15 Essential Incubation Tips – How to Improve Hatch Rate

Improve Your Hatch Rate

Incubating and hatching eggs is one of the most gratifying and addicting parts of chicken keeping! Nothing is more amazing in this hobby than watching little chicks finally break out of their shells and make their appearance. Choosing the best eggs, treatment of fertile eggs and maintaining proper parameters throughout incubation are key to improving your hatch rate.

Below are 15 essential tips that if followed, will greatly improve hatch rate.

1. Can you incubate dirty eggs?

It is highly recommended not to incubate dirty eggs and not to wash dirty eggs prior to incubating. Eggs have a protective coating called a “bloom” on them, but are also porous. So, washing dirty eggs runs the risk of removing the bloom and introducing bacteria into the egg.

Tip: If you find it necessary to incubate a dirty egg and you can safely remove the dirt by gently brushing it away with a dry cloth or hand, you should be ok. The important thing is to avoid scratching the surface of the egg because this would remove part of the cuticle or bloom, introducing bacteria into the egg.

2. Which eggs are best for hatching?

Small and Very Large Chicken egg

When choosing an egg for hatching, choose one that is clean, even shaped, without cracks, not too small and not too big. It should be slightly larger on one end and pointed on the other. The fresher the egg, the better. After 10 days, eggs begin to lose their viability.

  • Clean eggs, that do not have any cracks in them, are less likely to have bacteria absorbed through the shell.
  • Smaller eggs tend to produce smaller, weaker chicks. They have a difficult time hatching and if they do hatch are more likely not to survive.
  • Larger eggs can contain two embryos which almost always do not survive.
  • Eggs that are slightly larger on one end than the other are ideal to incubate as the larger end is where the air cell usually develops, also increasing your hatch rate!

3. How long can you wait to put eggs in an incubator?

Chicken Eggs in Basket

Choose eggs that are no older than 7-10 days. Any older than this and they begin to become less viable. If you decide to wait before putting eggs into an incubator, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

  • Fertile eggs must be stored at room temperature, between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Store with pointed side down.
  • Store at a 45 degree angle.
  • Rotate them 45 degrees at least 1 time a day.

4. How should you position eggs in an incubator?

Eggs in Incubator Upright and on Their Side

Days 1-18, eggs can be placed either upright or on their side. If you place them upright, it is essential to place the fatter side up (or pointy side down). This is so the air cell forms at the larger end of the egg, increasing the odds of a successful hatch.

If placing them on their side for days 1-18, place an “X” on one side and an “O” on the other side. At least three times a day, at equal intervals throughout the day, turn the egg from one side to the other. Just make sure that the amount of times you turn the eggs in a given day is an odd amount. This ensures that the eggs are never on the same side two nights in a row.

Days 18-21 is “lockdown” time. All eggs should be placed on their side and left alone. This is the time that the chicks position themselves to start “pipping” through the membrane and egg shell. The incubator should remain closed until all of the chicks hatch.

5. Can a slightly cracked egg still hatch?

If you act quickly, you might be able to save a cracked egg! Inspect eggs prior to incubation to make sure that there aren’t any fine cracks. This can be done by going into a dark room and holding a flashlight up to the egg.

Fine cracks in an egg will decrease the odds of an egg hatching due to bacterial contamination and air shrink wrapping the embryo to the membrane of the egg. The larger the crack, the lower the odds of a successful hatch.

Tip: How to Save a Cracked Chicken Egg

It is possible to save a cracked egg, but you must act quickly!

  • Wrap the egg in a clean, warmed towel. This will help to make sure that air does not dry out the membranes inside. Place the wrapped egg back into the incubator while you get the supplies to repair the crack.
  • Light a candle and wait for the wax to begin melting. Many people have reported success with using candle wax to seal up cracks in eggs.
  • Drip candle wax over the crack, using the least amount possible to seal the crack.
  • Place the egg back into the incubator.

6. What is the hatch rate for shipped eggs?

Eggs that are not shipped have an average hatch rate of about 80% and eggs that are shipped drop down to about a 50% hatch rate. Of course, this can vary depending upon the packaging, distance of shipping and how the post office handles them.

I highly recommend to incubate your own eggs or get some from a local farmer.

If you are looking to purchase some shipped eggs, try to find a location that is closer to your house. The less distance the eggs have to travel by the postal service, the better.

I have used both Papa’s Poultry and Cackle Hatchery and have had pretty good success with my hatches. Both of these locations had excellent packaging of the fertile eggs. It’s a risk you take though. If the postal service shakes them up too much, you could have a 0% hatch rate.

7. How do I choose an incubator?

I highly recommend to spend a little extra money on an incubator with an automatic turner and electronic LCD that tells you the temperature and humidity. (Especially if you are busy and not home in the daytime.)They even come with built in alarms that will sound when the incubator temperature or humidity falls out of your set range.

In most circumstances, the more money you spend, the more “hands off ” your incubator will be. Ask yourself, “Do I want to turn the eggs several times a day?” “Do I have the time to check and regulate the incubator temperature and humidity throughout the day?”

I have used several different incubators and personally prefer the Brinsea brand. I have found that I have the best hatch rate with this brand. Brinsea offers both automatic or manual models as well as a variety of different sizes. They are a little bit more pricey, but well worth it!

Do your homework before deciding on an incubator. Go online and check for reviews. Visit forums and ask for others opinions before splurging.

8. Can you put eggs straight in incubator?

If you are collecting your own eggs or getting them from a local farmer, the eggs can be put straight into an incubator. Shipped eggs need proper care prior to incubation. Due to shaking that occurs during transportation, eggs can develop air bubbles and need to set for 12-24 hours prior to incubation.

9. How do you store eggs before incubation?

shipped eggs tilted for 24 hours prior to incubation
PROPER EGG STORAGE PRIOR TO INCUBATION IS IMPORTANT.

When storing eggs prior to incubation, set them with the more pointed side down and at a 45 degree angle. Rotate them 45 degrees at least one time a day. This is to ensure that the yolk stays suspended and doesn’t stick to the membrane.

If you are collecting chicken eggs during the warm weather that you want to incubate, it is important to put them straight into the incubator. Higher outdoor temperatures actually begin the incubation process of the embryo. If you bring it into your cool home and let it rest on the kitchen counter it will begin to sweat, washing off the protective “bloom,” increasing the chances of bacteria contaminating the egg (killing the embryo).

With the exception of during very warm weather, freshly laid eggs can be stored at room temperature, 50-60 degrees, for up to 10 days. After 10 days, fertile eggs lose their viability.

10. How do you decontaminate an incubator prior to using?

Clean your incubator with ACV, apple cider vinegar
CLEAN YOUR INCUBATOR BOTH BEFORE AND AFTER USAGE.

Your incubator should be cleaned prior to using it and prior to storage. Start by removing all shelves, dividers and the automatic turner. You can use warm, soapy water, apple cider vinegar, rubbing alcohol or a 25% bleach and water solution to wipe it down. Avoid using any harsh chemicals.

Don’t spray any of your electronics within the incubator. Instead, gently wipe them down with a warm, damp cloth.

There are so many other uses for using ACV around your chicken coop. Visit my article 12 Uses of Apple Cider Vinegar Around Your Chicken Coop – How to Make Your Chickens Happy, Healthy and More Productive.

11. Why do I need to wash my hands before touching fertile eggs? (Improve hatch rate)

Wash your hands before handling fertile chicken eggs.

You should always wash your hands before handling fertile eggs of any kind that you plan to incubate. Even though you cannot see bacteria on your hands, it’s there! By washing your hands right before you candle or handle the eggs you will decrease the odds of transmitting bacteria to the eggs which will eventually make its way through its porous shell and contaminate the egg.

12. How often should you turn eggs in an incubator? (Improve hatch rate)

Test your incubator with a hygrometer to make sure the incubator is calibrated.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO ROTATE YOUR EGGS, GET AN INCUBATOR WITH AN AUTOMATIC TURNER.

Chicken eggs should be turned a minimum of 3 times a day, but preferably 5 times per day at equal intervals throughout the day. If you don’t rotate your eggs, you run the risk of the yolk sticking to the egg membrane.

Make sure that you rotate chicken eggs daily for the recommended amount of times. Chicken embryos often stop developing if they are not rotated.

If you don’t have the time to dedicate to turning your eggs and monitoring the temperature and humidity throughout the day, then I highly recommend investing in an incubator with an automatic egg turner and one that can regulate the temperature and humidity for you.

13. What is the ideal temperature for incubating chicken eggs?

Thermometer

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.

It is vital to maintain proper temperature throughout the incubation process.

I find that forced-air incubators (they have built in fans) are easier to maintain the temperature and humidity. Still-air incubators temperature can vary by as much as 5 degrees, depending upon where you are measuring the temperature. This can make maintaining the proper humidity a lot more difficult.

Always check what the manufacturer recommends the temperature to be set at as it can vary depending upon the model you purchased.

14. What should the humidity be in an incubator? Improve hatch rate

Chick in Incubator with Wet Sponge
USE A HYGROMETER AND A WET SPONGE TO REGULATE THE HUMIDITY IN THE INCUBATOR.

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.

DRY INCUBATION: This is another method that some like to use for hatching eggs and have had good success with. It is exactly as it sounds. Days 1-18 you do not add any water. During lockdown, you add water and maintain the humidity at around 65%-75%.

Always check with the manufacturer to see what they recommend.

What happens if humidity is too low in incubator? (improve hatch rate)

During a normal incubation process, eggs lose weight. If the humidity is too low, the egg will lose too much weight, creating a larger air space and a smaller embryo. Smaller chicks are weaker, have difficulty hatching and often die just before or after they hatch.

What happens if humidity is too high in incubator?

If the humidity is too high during incubation, the egg will not lose enough weight. This causes the air space within the egg to be smaller, creating respiratory problems and the chick to grow larger. Large chicks have trouble moving around inside the egg, therefore can have a difficult time hatching.

How do I adjust the humidity in my incubator?

Incubator|Straw|Humidity|Sponge
ADD WATER TO YOUR INCUBATOR TO INCREASE THE HUMIDITY LEVEL.

You can adjust the humidity by adding water to the pots or channels in your incubator or by adding water to sponges you place inside. On the days that you candle your eggs, take the opportunity of already having your incubator open and refill your water channels and sponges.

The more surface area that you have with water, the higher the humidity will be.

Tip: Most models have a vent hole on the top. Place a sponge directly under the vent hole and use a straw and a syringe to add water to the sponge. This way you do not even have to open it up to maintain the proper humidity. To increase the humidity quicker, add warm water. This is especially helpful during “lockdown.” Opening the incubator for even a short time during the last few days can cause your chicks to become shrink wrapped, unable to hatch and die.

15. Can you open incubator during hatching?

You want to keep the opening of your incubator to a minimum, especially during hatching! Ideally, once pipping begins, you should keep it closed until all of your chicks have hatched. Opening the incubator after a chick has pipped through their shell can cause them to become shrink wrapped and not able to zip out of their shell. These chicks often die.

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