In this issue, we’ll talk about selecting eggs to hatch, their care, handling and storage.
If you will be purchasing fertile eggs, be sure to use a reputable supplier. You can mail order fertile eggs but it will likely be cheaper if you can find a local source. If you will be breeding your hens to hatch your own eggs; follow the guidelines below for a better success rate.
First and foremost, you must make sure your flock is getting a complete and healthy diet.
There is a special commercial feed available called “Breeder’s Ration” that I would recommend if you’re using commercial feed. If you are feeding home rations, feed a diet high in protein and greens with relatively little grains. Chickens tend to fill up on grains if given the chance yet protein and greens are crucial for healthy chicks. For this reason, laying mash is not suitable for birds you want to breed.
Both the roosters and hens need to have ample, if not generous amounts of feed available. If there is any shortage of food, the hens will stop laying eggs, the roosters will be sterile.
Younger birds are more likely to produce fertile eggs. This pertains to both the hens and the roosters. Remember from last week though that the rooster needs to be at least 20 weeks and the hen’s eggs need to have reached normal size before you can expect good hatchability.
Collect eggs often, three to four times a day is preferable. In hot weather, increase your collections to five times daily.
Only select clean eggs to hatch. If they are soiled, wash them and place them at the front of your storage of eggs in the refrigerator for eating (see Volume: 1 Issue: 4.) Do not allow the eggs your planning to hatch get wet as this will remove the protective “bloom” making them vulnerable to disease.
Only select eggs from a healthy, mature hen that is not a sibling, parent or offspring of your roosters.
Select medium sized well shaped eggs. Large eggs don’t hatch well and small eggs will produce small chicks with a high mortality rate.
Avoid eggs that have thin or cracked shells as incidence of disease is more likely because penetration of disease organisms is easier.
Once you have selected your eggs to hatch, you’ll want to “set” them as soon as you have a clutch, or group, ready.
“Setting” is when you place the eggs in your incubator or place them under a broody hen for her to hatch (more about using a broody hen to hatch next week).
Storage and handling is important as you assemble your collection of eggs to hatch. If properly stored, you can “hold” your eggs for up to 7 days. After 7 days, hatchability declines rapidly. After 3 weeks of holding, you have about a 0% chance that any of your eggs will hatch.
Handle eggs as little and as carefully as possible to prevent damage. Remember that inside the eggs is living thing. Also remember that with each handling, the protective bloom is disturbed.
Store the eggs in a cool and humid storage area. The temperature needs to be steadily around 55 degrees F (13 degrees C.) There needs to be around 75% relative humidity. Variations will reduce hatchability.
Store the eggs in an egg carton or flat with the small end pointed down.
With a pencil, and only a pencil, mark the date of collection on each egg. If you haven’t assembled your clutch within 7 days, you might want to go ahead and set the ones you have and thereby hatch a smaller number of eggs. The alternative would be to continue collecting more eggs with the understanding that the eggs that are more than a week old are less likely to hatch. Also, eggs held more then 10 days should be stored with the large end pointed down.
If the eggs will be set within 7 days of being laid, there is no need to turn them during the holding period.
If you will be holding your eggs for more than a week, you’ll need to turn them from side to side once daily. One way to accomplish this is to place a 6 inch block of wood under one end of the carton or flat. Each day you’ll move the block from one end to the other allowing the contents of the eggs to shift. The advantage to this method is that you do not need to handle the eggs thereby disturbing the bloom.
Now you know how to select eggs to hatch and how to store them until your are ready to set them. Next week we’ll delve into using broody hens.