One of our favorite times of the year is spring, especially for our kids because they know it is time to hatch chicks.
Every spring, we decide whether or not to let one of our hens become a mother hen and go broody and hatch her own chicks, or, if we should hatch them with an incubator. The kids of course love the process of hatching, for the candling and watching the embryos develop and because well, baby chicks (aren't newly hatched chicks the best?!).
We also love incubating eggs and hatching our own chicks because they get used to being handled and are around us so much, that they tend to grow up to be super friendly chickens that let you pet them and follow you around the yard.
We love our chickens hanging around us in the garden and yard, which you might see in our Instagram feed.
Here is a photo of one of my most favorite chickens I've ever had, he needed so much help getting out of the egg but he was just the sweetest rooster I've ever had and hung out with me all the time in the yard. I love these photos of him in the egg like this though haha.
*If you're wondering, you have to be quite careful when peeling the egg away in case there are any blood vessels lining the egg. I was trying to let him try to get out on his own and helped him here and there, he was a successful hatch.
Here are some more reasons why people might choose to hatch their own chicks:
- Hatching eggs or your own chicks allows you to have more control over the breeding process, and you can choose the specific breeds you want.
- You can order your eggs online or from local breeders for those specific breeds you want to try.
- Hatching your own chickens can be more cost-effective than purchasing adult birds, especially if you are able to source eggs locally.
- Finally, hatching your own chicks can be a sustainable and humane way to raise poultry, as you can ensure that the birds are raised in a safe and healthy environment by giving them a good, healthy start with the proper care and vitamins in their first days of life.
Is it hard to hatch your own chicks?
If you are looking into hatching eggs for the first time, it might seem a bit overwhelming, but it can be a relatively straightforward process.
It does require some time and effort, especially if you buy an egg incubator that doesn't turn the eggs and you have to turn them yourself.
Here are the steps involved in hatching chicks:
- Get fertile eggs. You can either purchase hatching eggs from a hatchery (local or online) or breed your own chickens/roosters and collect the eggs.
- Incubate the eggs. This involves maintaining the eggs at the correct incubator temperature and humidity levels and making sure they are turned multiple times daily (see our next point).
- Turn the eggs. The eggs need to be turned several times a day to ensure that the developing chicks have access to an adequate supply of oxygen. As we said, some egg incubators have this function built in, and other you will have to raise the lid and turn them yourself. We always draw an "X" on one side and an "O" on the other to keep track of egg turning.
- Monitor the eggs. You will need to keep an eye on the eggs to make sure they are developing properly. This is where a candler comes in handy!
- Hatch the chicks. When the chicks are ready to hatch, they will peck their way out of the eggs themselves. They will pip through the egg (a tiny hole) and will come out hours later (sometimes many hours later). Once they are out of the incubator, you will need to provide them with food, water, and a warm, safe place until they are old enough to join your flock outside.
Overall, hatching chicks is not a particularly difficult process, but it does require some attention and care.
With the right equipment and a little bit of knowledge, you can successfully hatch your own chicks, and it is a really amazing experience that we recommend everyone try at least once, especially if you have children around.
It all starts with choosing the best incubator though.
When we first started keeping chickens, we borrowed a neighbors incubator. It was this round machine with a light bulb in the middle and had duct tape over the humidity hole. I remember it vividly.
We placed 24 eggs in, and didn't have a single one hatch, despite the turning and temperature checking and humidity controlling.
We've learned so much since then, and are going to share some of the best incubator advice we have for have successful hatch rates. It is so disappointing when your eggs don't hatch, for you and your kids or grandkids, and especially if you pay money for some really interesting chicken breeds out there!
You want those good hatch rates.
Here is another one of ours who needed a bit of help. She came out safely :)
How to choose the best incubator
There are several factors to consider when choosing an incubator for hatching chicks:
- Capacity: Make sure the incubator is large enough to hold the number of eggs you plan to hatch.
- Temperature and humidity control: The incubator should be able to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level to ensure that the eggs are able to develop properly. If you incubator has automatic temperature control, this is a huge bonus.
- Ease of use: Look for an incubator that is easy to set up and use, with clear instructions and simple controls.
- Reliability: Choose an incubator that has a good track record of reliability, as a malfunction can be disastrous for the eggs.
- Cost: Incubators can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, so consider your budget when making a selection. (We will share our best finds that are reliable and budget friendly as well below).
- Brand reputation: Research different brands and read reviews from other users to get an idea of which incubators have a good reputation.
- Viewing window: Is it important for you to watch the chicks hatch? It is for me personally as it is educational for my kids (and it's fun too), so it is something to consider.
- Size: You can get a small incubator or a larger incubator, depending on how many chicks you want to hatch at a time. Just remember, it is nice to have the chicks grow together and be the same age so there is less picking on each other, plus, they will all come to laying age at the same time.
Features: Some incubators come with additional features such as automatic incubator temperature control, automatic turning, alarms, and built-in candlers, which can be helpful but may also drive up the price.
*I will say that having the automatic egg turning feature is such a huge bonus for you, the time you need to spend and it negates the risk of something happening when you have to physically turn the eggs yourself. So if you want at least 1 feature, we recommend this one.
Ultimately, the best egg incubator for you will depend on your specific needs and budget. Here are some high quality, reliable brands that are among some of the most popular in the backyard chicken groups.
Instead of a huge list, we are narrowing this down to 7 models to choose from, see them all below:
Best Chicken Egg Incubator Choices
The Nurture Right 360 Egg Incubator
This is the most popular egg incubator for many reasons, including:
- reliability - has high reviews and has longevity in the business with a great reputation (they have been in the business for over 30 years!)
- has 360 degree visibility - with the clear top you can see down into the incubator to watch the action
- Has an egg candler - ability to press a button to see the eggs candled
- automatic egg turner - we personally feel that this is a super important component of an egg incubator and would highly recommend getting one with this handy feature
- Auto turner stop - once there are 3 days left before your hatch, the automatic egg turning stops (as you are not supposed to turn your eggs past day 18)
- 22 egg capacity - 20-55 is the ideal size for a backyard hatch
- 360 degrees induced air flow - provides good circulation for temperature and humidity so you don't have hot spots
External water pot - another feature we are huge fans of. You don't have to open the incubator up to add water for your humidity control!
With such well-designed features including the capacity, the 360 view lid, the automatic turner that stops turning on the right day, the air circulation and the external water pot, this incubator gets rave reviews from us, and we highly recommend checking this one out.
The Brinsea Ovation Series of Egg Incubators (3 incubator models)
See the EX model 28 here, then scroll down in this link to see the 3 model choices from this series
This particular series of the Brinsea incubators is one of the most popular egg incubator series for both a simple and highly accurate digital control system. The models in this incubator series all have excellent egg hatching rates and they each have automatic egg turners as well!
The Ovation series has 3 models, and an option for 28 eggs or 56 eggs for each model in the series: the Eco, the Advance and the EX models.
Here is what Brinsea has to say about this particular series:
Brinsea's Ovation 28 and 56 egg incubators combine tough construction with high performance and egg capacity, making them ideal for the more serious breeder. Both incorporate Brinsea's new Induced Dual Airflow system, a breakthrough in incubation design which achieves new levels of temperature consistency. The incubator is constructed of ABS plastic, which makes it durable and easy to clean.
Wondering which chicken egg incubator model is best for you? Here are the differences between the digital, automatic turning options:
The Eco model INCUBATOR
The Advance model INCUBATOR
The EX model INCUBATOR
***All models feature programmable automatic egg turning as a standard.
Compare them all in the chart here:
Hatching chicken eggs (or duck eggs or quail eggs) is fun, educational and is an extremely rewarding experience, especially on hatch day! And let me say, there is nothing worse than having your incubator not working properly throughout where temperature control drops or humidity control is just not right.
Naturally, there will likely be eggs that don't make it from their genetics, but when they don't make it because of your incubator, it is so disheartening.
But once you get that perfect incubator, all you have to do is collect your fertile eggs from your backyard coop or buy some from a local farm or website and put them in the incubator.
Once you get your new incubator, you will want to clean it with a damp cloth, dry it and read the instructions thoroughly to set all of the incubator settings properly. After that, it will just be a matter of keeping an eye on the temperature, turning and humidity levels and watching the embryo grow into a chick.
After the incubator...
Once the chicks have hatched and it has been about 24 hours, you will want to put them somewhere they are warm with access to food, water (with vitamins for the first few days).
This may be a large Rubbermaid container with pine shavings on the bottom, or even a large cardboard box. To keep them warm, we would suggest having a great brooder for your chicks, it is much safer than a heat lamp.
Here is what you will need once the chicks are out of the incubator:
Proper vitamins (just make sure not to give them too much, very important to read the package).
Pine shavings (these are what we recommend for soft bedding, and we recommend grabbing a few, you'll change their bedding several times)
Here are some of our own growing chicks from a hatch last year in a box with pine shavings:
Here are some other chicken-related articles you may be interested in:
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