Welcome to the first post in the series ‘Incubating’! This three post series will cover the process of incubating and hatching rare Svart Hona chicken eggs and provide the basic guidelines for hatching other chicken eggs!
Storing Fertile Eggs
Storing your fertile eggs before putting them in an incubator is an important step in the incubating process. It is similar to the way a mother hen would wait until she has enough eggs to hatch before sitting on them. A hen can only lay one egg a day, so it would take several days before she would start to incubate a clutch of eggs. A fertile egg goes dormant until it has been heated consistently for a period of time. In this way the mother hen can be sure that all her chicks will hatch around the same time. Whether you have collected your fertile eggs from a breeding pair of chickens or if you have mail ordered them, there are a few basic storing tips to follow.
Fertile eggs should be stored in a clean, sterile carton or container with their pointed ends facing downward. I use a plastic egg carton that I have thoroughly washed and dried to store my Svart Hona eggs. Keep the container in a place where it will not get bumped or jostled. The place should also have the correct temperature and humidity.
The best storing conditions are in an area that is 55 degrees F with a humidity level around 70-80%. The cool temperature will keep the eggs from beginning to develop, as the embryo goes dormant. High humidity will keep the contents of the egg from evaporating. If you can not find an area to keep your eggs in that has high enough humidity you have several options. You can place the egg carton in a plastic bag and seal the bag, or you can wrap each egg individually with Saran wrap.
Fertile eggs can be stored for up to 6 days without a significant decline in hatchability rates. If you have to store the eggs for any longer than 6 days you will want to turn the eggs to keep the embryo from sticking to the shell membrane. An easy way to turn eggs that are stored in a carton is to raise one end of the carton up on a block. Then, alternate between raising the ends of the carton on the block. Turn the eggs at least twice a day. The hatchability rate of fertile eggs will begin to decrease after 10 days of storing.
Store only clean eggs and avoid incubating dirty eggs that could introduce harmful bacteria. Washing hatching eggs is not usually recommended as it would wash away the protective bloom that is naturally on the egg’s shell.
If you have mail-ordered your eggs you will still want to let them set for at least 24 hours before putting them in the incubator. This allows the contents inside the egg to settle and allows for any misplaced air cells to straighten out.
Preparing the Incubator
Before you even get your eggs you will want to prepare your incubator. I will be using the Brinsea Mini Advance incubator to hatch my Svart Hona eggs. Although it is small (holds 7 standard chicken eggs), it is a reliable little machine and once programmed, all I have to do is monitor the humidity.
Always read the instruction manual that comes with your incubator before setting up the incubator. I wash my Mini Advance before and after every hatch to be sure there is no harmful bacteria on the incubator that could ruin my hatch. I use a warm water solution with a splash of white vinegar or dish soap to wash the base, turner, and water pot guard of the incubator. Using a warm, damp cloth I wipe down the sides of the incubator that are attached to the motor. Once everything is washed I let it air dry in a room that does not receive much commotion or activity.
Pre-run your incubator before putting your hatching eggs in it to incubate. Make sure it is running correctly and maintaining the right temperature and humidity. To help the incubator maintain steady temperatures keep it out of direct sunlight, away from air drafts, and in a room with a temperature no lower then 65 degrees F. Place it in a room that does not get a lot of activity but also in a spot where you will remember to check on the incubator regularly. To program your incubator, follow the instructions as outlined in the incubator’s instruction manual. I programmed my Mini Advance incubator like this:
- Temperature: 99.5 degrees F
- Days: 21 (I have it on ‘0’ during test runs)
- Turning Mode: Auto (I switch it to ‘Off’ during test runs)
- Turning Interval: 60 minutes
- Turning Angle: 9
- High Temp. Alarm: 1.8 degrees F
- Low Temp Alarm: 2.7 degrees F
- Cooling: Off
The ideal temperature for incubating chicken eggs is between 99.3-99.6 degrees F. I put my turning mode is on ‘Auto’. This means it will turn the eggs in 60 minute intervals until the last three days of incubation. It will then stop turning the eggs. The turning angle is based on the circumference of the eggs that are being incubated. One is for very small eggs and the numbers go up to 10 which is for average size chicken eggs. Incubating eggs can withstand a lower temperature for longer then a higher temperature. For this reason, I have set my high and low temperature alarms accordingly.
The Mini Advance offers a ‘Cooling’ option. This is to mimic the mother hen leaving her nest for short periods of time during incubation. I have chosen to leave this setting off. I get nervous letting my eggs cool, especially when I know they will be cooled a little bit each time I open the lid to refill the water pot.
The Mini Advance incubator does not have an automatic digital humidity reading. I use a small, terrarium hydrometer to monitor my humidity instead. The humidity range for chicken eggs is between 45-55% depending on the size of the eggs. For Svart Hona eggs, which are smaller, the ideal humidity is 53%. The Mini Advance has a water pot in the center of the base that is divided in half. Fill one half of the pot with room temperature water. To make adjustments in the humidity levels, just increase or decrease the water surface area. You can do this by covering part of the water pot with aluminum foil. To increase humidity, provide more water surface area with sponges or humidity pads.
Try and minimize the amount of times you have to lift the lid of the incubator to refill the water pot. Ideally get it so that the water pot has to be filled no more than every other day. Lifting the lid of the incubator allows for the temperature and humidity to decrease. This may effect your hatch rates if it is done too many times. I like to have a clean water bottle filled with water sitting beside my incubator. That way I always have room temperature water ready for refilling the water pot. I use a water pipet to make re-filling the water pot quick and easy!
Having the right humidity levels during incubation is very important. Evaporation of the egg’s contents occurs during incubation, causing the air cell size to increase for when the chick hatches. Humidity levels that are too high decreases the amount of evaporation causing mushy chick syndrome (omphalitis). Humidity levels that are too low increases the evaporation and can dry out the inner membrane of the egg. This makes hatching very difficult for the chick. Monitoring the increase of size of the air cell can be a good indicator to see if your humidity is at the right level.
Prepare a cushion to set the eggs on before you set them in the incubator. The cushion will prevent them from rolling all over the place. It also makes it easier for you to set them in the incubator quickly and efficiently. I use a soft basket with a clean rag covered with a piece of paper towel.
Now you are ready and prepared to put those stored fertile eggs in the incubator! Stay tuned for the next post on how to properly go about setting your fertile eggs!