In order to hatch your own eggs you will require an incubator or an accommodating chicken. In the past, we have used our broody ‘Mrs. Duck’ to which she successfully hatched chicken eggs, the only problem being she wanted them to come into the pond with her. Sadly, there is no way of determining the sex of a chicken whilst in its egg and the problem of what to do with the males is often not considered. Perhaps you would prefer a natural sounding alarm clock!.
There are two types of incubator, still and forced air. The temperature inside the incubator needs to be the same throughout, at a constant 37.5˚c. An incubator without a fan to circulate the heat will allow the heat to rise resulting in uneven heat distribution. Humidity is also important as this keeps the eggshells soft to allow easy hatching. This can be achieved simply by adding a damp pad in the incubator.
Chickens have a 21 day (3 week) incubation period. The eggs need turning 3 -5 times a day by 180˚ degrees horizontally or 90˚ degrees vertically. It is a good idea to mark an X on one end of the egg and a O on the other end to ensure that all eggs are turned fully.
You should ensure that the incubator is sterilized before use and has been allowed to get up to temperature. Examine the eggs for cracks, cloudiness or a red ring indicating infection, these eggs should be discarded. It is best to allow the eggs to settle for 24 hours prior to incubating them.
Eggs need to be candled an egg in the dark using a bright torch at purchase and regular intervals. Care should be taken not to overheat the eggs by excessive handling or cooling by being out of the incubator. You should probably try to candle each egg in 8 seconds. You should candle again at day 7 and day 14. You should be able to see blood vessels and the developing embryo with its heart beating.
An air sac is formed shortly after the hen has laid the egg. When candling this can be seen increasing in size right up until the chick pips through. A chick will pip into the air sac to breathe but may take another 12 hours or more to hatch fully. Most breeders recommend that you do not assist a weak chick out of its shell, as you will be introducing weakness in your flock. It may however be that the humidity in the incubator was incorrect causing the shell for form too hard for it to penetrate.
Chicks do not need to eat for at least 24 hours, which is why they can be shipped around the country as day old chicks. Keep your chicks warm, preferably in the incubator or under a lamp until fully dry and mobile.