My Experience Hatching Chicken Eggs for the First Time
In February I made my very first chicken egg hatch. It actually went really well, considering how many things went wrong before I even got the eggs, and the fact that I was insanely uptight I was about it the entire time. Turns out, making life happen is a HUGE responsibility. Who knew?
Buying and Shipping Eggs
I bought my eggs before I committed to an incubator. I know- I was just saying how big a responsibility this whole hatching things is, and now I tell you I didn’t even have an INCUBATOR when I bought eggs. What can I say? I’m a procrastinator. And anyway, the eggs were shipped to me, so I figured I had some time.
I purchased my eggs on Ebay. I don’t know how standard that is, but when I was thinking about getting eggs to hatch, I stumbled across a listing, and down the rabbit hole I went! I ordered ten F1 and F2 (first and second generation) oliver egger hatching eggs from this seller, who was both polite and helpful in regards to my questions. Having never ordered hatching eggs before, I had no idea what to expect, so I googled the crap out hatching and got a solid handle on the basics.
My eggs arrived wrapped in a single layer of bubblewrap, inside of a trimmed down foam egg carton, and boxed in a flat rate Priority Mail box, clearly marked LIVE FERTILE HATCHING EGGS. All eggs were dated. One was broken.
The majority of sellers who ship eggs include extra in case of breakage. This one did not, so I ended up with 9 eggs out of the 10 that I ordered. I also only received a single F2 (second generation a.k.a. darker olive egg) when I was supposed to get a mixed bag of both. This was really disappointing.
Upon inspection, I noticed the the dates marked on the eggs were Jan 25, 26 and 27. The eggs were shipped out via USPS Priority Mail on the 28th and arrived on the 2nd. (Bear with me here.) Eggs should be hatched prior to 7 days, because after that, the viability of the egg goes down dramatically. So when I received my eggs on the 2nd, they were already 6, 7 and 8 days old. Yikes. It’s also important to allow your eggs to settle 24 hours before placing them in the incubator, in order to give everything a chance to settle into its proper location after (allegedly) being treated to a game of dodge ball at various post offices along the journey. So, after settling, my eggs were 7, 8 and 9 days old. The majority of them fell into the day 8 category. This did not make me happy.
To top that delightful news off, I learned that the auto turner in 12 egg incubator that I purchased ACTUALLY only holds SIX full sized chicken eggs- it almost holds 8… if it were a quarter of an inch longer, it would, but alas, no. So, now I had to choose which eggs I thought had the best chance of hatching, instead of getting to put them all in and letting nature sort it out. Ugh. More responsibility. A small round egg that shouldn’t have been considered for hatching in the first place (according to google) was first to go. Then the two oldest eggs. I was left with four eggs from the 26th and two from the 27th. I marked them Xs and Os (or top and bottom) and loaded them ever so carefully into the incubator.
The Waiting Game
Then, the waiting game began. After testing the incubator the day prior, making sure it matched up with a reliable thermometer and a salt tested hygrometer (humidity reader), and reading many, many message boards and reviews, I decided on using a wet sponge to dial in the humidity. This was another point of pure decision making AGONY for me. Most recommendations I found said to keep the incubator at between 40 and 50% humidity, while the instructions on my incubator said to keep it between 55 and 75%- what the hell??? Thankfully, I also found several recommendations that said “follow the instructions on your incubator.” So that’s what I did. And I doubted my decision during the ENTIRE incubation process.
Over the next week, I set my alarm for EVERY TWO HOURS each night so that I could go check the humidity in the incubator. Talk about neurotic. Then, I finally figured out that I needed a smaller sponge, not a less wet sponge to keep the humidity in the target zone, and I got to start setting my alarm for twice a night. I really only had to change the water maybe once a night, but I didn’t want to be the reason my little ones didn’t hatch.
For those who don’t know, candling is when you shine a bright light into the egg in order to see if things are developing properly. Some eggs are easier to candle than others. This goes back to egg color genetics and pigments in the shell, but I won’t get too technical on you. 😉
On day seven, we attempted to candle with a candler we got at the local feed store. Apparently, somehow I missed the memo about blue eggs being really effing difficult to candle. The store bought candler produced completely laughable results, so we tried our 1500 lumen LED flashlight. This was only marginally better. You can see the results below in this suuuuuper grainy photograph. The dark spot towards the center is the chickie’s EYE! How neat is that?
I raided my parents’ place for brighter flashlights to no avail- although the batteries that I borrowed did amp up out flashlight a teeny bit, making the insides somewhat more clear. Not good enough. The next day, I spent $30 on a 2800 lumen mini flashlight. This guy was much more qualified for the job. Things still weren’t as obvious as they would have been in a white egg, but the results were much more satisfactory. Sorry, I didn’t take any photos, since I was SO stressed out about having them out again so soon. I wanted them right back into the incubator ASAP. There were obvious signs off life in all 5 of the eggs that I could candle most clearly (the olive egg had too much pigment to see anything but the air cell) on Day 7 and again on Day 14.
When I candled on Day 18, in preparation for lockdown (the point when your eggs are preparing to hatch and you NO TOUCHY NO MORE), I found obvious life in all but one of the lighter eggs. Everything looked very similar to the other eggs, but there was no movement. Hoping he was just sleeping very soundly, I changed out the auto turner and tray for the hatching tray and tucked everyone in for THE. LONGEST. WAIT. EVER.
DAY 21: Hatch Day
Finally, Day 21 came. I was FREAKING OUT MAAAAAN. So excited, so nervous! Anything can go wrong while an egg is in the incubator and I was totally stressing. Then, I started to hear peeping coming from the incubator. (Cue fan girl squeals!) The first chick had pipped through her shell and was breathing air… and making a total racket.
I tried keep my mind on work and not to sit and stare at the incubator and WILL the chicks out of their shells. I did try. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not so much. I tried to be patient. It’s hard work to go from not really doing much at all (except developing, of course) to literally forcing yourself out into the world, and in my research I had read that it can take up to 24 HOURS to get out of their shells from when they pip. Well, not this little chick. Three hours from pip to zip and then 15 whole minutes to get herself all the way hatched. It was really incredible to watch.
Well, Pippa (said chick) thought it’d be hella cool to play rugby with all the other eggs after she hatched. She rolled them back and forth and body slammed into each of them like a gangly but enthusiastic sumo wrestler.
The next chick pipped shortly after Pippa finished hatching, but when nobody else popped out in the next 8 hours, my hopes started to flag. What if all her wild antics had ruined the rest of the hatch? I wore the search button down on my phone, trying to find answers, and then I made the quick decision to pull her out and rearrange the eggs to the correct positions. (This is NOT something seasoned hatchers recommend because it can critically lower the humidity in the incubator, but I couldn’t stand the thought of a tiny chick pipping its little air sack upside down and drowning, so I risked it anyway. Little Pip, the wonder chicken, got moved all by her lonesome to the waiting brooder…where she required constant attention, the needy little thing.
The next two chicks pipped around nine PM, but still nothing from the one that had pipped earlier in the day. A couple of hours later, however, at nearly midnight, she pushed her way out of her shell. It took her 12 hours from start to finish.
But then, nothing happened for a very long time. I could see little beaks breathing through their little air holes, but no one made a real effort to get out. I started to worry that I had really screwed up by opening the incubator for Pippa. Now little Olive, Pippa’s replacement, played contact sports with the pipped and unpipped eggs alike. This was excruciating for me to watch, but I didn’t want to take her out with the other eggs pipped and risk shrink wrapping them into their little egg liners. (THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS!)
I didn’t sleep at all that night. By 8 am, I was sufficiently worried about the beating the pipped eggs were taking to bring Ryan in, and have him lift the incubator lid lightning quick so I could scoop Olive out and move her to the brooder, where little Pippa, who I think had, up until this point, mistakenly believed that she was a human hand, did not know what in the bloody hell to do with her.
Little blue Stella, the third or fourth egg to pip was the next to hatch out, at 2 PM on Saturday. You can see a short video of the last seconds of her hatch here. It took her almost 17 hours from pip to hatch, and at this point, my nerves were completely frayed. But if I thought THAT was bad…
The chick who pipped at the same time as Stella, was turned around in its shell and pipped the wrong end of the egg. This can be a problem, because sometimes they can drown without access to an air sack, or have a really hard time hatching because they don’t have room to move around. They can even die while attempting to hatch.
I waited and waited for this chick to make her debut. She was still breathing but wasn’t peeping much anymore, and I was worried she wouldn’t be able to make it out, so after 18 hours, I decided it was time to intervene just a tiny bit. Very, very carefully keeping the membranes wet, I used a pair of sterilized tweezers to remove tiny bits of the shell around her air hole- just enough to give her a dime sized head start. Then I dampened the exposed membrane again and stuck her back inside the incubator. About an hour later the next little one (Layla) hatched out, but still no action from this eggie.
Finally, two hours later, the chick gave a great heave and started to try and get out in earnest. Once she really got down to it, it probably only took her five minutes to zip the shell open. Then she rested for a bit and gathered herself up and shoved her way out. I gave a huge sigh of relief.
One Last Egg
The last little egg remained, unpipped and unzipped. I got back together with my best buddy google, to find out what I could do to see if it was a viable egg. I found this video about water candling. The video was an EXCELLENT source of helpful information, and if you’re at all interested in incubating your own eggs, I really recommend that you watch it. Quick IMPORTANT note: DO NOT water candle eggs that are developing regularly and on time. If you water candle eggs before the bloom (protective coating) wears off on its own, you run the risk of washing it off too early and allowing bacteria into the shell, which can kill the developing embryos.
So I filled a small bowl with water that was around 104-105 degrees and pulled that last little eggie out of the incubator. I placed it gently in the water and held my breath while I watched. I willed it to wiggle. To even vibrate. But I got nothing. Not one bit of movement to indicate that the chick inside was still alive.
I stood for long minutes at the kitchen counter, trying to work up my nerve and crack the egg. It was clearly no longer alive, but that teeny tiny chance that it could be, and the responsibility of taking a life… I almost stuck it right back in the incubator, but I drew myself up, told myself “you wanted to be a friggin’ farmer,” and gently began cracking the egg and peeling back the shell. What I found was a fully feathered, perfectly formed 16 day old chicken embryo. It was so terribly sad to see this poor little thing that had made it so far and then not been able to cross the finish line.
Out of six eggs that went into the incubator, five eggs hatched and two weeks later, five little chickies are running amok in the incubator: Pip, Olive, Stella, Layla and Lucille. (Hatchlings are all pullets until proven cockerel!)
Here are a couple of baby pictures to tickle your chick fever:
These little boogers are now sharing a 2×6 brooder with a mix of 6 other chickies of varying ages (all under two weeks) brought home from the feed store, while my next set of hatchlings brews in the incubator. Once those little babes hatch out, I’ll have doubled my flock with the new additions and added three new egg colors to my basket.
After that, I’m done for the year! (haha…hahaha)