How Do You Handle And Store Hatching Chicken Eggs?

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“I’m planning to start a small backyard chicken operation, but I’m not sure how to properly handle and store the hatching eggs. Can you give me some detailed advice on the best practices?” Thanks a bunch, Elizabeth, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Handling and Storing Hatching Chicken Eggs: A Comprehensive Guide

Hey Elizabeth! It’s great to hear you’re venturing into the world of backyard chickens. Handling and storing hatching eggs properly is crucial for successful incubation and healthy chicks. Let’s break down everything you need to know to get started on the right foot in Christchurch.

Collecting Hatching Eggs

The process begins with proper egg collection. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Collect eggs frequently, ideally 3-5 times a day
  • Use clean, dry hands or sanitized gloves
  • Avoid washing the eggs, as this can remove the protective bloom
  • Gently brush off any dirt or debris with a dry, soft cloth
  • Discard any cracked, misshapen, or excessively dirty eggs

Elizabeth, it’s important to note that eggs laid more than 7-10 days ago are less likely to hatch successfully, so be mindful of the laying date when selecting eggs for incubation.

Proper Egg Handling Techniques

Hatching eggs are delicate and require careful handling. Here are some best practices:

  1. Always wash your hands before handling eggs
  2. Hold eggs with clean, dry hands or wear disposable gloves
  3. Handle eggs gently to avoid shaking or sudden movements
  4. Avoid rotating the eggs unnecessarily
  5. When moving eggs, keep the pointed end down

Remember, Elizabeth, every time you handle an egg, you’re potentially exposing it to bacteria that could harm the developing embryo. Minimizing handling is key to maintaining egg health.

Optimal Storage Conditions

Proper storage is crucial for maintaining egg viability. Here’s what you need to know:


Store eggs at a temperature between 55°F to 65°F (12.8°C to 18.3°C). This range slows down embryonic development without killing the embryo. In Christchurch’s climate, you might need to use a wine cooler or a specially designed egg storage unit to maintain this temperature range consistently.


Maintain relative humidity between 75% to 85%. This prevents excessive moisture loss from the eggs. You can use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels and adjust as needed.


Store eggs with the pointed end down at a 45-degree angle. This helps keep the air cell intact and the yolk centered. You can use egg cartons or specialized egg trays for this purpose.


Rotate the eggs 45 degrees at least once daily. This prevents the yolk from sticking to the shell membrane. Some egg storage units do this automatically, but if you’re storing manually, set a reminder to rotate the eggs.

Duration of Storage

While it’s best to set eggs for incubation as soon as possible, sometimes storage is necessary. Here’s what you need to know about storage duration:

  • Ideal storage time: 3-7 days
  • Maximum storage time: 14 days
  • Hatchability decreases by about 0.5% per day after laying
  • After 14 days, hatchability drops significantly

Elizabeth, if you’re planning to store eggs for more than a week, consider adjusting your storage practices. For eggs stored longer than 7 days, reduce the storage temperature to around 50°F (10°C) and increase humidity to about 85%.

Preparing Eggs for Incubation

When you’re ready to start incubation, follow these steps:

  1. Remove eggs from storage and let them warm to room temperature gradually (about 2-3 hours)
  2. Candle the eggs to check for cracks or other defects
  3. Gently clean any visible dirt with a dry cloth
  4. Place eggs in the incubator with the pointed end down

Remember, sudden temperature changes can cause condensation on the eggshell, which can lead to bacterial growth. Gradual warming is essential for the eggs’ health.

Record Keeping

Maintaining accurate records is crucial for successful hatching. Keep track of:

  • Laying dates
  • Storage conditions and duration
  • Rotation schedule
  • Any unusual observations

This information will help you identify patterns and improve your processes over time. Elizabeth, you might find it helpful to use a spreadsheet or a dedicated poultry management app for this purpose.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

As you embark on your chicken-raising journey, be aware of these common pitfalls:

  • Washing eggs (removes protective bloom)
  • Storing eggs at room temperature
  • Neglecting to rotate eggs during storage
  • Mixing eggs from different laying dates
  • Storing eggs for too long before incubation


Even with the best practices, you might encounter some issues. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Low Hatch Rates

If you’re experiencing low hatch rates, check your storage conditions, ensure proper handling, and verify the fertility of your breeding flock.

Bacterial Contamination

If you notice a foul odor or unusual discoloration in your eggs, they may be contaminated. Improve your collection and handling practices to prevent this in the future.

Inconsistent Results

If your results are inconsistent, review your record-keeping. Look for patterns in storage duration, temperature fluctuations, or handling practices that might be affecting your outcomes.

Advanced Techniques

As you gain experience, Elizabeth, you might want to explore some advanced techniques:

Pre-incubation Warming

Some breeders practice “pre-incubation warming” where eggs are gradually warmed to incubation temperature over 12-24 hours. This can potentially improve hatch rates for eggs stored longer than a week.

SPIDES (Short Periods of Incubation During Egg Storage)

This technique involves briefly warming stored eggs to incubation temperature for a few hours every few days. It’s shown promise in improving hatchability of long-stored eggs but requires careful management.

Final Thoughts…

Elizabeth, handling and storing hatching eggs properly is a crucial skill for any chicken keeper. Remember the key points: collect eggs frequently, handle them gently, store at the right temperature and humidity, rotate daily, and use eggs within two weeks for best results. Your attention to these details will significantly improve your hatch rates and lead to healthier chicks.

Thanks for reaching out with your question. It’s great to see someone in Christchurch taking such a thoughtful approach to chicken keeping. With these practices in place, I’m confident you’ll have a thriving backyard flock in no time. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any more questions as you continue on this exciting journey. Best of luck with your new feathered friends!

Whether you're a complete beginner and don't know where to start, or you're a seasoned chicken keeping professional and just want practical "how to" advice on tap our guide to keeping chickens has got you covered...

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