Hatching chicken eggs is accomplished using an incubator or a broody hen. Both methods require stable conditions and fertilized eggs. Hatching in an incubator is a controlled environment that uses precise temperatures and turning of the eggs. Hatching under a broody hen is natural and the hen will do the work with a safe and comfortable nesting station.
Only use the best eggs for hatching. Avoid using cracked or damaged eggs and select the cleanest eggs to avoid removing the natural coating. Remove eggs that have foul odors, cracking or oozing liquids during the process as these are bad eggs.
After the eggs are laid, remove them from the nesting boxes. Use a piece of fine sandpaper to remove feces from the shell. Use a very light touch and do not wash the eggs with water or disinfect with any chemicals. Scrubbing and washing the shells removes the protective coating and reduces the chances of successful hatching. After removal, immediately transfer the eggs to your incubator or broody hen nest. If this is not possible, store the eggs close to 55 degrees Fahrenheit for a maximum of one week. Do not handle the eggs during this time period.
Hatching in an Incubator
Set your incubator on a flat surface and use an area with stable temperatures. Set the incubator temperature to 99.5 degrees and monitor the temperature throughout the process. It must remain consistent to hatch the eggs. Set the eggs in the incubator with the narrow end slightly lower in elevation than the fat end. Turn the eggs three to five times daily for the first 18 days. Cease turning and wait for the eggs to hatch. They will hatch within three days after you stop turning.
Hatching Under a Broody Hen
Watch your hens to know which ones are broody during the spring and summer. Broody hens will stay in the nesting box after laying eggs and will guard their eggs. Remove the fertilized eggs and separate the broody hen into an isolated housing area. The broody hen and the chicks are at risk of being pecked and targeted by the remainder of your flock. Place the eggs in the new nesting box for the hen. The number of eggs depends on the size of your hen but three to five is normal. Force the hen off the eggs each day and guide her to food and water. Some hens will sit on eggs until they are dehydrated and starved. Make her get some exercise and take a break from nesting each day. Clean and replace old nesting material while she is off the eggs but take care not to disturb the eggs.
After the chicks hatch, move them to an isolated brood pen. Do not mix new chicks with other chickens as they require time to develop and grow. Keep them indoors, under a heat lamp with access to starter feed and water at all times.
Zach Lazzari is a Montana based freelance outdoor writer and photographer. You can follow his work at bustedoarlock.com.