How to Raise Chickens in an Incubator
In order to raise chicks in an incubator, you must first have eggs. You can either gather them from your chicken coop (watch out for broody hens!) or get some from a local farm if you don't have your own hens yet.
Other than eggs, there are some basic supplies that you will need in order to successfully raise baby chicks.
- An incubator - they run around $40 and can be found at local farm stores such as Tractor Supply
- A heat lamp - also inexpensive and can be purchased just about anywhere.
- A container to house the chicks after they hatch - we used a tote
- A waterer
- A feeder
- Wood shavings - to soak up water spills and animal waste
- Chick starter - feed recommended for baby chicks
Step 1: Clean the Eggs
Before placing your eggs in the incubator, they should be reasonably clean. We used a toothbrush and lukewarm warm to gently remove any debris. Sometimes I use a wet paper towel as well.
Step 2: Mark the Eggs
It is important to mark the eggs, as you will be turning them several times a day. Marking one side helps you keep track of whether you've turned them or not. I use either a pencil or crayon. Do not use anything that will penetrate the shell, such as a marker.
Step 3: Prepare Your Incubator
In order to incubate your eggs, you should plug in your incubator ahead of time so that it heats to the proper temperature and humidity levels. I typically plug mine in 24 hours before I plan to place my eggs inside. This allows me to tweak the temperature or humidity while allowing time for it to adjust without adversely affecting the eggs' development.
Once your incubator is ready, place your marked eggs inside. Every incubator is different, so please review your model's instruction manual as to how many eggs you can successfully set at one time. This number differs across model's, as well as species of egg.
Step 4: Incubate and Turn the Eggs
Tips for Using Your Incubator
An incubator mimics a hen. She provides heat and humidity, and she turns the eggs. Your incubator provides heat via electricity and humidity via the water you add to the channels in the base. You can either turn the eggs manually, or invest more money in an automatic turner.
Tips on Turning the Eggs
I prefer to turn my eggs manually. This allows me to visually inspect the eggs and remove any that develop issues. For example, if one has a crack that wasn't initially visible, or if one bursts open. I have had several burst, and that is definitely something which you want to remove as soon as possible. Otherwise, bacteria can affect your growing embryos and affect your entire inventory.
Turn the eggs 2 to 3 times per day. I initially placed mine with the "X" I marked them with face up. I turn them twice a day, ending with the "X" face up. This helps me keep track of whether I've turned them or not. It sounds simple, but if youre busy it is easy to forget if you've done it or not!
How to Candle Eggs to Check Their Viability
Candling eggs is an important part of the incubating process. You can choose not to check the progress of your eggs, and take the risk that one is not viable and will rupture and expose all the others to bacteria. However, taking several minutes to check your eggs can ensure the best hatch rate and minimize risk. It is generally recommended to candle eggs at day 5 to day 7, then recheck any questionable eggs at Day 10.
In order to candle eggs, you need a dark room and a bright light. This can be done with a flashlight, a do-it-yourself box (there are many possible variations you can research and make online), or by using purchased equipment.
If you are new to incubating, or are not planning on doing it long-term, then I would recommend spending the least amount of money necessary to get the job done. Start by getting your materials ready so that you have the eggs out of the incubator for the shortest time frame. You will need a light source and a pencil.
Place the light against the egg and it will light up the inside of the shell. Now you can observe signs of development. If you aren't sure about an egg, mark it with the pencil and recheck in several days. Any egg that is not showing signs of development should be discarded before it taints the others. I generally bury mine in the garden so they fertilize as they decompose. Then, none of the eggs go to waste.
My Eggs Hatched: Now What?
Now that you've done your due diligence, turned your eggs, and waited patiently, hopefully your hard work is paying off. You start hearing the chirp, chirp of baby chicks as they start packing at their shells. Soon, they start hatching out of their fragile home into the great big, harsh world. You may think your work is done and the chicks are ready to go join the adults in the coop, but not quite.
- Since momma hen did not hatch her clutch of eggs, she will not care for them at this point. You have now become surrogate mommy. The baby chicks continue to need a heat source to regulate their body temperature. You can purchase an inexpensive heat lamp to provide heat to your brood.
- You can put the babies in a tote or other solid container. The heat lamp clips on the side. You will also need to provide fresh water and chick starter. There are various waters and feeders you can purchase, or you can use shallow dishes that they can reach easily. Water that is too deep can be dangerous if they fall in, so make sure the dish is either designed for chicks or barely has a raised edge. The smaller the container, the more often you have to check it!
- There are varying opinions about when to switch your chicks to adult feed, ranging from 4-6 weeks up to 18 weeks. We typically start around the 4-6 week mark offering cracked corn along with the starter feed and gradually switching them over to the laying mash we feed our adults. We also feed scraps and plants from the property. We have not had any adverse issues related to their diets.
Incubating eggs can be a rewarding and educational experience. It is a great way to teach your children about caring for animals. It is relatively simple and inexpensive to do. By raising your own chickens, you can be in control of what you eat based on the care that you provide them.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
When do you turn out the chicks with the hens? Any special considerations?
We typically keep the chicks under a heat lamp in a smaller coop, we have several rabbit hutches that we use to isolate our chicks until they're fully feathered and no longer need the heat lamp, then we transition them to the coop with the adults. We have a predator problem in our area and it's too easy for us to lose babies in our pens, so we keep them close to the house in the hutches until they're bigger.