Hatching Chicken Eggs Using Incubators – Part Two

So you’ve chosen your model and you have your incubator. You’ve decided where to locate it and you’ve thoroughly cleaned it. Now is the time to make sure everything is working properly before you set your eggs. You’ll remember from last week that there are two types of incubators; still-air and forced-air.

Each type will require a different temperature. The manufacturers instructions will tell you the correct temperature required for their model. Usually however, a forced-air model requires a temperature around 99-100 degrees and a still-air model requires a temperature around 100-102 degrees to compensate for the layering of temperatures within the unit. Again, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully so that you’ll have the greatest success.

Before you even consider setting eggs, it’s important to check the accuracy of the unit’s thermometer. This can be done simply by comparing the reading on a medical thermometer against the reading on the unit’s thermometer when placed in a pan of 100 degree water. Once you’ve confirmed that the thermometer on the unit is accurate, you’ll want to run the incubator for a few days, checking it’s ability to maintain the correct temperature.

The temperature is measured at the height at which the developing chick would be.

In other words, if the eggs are going to be set lying horizontally, (with the larger end slightly elevated of course) place the thermometer at the same height as the top of the eggs. If the eggs are going to be in a vertical position, place the thermometer at a height of about ¼ to ½ inch below the top.

Many forced-air incubators duplicate the hen’s natural routine of leaving the eggs a few times a day for five minutes or so and will therefore have a cooling cycle. I don’t know whether the natural cooling that takes place while the hen gets up to eat, stretch, etc. is important to the developing chick or not. I just wanted to mention it so that you are not confused if your thermometer is reading low a few times a day because of this cooling cycle.

It is also comforting to remember that the hen does leave the nest once in awhile if you find yourself in a situation where your electricity is temporarily interrupted.

The second very important factor to check is the unit’s ability to maintain relative humidity.

Remember that an egg shell is porous. A certain level of evaporation begins once the egg is laid. You control the speed of the evaporation by controlling the humidity within your incubator. Either too much or too little humidity will result in a poor hatch.

There are two ways to measure humidity within the incubator; you can compare the reading of a dry bulb thermometer with that of a wet bulb thermometer. The difference is an index that converts to relative humidity.

The second, and easier way in my opinion, is to use a hygrometer. A hygrometer measures relative humidity. They are reasonably priced and can be found at cigar stores, hardware stores and probably even at the “We Have Everything You Could Possibly Want” type store.

Humidity is created within the incubator by water evaporation. Your incubator should come equipped with a pan or channels at the bottom that hold water. To increase the humidity, you must increase the area of evaporative surface. Increasing the amount of water, or placing a sponge so that more than half of it is exposed above the water line will increase humidity. Decreasing humidity is done by decreasing the evaporative area. You can accomplish this by covering a portion of the pan or channels, or decreasing the water level.

Humidity can also be adjusted using the vents. Less ventilation will increase humidity; more ventilation will decrease the humidity.

For the first 18 days after you’ve set your eggs, you’ll want to keep the humidity at 58 to 60%.

The last three days of incubation, you’ll need to raise the relative humidity to 65%.

After you’re sure your unit will hold both the desired temperature and humidity, take some time to learn how to make minor adjustments. See if you can raise the temperature ½ degree. What happens to the humidity each time you open the unit? The more capable you are in making minor adjustments, the less time it will take if those adjustments are needed after you’ve set you eggs.

Next week we’ll discuss setting your eggs, turning and candling. Until then, enjoy your week.

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