I am just wrapping up my very first incubation. I learned so much from reading other people's stories, tips and collective wisdom that I thought I'd share my experience in the hopes of helping someone else.
My husband got me the Brinsea Octagon 20 Advance with automatic turning cradle for Christmas. I was super excited to use it, but forced myself to wait until this spring to try coordinate my hatch with a broody hen so that she could raise up the chicks. Starting in April I began saving up eggs from my small flock which is a mix of orpington's, speckled sussex hens and one sussex-ameraucana hen and an ameraucana rooster. Patience is not my strong suit, so when I had collected 20 eggs and tapped my foot impatiently for a couple of days, I decided to fire up the incubator even though my hen wasn't quite yet in broody mode.
The incubator was easy to set up and operate. Per the factory instructions, I set the digital therometer at 99.4 degrees, filled one tray with water, which gave me humidity in the low 40s, and let it run empty for 24 hours to make sure everything looked good. Then, in went 20 eggs, point side down. using the rack bars provided with the unit. I had to use some bunched up paper at the end of each row to get the eggs properly secured. I could have fit in 4 or 5 more eggs if I needed to.
What I didn't do. I did nothing to double check that the unit was correctly measuring the temp. and humidity. I just kind of trusted that this, rather pricey, brand new unit would work properly. Nor did I pre candle the eggs. I had already examined my "saver" eggs to pick out ones that were clean and well-formed.
My first candling happened at Day 6. I had planned on waiting until day 7, but five days after the eggs went in, my hen went broody. I let her sit on golf balls for a day to make sure, then on day 6, I candled everything and picked the seven that I was most sure about to give her. Candling was a bit nerve-racking. I washed my hands well, and then one by one held up the bottom of each egg to the candler. With the lighter eggs, it was fairly easy to see veining and mass, others were much more difficult. Of the 20, I only found 1 that I was confident was not developing. My egg-topsy showed that it looked like it was never fertilized.
My second and last candling happened on Day 13. I would have done it on Day 14 but was going out of town for a couple of days. It was much easier to see development than on Day 6. I correctly ID'ed two more "yokers" and discarded them. Everything else looked great, and it was exciting to see some of them moving. Now I was down to 10 eggs left. I never weighed the eggs or marked out air sac lines. My theory was to test if a simpler approach would yield good results.
Day 1 to 18 maintenance. This was very simple. The cradle did all the turning for me. The temperature stayed rock steady. The only thing I had to do was add more water to one of the trays every 4 days or so. My humidity stayed in the 40 to 45 RH range -- usually right around 42 degrees the entire time. I kept the air vent about a quarter of the way open during this time.
Day 18 and lockdown. I decide to go into lockdown at the start of Day 18 just in case there were any early birds and to give me some cushion to play around with the humidity. I removed the unit from the automatic cradle, removed the egg rack holders, and lined the hatching surface with paper towels. I kept the temperature the same. The instructions said to fill both water trays, which I did, and open the air vent to at least a third, which I did, and keep the humidity at 65+, which I did, but not easily (see below).
Humidity at Lockdown. This was a struggle. Both water trays full got me to 57 RH. I then put paper towels on top of the water trays to wick up more moisture, which got me to 62. Per a suggestion I read on this forum, I got a small plastic cup, put a cut-up, moistened sponge inside, and positioned it directly under the air vent. That way as it dried out, I could re-moisten it by syringing water through the air vent, without needing to open up the incubator. This got me to 65 RH on the nose. I did find I had to syringe water in, about 3 times a day, to keep it there.
What I didn't do. I did not candle the eggs before lockdown. I figured I was more like to introduce bacteria or drop an egg than I was to identify ones that had quit between day 13 and day 18. I just smelled and examined the eggs careful for any sign of cracks or rotting eggs.
Day 18 to 21 --The agonizing wait for the first sign of life. I had read all kinds of stories about "rocking" eggs and peeps starting as early as day 18. My eggs were completely and eerily silent and motionless all through day 18, day 19 and day 20. Literally, not a peep. When Day 21 dawned I was feeling pretty discouraged. I kept syringing in water to keep the humidity up, but was secretly losing hope. Then about 3 hours into day 21 I noticed a tiny fleck of shell missing form one egg. Then, after another hour later, a second fleck of egg shell went missing. Right before I went to bed I heard my first faint peep, and saw a second egg had a tiny crack in it. The next morning when I woke up (Day 21, 14 hours) there was a wet, new-born chick in the incubator. From there it was non-stop action. Over the next 24 hours 9 of the 10 eggs hatched, no assistance required. Some eggs took 15 hours to go from pip to hatch, others in only took a couple of hours. I'm proud to say I did not open the incubator once, until Day 22, when I had 9 chicks trampling around in the incubator.
I learned that eggs can take a lot of punishment when they are hatching. I'd see the already hatched chicks clamoring over pipped eggs, rolling them about, and even piled up sleeping on them. I'd cringe, yet every egg that pipped, hatched. The chicks have now been placed under the broody hen who adopted them immediately. So cute.
Finally thoughts. I was overall very happy with the Brinsea. It was easy to use and, following their instructions to the letter, gave this totally hatching rookie a 90% hatch rate (better then the broody I might add). My only real issue was with how hard the humidity was to manage during lock down. Next time I will buy a humidity pump, but it kind of bums me out that another piece of expensive equipment is required.
Edited by Morrigan - 5/14/16 at 12:04pm