So you have your fertile eggs and you’re ready to start the process of turning them into chickens. There are two options open to you: natural or artificial incubation.
For natural incubation, you will need a broody hen. This is a chicken who has become physiologically prepared to hatch eggs and who will sit on them for 21 days. Not all hens will go broody, some breeds and personalities are more likely to brood than others. Orpingtons, Nankins and Silkies, for example, go broody more frequently than other, flightier breeds.
If you have a broody hen, slip the fertile eggs underneath her at night, so as not to disturb her, and she will sit tight on them for 20-21 days. She will leave the nest only once a day to eat, drink and poop. Remember, however, that with natural incubation you are truly at the mercy of nature; the hen may abruptly decide to leave the nest, trample the eggs or even, in a worst case scenario, kill some or all of the chicks once they have hatched. This is an unusual circumstance though, so don’t let this put you off allowing a broody hen to raise chicks – there’s nothing cuter!
Your other option is artificial incubation, using an incubator. These come in all shapes and sizes, and fit a range of budgets. With many, you have the choice of adding an optional turner at additional cost; the alternative to this is hand turning the eggs three times a day. If you cannot commit to the time to do this, a turner is a small expense to pay. On the other hand, if you do have the time, this is an excellent job for children to do, and helps them to feel truly involved in the process.
Little Giant incubators are some of the most affordable on the market, but be sure to read reviews on the various models; some have been found to be slightly less reliable and user-friendly than others.
The Hovabator from GQF is a very popular choice among home-hatchers, both the lower cost models and the top of the range tabletop version Genesis 1588. With a turner in place, these incubators will hold approximately 41 eggs; without a turner, you can fit significantly more, but room during hatching is reduced.
Next up, the mouth-watering (for the hatchaholics among us) options from Brinsea. While all of their table top models are very popular, what really sets them apart is the digital controls, what you might call “set it and forget it”. The Octogon 20 Eco Advance is an all-singing-all-dancing model, with fully digitally controlled temperature and humidty and alarms to alert you if something is amiss.
Brinsea also offer smaller incubators, with some, such as the Mini Eco, Advance and Advance EX offering unrivalled visibility, perfect for schools and educational projects.
Looking for something a little bigger? Try the GQF cabinet series; with home made egg holders made from 30 egg cardboard cartons they can be made to fit around 180 regular sized chicken eggs. Priced at around $650, these are for the serious home hatcher, but they’re of excellent quality.
If you have bought eggs through the mail, when they arrive, let them sit for 24 hours before placing them in the incubator. They will probably have gotten a little shaken up on their journey, so this allows everything to settle.
Place them in the incubator, which should be holding a steady 99.5F. Humidity (to my personal preference, and taking into account the natural humidity levels in Georgia) should be between 55-65%. Remember that in Georgia we are susceptible to temperatiure fluctuations throughout the year, particularly at night, so place your incubator somewhere where it will be safe from wild variations or this could affect the success of your hatch. The eggs will need turning at least 3 times a day, either with your turner, or by hand.
You will need to hold this level of humidity and regular turning right up until day 18, when the eggs will go into ‘lockdown’. This will be covered in Part 3.
There’s many more incubators on the market, the above is just a representative sample of some commonly used ones. Shop around, do your homework and make your decision based on requirements, budget and reviews. Your incubator is holding precious cargo, so it’s important to get the best one for your needs.
See Part 1 here.