Successful incubation check list...
Egg Quality, Handling & Storage of Hatching Eggs
From the very minute an eggs is laid...
Handling an egg carefully is crucial – if you accidently drop an egg – discard it or use it for eating – don’t attempt to hatch it. Keep them out of the sun and collect your eggs daily so they are not getting knocked around in the nest by other clumsy hens.
Eggs need to be stored pointed end down (Blunt end up), in a room with a stable temperature, the cooler the better, but not refrigerated. Humidity is also important, not too dry or eggs can lose weight (Moisture) Humidity during storage needs to be as high as possible to avoid significant drying out of the egg before incubation.
Turn or rotate stored eggs approximately 45 degrees each way twice daily – the more offen the better. (More on this later)
Choose your hatching eggs carefully, choose eggs of good shape, size and quality - Choosing miss-spelled eggs such as eggs with crinkly shells, odd shaped eggs – long narrow eggs or extra large (Possibly double yoke eggs) is a no go. Ensure you check eggs for cracks – even the smallest hairline crack will result in failure 99% of the time.
A good quality egg candler will show up even the smallest of hairline cracks, like Brinsea’s OvaView LED egg candlers – if you want to get really technical, Brinsea also produce an OvaScope to fit their candlers – the OvaScope can be used in broad daylight and has the added advantage of magnifying the egg so you can see every little blemish. These are great for monitoring embryo development too. Brinsea has an upgraded OvaView “High Intensity” Candler for use with very dark shelled eggs such as Araucana and mottled eggs such as Quail. Don’t use electric candlers, or if you do – be very very careful to follow the instructions. Many of these torches produce excessive heat and the heat given off the torch can burn vital blood vessels and in-turn endanger the developing embryo.
Good turning practices.
Do not turn a full 360°, not even 180°. It should just be a part turn (90° is ample) and do not continually turn the same direction as this could wind the up the embryo’s cord. Believe it or not, a broody hen in nature will turn her eggs up to 40 x per day, each turn is just a fraction, she will also move her eggs from the inside to the outside of the clutch continually throughout incubation. This is something you don’t have to worry about with modern machines. If you have a manual turn incubator, the last thing you want to be doing is opening your machine 40 x per day and fortunately you don’t need to. Twice per day is actually enough for a developing chick to sustain good healthy growth, so once in the morning clock wise and once in the evening anti clock wise is enough and a 90° turn is ample. Remember, with chicken eggs, it is only 21 days from setting to hatching, so it is important to stop turning the eggs on day 18, this is so the chick can settle and position itself to hatch at the correct end of the egg (Blunt end) Failing to do so can result in chicks not hatching at the correct end of the egg (The blunt / air cell end)
It's important to remember that in natural circumstances eggs warm up quite slowly. Incubators often warm up quickly, so if placed in the incubator immediately the egg could suffer thermal shock.
If possible, eggs should be brought up to temperature slowly. This is best done by setting the eggs at room temperature and placing in the incubator which is not pre-heated.
Incubator Quality, Conditions and Hygiene.
A good quality machine is run and tested ex factory. If buying budget incubator – run it up and test for an bare minimum of 3 to 4 days before setting eggs. It is amazing how many stories we hear of incubators failing after just a few weeks, which can be absolutely heartbreaking - especially if you have paid good money for brought in eggs. This said, we recommend if you are buying eggs in and you are running your new machine for the very first time, wait for your machine to arrive and run it up before ordering your eggs. (This goes for all machines, including high quality units such as Brinsea) This way you can be sure your new machine is spot on before spending hard earned money on eggs that can turn bad if a machine is faulty (Eggs don’t remain fertile for ever).
Top quality machines such as Brinsea are all factory tested before being shipped, where as 99% of Chinese made budget incubators will not be tested. We understand not everyone’s budget reaches the likes of top quality machines, but there are other options available for quality entry level machines such as Covina’s “Egg Tech” range of incubators from Italy ranging from as little as $295.00 for digital automatic turning. (See here for details) Even top quality Brinsea offer great little starter units from as little as $189.00 & $369 for fully automatic digital with auto turn.
When investing in a new machine – as said, please be sure to test it well and truly before buying eggs in, even better – try your first hatch with some eggs from Farmer Joe down the road , Nothing wrong with a few good ol cross breeds who are running around with some random old rooster, at least the eggs won’t cost you anything or at worst $5.00 for the dozen. So a cheap test run for you and good practice to get started.
Cleanliness is crucial – Your incubator needs to be cleaned with a suitable disinfectant between every hatch. Brinsea has a very simple to use and pleasant smelling disinfectant concentrate available which is designed specifically for egg and incubation use. Or for the more serious breeders, we also have Incusan available in larger 5L containers. Be sure whatever you use isn’t going to damage the plastic or metal components of your machine. Run your machine empty to dry it out for several hours after cleaning is also a good practice (And a must do at the end of breeding season).
Eggs also need to be clean, but not necessarily washed. Try not to wash eggs if they are dirty, obviously we don’t have a choice sometimes, so if you need to wash – use a purpose made product such as Incusan or Brinsea’s own incubation disinfectant. Soaking eggs in a coolish water solution (Water should be no more than room temperature) for approx 15 to 30 seconds will loosen organic matter, making it easy to remove – take care not to wipe eggs, just dab them with a soft sponge – Wiping can remove the eggs natural protective bloom. Another way to remove dried on matter is to use very fine sandpaper, gently rubbing the dirt off, but taking care not to scratch the surface of the egg.
Feeding a correct breeder feed is essential. Most common feeds are aimed at hens producing eggs in large quantities, so the feed isn’t actually designed directly for hatching eggs or the health of the emerging chicks. We are lucky in here in Canterbury with a vast range of feed manufacturers – our personal favourite is Weston Milling, who makes a very good layer pellet which we use all year round for our layer stock. This is great for plenty of eggs, but when wanting to hatch our eggs, is still not quite enough.
Poor nutrition is one of the most common causes of poor hatch rates. Your feeding programme for your breeding stock is essential for strong and healthy chicks - A majority of breeders will lock-up their birds for breeding season in smaller pens, so unfortunately they are not wandering around eating grass, grubs etc etc.
The egg itself is composed of many nutrients that come from the parent, so to ensure a healthy hatched chick; the parent(s) needs plenty of nutrients and at least two weeks prior to using her fertile eggs - The most important vitamins and minerals are as follows:-
• Vitamin A – Sources of this vitamin are in green feeds, yellow vegetables, maize and synthetic compounds. The vitamin can be easily destroyed by light and heat. A lack of this vitamin is a common cause of poor hatchability, weak chicks and poor disease resistance.
• Vitamin D – The raw source of this vitamin is in sunlight. Chicks kept indoors will need supplements. A lack of it causes week bones that will bend and deform. Also eggshells may become deformed; resulting in complications of the chick’s use of shell calcium that in turn makes moisture loss in eggs difficult to control.
• Vitamin E – The source of this is in seed germs – i.e. wheat. A deficiency results in poor hatches of chicks that are weak and do not thrive. Most deaths occur due to circulatory failure in which the walls of the blood vessels are ruptured.
• Vitamin K – This can be found in most green feed. A gross deficiency will cause haemorrhages over the body of the chicks. In eggs, deaths may occur in turning due to severe bumping or sudden jarring.
Further sources of vitamins and minerals are found in meat meal, blood and bone meal, dried milk solids and yeast extracts. Cider Vinegar, Garlic, Seaweed, Molasses & Honey - natures' nutrients! All of these natural products are proven to be extremely beneficial to the health of all animals. Garlic contains sulphur compounds, amino acids, germanium, calcium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B1 and C. Honey ~ Which has a unique hydrogen peroxide antibacterial activity. Seaweed provides a whole range of vitamins from A through to M (Folic Acid), so essential for the efficient digestion and metabolism of the diet. Seaweed also contains up to 20 minerals.
We have many of these products available in concentrated forms, such as Stockmans Friend AHE which can be added to their drinker water or NETTEX Mineral Boost, which is a complete nutritional supplementary mineral powder added to their daily feed rations.
Keeping your birds wormed, lice and mite free is also essential (Click here for details on worming)
Last, but by far not least is Genetics.
DO NOT hatch from birds that are sick or poorly – All you are doing is producing future generations of weak offspring. Choosing the best birds possible for breeding is crucial. Even if you are just hatching a few cross breeds or replacement layers for your flock. Look for defects in your birds, this includes your breeding rooster.
If breeding for showing or trying to improve the quality of your flock or preserve a rare or heritage breed – this is one of the most crucial things to consider before you even pen your birds up. BUT at the top of the list for us personally is health and vitality. If the rooster or any of the hens are not in top condition prior to breeding – quite simple; don’t hatch their eggs or use that rooster for breeding...
Final note, There are many books available (check our library here) and information on the web about what we have covered in this newsletter – but hopefully we have summed up the basics for you and given you enough to think about for now.
If you have any incubation questions or hatching issues – please feel free to contact us, we are not experts by any means, but will try and help where we can. (We do however prefer not to give advice on how to use budget Chinese incubators – these only have one place in our mind)
Brinsea's UK Website has some fantastic information and free downloads including this Incubation Handbook.