Kid & Adult Goats Available Now - Click Here for Details!

Incubating & Hatching Poultry

How We Incubate Chicks, Poults, and Keets

*Please note that these are our opinions and experiences, and not intended to be professional or medical advice in any way.

Day 0

After collecting fresh eggs (or after unpacking shipped ones), we first candle them – if we see any with cracks, we either toss them or try to save them by sealing the cracks. That hasn’t actually worked for us yet, but other people have had luck with candle wax, bandaids, or clear nail polish. If any of the eggs are overly dirty, we gently scrape off what we can. Keeping the bio film intact as a barrier against contagion is important, so we don’t wash any eggs if we don’t absolutely need to BUT too much poop/dirt can kill the embryos.

Once we’ve inspected the eggs. we let them sit on the counter for 12-24 hours. This allows them to rest and for their temperatures & air cells to stabilize. A lot of people think that it makes sense to have the pointy side up – do NOT do this! Either lay them on their sides or keep the wider end up. The wider end contains the air cell that chicks will use while hatching.

During this setting period, we get the incubator warmed up – we set it to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit and add tiny amounts of water until the humidity is 35-45%. If we are incubating super thick-shelled eggs like Marans or Olive Eggers, we keep the humidity lower, around 25-35%. DO NOT TRUST the incubator’s built in thermometer because they’re almost always off by a bit – we always have at least one extra thermometer/hygrometer in there.

Days 1-17 for Chickens / 1-24 for Turkeys & Guineas

After the waiting period, it’s time to add the eggs to the incubator! For shipped eggs, we ALWAYS set them upright in an auto turner, with their pointy sides down. For eggs we’ve collected or obtained locally, we will either incubate them upright or on their sides; it just depends which incubator happens to have space available.

If the eggs were shipped, we do not turn them for the first 1-5 days. This is important to allow the air sacs to settle and reattach themselves. If our eggs were not shipped, we start turning them right away. We use an auto turner, but if you don’t have one, it needs to be done manually – eggs should be turned 180 degrees at a time, at least 3 times every day, alternating direction each time. It helps to draw an X on one side of the egg so that you can track its position.

Now we ignore the eggs for a few days, then start candling about once per week – some people get antsy and like to check their eggs often, but if you have colored eggs, you probably won’t see anything until at least Day 7, probably closer to Day 10.

Eventually if you candle, you should be able to see little veins if the eggs are healthy and alive. As a healthy egg progresses, you’ll be able to see more and more growth until there’s just a dark blob with an air sac. If you don’t see any growth after the first week and only see a bright center in the egg, it is probably a dud. Likewise, if it’s a while before Hatch Day and you see only darkness throughout the whole egg without an air sac at the top, these eggs are dead. Very very gently handle them as if they are bombs, because they WILL explode black goo all over you and everything you love. Yes, that’s a thing! A super, super gross thing.

At some point, we’ll try to update with photo examples!

Days 18-21 for Chickens / 24-28 for Turkeys & Guineas

We lock down shipped eggs a day earlier than the “official” recommendation, as the chicks tend to need a little extra time to get into position.

At lockdown, we stop turning the eggs and lay them on their sides so that the chicks can move into hatching position. We mark the air sacs with a pencil so that if needed, we can help the chicks hatch without risking puncturing something we shouldn’t. And if any eggs have saddled air sacs (99% of shipped eggs will), we point the bigger side up. Then we set the humidity to around 55-65%. Now this part will be hard – DO NOT OPEN THE INCUBATOR!

After getting into position, chicks will internally pip (puncturing the air cell at the top of the egg for their first breaths) and then start to externally pip (poking a starter hole in the shell) within a couple days . Then within 24 or so hours of pipping, they’ll start zipping a line around the shell. Within 24 hours or so of starting to zip, they should be able to break free.

Once they start hatching, remember – DO NOT OPEN THE INCUBATOR! The hatched chicks will be fine for up to 3 days. Let them rest and fluff up. If you open the incubator before they are dry, they can get chilled and could die. If you open it before all the chicks who are going to hatch do hatch, there is a huge risk of those ones becoming shrink wrapped. It looks just like it sounds – the membrane inside the egg shrinks and sticks to the chicks so they can’t move.

We had major humidity issues with one of our first batches and saw firsthand the dangers of shrink-wrapping! We were able to save 3 chicks by helping them out of the shell, but many more died without even getting a chance to pip. They were literally glued in there.

Helping Chicks Hatch

Every now and then, we do decide to open the incubator and intervene. When we do, we spray water into the incubator as we open it to help prevent humidity issues. Helping chicks hatch has been about 50% successful for us. Sometimes a healthy chick is just in a bad position inside the egg, or sometimes the egg might be jostled and turned upside down. But about half the time, there is something wrong with the chick and they end up passing away.

Whether you decide to help or not, the hugest thing is to GO SLOWLY – do not open the incubator all the way if other chicks are still hatching, do not let the egg get too dry or too wet or too cold, do not break off too much shell at once, and stop touching the membrane at the first sign of blood. If there is blood, that means the chick is not done absorbing nutrients and will bleed out if you keep messing with it. Put it back in the incubator and wait a couple hours before trying more. If the chick looks like it is chewing, leave it alone for a while – that means it is still absorbing its yolk. Pulling it out of the shell before it’s done absorbing will usually kill it – this could rupture the yolk sac or pull the chick’s intestines out.

Sometimes chicks just take a little extra time to hatch but are perfectly healthy. We’ve had some hatch TWO DAYS after everyone else, and they turned out just as perky as their siblings.

We have had the MOST luck helping slow chicks by simply adding tiny pilot holes in the air cells of their eggs. If a chick is just a late bloomer, this tiny 1-2mm hole will provide fresh air and keep them from suffocating while they think about hatching.

In any case, once everyone is hatched and fluffed up, we put them in the brooder.

*Please note that these are our opinions and experiences, and not intended to be professional or medical advice in any way.

How We Incubate Waterfowl - Mallard Ducks, Muscovy Ducks, and Geese

*Please note that these are our opinions and experiences, and not intended to be professional or medical advice in any way.

Day 0

After collecting fresh eggs (or after unpacking shipped ones), we first candle them – if we see any with cracks, we either toss them or try to save them by sealing the cracks. That hasn’t actually worked for us yet, but other people have had luck with candle wax, bandaids, or clear nail polish. If any of the eggs are overly dirty, we gently scrape off what we can. Keeping the bio film intact as a barrier against contagion is important, so we don’t wash any eggs if we don’t absolutely need to BUT too much poop/dirt can kill the embryos.

Once we’ve inspected the eggs. we let them sit on the counter for 12-24 hours. This allows them to rest and for their temperatures & air cell to stabilize. A lot of people think that it makes sense to have the pointy side up – do NOT do this! The wider end contains the air cell that chicks will use while hatching. For waterfowl, it is best to keep them on their sides through the whole incubation process, unless their air cells are damaged from shipping. If they are damaged, we keep the eggs either upright or tilted slightly with the wider end raised.

During this setting period, we get the incubator warmed up – we set it to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit and 45-55% humidity. DO NOT TRUST the incubator’s built in thermometer because they’re almost always off by a bit – we always have at least one extra thermometer/hygrometer in there.

Days 1-24 for Mallard Breeds / 1 – 30 for Muscovy / 1 – 24 ish* for Geese (*More on That Below)

After the waiting period, it’s time to add the eggs to the incubator! For shipped eggs, we might set them slightly upright for a few days to help stabilize their air cells. For eggs we’ve collected or obtained locally, we will incubate them on their sides.

If the eggs were shipped, we do not turn them for the first 1-5 days. This is important to allow the air cells to settle and reattach themselves. If our eggs were not shipped, we start turning them right away. We have an auto turner, but if you do not, it needs to be done manually – eggs should be turned 180 degrees at a time, at least 3 times every day, alternating the direction each time. It helps to draw an X on one side of the egg so that you can track its position. We use a cabinet incubator that rocks the eggs but doesn’t fully turn them, so we manually do a full rotation at least once per day.

After the first week, we do a daily misting & cool down period of 5-15 minutes, increasing the time every week. This simulates the mother leaving the nest and coming back damp after a swim. The process helps the eggs to evaporate some of their retained water, which helps the ducklings & goslings inside to become stronger and hatch more easily.

After 7-10 days, we start candling around once per week.

Eventually if you candle, you should be able to see little veins if the eggs are healthy and alive. As a healthy egg progresses, you’ll be able to see more and more growth until there’s just a dark blob with an air sac. If you don’t see any growth after the first week and only see a bright center in the egg, it is probably a dud. Likewise, if it’s a while before Hatch Day and you see only darkness throughout the whole egg without an air sac at the top, these eggs are dead. Very very gently handle them as if they are bombs, because they WILL explode black goo all over you and everything you love. Yes, that’s a thing! A super, super gross thing.

*For geese, they can hatch anywhere from Day 25 to Day 35, so it’s hard to pick a time to lock them down. Towards the end of the incubation period, we start candling them daily to see when they have drawn down their air cells as they prepare to hatch. That’s when we put them into lockdown.

Days 25-28 for Mallard Breeds / 31-35 for Muscovy / 25-35 ish* for Geese (*See Details Above)

We lock down shipped eggs a day earlier than the standard times, since the birds may need a little extra time getting into position.

We stop turning the eggs and lay them on their sides with the air cells facing up, so that the ducklings & goslings can move into hatching position. If eggs have saddled air sacs, we point the bigger side up. We mark the air sacs with a pencil so that if needed, we can help with hatch without risking puncturing something we shouldn’t. Then we set the humidity to around 65-75%. Now this part will be hard – DO NOT OPEN THE INCUBATOR!

After getting into position, babies will start to externally pip within a couple days (poke a starter hole in the shell). Then within 24 or so hours of pipping, they’ll start zipping a line around the shell. Within 24 hours or so of starting to zip, they should be able to break free.

Once they start hatching, remember – DO NOT OPEN THE INCUBATOR! The hatched ducklings & goslings will be fine for up to 3 days. Let them rest and fluff up. If you open it before they are dry, they can get chilled and die. If you open it before all the babies who are going to hatch do hatch, there is a huge risk of those ones becoming shrink wrapped. It looks just like it sounds – the membrane inside the egg shrinks and sticks to the babies so they can’t move. We’ve never had this happen for waterfowl, but it is possible.

Helping Waterfowl Hatch

Every now and then, we do decide to open the incubator and intervene. When we do, we spray water into the incubator as we open it to help prevent humidity issues. Helping with a hatch has been about 50% successful for us. Sometimes a healthy duckling or gosling is just in a bad position inside the egg, or sometimes the egg might be jostled and turned upside down. But about half the time, there is something wrong with the duckling or gosling and they end up passing away.

Whether you decide to help or not, the hugest thing is to GO SLOWLY – do not open the incubator all the way if other ducklings & goslings are still hatching, do not let the egg get too dry or too wet or too cold, do not break off too much shell at once, and stop touching the membrane at the first sign of blood. If there is blood, that means the duckling or gosling is not done absorbing nutrients and will bleed out if you keep messing with it. Put it back in the incubator and wait a couple hours before trying more. If the duckling or gosling looks like it is chewing, leave it alone for a while – that means it is still absorbing its yolk. Pulling it out of the shell before it’s done absorbing will usually kill it – this could rupture the yolk sac or pull the baby’s intestines out.

Sometimes ducklings & goslings just take a little extra time to hatch but are perfectly healthy. We’ve had some hatch THREE DAYS after everyone else, and they turned out just as perky as their siblings.

We have had the MOST luck helping slow ducklings & goslings by simply adding tiny pilot holes in the air cells of their eggs. If a baby is just a late bloomer, this tiny 1-2mm hole will provide fresh air and keep them from suffocating while they think about hatching.

In any case, once everyone is hatched and fluffed up, we put them in the brooder.

*Please note that these are our opinions and experiences, and not intended to be professional or medical advice in any way.