN HER EGGS A FEW TIMES EACH HOUR.

In nature, a hen will turn her eggs a few times each hour. By doing this, she is making sure that all of her eggs are evenly heated. So, turning the eggs more than 5 times a day is not going to hurt them.

If you are a busy person and do not think you will be able to turn the eggs throughout the day, then it is best to get an incubator with an automatic turner.

Pro Tip on Egg Turning During Incubation

Always turn eggs an odd amount of times each day. This way, the egg is not sitting in the same position 2 nights in a row. (Since night time is the longest time the eggs will go without rotating.) Doing this will decrease the chances of the embryo sticking to the membrane.

6. What Happens if Eggs are Not Turned During Incubation?

You can either lay the eggs flat to incubate or upright. Day 18, you always lay them flat.
FERTILE EGGS WILL NOT DEVELOP IF THEY ARE NOT ROTATED DURING INCUBATION.

A fertile chicken egg will not develop if it is not rotated at least 3 times per day throughout the first 18 days of incubation. During incubation, an embryo sits on top of the yolk. Not rotating an egg will cause the yolk to float to the top and the embryo will stick to the membrane and die.

7. What is the Ideal Temperature for Incubating Chicken Eggs?

In a forced-air incubator the ideal temperature for incubating chicken eggs is between 99.5 -100.5 degrees. Still-air incubators are often set at a slightly higher temperature, 100-101 degrees at the top of the eggs.

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8. What Happens if Temperature is too Low During Incubation?

Calibrate Incubator prior to use. Hygrometer to measure both temperature and humidity in incubator and brooder. Thermometer
SLIGHTLY LOW TEMPERATURES DURING INCUBATION CAN CAUSE A DECREASE IN THE HATCH RATE AND A DELAY IN HATCHING.

Short periods of egg cooling, 30 minutes per day, is not harmful. Longer periods of cooling (2 hours), at temperatures below 95℉, can affect the embryonic development of the embryo. This can cause poor hatch rates and chicks develop disproportionately, with a large heart and head and smaller body.

A mama hen will leave her clutch of eggs about 20-40 minutes each day to eat, drink and poop without any harmful affects. It may even help to stimulate growth of the developing embryos. So short periods of egg cooling during incubation should not be harmful.

Long term low temperatures, 97-98.5℉, will result in late hatching as well as a decreased hatch rate.

9. What Happens if Temperature is too High During Incubation?

LONG TERM TEMPERATURES OVER 104.9℉ A CHICK EMBRYO CANNOT SURVIVE.
LONG TERM TEMPERATURES OVER 104.9℉ A CHICK EMBRYO CANNOT SURVIVE.

If eggs have been incubating at too high of a temperature, above 99.5℉, but below 104.9℉, the eggs can still hatch. Chicks incubating at this temperature range usually hatch a day or two sooner, but are more likely to being malformed or crippled.

Long term temperatures of over 104.9℉ a chick embryo cannot survive.

It’s a good idea to calibrate your incubator each time you use it. This way you can avoid problems with the temperature being off. I use 2-3 different thermometers to make sure I am getting the proper reading.

10. What is the Best Humidity for Incubating Chicken Eggs?

Experts suggest relative humidity on days 1-17 to be 50-55%. Days 18-21, during “lockdown,” it should be raised to 65-70%. This can be monitored and maintained with the use of a hygrometer and using a wet sponge inside the incubator.

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11. How Do I Control Humidity in My Incubator?

Chick in Incubator with Wet Sponge
ADD WATER TO THE INCUBATOR CHANNELS OR ADD A WET SPONGE TO INCREASE THE HUMIDITY.

You can control the humidity in your incubator by adding water to the incubator channels or adding wet sponges. The more surface area that you have covered with water, the higher your humidity will be. You can also adjust the humidity by opening and closing the vent holes on your incubator.

Most incubators have multiple channels to add water. For days 1-18 only fill up some of the channels to achieve your desired humidity. For “lockdown” add water to the remaining channels to increase the humidity to 65%.

Pro Tip to Control Incubator Humidity

Incubator|Straw|Humidity|Sponge
TO INCREASE HUMIDITY, USE A STAW TO ADD WATER THROUGH A VENT HOLE. POSITION A SPONGE RIGHT BELOW THE STRAW.

Opening your incubator to add water to the channels can cause a quick drop in humidity. I have found that by placing a straw through one of the vent holes and adding water with a syringe to a sponge directly under it works great to increase the humidity without having to open the incubator!

12. What Happens If Humidity is Too High in Incubator?

In ideal incubation, eggs should lose weight. If the humidity is too high it will prevent the egg from losing enough weight, creating a smaller air cell within the egg. Less air space creates respiratory problems in the growing embryo. These chicks tend to be larger and have a decreased hatch rate.

Air Cell During Incubation. Growing chick embryo during incubating chicken eggs.
AIR SAC SHOULD GRADUALLY GROW DURING INCUBATION.

13. What Happens if Humidity Drops in Incubator?

For both regular and dry hatching, humidity drops during days 18-21 can cause the egg to lose too much weight, creating a larger air cell. These embryos usually are smaller, weaker and have a more difficult time hatching. They commonly die just before hatching or right after they hatch.

Regular Hatching: Days 1-18 add water to maintain humidity level at 50%-55%. Increase the humidity to 65% for the last 3 days and do not open the incubator until the chicks have hatched.

Chick in Incubator with Wet Sponge
INCREASE THE HUMIDITY TO 65% THE LAST 3 DAYS OF INCUBATION.

Always check with the incubator manufacturer to see what the recommended temperature and humidity levels should be for your machine.

Dry Hatching: Days 1-18, do not add any water unless the humidity drops below 15%. Then on day 18 increase your humidity to 60%-65% by adding water to the water channels. If the humidity drops during days 1-18, this is fine, as long as it doesn’t drop below 15%.

14. How Do You Know if an Unhatched Egg is Alive?

chicks hatching
ON DAY 20 CHICKS WILL TAKE THEIR FIRST BREATH INSIDE THE EGG. LISTEN FOR PEEPING!

Watch and Listen: You can tell an unhatched chicken egg is alive by around day 20 of incubation. Watch very carefully and you may see it “rock.” Day 20, chicks break through the inner membrane and take their first breath. Listen very carefully and you may hear little “peeps” coming from the egg.

I usually give unhatched eggs until day 23 before removing them from the incubator and doing further tests to see if they are alive.

Tap and Listen

The first test I do is to tap on the egg shell and put my ear to the egg. If the chick is alive, by this time it would have already pierced through the inner membrane and took its first breath. Listen. You should hear little peeping if it is alive.

If you hear peeping, place it back into the incubator. If you do not hear any peeping, try candling the egg to check for any movement.

Egg Candling

Candling Shipped Hatching
EGG CANDLING IS USUALLY DONE ON DAY 7, 10 & 14.

Egg candling at this late in embryo development is more difficult due to the embryo taking up most of the egg space. Take the unhatched egg to a dark room. Hold a bright light up to the fat end of the egg, where the air cell is. Check for any movement.

If you see movement, place the egg back into the incubator. If you don’t see any movement, try doing a water test on the egg to check for movement.

Water or “Float Test”

Float Test -used to test for egg viability and for freshness.
WATER OR “FLOAT TEST” DONE ON DAY 23, CHICKEN EGG

If I do not hear any peeping, I move on to the water or float test. This test is only to be done if there are not any external cracks on the egg. Fill a clear glass up with 90 degree water and place egg gently into the glass, fat side up. Wait for egg to be still and watch for any subtle movements.

If you see the egg wiggle, this means that the chick is moving inside the egg and probably working on hatching. Place it back into the incubator and give it a little more time. If you do not see any movement, the embryo probably stopped developing in the later stages and is no longer viable.

15. What Happens if Eggs Don’t Hatch in 21 Days?

Chicks hatching in incubator
SOME CHICKS DO NOT HATCH UNTIL DAY 22-23.

If eggs do not hatch in 21 days, don’t give up hope! Most chicks hatch by 21 days, but some also hatch by day 22. If day 23 rolls around and you do not hear any peeps, see external pipping or egg movement, then there is a good chance that the embryo stopped developing and is not viable.

Chicks that have been incubated at a slightly lower temperature can take 22-23 days to hatch. This is not an ideal situation and chicks that hatch this late are less likely to survive.

The ideal temperature to incubate eggs at for a forced air incubator is 99.5℉ and for a still air incubator is 100.5℉. Most eggs incubated at these temperatures will hatch on day 21.

16. Can I Open My Incubator During Lockdown?

Chick in Incubator Just Hatched
OPENING THE INCUBATOR CAUSES A SUDDEN DROP OF HUMIDITY, SHRINK WRAPPING THE EMBRYO TO THE MEMBRANE.

Do not open your incubator during lockdown. At this stage, the chick works on breaking through the inner membrane and pipping through its shell. Opening the incubator causes a sudden drop of humidity, shrink wrapping the embryo to the membrane, not allowing it rotate in the shell to hatch.

Just remember, opening the incubator to tend to once chick will be putting any other chicks that have already externally pipped at risk of becoming shrink wrapped.

If you must open your incubator during lockdown, I recommend doing it in an environment that matches the humidity inside the incubator. You can bring the incubator into your bathroom, shut the door and run a hot shower to help bring the humidity level up to 65%.

17. Where Should a Chick PIP?

Incubator eggs with pips
THE CHICKS HAVE PIPPED!

All eggs have an air cell located at the large or “fat end” of the egg. This air cell grows in size as the embryo develops. During the last 3 days of incubation, the chick positions itself to “pip” through the inner membrane and into the air cell to take its first breath of air.

It is important to stop turning eggs during the final 3 days of incubation so a chick can properly position itself for hatching. Most chicks instinctively know which way is up and pip through the cell membrane to take its first breath of air.

18. How Long Does it Take a Chick to Hatch After Pipping?

chick hatching
IT CAN TAKE UP TO 24 HOURS FOR A CHICK TO HATCH AFTER PIPPING.

It can take up to 24 hours for a chick to hatch after pipping. Generally, a chick will pip through the egg shell and then will rest for a few hours before beginning to “zip” out of its shell. Other chicks will pip and immediately zip, hatching in as short as 30 minutes!

19. What Happens if a Chick Pips in the Wrong Spot?

If a chick pips through the internal membrane in the wrong spot and does not immediately pip through the shell, it can drown in the remaining albumen. This can happen if the egg was continued to be rotated during the last the days of incubation.

CHICK “ZIPPING” OUT OF AN EGG.

20. When Should You Help a Shrink Wrapped Chick Hatch?

A chick that is shrink wrapped can not hatch without assistance. The membrane dries out and tightens to the chick, not allowing it to “zip” out of its shell. Knowing the reason why a chick became shrink wrapped can make a big difference in your decision to open up the incubator or let nature take its course.

Pipped, But Delayed Hatching

THIS CHICK PIPPED, BUT TOOK A VERY LONG TIME TO ZIP OUT OF ITS SHELL.

In a delayed hatch, membranes are exposed to air too long and can begin to dry out, causing the membranes to tighten up on the chick. Membranes that are exposed to a big drop in humidity can dry out, causing the membranes to tighten up on the chick.

Chicks that pipped through the egg shell and either started zipping and stopped or never started zipping can become shrink wrapped if too much time passes before zipping out of its shell. This can happen with weak chicks or chicks that may be malformed. In this situation, I believe it is best to let nature take its course.

Big Drop in Humidity After Pipping

HUMIDITY
DURING HATCHING, MEMBRANES THAT ARE EXPOSED TO A BIG DROP IN HUMIDITY CAN DRY OUT, CAUSING THEM TO TIGHTEN UP ON THE CHICK.

Membranes that are exposed to a big drop in humidity can dry out, causing them to tighten up on the chick. It cannot hatch without assistance. You need to make the decision if you want to risk opening up the incubator, putting the rest of the unhatched chicks at risk.

If you decide to open the incubator during lockdown, I suggest that you bring it into an environment that is 65% humidity, such as a bathroom with a running hot shower. This way, you will be able to open the incubator to remove the shrink wrapped chick without putting the unhatched chicks at risk.

21. How Long Does it Take a Chick to Dry After Hatching?

IT CAN TAKE UP TO 24 HOURS FOR A BABY CHICK TO COMPLETELY DRY AFTER HATCHING.
IT CAN TAKE UP TO 24 HOURS FOR A BABY CHICK TO COMPLETELY DRY AFTER HATCHING.

It takes a chick up to 24 hours to completely dry after hatching. It’s ok to leave your newly hatched chicks in the incubator for up to 48 hours. Before hatching, they absorbed the yolk which gives them enough nourishment to last for 2 days.

Make sure that you have your brooder box and brooder box supplies ready ahead of time. This is where you will transfer your baby chicks when they are completely dried. They will look like adorable little fluff balls!

Conclusion: FAQ About Incubating Chicken Eggs

Knowing how to handle fertile chicken eggs, control temperature and humidity and knowing when to intervene during the incubation process is key to a successful hatch! Incubating chicken eggs can be a very rewarding experience, especially if you are successful at it!

Now that you have armed yourself with the important knowledge needed to incubate your own chicken eggs, go do it. Have FUN!

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