Welcome to the last post in the series “Incubating”! To give a refresher, the first post discussed storing fertile eggs and preparing your incubator. The second post covered setting the eggs and candling them. Now it is time to prepare for lockdown and hatching!
Lockdown is the term that poultry raisers use to refer to the last operations done before incubated eggs are due to hatch. When incubating chicken eggs (which requires 21 days of incubation) lockdown occurs on the 18th day, or three days before the hatch. There are five key operations done during lockdown.
#1- Candling: This is the last time you will candle the eggs before they hatch. Once again, prepare your cushion and get your bright flashlight ready. Remove all the eggs from the incubator and place them on the cushion. Candle each egg and make a note of these things:
- development- by now the chick will fill most of the egg, except for the air cell, and the egg’s interior should look dark
- air cell- make sure the air cell is in the proper place (at the blunt end of the egg) and is the proper size
- dead embryo- a dead embryo will more than likely not fill the entire egg, also, if the egg smells rotten, then the embryo is dead
This is a photo of one of my Svart Hona eggs that has developed. The embryo fills most of the egg and appears dark. Sometimes you can see the embryo moving in the egg when you candle at this stage!
This is a photo of a Svart Hona egg in which the embryo has died. You can see a dark form, which is the embryo, but it is cloudy and only fills half of the egg.
#2- Stop Turning: A mother hen would stop turning her eggs at this stage in incubation. We will do the same thing with our incubator. This will allow the chick to be able to move into proper hatching position, with it’s head near the air cell. In my Brinsea Mini Advance incubator I have programed it so that it will automatically stop turning on day three of the countdown. I replace the yellow turner with a circle of shelf liner that will provide a stable surface for the chicks to stand on when they hatch. I then place each egg on the shelf liner.
#3- Bring up Humidity: The humidity must be brought up during these last few days of incubation. This will help keep the membranes of the egg from drying out. Dried out membranes will shrink wrap a chick and not allow it to hatch. Bring the humidity up to around 65-70%. To up the humidity in the Mini Advance, I just fill both halves of the water pot.
#4- Water Pot Guard: In the Mini Advance, the water pot is left open for most of the incubation. At lockdown though, I place the water pot guard over it to keep newly hatched chicks from accidentally falling into the water.
#5- Close the Lid!: This last step is the easiest and the hardest step at the same time! You must keep that lid closed! No matter how much you want to check on those hatching chicks! The incubator must maintain stable humidity and temperature during these last few days and opening and closing the lid will not help!
Finally! We have reached the point in incubation for which we have been waiting! Those little chicks will now make their first appearance into the world!
On day 21 (or day 0 of the countdown) decrease the temperature by .5-1 degrees F. This will help the chicks not overheat while they are working hard to break through the egg shell. When I saw my first two pips I decreased the temperature to 99.3 degrees F. Make sure your humidity stays around 65%. When the first egg hatches, it will increase the humidity.
The first sign of hatching is a ‘pip’ in the egg. The ‘pip’ is the first small hole that a chick breaks in the shell when it runs out of air in the air cell. This enables the chick to breath fresh air for the first time!
The next stage of hatching is called ‘unzipping’. Unzipping is when the chick turns in the egg and begins to break around the blunt end of the egg. It is not unusual for a chick to take a long break from the first ‘pip’ before starting to unzip, so be patient! My chicks have taken over 12 hour breaks before actually hatching! Whatever you do, don’t open the incubator! The chick needs the high humidity to be able to hatch successfully!
In an average hatch, all of the eggs should hatch with in 24-48 hours. If you are experiencing a draggy hatch (one that takes longer then 24 hours) remove the hatched chicks once they have completely fluffed out. ‘Fluffed out’ means that the chick’s down has dried and that it is no longer damp. If a chick is not completely fluffed out when you remove it, than it could get chilled and die. To keep the humidity up even when you open the incubator, you can place a warm damp tissue inside the incubator.
Chicks rarely, if ever, need help hatching, so resist the urge to help! Once a chick hatches, you may be able to see waste left behind in the egg shell. This is from when the chick was developing and the kidneys had already started producing waste. Sometimes that waste may stick to the chick as it hatches, don’t worry, it will dry and fall off.
A successful hatch should leave you with happy, healthy chicks! Be sure to stay tuned for updates on my hatched Svart Hona chicks! Happy Hatching!