From the dirt to our plate; the trials and realities of first-time farm ownership

Incubating Eggs:  A First Timer’s Experience

For Christmas I told my husband that all I wanted was an incubator.  I researched and read reviews on so many of them I was practically crossed-eyed.  My dream machine would have been a Brinsea but this being my first experience and because I’m super thrifty (aka cheap), I just couldn’t bring myself to spend too much money on something a hen could easily do.

So why incubate?  Well, I wanted to up the odds of hatching more chicks instead of waiting for one of my hens to become broody.  Since my entire flock was under a year old, they didn’t molt in the fall which means this spring I should expect a flurry of feather loss.  There was no way for me to guarantee a successful spring hatch if my girls lose their feathers and stop laying eggs.  Besides that, I really wanted to enjoy the miracle of “the hatch” for myself.

The incubator I settled on was listed on Amazon as a 9-12 Egg Auto Turning Digital Incubator.  At the time, I spent less than $60 on this kit which had an overall review of 4 out of 5 stars.  To me, it felt like a wise choice for a first timer such as myself but I knew the proof would be in the pudding and it would take approximately 21 days to get results.   At least this incubator was equipped with the basics – heat, humidity AND automatic egg turning.



After a little Google reading to educate myself I decided to start my journey.  This is my 21 day journal of the process and my experience with my JANOEL12 Incubator.  

DAY 1

I set up the incubator according to instructions.  The heat was adjusted to 38.1 degrees Celsius which lead me to wonder where this thing came from since the temp was not in Fahrenheit…probably China.  The eggs chosen were 8 rather large chicken eggs, laid either the day prior or fresh that morning.  These eggs were not refrigerated nor were they washed.   I did get a little creative here and ended up propping up one side of my incubator so the 2 eggs placed outside the rotation tray would roll downhill and uphill as the frame moves – therefore turning the eggs.  The eggs in the incubator advertisement photo had to be super tiny because my eggs wouldn’t even roll if I put 3 in each slot!  Because water must be added to the incubator each day I found a syringe to inject the water through the vent hole instead of lifting the lid which would let heat and humidity escape.  I marked my calendar for DAY 1 Start, DAY 8 To Candle, DAY 18 Stop Turning “Lockdown” and DAY 21 Hatch Date.


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DAY 2-7

Everything with the incubator seems to be working as intended, even with the 2 eggs outside the turning frame.  After reading a bit more in the instruction manual it is noted that the temperature on Days 1-6 should be at 38.2 Celsius, Days 7-14 38.0 Celsius, Day 15 37.8 Celsius and Days 16-21 at 37.3 Celsius.  Per the manual, my 38.1 Celsius setting is a safe “set it and forget it” temperature.  The manual goes on to note humidity ranges as well but they vary from 55% in the beginning to near 75%-85% nearing hatch.  How this is regulated is beyond me at this point!  2-3 syringes of water must be added daily but there is no humidity gauge or readout on this incubator.  

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DAY 8

My first experience candling eggs basically told me I needed to find a different way to shine some light on my chick development.  My makeshift flashlight box and perhaps the light in the room just didn’t cut it.  In this first photo, I could only tell that each egg had a clear line of development (or that’s what I hoped it was) with the air space at the blunt end.  Unfortunately, any blood vessels or developing embryonic details just weren’t clearly visible.  The dark color of the egg shell also made things more difficult to see.


After changing up my method of candling, things still didn’t improve much because EVERY room in our house has amazing natural lighting.  By using my LED flashlight and a square of foam I was able to create concentrated light with a nice light seal around the egg.  I used this new setup up on some non-incubated eggs and could easily see the flow of egg contents such as the yolk.  I’m guessing at this point much of the embryo growth has made the egg so dense that I can’t see much.  For now I’m just going to spin the wheel and take my chances that all is well within the shell.  I admit, I am also concerned with removing the eggs from the warmth of the incubator for too long (our house temp is 65F degrees) and I’m fearful the more I mess around with these eggs I might drop one.  Eeeeks!



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DAY 10

I’m feeling more excited each day as I watch my eggs roll around in their incubator!  We have officially reached the half way point and can’t stop reading incubation and hatching articles.  I’ve even set aside an egg filled nesting box in the coop with the hopes that one of my hens will become broody.  A dozen or so eggs is a small sacrifice to make in an effort to hatch a few chicks naturally.  Check out my link to view some of the revisions I made to last year’s brooder tote in eager anticipation of chick hatch day!

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DAY 18

Well, today is the day my little gems stop turning.   Over the past few days I’ve reduced the heat from 38.1 C down to 37.8 C and finally to 37.3 C as noted in the user manual.  From what I’ve read, at this stage of development the air space and the positon of the chick will cause the egg to always come to rest in the same position.  This is in preparation for the hatch where the chick will settle into position and pip or crack a small air hole to the outside in the location of the air space.  After this is completed, the chick will rest up for their big day.  

Their little chick bodies will start breathing fresh air through the pip.  Any blood left in the egg will migrate into the chick as the remainder of the egg yolk is drawn into their abdomen.  Many first time incubators have assumed the small pip hole and lack of immediate active hatching requires assistance but the tiny bird will only be harmed if the absorption and resting period is disturbed.  Even as the chick cracks more of the shell, it will still require additional periods of rest.  As the shell is capped (cracked in half), the chick is nearly ready to enter into the world.  Rest assured, the chick is doing what it’s supposed to!



After removing my rotation tray and upper rack I swear I can almost see one of the eggs jiggle as the chick moves!  At the front of the incubator you can see a lighter egg with a larger, more tilted air space (noted by my pencil markings) as compared to the rest – this is the one with noted movement.  Perhaps my eyes are playing tricks on me but I look forward to seeing how this progresses over the course of the weekend.  I have my fingers crossed!

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DAY 19-20

I can definately see the value in spending a bit more on an incubator with better visibility.  This particular incubator does not allow viewing from above which I’m finding to be very frustrating when looking for pips in eggs.  Beyond that, its small size makes it difficult to leave newly hatched chicks to rest without disturbing unhatched eggs.  From what I’ve read, most people will not keep their chicks in the incubator for any longer than 24-48 hours and due to my size restrictions 24 hours in this baby might be a stretch.

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DAY 20-21

It’s early on day 20 (5am) and my husband wakes me to tell me I have my first sign of life!  Our first pip!  Only 1 shell has been cracked so far and it’s time to start pumping up that humidity by adding more water to the bottom tray.  I did hear #1 make a peep so I’m hoping all will go as planned but it could be hours!

At approximately 3:45 pm little Uno came into the world!  I have to say, there is nothing like watching your first incubator hatchling exit the shell.  Of course I don’t know what the sex is at this point but Uno will most certainly always have a place in my heart.  I am in awe of what can transpire in just 3 short weeks.  The miracle of life is so amazing!


As Uno peeps up a storm and proceeds to dry off while in the incubator, I can see a few of my other eggs wiggling around (no additional pips yet however).  It will be sometime tomorrow morning before my first chick transitions into the brooder box.  Because it’s ultra important to keep the humidity high and the heat constant at this stage, I will only be opening the incubator once a day.  

If all goes well, the rest of the eggs should hatch within the next couple of days.  I’ve read that anything beyond 25 days will most likely result in dead-in-shell chicks for one reason or another.  If I do have that issue I will do an “eggtopsie” to see what the cause might have been.  From there, it will give me a good idea on what to tweak for the next batch.  I will proceed to sterilize and clean the brooder in order set another round of eggs.  

If you have chickens and have never incubated your own eggs, you should try it!  Not only is it a learning experience for children but it really gives you a deep appreciation for the little things.  

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DAY 21 into 22

6:00 am 

It has been nearly 13 hours since our first hatch and the only thing I have to show for it is one super loud (lonely) chick and a couple pips.  I know things will start speeding up here soon and I look forward to seeing how many of my 8 incubated eggs hatch.

11:10 am

The arrival of chick #2 is here to celebrate my husband’s birthday with him!  I’m still amazed these little guys fit inside such a small space!

4:30 pm

I still have a stubborn little chicken nugget that has been stuck at the pip stage with a pencil eraser sized pip hole.  I’m a little surprised this one is taking so long…longer than chick #2 which hatched this morning.  I guess greatness takes time but at least I’m seeing movement and a beak.  In the meantime, 2 more eggs have pips, yay!  An interesting note in regards to pips and eggs that have hatched is that the slightly smaller eggs of the Barred Rocks and the Wyandotte have hatched or pipped early on.  The larger eggs of my Rhode Island Red, White Leghorn and the Buff Orphingtons are just now starting to pip or have yet to show hatch progression.

9:20 pm

Little chicken “Nugget” as my husband named it, just hatched, this one is #3.  My husband enjoyed watching this bird enter into the world…FINALLY!  2 more eggs are showing pips while the remaining 3 are still cooking.  Sweet!

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DAY 22 into 23

5:20 am

It’s almost as if #4 was waiting for someone to bare witness to it’s birth.  My husband was up to pour his coffee before heading to work and this little gem already had it’s equator-like crack completed.  This leaves us with 1 more confirmed pip and 3 large eggs still mellowing out within the incubator’s heat.  For now, I’m headed back to bed and will take a closer look at the remaining eggs in the daylight…hopefully they will pip soon.

7:30 am

2 more eggs have pipped and the remaining 2 are still cooking!

12:35 pm

Chick #5, our second darker colored chick, has finally found it’s way out of the shell.  I’m doubting this thrill will ever get old and I’m a sucker for anything that is essentially helpless and labeled a “baby”.  For now, 1 remaining pip and 2 eggs cooking!

3:45 pm

Chick #6 made it’s appearance!  2 more eggs left with no signs of pip so I guess I’ll just have to wait it out and see if anything happens.

7:20 pm

My husband noticed one of the final two eggs “wiggled”.  We are aiming to have all 8 of our eggs reach successful hatch but only time will tell!  

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DAY 23 into 24

Nothing going on today with the last 2 eggs.  I did candle them and proceeded to do a float test and unfortunately that resulted in one of my remaining eggs sinking which according to some reports meant it was no longer viable.  Candling showed both had an air sack area but clearly the float test proved more accurate.  

My “eggtopsie” of the sinking egg revealed a fully formed chick in it’s final stages of absorbing the yolk and readying itself for the hatch.  There was a blood clot located in the sack where the chick rested and the air sack was fully intact.  My best guess is that the death was in the last 12 hours.  The chick was pliable, no foul smell and otherwise healthy.  Most likely the egg was impacted or jostled too much by the hatched siblings.


Out of concern for the remaining egg, I did externally pip the egg in the area of the air sack.  I was careful not to break the internal membrane and increased the incubator humidity slightly by misting.  This isn’t really a proven technique to ensure an easy hatch but at this point I have nothing to lose.  This one could also be dead in the shell as I’m not detecting movement or peeping.  I will give it until tomorrow.


In most cases where hatching is delayed into the 24-25th day, healthwise the chicks are generally weaker or have some type of deformity.  Because my chicks were set mid-day, this afternoon was actually the start of day 24.  As you can imagine, my concern was growing every hour and rightly so.

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DAY 24 into 25

Well, I made the call this morning to further investigate the remaining stagnant egg – the one that floated on a previous water test.  Good thing, it appears as though the egg was never fertilized and was a liquid mess.  There was no stink as you’d associate with a rotten egg and thankfully it didn’t explode as I’ve read in various articles on egg incubation.  I’m just so happy I won’t be wasting more precious days before starting my second round of incubated chicks.  My goal is to get both sets of chicks into the coop before my son’s college graduation.  Shortly thereafter, some will go to start a friend’s coop, some (definately the roosters) to be meat birds while the remainder will integrate into my flock.

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SUMMARY

The outcome of my first hatch I would deem as a success.  Out of 8 eggs we had 6 healthy chicks, 1 dead in shell and 1 non fertilized egg which should have been caught if I knew how to properly candle.  


Clearly, I have some growing to do in terms of fine tuning my methods.  I will make sure to candle my eggs at Day 7, this time in a very dark closet.  I don’t want to run the risk of having an exploding rotten egg contaminate an entire hatch…I just got lucky this time.

Due to my dead in shell chick, the one we clearly saw the egg “wiggle” the day prior, I’ve decided I need to find a way to keep newly hatched chicks from jostling the unhatched eggs.  I have 18 days to come up with a solution for this problem so its time to start brainstorming.

All in all, I am thrilled with the results of the incubator itself.  For our needs here on a small farm it will be adequate and should last for a few years.  Not bad for a machine that cost less than $60.  I was thinking that a larger machine would be nice but considering the health of my flock genetically, we will be buying birds every few years anyway.  I should have no need to increase the scale of incubated hatching.

As for my homemade brooder box tote, it has been working like a charm!  I didn’t need to use the seed sprouting mat to add additional warmth to the floor of the enclosure.  The top works wonderfully to hold in the heat, provide adequate ventilation and protection from my curious cat.  As my chicks grow it will get crowded but that is all part of the process.

I’m making sure to interact with my new chicks a few times each day and after only a couple of days they come running when I put my hand in their brooder box.  Everyone is quickly learning to eat and drink, they are sleeping, growing and pooping!

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