Learning how to incubate baby chicks isn’t difficult. It’s the precision behind the process that’s most important.
While we’d love to stock an incubator, then set it and forget it, there’s a lot more monitoring to do throughout the 21 days your chicks are developing.
This guide will walk you through the entire process of incubating chicks, so read on to get started!
Supplies You Need to Incubate Baby Chick
It’s incredibly important to have all of your supplies ready before you begin to incubate your eggs. So here’s our handy dandy checklist of must-haves for incubating baby chicks:
- Incubator (with fans for air circulation)
- Thermometers (yes plural!)
- Egg turner
- Humidity gauge
- Turkey Baster
- Egg Candler (optional, if you’d like to monitor chick development)
- Eggs from your hens or hatchery of choice!
Selecting Your Incubator
When selecting your first incubator, consider the size you’ll need based on the number of chicks you plan to hatch. Then, make sure your incubator has great reviews!
The best incubators already come with a fan pre-installed, a built-in thermometer, and a humidity gauge.
Some incubators already come with an egg turner, but if the one you’re eyeing up doesn’t have one, make sure to purchase one separately. You don’t want to worry about opening an incubator to turn the eggs (more on this soon).
Preparing the Incubator
Before you place your first clutch of chicks into your brand new incubator, take it for a test drive.
Go ahead and set up your incubator, according to the instruction that came with it. Once it’s set up, use a secondary thermometer (a third one doesn’t hurt either) to measure the temperature and compare it to the built-in thermometer to ensure accuracy.
Humidity in the Incubator
Your incubator must maintain a certain percentage of humidity while in operation. This mimics the humidity created by the body heat a mother hen provides to her developing eggs while sitting on the nest.
The humidity also keeps the shell from sticking to the chick during development, and while it’s hatching.
For the first 18 days, the humidity should be maintained at about 50% give or take. But on day 18, increase the humidity to at least 65%. Again, this is to help the chicks hatch easily, without getting stuck inside their shells.
This is also where a turkey baster comes in handy. If you’ve purchased an incubator with easy-access holes, you can add water as needed throughout the incubation period.
On the other hand, if the incubator becomes too wet, and the humidity is over 75% simply open an air hole on the incubator to allow some of the condensation to evaporate. You don’t want mold or bacteria growing while the eggs are incubating.
It takes some practice, but the good news is it’s not an exact science.
The Perfect Temperature to Incubate Baby Chicks
Depending on your incubator, maintaining the right temperature might be one of the easiest tasks. Throughout the incubation period, the temperature should be a steady 99.5 degrees (give or take).
It can be worrisome if your temperature or humidity isn’t perfect, but in truth, a few degrees here or there is of little consequence. Momma hen probably didn’t keep things that perfect either.
Just do your best to mimic nature.
Stocking Your Incubator with Eggs
Filling your incubator is also called setting eggs. If you’re collecting eggs from your own farm, it’s best to collect for no more than 7 days before incubating. Each day that goes by after an egg is laid, the fertility rate drops.
If you can store eggs in a cool (56-degree) environment until setting your eggs, they may maintain a better hatch rate. It is important to also rotate them regularly.
Place your eggs into your incubator (without washing) pointy end down, in the egg turner.
From here on out, your biggest task is maintaining the temperature and humidity. Some incubators have alarms, some already auto-maintain, and some don’t have many bells and whistles. We suggest checking on these three things daily (no matter what)
- Egg Turner operation
When a momma hen is sitting on her eggs, she takes the time to rotate the eggs. This allows the developing chick to move about within the egg.
Instead of manually turning the eggs in your incubator, an egg turner slowly rotates them to allow chickens to develop freely within their eggs.
It can be hard to see that the turner is working because it turns extremely slowly, but if you check on it a few times during the day, you’ll see that it has changed positions a few times.
The egg turner should be removed three days before hatch day. If chicks hatch in an egg turner, they may struggle to leave their eggs, or worse, get caught in the turner.
When you make the decision to incubate baby chicks, you might think the temperature and humidity settings are the most challenging part. The truth is, the wait is probably the most difficult hurdle to overcome…remember, patience is key!
As the big day arrives, you’ll want to be sure the egg turner has been removed, and the humidity of the incubator is at about 65%.
And the fun begins! Your chicks will pip through their shells, and start emerging. It can take a long time for some chicks to hatch, so be patient and allow them to work their way out of the shell.
It’s important to remember to leave the incubator closed during the hatching process (aka lockdown). Opening before the chicks are completely out of their shells will cause the chicks to become glued into their shell, and it may even kill them. This is due to the rapid drop in humidity that is caused by opening an incubator too soon.
But once your chicks are dry, and no one else is in the middle of hatching, you can move your new peeps to their brooder!
Congrats on your new baby chicks!