Hatching chicken eggs at home is a rewarding experience for the homesteader. There is a lot of joy in watching those tiny chicks break out of their shells! There are 2 ways to hatch chicken eggs. Fertile eggs can be ordered from a hatchery. The eggs are usually between 1 and 3 dollars each. Only 50-75% may hatch.
The other option is to collect eggs from a hen, which of course, requires a rooster. Keep in mind that you need 1 rooster per 10 to 12 hens. The rooster slows down after a few years and can only handle 3 to 4 hens at that point. Hatching chicken eggs by this method is usually easier and less stressful, especially for someone new to raising chickens and hatching chicken eggs.
Hatching Chicken Eggs on the Homestead
Handling the Eggs from the Hen
A hen’s laying season runs from spring to summer, at which time the hen usually lays 1 egg per day. The time she lays that egg will be about an hour later each day. This method continues until the time she would be laying eggs is too dark. This boils down to an egg per day for around 12 to 15 days. At this point, she has a short resting period, overnight basically. Then the cycle starts again.
If she broods or sits on the eggs she will stop laying for the three weeks until the eggs hatch. During the first week or two, the eggs will stop developing when the eggs become cold, as in when the hen leaves the eggs to eat or drink. Development will begin again when she returns to the nest and heat is felt. Unfortunately, sometimes the hen will not brood. If another hen will not sit on the nest, an incubator is an option.
Using Incubation for Hatching Chicken Eggs
When no hen is available to sit on the nest of eggs, remove the eggs from the nest as soon as they are laid. Continue this daily until enough eggs are collected to fill an incubator. The fertile eggs must be stored between 40° and 60°. Allow the eggs to dry in the open air at least 12 hours before incubation is started. Store the eggs in an egg carton standing straight up with the large end upright. Once the eggs are placed in the incubator they should be placed at a 30° angle.
Keep the eggs clean. Do not allow manure to remain on the eggs. The shells allow oxygen in and expel carbon dioxide out. Because eggs are porous, careful handling is required. The natural oils on your hands can plug the holes. Do not wash eggs with soap and water, a simple brushing off is enough.
For more information on hatching chicken eggs with an incubator, check out Artificial Incubation Methods for Chickens
Finding a Broody Hen
When a hen starts sitting on a nest she will stop laying eggs. She will not start laying again until the eggs she is currently brooding not only hatch but are independent. A broody hen will usually accept other hens eggs. This is a stress reliever to the homesteader that has a hen that refuses to brood.
Finding a broody hen to sit on the nest saves you time, money and effort. A broody hen is one that has already laid a clutch of eggs and continues to sit on them until hatching. You will know if you have a broody hen when she stays with the eggs and gets mad when you come near the eggs. She will not run when away from the eggs when you come near them.
Using a Broody Hen
When you have chosen a broody hen, place the hen in a well-ventilated nest box in a darkened room, where other hens don’t have access to her or the nest. The reason for giving solitude is because not only can other hens abuse the setting hen, but they may also try to eat and kill the chicks when they hatch for the first few days.
You can use cedar bedding to help keep parasites down. Make sure the hen has access to feed and water and do not disturb her unless it is absolutely necessary. Never move the nest unless it is absolutely necessary for the safety of the eggs. If the hen is kept healthy and safe for 21 days you will have baby chicks.
Facts About Hatching Chicken Eggs
- It takes 21 days for the eggs to hatch, whether in an incubator or by the hen.
- Hens turn their eggs about every 15 to 20 minutes, this keeps the embryo from sticking to the shell.
- Baby chicks have an egg tooth which they use to puncture the shell in order to start the hatching process.
- Baby chicks are wet when born and can take up to 24 hours to dry.
- When the chick is in the egg for the last 24 hours, they take the yolk through their naval which provides all the nutrition they need for 24 hours after being born.
- Chirps and pecking sounds can be heard from inside the egg in the last 24 hours before hatching.
For more information on broody hens, check out Caring For Broody Hens by The-Chicken-Chick.