GETTING THE BEST FROM YOUR EGGS

Breeding birds need a diverse and nutritious diet to ensure the highest level of hatchability from eggs. Second year hens, which lay larger and better eggs for hatching can be used where achievable, in spite of the fewer number of eggs laid by each. Eggs for hatching should be discarded after a fortnight, if they haven’t been set.

Eggs are laid over a period of time and when the mother knows the time is right, she will begin to sit on them. She does this so that all the new babies will hatch at the same time, as incubation starts from the day the mother begins sitting; not from the day the eggs are laid.

Each day until the incubation begins, the mother turns the eggs to keep the nutrients inside the egg in contact with the “germ cell” and to ensure that the yoke sac does not stick to the inside of the shell. Eggs are kept at around 18°C in normal conditions, so if you are collecting them before putting them under the mother, do not refrigerate them, as the 3°C inside the fridge is too cold and will kill the “germ cell”.

When eggs are newly laid, they contain a protective coating, which acts as a protection against outside infection. Washing the eggs, will remove this protective layer and needs only to be done if the eggs are badly soiled, in case the “germ cell” is permanently damaged by contamination. Eggs should be rotated regularly before they are set in the incubator or under a hen. This can be easily done if you store them in egg cartons and rotate the cartons frequently by turning each on its side and then on the other side the next time. Do this daily, at least, but more frequently is better.

If using a clucky hen to hatch eggs, place a batch (between 8 to 12 eggs depending upon the size of the hen) in the nest and watch to ensure that the mother can cover all the eggs while sitting (remove any not covered, as these will slowly be rotated out into the cold, eventually destroying all the eggs). You need do nothing more until the mother brings all her babies off the nest at the end of incubation. She will sit very tightly for the last 3 days of hatching. Do not lift her up at this stage to see how the chicks are hatching, as this will drop th humidity around the hatching chicks and dry them out. Then they will stick to the shell and die.

If you are using an incubator, set the temperature to the required level (usually 103°F or 39°C for still air incubators and two degrees C lower for fan forced incubators) and put water in the required area to maintain the humidity level correctly. It is safer to run your incubator for a few days before setting eggs in it to ensure that the temperature remains stable and the thermostat is functioning properly.

Before putting your eggs in the incubator it is best to mark one side with an “X “and the other side with an “O” and start them off by lying them all out with the X showing or all with the O showing. This way when you come to turn the eggs next time, you know which ones have been turned and which have not. Eggs should be turned regularly and al least twice daily (more often is better). The incubation period varies but is around 21 days for fowl (18 to 20 for some bantams), 28 days for geese, turkeys, guinea fowl and most ducks and 35 days for muscovy ducks. See our table of hatching times for poultry eggs.

Candling involves shining a light through the egg and observing whether the embryo has formed or not. This is done at seven days after incubation has started. If the egg is fertile, you will see a small blob like a passion fruit seed (the eye and brain forming) and sometimes a network of veins and arteries branching from it. If the egg is infertile, it will be clear or evenly shaded throughout with no blobs at all. The infertile eggs should be removed from the incubator as they may contaminate the fertile eggs if left behind.

When the eggs are three days off hatching, cease turning them. This allows the young birds inside to orient themselves and it ensures that the incubator builds up sufficient humidity to stop the young from drying out and sticking to the shell as they hatch.

Young can be heard chirping / squeaking a day before hatching. This happens as they begin “pipping” and breaking into the air sack in the egg and then through the shell. At this stage, never open the incubator as the sudden drop in humidity and temperature can kill the young birds. Wait until all the young have hatched and fluffed up before you do so. This can be up to two days after the first young have hatched. The young will not die, as they have sufficient nutrients and water in their stomach to last 48 hours or so.

Avoid “chilling” young as they are removed from the incubator and put in the brooder. Many chilled young contract complications and die within a few days. Young turkeys that flip themselves over, should be returned to the incubator until they are a day older and their legs are co-ordinated.

For information about looking after chickens, ducklings, goslings and turkey poults from this stage onwards, visit our page Raising Young Poultry.

Eggs are laid over a period of time and when the mother knows the time is right, she will begin to sit on them. She does this so that all the new babies will hatch at the same time, as incubation starts from the day the mother begins sitting; not from the day the eggs are laid.

Each day until the incubation begins, the mother turns the eggs to keep the nutrients inside the egg in contact with the “germ cell” and to ensure that the yoke sac does not stick to the inside of the shell. Eggs are kept at around 18°C in normal conditions, so if you are collecting them before putting them under the mother, do not refrigerate them, as the 3°C inside the fridge is too cold and will kill the “germ cell”.

When eggs are newly laid, they contain a protective coating, which acts as a protection against outside infection. Washing the eggs, will remove this protective layer and needs only to be done if the eggs are badly soiled, in case the “germ cell” is permanently damaged by contamination. Eggs should be rotated regularly before they are set in the incubator or under a hen. This can be easily done if you store them in egg cartons and rotate the cartons frequently by turning each on its side and then on the other side the next time. Do this daily, at least, but more frequently is better.

If using a clucky hen to hatch eggs, place a batch (between 8 to 12 eggs depending upon the size of the hen) in the nest and watch to ensure that the mother can cover all the eggs while sitting (remove any not covered, as these will slowly be rotated out into the cold, eventually destroying all the eggs). You need do nothing more until the mother brings all her babies off the nest at the end of incubation. She will sit very tightly for the last 3 days of hatching. Do not lift her up at this stage to see how the chicks are hatching, as this will drop th humidity around the hatching chicks and dry them out. Then they will stick to the shell and die.

If you are using an incubator, set the temperature to the required level (usually 103°F or 39°C for still air incubators and two degrees C lower for fan forced incubators) and put water in the required area to maintain the humidity level correctly. It is safer to run your incubator for a few days before setting eggs in it to ensure that the temperature remains stable and the thermostat is functioning properly.

Before putting your eggs in the incubator it is best to mark one side with an “X “and the other side with an “O” and start them off by lying them all out with the X showing or all with the O showing. This way when you come to turn the eggs next time, you know which ones have been turned and which have not. Eggs should be turned regularly and al least twice daily (more often is better). The incubation period varies but is around 21 days for fowl (18 to 20 for some bantams), 28 days for geese, turkeys, guinea fowl and most ducks and 35 days for muscovy ducks. See our table of hatching times for poultry eggs.

Candling involves shining a light through the egg and observing whether the embryo has formed or not. This is done at seven days after incubation has started. If the egg is fertile, you will see a small blob like a passion fruit seed (the eye and brain forming) and sometimes a network of veins and arteries branching from it. If the egg is infertile, it will be clear or evenly shaded throughout with no blobs at all. The infertile eggs should be removed from the incubator as they may contaminate the fertile eggs if left behind.

When the eggs are three days off hatching, cease turning them. This allows the young birds inside to orient themselves and it ensures that the incubator builds up sufficient humidity to stop the young from drying out and sticking to the shell as they hatch.

Young can be heard chirping / squeaking a day before hatching. This happens as they begin “pipping” and breaking into the air sack in the egg and then through the shell. At this stage, never open the incubator as the sudden drop in humidity and temperature can kill the young birds. Wait until all the young have hatched and fluffed up before you do so. This can be up to two days after the first young have hatched. The young will not die, as they have sufficient nutrients and water in their stomach to last 48 hours or so.

Avoid “chilling” young as they are removed from the incubator and put in the brooder. Many chilled young contract complications and die within a few days. Young turkeys that flip themselves over, should be returned to the incubator until they are a day older and their legs are co-ordinated.

For information about looking after chickens, ducklings, goslings and turkey poults from this stage onwards, visit our page Raising Young Poultry.

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