Using hatching eggs is one way to grow your backyard poultry flock. Hatching eggs are eggs from poultry that are suitable for incubating or placing under a broody hen. If you hang around chicken people long enough you will hear the term using hatching eggs being tossed around, as they consider which breeds to add to their flock. Increasing the flock can be accomplished a few ways. You can let your broody hen hatch eggs herself, if you have a rooster in your flock to fertilize the eggs. Purchasing day old hatched chicks is another way to add to your flock or get started with chickens. If you prefer a certain breed of chickens, purchasing and using hatching eggs may be the most economical way to proceed.
Reasons to Use Hatching Eggs
Rare or extremely popular breeds may only be available this way. Shipping live chicks is costly. If you have access to an incubator, hatching eggs can save you quite a few dollars. Once you decide which breed you are interested in, check with local chicken groups or clubs to see if anyone is selling fertilized eggs from that breed. The less time and travel involved, the higher the viability and hatching rate. If no one local is selling, internet searches, posting in groups that discuss chickens, and emailing a breed group may result in someone selling hatching eggs. Many people use Ebay to find the right seller. Look at the customer feedback and selling history before parting with your money.
Look for Quality
The eggs sold as hatching eggs should be normal egg shaped and clean of mud and manure. Small specks of dirt won’t hurt but large smears or clumps of dirt won’t make a good hatching egg and may add dangerous bacteria to the incubator. Cleanliness is important because the incubator temperature not only helps the embryos grow and develop, but it also would help any bacteria flourish. Chicks hatched in a dirty environment have little hope of survival.
The hatching eggs should not be washed before incubating. This is why it is important to keep the nest boxes clean and sanitary if you are considering hatching chicks or collecting eggs to sell as hatching eggs. If you buy rare or expensive hatching eggs and introduce them into a dirty nest or incubator, you probably won’t have a good outcome.
What Does a Rooster Have to do With All of This?
A rooster must be part of the flock in order for you to have fertilized eggs. When the rooster mates with the hen, the eggs become fertile for the next few days or weeks. The eggs will still be fine to eat, and no chicks will develop if the eggs are not incubated. Collecting hatching eggs from the nests of your flock should be done every day. The eggs should be stored in cartons, pointed end down, and kept at room temperature. The eggs hatching rate begins to decline after a few days, so pack and ship hatching eggs promptly. Procedures for shipping hatching eggs change and vary. Read some basic practices and ideas on shipping hatching eggs in this post.
Using Hatching Eggs with a Broody Hen
Once you have a seriously broody hen, order your hatching eggs. When the eggs arrive, allow them to settle for a few hours. When your broody hen goes to sleep, sneak the eggs underneath her. The next morning she will think they have always been there and should continue her brooding. Mark the date on your calendar and count forward 21 days. That will be close or the actual hatch date. Bantam breeds develop sooner, often beginning to hatch at day 18 or 19. Ducklings take longer, averaging 28 days.
While your hen is brooding she should get up once or twice a day for food and water and to eliminate waste. Some hens are so serious about hatching eggs that they are reluctant to do this. Encouragement can be used as long as the hen isn’t too upset by it.
The Incubator when Using Hatching Eggs
If you are beginning your first flock or prefer to hatch the eggs in the incubator, have everything ready before the eggs arrive. Again, let them settle from the trip before placing them in the incubator. Mark each egg with an X on one side. Turn the eggs a few times a day or set the automatic egg turner to do that for you. Turning the eggs helps the chicks develop correctly. Keep the incubator temperature at 99.5 for the entire time the eggs are developing. The humidity is important, also, and should be kept between 40 and 50%. During the last few days of the incubation, stop turning the eggs or turn off the automatic egg turner. Do not open the incubator after that. It is important that the humidity remain high so the chicks can hatch from the eggs with out getting stuck in dry membranes.
Candling the Eggs to Look for Development
It is important to check the hatching eggs about a week into the incubation. A broody hen seems to know when an egg is not developing and kicks it from the nest. A non-viable egg left in the incubator can explode, ruining the hatch. Use a candling light to check for development and remove any eggs that show no signs of embryo growth by ten days.
When your chicks hatch, it is fine to leave them in the incubator for a few hours to dry off. This prevents unwanted opening of the incubator while the rest of the eggs are hatching. If the first hatched chicks are very active and constantly rolling the other eggs around, you may need to remove them quickly.
Hopefully, you will have a good hatch rate when using hatching eggs. Share your experience with using hatching eggs in the comments.
Written for you, as you begin your life with chickens! Easy to follow instructions, ideas, tips and photographs from Hatch to Egg Laying. Chickens From Scratch