How To Incubate & Hatch Chicken Eggs - Just 21 Days From Egg To Chicken!

Incubating and hatching eggs is one of the most enjoyable aspects of chicken keeping. Learn more about this amazing process!
By BYC Support · Jan 10, 2012 · Updated Jul 31, 2013 · ·
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  1. BYC Support
    How To Incubate and Hatch Chicken Eggs

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    Incubating and hatching eggs is one of the most enjoyable (and addictive) aspects of chicken keeping. Nothing beats watching those little ones fight their way out of the eggs, after the 3 weeks of fretting and fussing and watching the incubator, wondering what is going on in there. To get you started on this wonderful journey, here is a quick rundown on...

    Incubating Eggs 101

    First things first—chicken eggs should hatch in 21 days, though some may hatch a day or two early and some a day or two late after the incubation period began. A "day" is counted as a full 24 hours, so day one would be the first 24 hours after setting the egg. Day two the next 24 hours, etc. If you set eggs on a Monday, it's usually a safe bet that they will hatch on a Monday, three weeks later.


    Select clean, even shaped, undamaged eggs for incubating. It's best not to wash the eggs prior to setting, as washing can remove the protective "bloom" on the shell and make the eggs more susceptible to absorbing bacteria and other nasties, which could compromise your hatch. If possible, do not store them too long pre-incubation. Ideally eggs should be set within a week after being laid and after 10 days the hatchability of the eggs drops significantly. Store the eggs in a cool place (NOT the fridge) and turn them once a day to keep the yolks centred.

    **A note on shipped eggs: shipped eggs should be allowed to rest for 24 hours prior to setting, to allow the contents of the eggs to settle. Place shipped eggs upright, with the fat end of the egg up, in an egg carton, or something similar. Shipped eggs often have loose or damaged air cells and should ideally be incubated upright, with the fat end up. For more information and tips on managing these see here.

    Before putting your eggs into an incubator, plug it in and make sure the temperature is steady. In a forced air incubator (with a fan) the temperature should be 99.5–100*F. In a still air incubator the temperature should be slightly higher, 101–102*F measured at the top of the eggs. I use a thermometer and a hygrometer (which measures humidity) in my incubator. Hygrometers can be purchased quite cheaply at a cigar shop, Radio Shack and I believe even Walmart. You want 28–50% humidity for day 1–18, depending on air cell size, then 65% to 75% for the last few days.

    During the first 18 days of incubation, the eggs should be turned a minimum of 3 times a day. Use a non-toxic marker and mark eggs with an X on one side and an O on the other so when you are turning them you can make sure they all got turned. More about turning later...


    Incubators

    There are many makes and models of incubators for sale and they vary greatly in price, quality and user-friendliness. It's recommended that you read our Egg Incubator Reviews and get some opinions before you choose one! If you are the DIY type, building your own incubator is fairly easy too. Our members have shared designs, plans and ideas on their homemade incubators HERE,


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    Egg Fertility and Candling

    Natural fertility may vary from 55% to 95% with season, depending on condition and age of your birds. You might be safe to expect that 50% to 75% of the fertile eggs will hatch, though 90%-100% hatches can and does happen. With shipped eggs the hatch rate is approximately 50% overall. After 5–7 days of incubation, white-shelled eggs can be candled to see if embryos are developing. Candling is done by going into a dark room/area and shining a bright light (usually a flashlight) into the egg to see what is going on inside.

    Fertility and embryo development is usually apparent by day 5–6, when infertile, developing eggs, some veins and a small embryo can be seen inside the egg. If there is no sign of development by day 10, you may discard any "clears". However, sometimes embryos are hard to spot, so some hatchers wait until around day 14 or so, before discarding any undeveloped eggs. When candling, also check for blood rings (showing as a dark ring around the inside of the egg, along the shell, usually roughly in the middle of the egg, and other signs of problems. See here for egg candling pictures.


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    The Air Bubble (Sac) in the Egg

    Soon after an egg is laid, a small air bubble starts forming in the large end under the shell. This air sac serves as a "breathing space" for the hatching chick to pip into in order to breathe, during the hatching process. This is known as an "internal pip". The drier the outside air is, the more fluid is depleted from the egg contents and the faster the bubble grows. Correct humidity in the incubator insures that the bubble does not grow too big, depleting essential fluids, or deny the chick enough air by remaining too small.

    The importance of correct humidity is more apparent at the end of incubation. The normal condition is that the air cell has enlarged to the point where the chick can reach his beak through the membrane wall, allowing it to breathe, before it pips through the shell, after which it will "zip" around the shell. If humidity has been excessive, the chick may pip internally into the air cell and drown in excess fluid. On the other hand, if humidity has been too low, the air cell will be oversized and the chick may be unable to hatch.


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    A rough guide showing the development of the air cell on different days of incubation

    Positioning of the Eggs

    An incubating egg could set in a normal position as it would on a flat surface; that is with the large end slightly higher than the point, or upright in egg cartons/turners, with the fat end of the egg always up. An egg that persistently has the small end elevated may cause the embryo to be misoriented with the head toward the small end. In the misoriented position, the chick is likely to drown on pipping. Therefore, it is quite important that in general, the large end of eggs should be slightly higher than the small ends; or as they would lie naturally on a flat surface.

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    Turning

    Turning is essential during the first 14 days of incubation, but most people continue it to day 18. Turning is stopped during the last 3 days. If hand turning, always turn the eggs an uneven number of (minimum 3) times a day, so the eggs do not spend two nights in a row in the same position. If not turned to a fresh position frequently during the early stages, the developing embryo touches the shell membrane and sticks to it causing abnormal growth. Turning the egg aids these movements within the egg, and mimics what a mother hen would do naturally.


    Lockdown

    The last few days of incubation, days 18–21, are known as "lockdown". When lockdown day comes, switch off/remove turners (if present), increase the humidity in the incubator to around 70% and maintain it. Do not open the incubator unless necessary and do not turn the eggs during this period.


    What to do When when the Chicks Hatched

    After the chick hatched allow it to dry off and fluff up in the incubator before removing it to a brooder. Newly hatched chicks can survive for up to 3 days on the yolk they absorb during the hatching process, but once you put them in the brooder make sure there is at least water available and offer them food after a day or 2. For more on raising chicks, see HERE.


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    Feeding New Baby Chicks

    Feed and water must be available at all times from the time they are out of the incubator. Do not dole out a measured daily ration. Do not let feed or water run out! Chicks need to be fed a chick starter. Medicated chick starter can be fed to help prevent Coccidiosis. Please note: chicks fed a medicated starter may still get coccidiosis. The medicine in the feed only help prevent it!


    Prevent Accidental Drowning

    Water receptacles are a risk with baby birds during their first week. Chicks are clumsy and can easily fall into water dishes and get drenched or even drown. A common device to prevent drowning is to use a shallow water cup with marbles or small, clean pebbles set in the water over the entire drinking area. The chicks will drink in the spaces between the marbles/pebbles.


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    Further Recommended Reading:


    Incubating & Hatching Eggs Forum Section
    The Beginner's Guide to Incubation
    Incubation Humidity
    Development of a Chicken Embryo Day by Day
    Guide to Assisted Hatching for All Poultry
    Step by Step Guide to Assisted Hatching

    Egg failure to hatch - Diagnosing incubation problems
    Diagnosing causes of malpositions and deformities in chick embryos
    Diagnosing hatch failures - It starts with the egg

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    Pork Pie, alexa009, tjo804 and 18 others like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. bonsaiherb
    "Incubating and hatching Chicken Eggs"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 15, 2018
    Well written and easy to understand. A good 101 on incubating eggs.
    I would just add - do not have oils, hand lotion or other things on your hands/fingers as you manually handle the egg turning.
    Greasing them up so to speak.

    I also think that over humidifying the incubator is the greatest concern. A house usually is about 70 degrees humidity so the basic need is close to being met without adding too much water. if condensation forms on your incubator lid - do not add more until it is gone.
    Just remember a chicken does not sweat so a broody hen unless she spits on the eggs is not going to be adding humidity. Not sure how this works in overly humid areas like the South or even the East Coast during the summer.
    A hen can only do so much to regulate the heat and humidity of her brood.
  2. Goldenrod1210
    "Great Article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 10, 2018
    Tells everything you need to know. In the future I may incubate so I will for sure take a look back on this article. :)
  3. alexa009
    "This article tells it all!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 31, 2018
    This article tells all of the information of incubating and hatching eggs! I always new baby chicks were susceptible to drowning so I give them water in something small then in a couple of weeks get something bigger like a little dog bowl.

Comments

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  1. jnjmanning
    I always count the day after I set, as day one. But I always get an early chick and a late one!
  2. LALEWIN
    I get caught up on technicalities. That's the way I am. OK, I put the eggs in the incubator on a Friday around noon. What do I count as day 1? That day or Saturday? Counting by Sat as day one, they are due to hatch Fri. I just want to be sure to take the turner out on the right day. Friday would be nice seeing as I work Thursday. =) Silly how I am ok with everything else, but get stuck on counting days.....
  3. misschickenlittle
    If you've set eggs and then received more eggs can you add them to the incubator or would that be a bad thing? First batch has been in a week...
  4. Dee Dee 2
    Well Finally ! After a lot of anxiety and confusion I received my RRI eggs yesterday. I am suspect as to the handeling through the P.O. . WOULD STRONGLY SUGGEST IF YOU ORDER EGGS THRU THE MAIL HAVE THEM SENT EXPRESS MAIL AND PICK THEM UP IN PERSON. Ok we will see in 21 days .
  5. jnjmanning
    Hey onebigglo I am at day 18 also. I am also on lockdown and cant get my humidity up. Fingers crossed for us both. Hatching day is Friday and Saturday. I always have one who comes early!
  6. onebigglo1
    I'm using one of the foam incubators from TSC and have kept the humidity level between 40-50 for the first 18 days. They are now on lockdown but I can't get the humidity level above 55%. I have all the trays filled, a huge sponge and 3 small plastic cups filled with water. Any suggestions? This is my first time hatching so IF anything lives I believe it will either be trimmed in gold or have little halos. Pray for my babies!!!
  7. mkrassin
    Thank you to all that responded to my cry for help incubating my eggs. I started them and am almost through my second week. It will be interesting and exciting. mkrassin
  8. TabbyG
    thanks for the information -- i can't wait to try it out!
  9. mom29
    How far along are they?
  10. onebigglo1
    I candled my eggs for the second time and the egg looks mostly dark. This is my first time hatching eggs in an incubator so I'm hoping this means there is a growing chick in them?
  11. jnjmanning
    LOL outdorsii, I thought the same thing about them knocking the unhatched eggs around. But I also found that the hatched chicks will peep and encourage the ones pipping. Plus knocking them around helped them to hatch. The bad thing about opening the incubator is you are constantly changing the temp and humidity in the incubator, which effects the ones still to hatch. That seems to be more harmful than the eggs getting knocked around.
  12. outdoorsii
    We've found out that humidity definately varies in different environments, elevations where your located, etc....we've learned that around 55-60% for the last 3 days is too low & that 65-70% for last 3 days was too high, first time we had shrink wrapped chicks, the last time we had ALOT of chicks that drowned :( I also don't like leaving the hatched chicks in the incubator for too long and if we do we put them in a little cup about 3-4" tall b/c if not they'll run around the bator playing soccer w/the eggs, which can't be good for them since they're in pipping position....
  13. MikeWu
    I started with 9 eggs but only 5 cracked and only 3 came out. 1 died a few days later. The other 2 survived to adolescence but lost their lives to Merek disease. The only way I would get chicks now is ordering with Merek vaccination.
  14. jnjmanning
    My experience is to always let nature take it's course. I have seen just as many chicks die when you help, as those who survive. Some live and end up with deformities. I know it's hard to not touch or open the incubator, but if you still have eggs in there to hatch, you will risk them also.
  15. Chickenfan4life
    WESOME! This will be pretty helpful for when I decided to get an incubator and start hatching my own biddies.
  16. surgerynut
    How do you know when to assist? I had two chicks that had much of the shell gone looked like they were about ready to pop out, then nothing, no movement for hours. I finally decided to help but too late. Is it common for chicks to make it so far then just die? So far 17 out of 25 have hatched, (day 21), 2 died before making it all the way out and about half of the others have small pips.
  17. dlg4742
    how do i lower the humidity
  18. mkrassin
    Thank you so much for all the information. I gave a few eggs to a hen and she is setting very nicely., I also am going to try the incubator and see how that goes. Thank you. MKrassin
  19. jphendrix
    I have my incubator set up and am going to try to make sure the temp is regulated for a few days. This will be my very first hatch! Keeping my fingers crossed! one question! I don't have a automatic turner, I thought about using a egg carton, and using a brick to lift up one side, then when it's time to turn them lift switch to the other side, will this work?
  20. chickenlover135
  21. Bad Wolf
    I was told to turn only every 12 hours, but this article says 3x's a day. I have only been turning them 2xs. Do you think they will be ok?
  22. chickmonk18
    A bit of advice, make sure you set up your bator and keep adjusting the temp until it stays at 99.5 or very close to that for a couple of days before putting your eggs in to hatch.
  23. castillofa
    Our first attempt at hatching resulted in two chicks. One was too deformed to survive and had to be culled. The other is just fine. They were the only two of the thirty six we started with. Purchased a set each from a hatchery online and from ebay. The eggs that did not hatch seemed to be full of water when I opened a few up to see what happened. The chicks seemed to die before attempting to peep. We put in another 7 last saturday from our hens. Candled today, with two being clear, but the others are developing blood vessels. Hope these hatch out better than the first set. :)
    When at first you don't succeed, eat chocolate.
  24. Dee Dee 2
    What a great article. THANK YOU ! A friend has offered their incubator. Come spring I would like to try this 'just for fun' HOWEVER I would like to hatch some chicks of a different breed than I have ( would like some buffs and giants). I have read on B.Y.C. of people 'ordering' eggs to hatch. How does that work ? Surely they don't send them in the mail. Worked for the P. O. for 25 1/2 years, I'm sure all you would recieve is scrambled eggs.
  25. Dasp
    Good info!
  26. Dee Dee 2
    I am wanting to expand my flock come spring. Has anyone had success with taking the eggs ( in the dark of night) from under a broody hen and replacing them with baby chicks ?
  27. Mr MKK FARMS
    Thanks so helpful!
  28. whitey61
    well today is day one of 21- I hope lol I have not hatched eggs from a incubator since I was 13 -- am 52 now ! my wife thinks am going thur my mid life cris - lol but I guess its better then trying to buy my old corvette back ! and if notting else I can have one of my chicken set on my head to cover up my blad spot ! trying to hatch some light brahma chicks I think my grandkids will get a kick out of them.
  29. Whiber02
    I hate having to turn the eggs, I always forget doing it when I incubate, does anyone here think it would be alright if I dont turn them!?!?!
  30. jed2012
    thanks, good to know
  31. sagenhoney
    Just got an incubator and trying out some eggs for the first time. This article is very helpful. Can't wait to learn about this experience and bring some cute baby chics into life :)
    Question: Is there an easy way to print these articles out besides copy and pasting into word? I'm always amazed at how many sites give you so many options to share, but no option to a printer-friendly version without all the surrounding ads, etc.
  32. jchny2000
    Thanks very much for posting this, i hope to try next spring.
  33. krackowpolish
    i'm gonna hatch my first chicks and i'm super excited! i hope they all turn out Ok.
  34. XxPandaxX
    So, I've been doing something right... YAY !
  35. mommyof2kings85
    I had mine all set up but now it is not wanting to keep the right temp now that I have the eggs in it, can I take the eggs out and try to set it up agen? They ware put in at 7:30 last night is it to late now to take them out?
  36. shelbear81
    I have my first incubator all set up and tuned to the right temp, just waiting for my eggs to come in the mail!! keep your fingers crossed that the usps didn't scramble them!!
  37. mommyof2kings85
    I just got me a incubater today and cant wait to get started with my first batch of eggs, wish me luck
  38. lisamariev
    I just heard the first chirp from inside the egg. How long before I can expect to see pipping?
  39. jnjmanning
    All depends on humidity. I left mine for 24 hrs, then moved them into a warm brooding box. But mine were fluffy after a couple hrs.
  40. chickadoo2017
    i helped a chick out of the shell. he is still alive but i am wondering how long till the are fluffy
  41. Myles
    Tough call. You can wait another day or help open the crack a little. I've done both. I've also had one die after the hole was about the size of a marble. I left it be thinking that if it got that far it could make it all the way. The next time I helped with the cracking and the chick came out fine.
  42. wlrabbitry
    I have 2 eggs with holes pecked out. and I hear chirping how long before they are out of the shell?
  43. Myles
    Nope. Typically they will hatch day 21-day 24.
  44. jhcharron
    I am on day 20 of my hatch and none of them have started to chirp or peep. Is this bad?
  45. Myles
    I would think taking it away from the mother would be best for its survival.
  46. Chick1043
    I hatched eggs for the first time last year! 5 outta 6 hatched :) Once, the temp got to 108 degrees for about two hours!!!!!!!! I'm sooooooooo glad they survived!!!!
  47. mimandrew
    our little silky bantam just hatched an egg! We now have a little chick. Should we leave it with its mum or take it out and keep it spearate with a warm light etc?
  48. foghorn68
    thanks for the info... gonna try and hatch some this weekend.... wish me luck :)
  49. blondebarnbabe
    Today would be day 22 -1/2, maybe 23 for my first time incubating some SL Wyandotte eggs. I never did candle the darned things (duh!) and still no chicks. Please send out your best chick karma for a couple of hatchlings!
  50. ashleym
    my chicken eggs were at 63-65 % humdity the whole time un knowlingly there due to day do you think they will hatch?

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