Disclaimer: When we provide you with tips or advice for incubation that does not guarantee what your hatch rate will be. Our skills, incubators and climate is unique to Wild Acres.
*Fertile eggs that are picked up from our farm should be left to set for about 24 hours prior to setting them in the incubator due to the possibility of condensation issues in the egg, handling and fluctuating temperatures.
*If eggs were shipped via Xpresspost let them set in a cool room with the fat end up for 24 hours before incubation at 7.2 – 15.5 degrees C or 45 – 60F. Target humidity for fertile egg storage is 75%.
*If your eggs arrive late via Xpresspost they can be set in an incubator but do not use the turner for the first 24 hours.
*Get an incubator with digital display if you can. We like Brinsea and Sportsman models and we keep our incubators in the cool basement away from windows and drafts.
*It’s critical not to raise the lid of the incubator in the last days of incubation and during the hatch, so consider the viewing window size or location when purchasing an incubator.
*If you get a Styrofoam model incubator set the eggs directly under the fan in the middle of the incubator. Consider setting it on a towel and wrapping the edges with a towel to keep humidity and temperature more constant and put it on a table in a room without drafts and away from windows.
*When you put cold eggs in an incubator, it can take three hours or more for eggs to warm up and temperature to stabilize at the setting you had before adding the eggs. Also, when you open the incubator, it can take up to two hours for the temperature to stabilize.
*Any incubator will produce better results when operating at capacity. Egg capacity is a factor.
*You will need to use an egg turner (unless it is built in like many Brinsea models) or turn the eggs by hand and mark one side with an X and the other with an O. In small incubators, the eggs should be turned at least three to four times daily. The critical time for turning eggs is during the first week of incubation.
*Keep a small spray bottle with room temperature water handy to spray the eggs a bit when you need to open the incubator. It keeps the humidity more constant. We use Reverse Osmosis water in the incubator humidity pumps and our spray bottle as it does not leave mineral residues in the incubator or on the eggs.
*Keep the incubator in a room that the heat or humidity does not change much. We prefer to incubate in the basement as the temperature and humidity it more constant. Maintaining the incubator room temperature between 21C and 24C with good ventilation and relatively high humidity will increase your hatch rate. Be sure no direct sunlight strikes the incubator and that it sets level.
*You can use paper towel pieces to make the eggs sit tighter if you want in the tray so they don’t rock around. We do and it does not affect the hatching humidity or eggs.
*In the cooler months of spring such as March we incubate at 37.4C to 37.5C with a daily humidity of about 46-48%. On a regular cooler hatch day we raise the humidity up to 54-59% for chicks. For ducks, geese and turkey poults we may raise it as high as 60-62% due to their thicker egg shells and depending on the dryness of the room at the time.
*For incubation on hot humid days (30C) keep your humidity level lower such as 44-45% and do not raise it too much for the hatch. I have hatched chicks with the incubator set at 45% on hot days (30C+) successfully. The incubator humidity may rise as high as 54% during a hatch all by itself from the moisture coming off of the wet egg shells and chicks. We also use a fan that circulates the air in the incubator room on hot days. It keeps the heat and humidity more constant.
*During the late summer months in August we raise the humidity to 49-54% in the incubator to compensate for the dryness in the environment. Central air conditioning also adds to the dryness factor in homes. Hatch day humidity should be higher as well such as 55-62% but you may have to drop the temperature to about 37.2 to allow the chicks cooler air to breathe.
*Check you air sac size to see if you need to increase the humidity or decrease the humidity in your incubator (See the egg picture on the bottom of this page).
*Elevation level may also play a part in incubation (ie upstairs vs downstairs, the floor vs the table) as does your individual incubator choice. Each incubator is unique and it takes time to understand and operate successfully. Heat rises and we feel that makes a difference too.
*When we tested our bantam and standard sized broody hens and turkeys they had a relative humidity underneath them of 52-65% humidity. However, broody hens shift around and take breaks when they feel the eggs are too hot so that the eggs get periods in which they cool down. Some incubators can be set for cool down periods but they are doing it automatically. Please don’t overdo the humidity or your eggs may not hatch properly.
*Leave your vents at least half open during incubation, maybe more depending on how your humidity is holding. Humidity depends on many factors including elevation and your type of incubator.
*On hot days allow more air flow for the eggs especially during the hatch stage when you should open up those vents all the way. Ventilation is very important in any incubator at hatching time. Insufficient ventilation may result in embryo or chick death.
*Rough handling of hatching eggs before they are set or while they are being candled will increase the number of dead embryos, with mortality occurring between the 4th and 13th day of incubation. Jarring eggs during incubation may result in the rupture of the egg shell membrane and will thereby lower hatchability. Pictures below show the “Blood Ring” or “Ring of Death”. Throw these eggs out.
*You can check the eggs that are developing at about 7-10 days. Use a candler or a small flashlight in a dark room and shine the light on the fat end of the egg to see if the air cell is getting bigger, which means growth. You should also see veins forming in the lighter coloured eggs at that time.
*It is difficult to see inside dark coloured eggs such as Marans, Ameraucana, Olive Eggers eggs as well as some other brown egg layers. However, you may see the air cell growing larger in some of these eggs and that is a good sign.
*When testing eggs for fertility, note the size of the air space. If the air space is too large, provide more moisture or the chicks will hatch out small and weak. Too much humidity and a small air space means the chicks will not have the space they need to breath or turn around in the eggs for a proper hatch.
*It is important that chicken eggs in an incubator are not turned after day 18, which is three days before the hatch date. The chick needs to be able to get into the right position for hatching so that it ‘pips’ and breaks through into the air cell at the fat end of the egg.
*Pipping into another part will mean it has no way to breathe. They pip first (make a small hole) and then rest sometimes until a few hours later. Waterfowl often pip and then rest for several hours sometimes until the next morning.
*It takes 21 days for chicks to develop and 12-24 hours to hatch. If there is a delay in heating the incubation and hatch time can take longer. It takes 28 days for Runner ducks, goslings and turkeys to develop fully before the hatch but they take a longer time to hatch due to their thicker shells.
*Resist the urge to open the incubator during the hatch stage. Humidity levels are extra important at this time and by lifting the lid all the time, you allow humidity to escape.
*Rescuing one chick could mean the loss of the others. An egg with a pip in it means it is very venerable. They will loss humidity rapidly if exposed to outside air and may get stuck in the shell and unable to hatch.
*A chick that doesn’t hatch on its own will always have problems, either from infection or physical damage.
*Chicks can take up to a day to finally break free of their shells, so don’t panic if it seems to take ages.
*The appearance of chicks panting in a hatcher at normal temperature is an indication of a rise in the carbon dioxide content of the hatcher air. Under such conditions chicks must breathe faster to obtain the required amount of oxygen and to eliminate the excess carbon dioxide. If excessive panting occurs, increase the airflow in the hatcher and turn down the temperature of the incubator by .5C
*Practice strict sanitation; cleanliness is very important for every successful hatching operation. Keep the eggs clean. Perspiration from the hands or any sort of grease stops up the pores of the shells.
*If your chicks hatch out a day early, it indicates temperature was a little too high, so on your next setting of eggs lower the temperature by 0.5 degrees for entire incubation period. If chicks hatch a day late, raise your temperature by 0.5 degrees for entire incubation period.
*Incubating eggs suffer much more from higher temperatures than they do from lower temperature within a range of 1 degree C
*Please remember that a 100% hatch rate is not guaranteed even in the most ideal circumstances. 80% is considered a successful hatch on our farm. If your eggs have been sent to you by post, that will potentially drop to around 50% or even less. Even experienced hatchers or high end incubators suffer losses and all we can do is to try again.
*Once chicks are hatched, leave them in the incubator for at least 6-12 hours, to give them time to dry out and rest. Just hatched chicks can survive without food for up to 48 hours.
*Understand and accept the many challenges of hatching eggs and know that you will want to hatch more eggs again as hatching chicken eggs can be fun, educational and addictive.
Caring for the Chicks, Poults, Ducklings and Goslings:
*It is best to prepare your brooder area for chicks, poults, ducklings and goslings before you purchase your new stock. Use a brooder guard to prevent drafts and adjust the height of your heat lamp using a thermometer as your guide (32 degrees Celsius or 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for chicks and ducklings or 35ºC-38ºC (95ºF-100ºF) for turkeys and bantam breeds.
*Start your heat lamps 18 inches from the floor. Chilling often results in long term problems with the heart, legs and their growth rate. Please keep them warm and safe during their ride home so they don’t catch a chill. This is an excellent article to read: Brooding Temperatures for Small Poultry Flocks
*When you move the new chicks to a brooder set up use paper towel or shop towel on the floor for the first day or two. Sprinkle chick starter feed around on the floor and put the feeder in the middle of it. The chicks will more readily find the find the feed this way and not mistake shavings for food instead. After a day or two you can take the paper towel flooring away and add some pine shavings. Newspapers are too slippery and may cause leg problems.
*The temperature for your chicks needs to be about 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for their first weeks. When the chicks are huddled all together to stay warm and crying then you need to raise the temperature. When they are laying down in the corners, crying and they have their beaks open, please check your temperature as they might be too warm. On hot days such as 30C or higher turn down the heat lamps or use a lower wattage.
*We use low wattage red reptile lights with radiant heat during hot spring and summer months or as an option on hotter days. You can obtain them from pet stores in wattages of 50, 75 or 150. Our chicks prefer them during the warmer weather and they work great for older chicks that have feather growth.
*After about 8 weeks, when they are fully feathered, the heat lamp is no longer required.
*Please do not mix chicks in with other chicks from a different farm right away, to prevent diseases. Wait about 2-3 weeks until the chicks are well adjusted.
*We give a 1/4 teaspoon of vitamins/electrolytes mix to the chick water as well as the same amount of apple cider vinegar to a quart size waterer for the first 5 days or longer. We do this as well when the chicks, poultry and waterfowl are in stress due to e.g. transportation.
*Make sure you dip the chicks beaks in the water about 3 times each when you first introduce the chicks to the brooder to ensure they get a good drink and learn where the water is. Keep the food and water close to the heat source but not directly under it as the water may heat up.
*Change the water daily and keep it free of shavings and droppings or they will get sick. We raise our waterers on blocks of wood or bricks and hang them as the chicks grow. We also hang our feeders.
*We add about 1 capful of Apple Cider Vinegar per gallon of water to my chick, ducklings and adult poultry or waterfowl waterers, this gives a boost, promotes feather growth and it keeps the water cleaner. (Do not use Apply Cider Vinegar with metal waterers, as they will rust within a few days).
Apple Cider Vinegar Benefits Are:
*Reduces intestinal and fecal odors. *Aids in digestion. *Helps to break down minerals and fats.
*Assists the animal to assimilate proteins. *Assists the animal to convert food better.
*It lowers the pH of the digestive tract which will make an environment less welcoming to pathogens therefore may reduce common infections and increases resistance to disease. *Improves stamina and fertility. *It is a great overall tonic that will improve the general well being of the animal.
If started while Birds are young (1-1/2 to 2 weeks), birds
*Will feather out quicker. *Are hardier. *Grow to their potential sooner when used with an adequate feed. *Apple Cider Vinegar is rich in the vitamins, minerals and trace elements found in apples, especially potassium. * It will normalize pH levels in the stomach, improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. *Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) won’t work as a “Natural” Wormier- it has little affect on worms.
Do not use metal water dishes (except stainless steal).
Vinegar should not be used internally with animals that have an irritated lining of the intestinal tract.
Do not use Apple Cider Vinegar while treating for worms or coccidiosis.
Chicken Heat Stress, Dehydration and Homemade Electrolyte Solution
“Acidified water affects laying hens by making the calcium in her feed a little less digestible (based on chemistry….calcium is a positive ion, and dissociates better in a more alkaline environment). Professional farmers regularly add baking soda to their feed when heat stress is expected….this maintains egg shell quality when hens’ feed consumption drops due to the heat.”
In summary, during high heat conditions, baking soda facilitates calcium absorption while vinegar inhibits it. SKIP the vinegar in the heat, opting for an electrolyte solution instead.
An article from Fresh Eggs Daily:
Temperatures between 55-75F (12.77-23.88C) are optimal, anything higher starts to cause stress to their bodies.
How to make a simple nipple waterer for your chick brooder –click on this link for instructions
*On our farm we give the chicks Chick Starter (20% protein) and turkey poults get Turkey Starter (25% protein) for about the first 5 weeks or more depending on the breed or growth. Silkies and other bantams can have a higher protein diet. It keeps them stronger and healthier.
*After 5 weeks regular sized chicks can slowly be switched over to Grower ration (16-18% protein), when the chickens reach the age of about 19 weeks you can start with Layer pellets (16-18% protein). We suggest adding some NON-GMO Layer ration as it is pea based and it seems to help to keep the shells harder.
*DO NOT feed medicated feed to waterfowl as they eat twice as much as chicks during their growth period and it may harm them. Feed young goslings Waterfowl Starter or Non-Medicated Chick Starter for only a week to 10 days to avoid Angel Wing.
*Feed ducklings starter for up to 3 weeks and then switch to layer pellets, wheat, mixed grains, grit and greens (especially for goslings/geese). The excessive intake of carbohydrate (ie bread) and proteins (20-25% protein) during development may give waterfowl Angel Wing (crooked wings). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_wing
*Please remove build ups (pasty butts) with a quick pull or soak it with water before removing. Pasty butts may indicate chilling or stress. Baby wipes are handy to keep in the brooder room and the barn.
*As the chicks get older, you can lower the temperature in the brooder by about five degrees each week. When the outside temperature is about the same as the brooder temperature, you can move the chicks to a secure outdoor coop.
*At about six weeks of age, most chicks have feathers, so they can probably survive outdoors, but it’s best to wait until they are eight weeks old.
*Be careful to monitor young pullets and cockerels when you introduce them to adult birds as they may harm or even kill them. We use a separate pen until they are almost fully grown. You can give them a safe place to hide in the coop such as a smaller pen, kennel or box with a smaller opening.
*We supply our poultry and waterfowl flock with mixed grains in addition to their daily pelleted feed, especially in the winter months. We give our flock whole wheat, cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS).
*They also enjoy fresh greens, alfalfa and fruit. Ultra-Kelp meal provides extra vitamins during breeding, cold winter weather and stress periods.
*We provide 1-2 sized grit and oyster shell to all our poultry and waterfowl. Chickens and especially ducks like course sand in a swallow tub to aid with digestion and to dust bathe in.
*Our poultry usually starts laying at about 6 months of age but there are a lot of factors that determine laying time frames:
-The time of year they were hatched (ie. the sooner the better in spring)
-The feed they are fed (ie higher protein means more eggs and laying sooner).
-Extra treats like greens, vitamins/minerals, apple cider vinegar, kelp, boss sunflower seeds, suet and cracked corn also help especially in winter.
-Health of the flock (ie regular deworming and checking for lice and mites)
We hope you are very successful with your new poultry and waterfowl!
Question: “Two more of my chicks have died. Do you have any idea what could be going on?”
If you are losing chicks it can be caused by a several different things:
*Chicks are not getting enough heat so they don’t eat, drink or grow and get sick easily. Look for chicks huddled in corners. Happy chicks should be running around and not crying or huddled.
*Chicks are getting drafts and chills, sick and do not eat or drink. Use a brooder guard to keep out drafts.
*Chicks are getting too much heat and they are exhausted and do not eat drink or eat properly. Look for open beaks and crying as this indicates heat stress.
*Waterer is too far from the heat source they don’t know where is so they don’t seek it out. Move it closer to the heat source but not under it and dip their beaks in it a few times to teach them that it is water. You can also add a second waterer too.
*Water is getting droppings or shavings etc. in it and it is getting contaminated. Put waterer up on wooden blocks above the shavings or hang it and clean it more often. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water to kill bacteria and improve health. Also add an electrolyte and vitamin mix to the water to boast the immune system and to get them drinking. We add a pinch of garlic powder as well.
*Chicks cannot find the food as it is covered in shavings, too far from the heat source or hanging too high. Scatter food on a paper towel or shop towel flooring for a few days when you first bring them home and place the feeder in the middle of the brooder floor but not directly under the heat source to train them. You can also add a second feeder.
*Use electrolytes and vitamins for new, stressed or sick chicks. See the homemade recipe above.
*Antibiotics added to you water or medicated feed may also solve your problem if your chicks are worn out, sick or dying. Ask your veterinarian.
*Chicks don’t do well with too much snuggling. I had a batch get sick and die when some kids visited and the kids kept holding them and opening the door to where the brooder was. Basically they were grabbing them too much and they were worn out and got chilled.
*If you have sick chicks or are losing chicks try to fix the problem as quickly as possible as they will not survive long without food, water or proper heat.