For the successful incubator hatching of chicken eggs, you must first have a rooster. Without a rooster, those unfertilized eggs won’t produce chicks. Roosters need to mate with a hen two or three times a week in order for the hen to lay fertile eggs.
Now that this is settled, gather enough fertilized eggs to create a clutch (storing them at the proper temperature and humidity as you do so). You must then decide if you wish to do a single clutch or practice continuous hatching.
For best results, you need access to a location that will maintain a stable temperature outside the incubator so as not to disturb conditions inside. Sporadically sunny windows and drafty spots won’t do.
During incubation, an egg much be maintained at a proper and even temperature and correct humidity. Also, turning eggs regularly in order to encourage proper embryo development is also required.
Lastly (with the often-preferred method of continuous hatching), some separation is required between eggs that are still in the developing stages and those that are ready to hatch. Their optimum environmental conditions are somewhat different and the hatching process itself creates a mess that is better kept contained.
Egg Incubation Notes
Some people choose to construct DIY incubators to save on cost while (hopefully) not sacrificing successful hatching rates. Extensive research and building competence is required to achieve this, plus a thorough knowledge of the conditions you must maintain throughout as you will be in sole charge.
Of course, many incubators are available to buy of various volume capacities, complexities and costs. The cost tends to increase proportionally with the simplification of your hands-on duties. You must have a firm idea of how much money you wish to spend and how largely you want hatching to figure into your homesteading goals to choose the incubator that will fit your requirements.
Alternatively, nature has provided the hen, who knows everything there is to know about hatching chicks. Due to breeding and trait selection, the broodiness that is required to give you a successful sitter/hatcher isn’t present in several breeds.
Best Broody Bets
If you want a hen to take on hatching responsibilities, here are a few of the breeds (and some common varieties in parentheses) to choose from, plus notations on their conservation status where appropriate.
Note that bantam breeds often share the broodiness of their corresponding standard breed. Also, be aware that the Silkie is a standout amongst broody hens and is frequently used to hatch the chicks of other breeds.
- Barbu or Belgian Bearded d’Uccle bantam—Critically Endangered
- Cochin (Partridge)—Recovering
- Delaware—Critically Endangered
- New Hampshire Red—Watch
- Orpington (Buff, White)
- Plymouth Rock (Barred)—Recovering
- Sussex (Speckled)
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.