Incubating chicken eggs - Will I be successful this time?

I have explored in a couple different posts about attempting to raise enough chicken to be self sufficient in eggs and meat.  I have been trying to do this by incubating chicken eggs of some heritage breeds.  In today's blog I will give you an update on how things are going.

Back Story

I have been incubating eggs for a number of years with an older gifted incubator and have had success.  But as I explored in How to Incubate Eggs I decided to buy myself a new Hova-bator 1583 because my old one had sprung a leak.Incubating eggs with Hava-Bator 1583 incubator I also bought myself an automatic egg turnerIncubating chicken eggs using automatic egg turnerAlthough turning eggs a minimum of three times a day is not a huge inconvenience, I just figured the automatic egg turner would make things more consistent, I would not have to remember to turn them and it would ensure the eggs get turned.

I put the first batch of eggs into my new incubator on May 15 and they started hatching around June 3.  As I explored in Is a self sufficient homestead doable? Incubating chicken eggs for meat and egg laying hens and incubating turkey eggs, the reality of this hatch was poor.  I summed the poor hatch rate to a number of factors including poor monitoring of temperature and humidity.  As I explored in the section Some Realities of Hatching Eggs, the disappointing part was that only one of the Jersey Giant eggs produced a live viable chick and "At the end of the day, from the 41 eggs I started with,  I had 1 hatched Jersey Giant, 1 barnyard mix from my Amaraucana hen, and 3 from one of my other brown egg layers.".  A learning opportunity to say the least.

However, as I mentioned in the section Some Realities of Hatching Eggs, after cracking all the unhatched eggs open, I realized that "Some died at around day 12, others at around day 15 but the majority at around day 17 or 18.  For a very graphic chart on chick development, click here."

Moving Forward

Not to be discouraged, I did the research and decided to go again. I am thinking at this stage that the humidity fluctuation was the reason for the less than perfect hatch.  So I ordered a hygrometer and although it did not get here till day 5 of the egg setting, the humidity at time of placement was perfect, around 50 - 55% (I took this picture outside the incubator, so temperatures and humidity are not actuals from within the incubator).Incubating chicken eggs with hygrometer to tell humidity.

As I explored in the section Why do I want the Jersey Giant and Buff Orpington Breed? I really wanted the Jersey Giant breed and so I ordered another 6 Jersey Giant eggs in hopes of a successful partner for the one Jersey Giant that hatched in the first incubation on June 3.Jersey Giant chick at hatch from incubating chicken eggs

In doing my research as to the low hatching rates of the first hatch, I found an article that stated that when storing eggs for incubation, you should store the eggs with point side up.  This goes against everything that I knew and is recommended, but I thought I would try storing a few in this manner.  I put eggs gathered from June 13 - 16 into the incubator, including my 6 Jersey Giant eggs, into the incubator on June 17.  I filled the first water slot as recommended in the instruction manual that came with the Hava-Bator 1583 incubator.Incubating chicken eggs - June 17 set of eggs

On about day 5 of the egg setting, the hygrometer arrived and I placed it in the incubator.  All things were good.  Or so I thought.Incubating chicken eggs - hygrometer in incubator

Incubating second batch of eggs

After listening to the podcast, Breeding Chickens (Meat Birds) – Tips for Success  from Melissa K Norris with Tom McMurray of Murray McMurray Hatchery, I thought seriously about not candling the eggs as I normally do because at that point, nothing was going to change with the rate of hatch.  I am only risking bumping the egg and possibly causing the embryo to die. It will be what it will be.  But at day nine, I decided that I needed to know. So I candled the eggs to see what I had. If you want to learn how to candle eggs for fertility, I explore the process in the section Candling to determine fertilization at day 7-10 of the blog post How to incubate eggsIncubating chicken eggs - candling of a fertilized egg If you want to learn about candling eggs to determine storage and sale suitability of eggs, check out my in depth candling exploration in How to candle farm fresh eggs with a homemade egg candler.

As a result of the candling of the second batch of eggs I found that only one of the Jersey Giant eggs was fertilized.  This rate of clear (non fertile) at 83%, is not dissimilar to the 73% clear rate of the first batch, a disappointing find to be sure.  But I thought well at least I will have two, hopefully a hen and a rooster.  The lack of fertility (clears) in these two batches of Jersey Giant eggs has made me question whether it is just the eggs I am getting or if it is just the way of things with Jersey Giant chickens.  Perhaps, due to their size, they have reproductive issues in not being able to maintain a breeding, not dissimilar to the Nicolas White turkey and the Cornish Cross chickens.  I talk about this in the section Can I breed poultry for a self sufficient homestead.  I will have to do some further research into this and see.  But the reality is that perhaps the Jersey Giant will not be a breed for me.

The candling also revealed that with the barnyard mix I had about a 17% clear (non fertile) rate.  A reasonable amount.

With the candling complete, I closed the incubator up and waited for Day 18 when the eggs would go on lockdown.  I did have one day where the humidity dropped to 32% (about 23% below optimum), but it was only part of a day.  On day 18, I took the eggs out of the automatic egg turner, laid them flat in the incubator and raised the humidity to 70% by adding water to the other channel recommended in the instruction manual.

Incubating chicken eggs - Day 21

On July 8, Day 21 AKA hatch day,  I noticed that two chicks were starting to pip out.  A few hours later one chick had pipped out and was laying in the incubator drying off.  Later that night, still only one chick.  The next morning, still only one chick.  And later that day, still only one chick.  The other chick that had started pipping had obviously died.  But what about the remaining eggs?  There was no sign of activity and no chirping sounds could be heard as one normally hears as chicks are pipping out of the eggs.  So I removed the lone chick from the Hava-Bator 1583 incubator and put it into my old incubator rather than setting up a brooder.  He is doing well after a week.incubating chicken eggs - lone chick at 1 week I left the eggs in the incubator for a total of 26 days and then unplugged the incubator with a realized hatch rate of 2%.  But why such a dismal hatch rate?  And with the dismal hatch rate, determining whether storing the egg point side up made a difference will have to be tried another time.

I started researching and found an article, Pipped eggs that do not hatch, put out by the Mississippi State University Extension office that gave some indication what to look for in analyzing the embryo's from the unhatched eggs. Basically if the humidity in the incubator was too high, "A dried coating around the chick's nostrils and beak indicates that drowning was likely." and if the humidity was too low "If the membranes around the shell opening appear dried and shrunken, the cause is probably low humidity during hatching.".

So with this new found knowledge in hand I proceeded to crack open every unhatched egg from incubating the second batch of eggs.  And what I found was further perplexing.  Although there were a couple of eggs where development had stopped at about day 10, the Jersey Giant being one of them, the majority of the eggs ceased development around day 17 - day 19, not dissimilar to the first hatching.  For a graphic illustration, click here.  Right around when the incubator went into lock down. A very perplexing situation.

I started questioning my own instructions and researching again to ensure that my process was within the guidelines.  Other than a few glitches with humidity and the temperature being maintained a little higher than should have been at 102 F due to adjustment issues with the incubator, everything was good.  Although I wondered about the temperature, as the University of Illinois Extension office stated in the article, Some reasons for poor hatches, "There will be a fluctuation of two or three degrees above or below 100.5 degrees F., but there should not be prolonged periods of high or low temperatures." which may cause issues because "An incubator that is run warm, constantly averaging a bit above 100.5 degrees F will tend to produce an early hatch.".  An early hatch I did not have, but perhaps it had something to do with it. 

But then I remembered something I read in the article Pipped eggs that do not hatch which stated that "The air exchange requirement within an incubator is greatest during the last day of incubation. The chick embryo's oxygen requirement continually increases during development and especially when breathing using the respiratory system just before hatching. The vent openings are frequently restricted at this time in an attempt to boost incubator humidity. Instead of helping the chick hatch, the chick is suffocated from lack of ventilation.".  The ventilation is controlled by the red vent plugs in the top of the incubator.Incubating chicken eggs - ventilation plugs in red

I pulled out my instruction sheet for the incubator and read it again and although it states that the red plugs "should be removed when the incubator is used at altitudes greater than 6000 feet above sea level" it also states that they can be removed to help dry the chicks off.  I had left the plugs in for both hatches of eggs as I am not over 6000 feet in elevation.  It then dawned on me that:

  1. The chicks were ceasing development around day 17 - day 19,
  2. The article Pipped eggs that do not hatch stated that "Never decrease ventilation openings at hatching in an attempt to increase humidity. Increase humidity by other methods.", and,
  3. My old incubator successfully hatched eggs with no vent plugs in it.

Incubating chicken eggs for the third time

Although I debated about just calling it quits for the year, I decided that I needed to know if I was on to something.  So on July 16 I set another batch of my own barnyard mix eggs. I gathered the eggs over a couple of days, stored them as required and candled them before setting them in the incubator.  I followed the same procedures as I explored in How to Incubate eggs.Incubating chicken eggs - third set of barnyard mix

But this time, I left out the plugs.  My humidity is a little high (62%) at the initial setting of the eggs but it will come down over the next couple days.  I have also lowered the temperature to get it much closer to the 100.5 F I should be maintaining.  I guess we will see what happens in 21 days.

If this does not work, I will be exploring a few other options such as the automatic egg turner.

Will I be successful this time?

Despite the learning opportunities these experiences have given me, I am still extremely thankful for what I have achieved thus far.  Now, maybe the Jersey Giants will not be a viable option for me, but I can tell you that the Buff Orpington that were delivered on June 16 from Rochester Hatchery are doing very well.Incubating chicken eggs - buff orpington chicks

As is my lone Jersey Giant chick - still not certain on its sex yet, but thinking hen.Incubating chicken eggs - Jersey Giant chick - 4 weeks old

And the Columbian Rock chick and the remaining four other chicks are doing well.Incubating chicken eggs - columbian rock chick

Although I really want this to work, I won't know if I am successful for a couple weeks yet.  I can tell you though that if I am not successful in this third hatch, I do know that I will take the learning opportunities that I have gained thus far and add it to any additional research I gather from now till next spring and give it another go next spring.  I will not be attempting another hatch this year.  If I get my second chicken house built, I may rethink this.  But for now, this will be it.

Be sure to watch for future updates as I explore trying to achieve self sufficiency with poultry and to see if I have a successful third hatch.

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Additional Resources

Incubating chicken eggs - Pinterest link






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