Hatching Chicken Eggs: A Step-by-Step Beginner’s Guide

The process of hatching chicken eggs

Are you fascinated by the idea of hatching chicken eggs and seeing how chicken life begins? There is nothing like watching a chicken egg hatch into a fluffy newborn chick.

Seeing life’s miracles play out right before your eyes brings a special kind of happiness. If you want to know everything there is to know about hatching chicken eggs, then this guide is for you.

If you’re an aspiring chicken keeper, this step-by-step guide will help ensure that you have the knowledge and confidence to embark on this incredible journey of incubating and hatching chicken eggs at home.

Step-by-Step Guide to Hatching Chicken Eggs at Home

Taking on the challenge of hatching your own chicken eggs at home is a rewarding and thrilling experience that allows you to be a part of the beautiful beginning of a new life.

This section will provide you with the knowledge and steps needed to hatch chicken eggs successfully at home.

From acquiring fertile eggs to caring for the newly hatched chicks, each step of the process is covered to ensure that you’ll have an enjoyable hatching experience.

Step 1: Secure Fertile Eggs and Chick Starter Feed

Fertile chicken eggs

Getting started on the exciting journey of hatching chicken eggs at home requires careful preparation.

The first step is to secure fertile eggs, which are different from the eggs typically found in grocery stores. Since eggs do not travel well, it’s best to purchase them locally.

Fertile chicken eggs can be acquired through hatcheries or from poultry farmers who have roosters in their flock. They can also be obtained from hens that have been housed with a rooster.

Fertile eggs have a short shelf life, so it’s better to get them into the incubator as soon as possible. These eggs can be kept for a maximum of seven days in a cool environment.

It is also advisable to avoid overwashing eggs before they are stored, as this can introduce bacterial contamination and decrease the odds of a successful hatch.

Furthermore, you need to ensure you have enough chick starter feed to nourish the freshly hatched chicks once they are moved to the brooder.

The choice of chick starter feed may depend on your specific flock goals. By choosing the right feed, you can ensure that your chicks will get the nutrients they need for healthy development and growth.

Watch this video to learn what chicken feed is ideal if production is your goal for your chicken flock:


Step 2: Set Up the Egg Incubator

Chicken egg incubator

Setting up your incubator is a crucial step in the process of hatching chicken eggs.

Hatching eggs using an incubator provides a controlled environment that mimics the conditions necessary for eggs to hatch successfully.

Make sure your incubator is properly set up by following the steps below:

  • Clean and disinfect the incubator: Begin by thoroughly cleaning the incubator about a week before the fertilized eggs arrive. Apply warm, soapy water after using a 10% bleach solution. Rinse it thoroughly and ensure it’s completely dry before using it. This ensures a sanitized environment for the eggs to develop.
  • Choose the right location: Place the incubator in an area where the ambient temperature is steady and there’s no risk of drafts. This will ensure that the incubator maintains the right conditions to keep the eggs warm during the incubation period.
  • Install an automatic egg turner: An egg turner is highly recommended as it ensures consistent egg rotation, preventing the embryos from sticking to the shell. If your incubator does not have an automatic egg turner, you’ll need to rotate the eggs manually several times a day. 
  • Calibrate the thermometer: It is essential to check the accuracy of the incubator’s thermometer. Place a reliable medical thermometer nearby and compare the readings to ensure they align. Adjust the incubator’s settings if necessary.
  • Check temperature and humidity: Ensure that the incubator is capable of maintaining a constant temperature and humidity throughout the incubation period. The recommended temperature for chicken eggs is around 99 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity levels in the air inside the incubator should be set at 50 to 55 percent during the first 17 days of incubation.

By following these steps and maintaining proper conditions within the incubator, you can create the ideal environment for the eggs to successfully hatch.

Step 3: Day 1 — Setting Eggs

Eggs set in the incubator

Once the incubator is set up and prepared, you are now ready to place the eggs inside and begin the process of setting them. However, you shouldn’t set your shipped eggs right away.

Before incubating chicken eggs, give them four to eight hours to warm to room temperature. Setting cold eggs in a warm and humid incubator will cause sweating, which can lead to contamination.

It is generally recommended to set at least six eggs at a time to ensure a sufficient number of chicks hatch together. This is important because chickens are social animals and thrive when they have companionship.

Setting fewer eggs could lead to a bad hatch, as some of the chicks may not make it.

Eggs need to be properly positioned inside the incubator. Make sure the eggs’ larger end faces up and the narrow end faces down in the incubator.

Next, set the temperature of the incubator to 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit with 50 to 55 percent humidity. This temperature provides an optimal environment for the eggs to develop.

Avoid unnecessary opening of the incubator during the incubation period, as every time you open the incubator, it loses heat and humidity.

Once the eggs are stored in the incubator, the exciting journey of incubation and hatching begins.

Step 4: Day 1 to 18 — Egg Turning

Woman hand holding an egg

Egg turning is essential for the development of the eggs throughout the first 18 days of the incubation process.

During my childhood, we owned a small backyard chicken farm. One of the rituals I loved most was the process of egg turning.

I remember gently turning each egg, a small yet crucial task that felt like I was holding a baby chick’s future right in my hands.

With each day that went by, my excitement grew as I realized just how important the careful turning of an egg three times a day was to the development of the chick inside.

My lifelong interest in chicken keeping may be traced back to that first hands-on experience, which taught me the value of patience and gentleness in chicken hatching.

Consistent and gentle egg rotation is required from day 1 to day 18 to avoid the embryos clinging to the inner shell membrane, promoting even growth.

If your incubator includes a built-in automatic egg turner, you can sit back and let the machine do its work. However, if you’re turning the eggs by hand, you have to establish a consistent schedule.

Turn the eggs at least three times per day, spacing them out at regular intervals. Moreover, be sure to wash your hands to prevent the transfer of bacteria to the developing eggs.

Step 5: Days 7 to 10 — Candling eggs

Egg candling

During days 7 to 10 of the incubation period, you can perform a process called candling. This method allows you to peek inside the eggs and observe the progress of the growing embryos.

To do this, find a quiet, dark room where you can work undisturbed. Hold the larger end of the egg up to a light source, such as a flashlight. Then look for specific signs of development when you shine a light through the egg.

These may include the presence of blood vessels, a dark shadow indicating the embryo, or a well-defined air cell. These signs indicate that the egg is doing well and that the embryo is developing as expected.

On the other hand, a clear egg with no visible structures is likely infertile. 

Also, eggs showing a ring of blood or signs of bacterial or fungal infection, such as dark spots or a mottled appearance, should be removed to prevent them from contaminating the other eggs.

Candling allows you to assess the viability of the eggs and make the necessary adjustments to ensure a successful hatch.

Just remember to be gentle and avoid shaking or dropping the eggs while doing this. After candling, you may return the viable eggs to the incubator and continue turning them daily.

Step 6: Day 18 to 21 — Lockdown and Pre-hatching

Eggs during lockdown and pre hatching

From days 18 to 21, eggs are in the lockdown and pre-hatching phases of incubation. You can stop turning the eggs and let the embryos settle by this time.

Maintaining stable conditions inside the incubator during this phase is crucial as the chicks are preparing to hatch.

To soften the eggshells and make it easier for the chicks to hatch, gradually raise the humidity to around 65 to 70 percent. Avoid opening the incubator in order to maintain humidity and temperature levels.

On days 20 and 21, the chick may show the first symptoms of hatching, often known as pipping, when it begins to break through the shell. 

After pipping, the chick will take a rest before the final push, called zipping, where it creates a circle in the shell to emerge from.

Step 7: Day 21 — Hatching Day

An up close photo of an egg hatching

The long-awaited day has arrived—it’s hatching time! At this point, the chick will continue the zipping process that began during the lockdown phase, breaking open the shell completely.

This process can take up to 24 hours, but most chicks will fully hatch in about five to seven hours. Don’t worry if some chicks hatch earlier or later than others, as hatching can occur as early as Day 19 and as late as Day 23.

It’s essential to keep the incubator at the right temperature and humidity and to resist the urge to help the chicks hatch during this time.

This struggle is essential for their growth as it helps them strengthen muscles and absorb the remaining yolk, which sustains them for the first day or two of their lives.

After hatching, the chicks may look damp and weary, but they will soon dry out and start fluffing up in the warm environment of the incubator.

While waiting for the remainder of the chicks to hatch, your new chicks should be fine for up to 72 hours without eating or drinking.

With the completion of this wonderful life cycle, the newly hatched chicks are now removed from the incubator and ready to be transferred to a brooder, where they will continue their development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Chick out of its shell

What Should You Not Do When Hatching Eggs?

Hatching eggs at home can be a fun experience, but there are certain common mistakes you should try to avoid. The first step is to resist the urge to touch the eggs too often.

Too much handling could be harmful to the embryo inside the egg. Also, interfering with the natural hatching process is not a good idea.

As tempting as it may be to help the chick as it pecks its way out, doing so will likely do more harm than good.

There are also factors that can’t be ignored. For instance, the importance of temperature and humidity in egg hatching is often overlooked. Any deviation from the optimal range can have detrimental effects.

Furthermore, eggs must be chosen wisely. Using old or dirty eggs not only lessens the hatch rate but may also contaminate the healthier eggs.

What Is the Best Time to Hatch Chicken Eggs?

It’s generally thought that spring is the best time to hatch chicken eggs. The spring season often has temperatures that are ideal for the health and development of freshly hatched chicks.

The longer days in spring also help the hens produce more eggs since their reproductive cycles align with the longer daylight hours. It also gives chicks the advantage of developing throughout the summer.

By the time winter arrives, they’ll be well-equipped with feathers to keep them warm. If they are hens, they’ll likely be ready to start laying eggs by the following spring.

Do Chickens Always Hatch on Day 21?

While it usually takes 21 days to hatch chicken eggs, it’s important to note that hatching can occur a bit earlier or later.

Several factors can influence the exact timing, including temperature and humidity conditions within the incubator, the health and age of the parent birds, and the storage conditions of the eggs prior to incubation.

If the incubation conditions are slightly cooler than ideal, it may cause the eggs to hatch a bit later, while slightly warmer conditions could lead to an earlier hatch.

What Happens If Eggs Are Not Hatching on Day 21?

There is no need to worry if there are still unhatched eggs on day 21. It’s important to remember that the hatching time may be a few days earlier or later than the average. It’s possible that they’ll just hatch a few days later.

Moreover, not all eggs in a given batch will hatch on the same day. This is entirely normal and shouldn’t worry you in any way.

How Do You Know When Chicken Eggs Are Not Going to Hatch?

There are ways to tell if chicken eggs won’t hatch. Candling and the floating water test are two popular ways to do this.

Candling involves shining a light through the egg to observe development. If there are no signs of embryo development, such as blood vessels or movement, it suggests the egg is not viable.

The floating water test involves placing an egg in water. If it floats, it is likely healthy. However, if it sinks and lays flat, it may indicate spoilage or embryo death.

Keep in mind that these tests sometimes provide inaccurate results. Consulting experienced breeders are recommended for further evaluation of egg viability.

How Do You Check If an Egg Is Still Alive?

You can see the inside of the eggs by using the candling method if you want to know if an egg is still alive.

To perform candling, find a dimly lit space and hold the egg gently in your hand. Using a bright light source like a flashlight or an egg candler, place the light against one end of the eggshell and observe the internal contents.

Look for signs of life, such as visible blood vessels, a moving embryo, or a well-defined air cell. These indications suggest that the egg is still alive and developing.

If uncertain, you can repeat the candling process after a few days to monitor any changes in development.

If you find this guide to hatching chicken eggs for beginners helpful, please let us know by leaving a comment below, along with any questions you may have on any of the steps in this article.

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