Before you start to incubate, be sure that the incubator is working properly, you have read the instructions, and, understand how to operate it. After testing the incubator it's important to keep the eggs in a controlled environment for the incubation period (21 days for chickens, 28 days for ducks). This will ensure a successful and healthy hatch. The temperature, humidity and ventilation have to be carefully controlled. To control the environment keep the incubator in a room which is free from drafts and where the room temperature remains as constant as possible. Placing the incubator near a window, heater or in a draft could cause large fluctuations inside the incubator.
Setup the incubator up to a working temperature of 37.5°C. The water reservoir should be filled with warm water and the thermometer set in place.
Once the temperature has stabilized, rest your eggs pointy end down for 24 hours. This warms them gradually to room temperature before being put in the incubator.
The eggs need to be turned a minimum of three times a day. To ensure you know which eggs have been turned use a pencil and mark one side with a cross and the other with a circle; this is to help the embryo to develop into a healthy chick during the incubation period. You should stop turning the eggs from day 18 for chickens and day 25 for ducks.
Maintain the temperature in the 37-39° C. temperature range., 37.5° C if possible. Over heating speeds up embryo development, lowers the percentage of hatchability, and causes abnormal embryos. Although a short cooling period may not be harmful, longer periods of low temperatures will reduce the rate of embryo development. Excessively low temperatures will kill the embryos. Avoid temperatures outside the 37-39° C . range. If the temperature remains beyond either extreme for several days, hatchability may be severely reduced.
Ventilation is crucial because the embryo is a living organism which exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide through the shell during the incubation process. The amount of air exchange needed increases as the embryo develops. Refer to your incubators instruction manual on how to ensure you have the correct ventilation.
The moisture level in the incubator should be about 50% to 55% relative humidity up until the last week of hatching, then, increase to about 65% for chickens and 85% for ducks for the last 3 days of incubation. Refer to your incubators instruction manual on how to change humidity.
The Air sack in the Egg
Soon after an egg is laid, a small air bubble forms in the large end under the shell. A membrane separating the mass of the egg and the air bubble moves back and forth to relieve stress and pressure on the embryo resulting from changes in temperature. The drier the outside air is, the more fluid is depleted 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 bubble has enlarged to the point where the chick can reach his beak through the membrane wall and pick around the shell. If humidity has been excessive, the chick may not reach the bubble but will pip the shell in the fluids under the bubble and may drown. On the other hand, if humidity has been too low, the bubble will be oversized and the fluids under it will have dehydrated to the point where final development of the embryo will be retarded and the chick may become stuck to the shell when it pips. In this condition, the chick will exhaust itself, unable to get out of the shell.
Candling is a way of checking the fertility of an egg and the development of the embryo, with the use of a light source. In a darkened room carefully hold the egg up to the light to observe its contents. Candling can be done at any time during the incubation process, although day 8 onwards is usually when the embryo is more easily identified.
To candle, darken the room. Eggs can be out of the incubator for up to 20-30 minutes before starting to cool down inside, so don't rush. You can GENTLY roll the egg on the candler to get the best view.
The embryo is located at the large end of the egg, where blood vessels will be present under the surface if the egg is fertile. The embryo appears as a dark spot which becomes larger as the incubation period continues.
The egg will appear to have a black spot which as the embryo grows and incubation continues will grow larger until light will only pass through the air cell end of the egg.
Eggs appear clear.
If the egg was fertile but the embryo has died then you will see a blood ring around the yolk or possibly a dark spot dried to the inside of the shell depending on when the embryo stopped growing.
Note that dark or brown shelled eggs are more difficult to candle than white or pale shelled eggs.
The big day arrives but two words, the most important words you will ever hear..."be patient". Once a chick pips, it can take up to 24 hours before they are fully
clear of their shell. In our experience some pip and do nothing for 12 hours and some break out of their shells very quickly. Don’t worry let nature take its course, we tend to leave eggs for three days after the first one has pipped, if there is still no sign of activity remove them. Once the chick’s have hatched do not be in a hurry to take them out of the incubator. Gallinaceous birds, such as chickens can survive up to 3 days without feed or water but we remove our chick’s to their brooder once they have fluffed up.
In the brooder
Feed and water must be available at all times from the time they are out of the incubator. Do not let feed or water run out! Baby chickens should be fed a suitable medicated chick crumb, we use farmgate ACS. Ducks should only be fed a non medicated chick or duck starter crumb. Water receptacles are a problem with baby birds during their first week, in that if they can, the birds will drown themselves. The urge to get into water is thought to be related to the fact that the birds are fresh out of the fluids of their natural environment. The younger the bird is, the stronger its urge to throw itself completely into any water available. After a few days, certainly a week, this instinctive compulsion to flounder in water disappears. We use marbles set in the water over the entire drinking area to prevent drowning. The chicks willbe able to effectively drink in the spaces between the marbles.