Raising backyard chickens has become more popular these days, with nearly 10 million Americans having chickens. Take your poultry to the next step and incubate and hatch your own baby chicks this year! I’ll explain everything you need to get started.
To incubate your own chicken eggs is very simple. It takes diligence, and patience, but in 21 days you’ll be swarming with baby chicks and can even make a decent living off of hatching your own eggs!
Why Incubate Your Own Chicken Eggs
Personally, there are several reasons I hatch my own eggs.
Firstly, your hens’ best egg laying years are usually between 2-4, depending on the breed. As your girls get older, they won’t completely quit laying, but they’ll lay more infrequently. If they usually gave you an egg a day, they’ll give you an egg every two days, then every three days, etc. etc.
So every year I would buy new baby chicks to add to my flock and rotate out the older laying hens. But at $3-$4 per chick, plus shipping, it is way cheaper to hatch my own!
The incubator is this one below:
At roughly $60, if you hatch out 20 chicks, it pays for itself. If you hatch out and sell 3 chicks you raise up to laying age (about 6 months) at $15 a hen, it pays for itself.
Each of my hens and rooster I’ve chosen for specific traits I want to breed – size, hardiness, egg size and color, personality, etc.
However, if you want to turn a fun hobby into an income stream for your homestead, check out how Lisa Murano from Murano Chicken Farm explains how she makes $1000/mo with just 15 chickens!
Long story short, if you hatch a breed that is in high demand in your area you can easily sell chicks for $5 a piece. If you can sell 50 chicks a month, you’ll make $1000!
In my area, some of the breeds in the highest demand are lavender orpingtons, salmon faverolles, silkies, ameracaunas and olive eggers. But research your own area first – attend local poultry swaps, look at craigslist, breeds online, or do a search in your local chicken owners FB pages.
OR – if $60 is still too expensive, check out my post on how to incubate chicken eggs WITHOUT an incubator!
It helps that baby chicks are REALLY freaking cute! Check out my post on adorable baby chick pictures that will melt your heart.
How to Incubate Your Own Chicken Eggs
The first thing you need to incubate your own eggs are hens and at least one rooster. Pick breeds and animals that have qualities you would want to breed into your future flock.
For example, our rooster Cookie, is a giant buff brahma. He was bred from show stock but one wattle is slightly smaller than the other so he was given away. I adore Cookie for his size, beauty, his sweet personality, and how cold hardy the Brahmas are. His size means that chicks born from him will be large enough to lay large eggs or dress out as a large bird for the table.
As long as your rooster is old enough and doing the deed, all you’ll need to do is harvest eggs as quickly as you can. In nature, the mama chicken would lay on her eggs right after laying them, so they would be incubating right away. Avoid any drastic shifts in temperature.
Make sure the eggs are as clean as possible – no poop, bedding, feathers, etc. but do not wash them. The natural bloom on the egg is vital for maintaining the correct humidity inside of the egg.
Once you’ve collected all the eggs, mark an “X” and an “O” (or anything you want, really) on each long side of the egg. You will be rotating the eggs several times a day, so marking the sides helps you keep track of what side you’re on.
Setting Up Your Incubator
When you first get your incubator, make sure to turn it on a run it for a full 24 hours. You want to be sure it can reach and maintain a steady temperature.
READ ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS.
Eggs need to be kept right around 99.5 degrees F for the length of their incubation. However, my incubator, for example, is designed to be used with an automatic egg turner, which would elevate the egg. Since heat raises, with my incubator, if you don’t use the automatic egg turner, you need to set the temperature to 103.5. I never would have known this if I didn’t read the instructions.
Aim to keep your eggs at 99.5 degrees and around 60% humidity.
Rotating Your Eggs
Naturally, a mama hen would constantly be fussing over her eggs – turning them, adjusting them, moving them around. This is to ensure that the embryo floats freely inside of the egg and doesn’t get stuck to one side.
Since you’ve marked your eggs, you’ll want to turn them 3-5 times a day. You can do more, if you like, but always make sure it’s an odd number.
If you’ve left the “O” on your eggs up one night, you’ll need to make sure that the “X” is left up the next night. This ensures your embryos don’t develop unevenly.
When you place your eggs in the incubator make sure to leave enough room not to crowd the eggs and to give yourself space to turn them.
Turn them gently and slowly each time.
Candling Your Eggs
You can “candle” your eggs to test if they were fertilized or not. With white or light shells, you can candle them the 3rd or 4th day of incubation. With dark-shelled eggs you have to wait until the 7th or 8th day.
To candle your eggs, wait until night, or take them to a dark room and place a flash light on one end of the egg. If the egg is fertile, you’ll see veining and maybe even some movement!
Discard the eggs that are not fertile.
That’s it!! Wait 21 days, and watch your babies hatch! When your baby chicks are hatching, don’t be tempted to help them – you could possibly do more damage than good.
In another post I’ll explain how to help your baby chicks if they’re struggling to hatch.
Make sure, though, that you have all the equipment you need to take care of your new baby chicks by checking out my post!
Yay! You’re a new baby chick Grandma or Grandpa! Enjoy! And happy homesteading!