Incubating, it’s not as hard as you might think. In order hatch poultry eggs in an incubator, you must first know what temperature to incubate them at. Luckily, all the poultry I talk about on this website, can be incubated at the same temperature, which is 99.5 degrees fahrenheit.
Types of incubators.
Still Air incubators are the simplest. They are usually made of foam and have a coil around the upper/lid part of the incubator. This is the heating element. You set thetemperature using a knob and then you check that temperature with a thermometer which you place inside the incubator. The thermometer should be at a height about where the top of the eggs would be if you are initially setting temperature without having eggs in the incubator. If you already have eggs in there and it is a simple thermometer, then it can just be laid on top of the eggs.
Circulating Air: These are almost identical to the Still Air incubators except they have a fan to circulate the warm air. These are preferred because they keep the eggs at a more uniform temperature. With the still air, the top of the eggs are warmer than the bottoms
Cabinet: These are cabinet sized incubators. You would only need these if you plan on hatching a lot of eggs. The Little Giant incubators that I use can hatch up to 41 chicken or duck eggs on the single level that they have. While the cabinet incubators could have 3 or more times that many depending on how many shelves they have and many of these also have built in egg turners which tilt the whole egg tray.
Egg turners, I recommended these as they will make this much simpler and they will reduce how many times you have to open the incubator which leads to temperature and humidity fluctuations that could affect your hatch. The egg turner for the Little Giant incubators come in both quail egg size and chicken/duck egg size. These turners tilt the eggs back and 4th VERY slowly, turning them about 1/4 turn every 6 hours. They are much more precise than any person can do by hand.
Hatching and Raising
About 3 days before scheduled hatch, you should stop turning your eggs or turn the turner off making sure the eggs are in the upright position.
Many people have had more luck hatching their eggs directly in the turner or and egg carton. This may be because as a chicken turns around in it egg to break open the shell, the entire egg can roll and move which may make breaking through the shell more difficult. If the chick inside becomes too tired before full ‘unzipping’ the shell they won’t be able to push their way out.
When it comes to helping out a chick that is having trouble hatching, the decision is up to you. Some say that chicks that cannot get themselves out should be left alone because if they can;t make it out of the shell they will be weak and will not thrive as adults. Sometimes helping a chick out is futile, if they have been in too long their legs may be deformed and they will be unable to walk. I found this more to be a problem with quail. I have helped a few chicks and ducklings out before and they did just fine once out of the shell.
After chicks have hatched they can remain in the incubator up to 24 hours. I usually never leave mine in this long. You don’t have to either but you shouldn’t take you chick out before it is has had time to dry. However, sometimes the hatching of the chicks increases the humidity quite dramatically. In this case the chicks will be unable to dry, so they can be removed from the incubator and places in the brooder but one must take extra care that the brooder is already warm and that there is no chance of drafts. Chilling a chick right out of the shell could cause it’s health to decline rapidly. Chicks are unable to regulate their body temperature for a few weeks after hatching so they need warmth in order to stay healthy.
Once you have removed the chicks from the incubator and placed them in the brooder, you must show each of them where they water is. Do this by gently dipping their beaks twice into the water with a short couple second break in between dips. You should see the chick drink the water that has been left on it’s beak. This is usually enough to get them to know where the water is but some poultry may need a few more reminders. Turkeys and quail come to mind, they may need to be reminded where the water is for their first few days. While ducks need almost no reminders as they are naturally drawn to water and will also make quite a mess of it so with ducks it’s best to keep their chick water within another larger dish, like the type you put around plant pots, to catch all the extra water they will certainly drop while playing.
A brooder is something that you keep young chicks in until they are ready to go outdoors. A good brooder should be warm, dry and draft free. Those are the minimum requirements, what one makes their brooder out of is only limited by their imaginations and materials available. When first began hatching small numbers of quail, chicks and ducks from my own flock, I just used a regular sized rubbermaid container, with pine shavings in the bottom and with a heat lamp taped into one corner shining down into one half of the box. This set up would require a smaller heat lamp than you may see for sale in stores or online. If you have a tiny brooder you want to make sure the heat lamp is proportionately sized because the chicks need a cooler area to escape the heat of the lamp if they get too hot. If lamp is too big and they cannot get to a spot to cool down, they could overheat and die.
On the other hand, you do not want them getting too cold because this will slow down their metabolism, they will becomes sluggish and eat less and this can also cause them to die. Another downside of them getting cold is, they will tend to huddle together for warmth sometimes smothering some of their hatchmates that may end up at the bottom of a pile. Some people use thermometers to tell if they temperature in the brooder is right for the chicks, which people say is 95 F for the first week then decrease 5 F for each week thereafter until they are moved outdoors. A thermometer isn’t necessary for this, all you have to do is observe the chicks. If they huddle away from the light they are too hot, under the light they are too cold, if they are generally active, eating, drinking and perhaps basking then the temperature is just right.
Chicks should not be moved outdoors until they are fully feathered and even when they are fully feathered, they must be acclimated. I begin to acclimate them by turning their lamp off and leaving it off for 1 to 2 weeks before they are scheduled to go out. Then I begin taking them outside in a large rubbermaid container so that they can be contained but still be exposed to the weather. Of course it is best to do this when the whether is warm. Early spring is the best time to hatch and bring chicks outdoors, although if it is too early in spring and chicks are outside at night one must be aware of possible frosts that could chill and kill the chicks.