When it comes to increasing your flock, hatching chickens is one of the most economical ways of making that happen. But like all things associated with raising chickens, you need to be prepared and informed before you begin the process.
In addition to your chicken coop or hen house, you will need an electric incubator and a brooder (for after they hatch). Generally, it takes about three weeks or so for an egg to hatch. During this time the egg needs to be under the incubator.
It is important that you follow the instructions that come with the incubator. For the most part, however, the temperature should be maintained at about 99 degrees. You should have your incubator set up and running at the proper temperature two days before you expect the eggs to arrive.
Many incubators come with an automatic egg turner. If you have one, test it out as turning the eggs in very important.
If you do not have an automatic egg turner, you will need to turn them by hand, three times a day.
Maintaining a steady temperature of 99-99.5 degrees is critical. This means you should check the thermometer on a daily basis. Make your adjustments as needed. Do not allow the temperature to get too high as this will “cook” the egg over time. Likewise, a lower temperature will result in a dead egg.
When you put the eggs into the turner, remember to put the eggs in with the smaller end down. The larger end of the egg contains the air bubble which the chick will need in order to hatch properly. If you put your eggs in upside down, the chick will probably drown.
Most incubators will have two water troughs. One is located in the center of the device and the other runs along the outer edge. Keep the center trough full of water for the first two weeks, but leave the outer one empty for the first two weeks. Then, fill both troughs and keep them full.
When you get to day 18, you want to remove the egg turner. You can now put the eggs on the meshed wire inside the incubator. Remember to keep both water troughs full at all times. From day 18 until they hatch, you do not want to turn the eggs or disturb them in any way. Just leave them alone.
If you have not already done so, now is the time to get your brooder box ready. You can purchase a box or you can use a cardboard box. Put some sawdust or old newspaper in the bottom and make sure that you have a working heat lamp placed over the box.
You will also need to have food and water sources ready for the new chicks. Chicks need clean, fresh water and should be fed “chick feed” rather than adult chicken food.
A chick will normally begin to peep at about the three week mark. It is important that you do not try to help the chicks to get out of the shells. It can take up to 24 hours for them to get out, so be patient.
Helping the chick to get out may actually kill the chick as it may still be attached to the yolk. Once the chick is free of the shell, allow it to stay in the incubator until it dries. Once the chick is dry, place it in the brooder.
As you can see, hatching chickens is not as difficult as some might think it is. Spending some time preparing for the eggs is the key to success when it comes to hatching chickens at home.