How do I hatch my own poultry at home? Are there alternatives to using an incubator?

Hatching baby birds at home is a rewarding and fun experience, and there are countless reasons that people invest in incubators and hatch their own poultry.

Great Learning Experience

Hatching duck or chicken eggs at home can be an especially for the little ones in your family that are just learning about how life works. Using an egg candler, or an extra bright LED flashlight, you can actually see and document the growth of the embryo each week during the incubation process. This can make excellent home experiments or even classroom experiments if you're a teacher!

 

Save Money on Chicks

Other folks may hatch their poultry to save on purchasing baby chicks each Spring season. As long as you have a healthy rooster two in your flock, you can expect to have plenty of fertilized eggs to hatch when you're ready. 

Hatching Equipment

Regardless of your reasons for wanting to hatch your own chicks, you will want to make sure you have the right equipment to have a successful hatch. 

But can't my chickens just hatch their own baby chicks?

The answer here is yes, sometimes. Most chickens raised for egg production today have had the instincts to go broody bred out of them for production purposes. To go broody means that the hen decides that there are enough eggs in the nest for her to start sitting on them. Of course, if you don't want her to hatch out any eggs or if you don't have a rooster, a hen going broody is nothing but a mere inconvenience. Many flock owners want to raise birds for the eggs, and the hens are much more productive throughout the year if they don't have much of an instinct to sit on their own eggs.

At the same time, many flock owners would prefer to constantly perpetuate their own flocks, and welcome the broodiness and mothering traits in their hens. If you are looking for a good hen to hatch eggs or to mother chicks, here are a few breeds to consider:

 

Almost no domestic ducks have the instinct to hatch their own eggs, with exception of the Welsh Harlequin. However, Cochin Hens are so good at mothering and hatching eggs that they will hatch and raise all types of poultry including, ducks, turkeys, guineas, and geese!

Incubators

If you want to try hatching at home and you don't happen to have a flock of Cochins or Silkies handy, you'll probably need an incubator. There are a few different types of incubators, table-top and cabinet incubators. Unless you're wanting to hatch hundreds of eggs to sell the chicks or raise large numbers, you'll want to look at the table top models.

 

Table Top Incubators

Cabinet Incubators

                        

 

Incubator Features

There are a number of features that will add some cost to your incubator, but many can also drastically increase the hatching rate of your eggs or reduce the time you have to spend monitoring and turning the eggs.

Circulating Fan: Incubators with fans, or circulating air incubators, have an internal fan that constantly moves the heated air around your incubator to maintain a constant temperature throughout the entire incubator. Incubators without fans will still hatch eggs, but they are prone to "hot spots", or areas that are hotter than others inside your incubator.

Automatic Egg Turners: Turning the eggs daily throughout the incubation process is a crucial step in ensuring that the birds will hatch. While broody, female hens of any variety of poultry will turn the eggs multiple times each day by instinct.  This must be replicated by hand or with an automatic turner to prevent the yolk from detaching during incubation. If you can imagine, this is a time consuming process if you have to remember to do it multiple times each day. Investing in an incubator with an automatic turner can be well worth the money if you're on a busy schedule. This also keeps you from needing to open the incubator regularly, and helps maintain a constant temperature inside of the incubator, increasing your hatch rate.

Hygrometer or Humidity Control: Along with temperature, humidity is also a very important variable when attempting to hatch poultry eggs. Some incubators come with automatic humidity control, others come with built in hygrometers so that you can watch the humidity level and take necessary steps to control it. Most incubators will have a water pan to add humidity to the inside of the incubator, but not all will come with hygrometers or digital displays that alert you when the humidity is low.

What Kind of Hatch Rate Should I Expect?

Most of our hatching egg customers report a hatch rate of 30-60%. However, we have had customers report anywhere between 0 and 100%. This can vary drastically because there are so many variables that go into hatching eggs successfully, including how well the incubator instructions were followed, if there was a disruption of your power source, and quality of incubator.  Don't be discouraged if you don't hatch many or any your first time. Even seasoned veterans get low hatches from time to time. You can read our hatching egg guide for basic hatching instructions, but please follow the instructions included with your incubator first and foremost.

If you're looking for more guidance on choosing an incubator, check out our incubator buying guide with a comprehensive list of available incubators.

Happy hatching!

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