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What to Use if You Don’t Have an IncubatorIf you do not have an incubator for hatching your chicken eggs, there are a few other options for keeping your eggs warm. Some alternative methods can be a bit more challenging but yield the same results if done correctly. The best incubator alternatives for hatching chicken eggs include:
- A homemade/DIY incubator
- A heat lamp
- A heating pad
- A bird other than the mother
How to Make a Homemade IncubatorThe best alternative method is to create a homemade incubator that mimics the real thing as closely as possible. This method is the simplest and produces the best results. To create a homemade incubator, you’ll need:
- The Structure: The structure of the incubator can be a cardboard box, plastic tote, foam cooler, etc. Foam coolers are a great choice because they are insulated, allowing them to hold the heat in better.
- The Heating Source: The most commonly used heating source is a 25-watt light bulb. A higher wattage bulb or additional bulbs may be needed depending on the size of your incubator.
- The Monitoring System: A thermometer that will give a humidity level reading is the best option for monitoring the climate inside the incubator.
- The Humidity Source: Humidity can easily be created inside your DIY incubator with a heat-resistant bowl and a sponge.
Hatching with a Heat LampIt’s possible to hatch chicken eggs with a heat lamp. The process, however, can be trickier than if you were using a regular incubator.
- To hatch eggs using a heat lamp, you will need to place the eggs in a container underneath the light.
- Then, add small wet natural sponges around the eggs to help create humidity within the container.
- Rotate the eggs 3 to 5 times a day.
Hatching with a Heating PadA heating pad will keep the egg warm and allow the embryo to develop. This method requires you to be more available and attentive to your eggs than others. In addition, since the heating pad will only provide heat to one side of the egg, you’ll need to flip your egg 5 times a day to ensure the heat is evenly distributed. You also don’t want to let your egg get too hot. Overheating the egg would be very easy when using a heating pad, and it should always be on the low setting.
Hatching with a Different MotherIf you have another chicken to sit on the eggs, you can provide the same environment as eggs being incubated by their mother. This is also known as natural incubation. It’s a hen’s natural instinct to brood or sit on eggs, so any hen should tend to eggs.
The Science Behind Natural Fertilization and IncubationFor eggs to become fertile, they must be fertilized by a rooster. On the first day that the Rooster’s sperm is present, it will only fertilize 1 egg. However, it’s collected in pockets and will continue to fertilize an egg a day for up to 14 days. Read our related article, How Do Chickens Lay Eggs Without a Rooster? Discover more about the egg-making process in this guide!
Broody HensMuch like women go through the nesting phase, in which they have an overwhelming urge to prepare the home for their baby, hens also have a period where they obsess over their eggs hatching. There’s no specific timeframe or month that you can expect a hen to become broody because it depends on when her hormone levels shift after she lays her eggs. A broody hen will sit on eggs that are not fertile for up to 7 weeks in hopes that they hatch. Depending on the hen’s level of broodiness, she may give up a bit sooner.
How Can You Tell if an Egg is Fertilized or Not?You do not have to crack an egg open to determine whether or not the chick is alive inside the egg. You also do not need to drop the egg in water and guess its viability based on its ability to sink or float. This method does not generally provide an accurate result and could damage the egg. You can tell if an egg is fertile by candling it.
Candling EggsThe best way to determine whether or not an egg is fertile is to use the candling method.
- In a dark room, hold a flashlight to the large end of the egg to allow you to see the inside of the egg.
- If the egg is fertile, you should see a dark spot near the center of the egg, along with veins. In some cases, you may even see movement.
- If you do not see this, the egg isn’t fertilized and will not hatch.
How Long Can Eggs Be Cold and Still Hatch?It is best to incubate chicken eggs within seven days of the time they are laid. This time frame gives you the highest chance of your egg hatching. Some eggs have been known to survive for up to 10 days, but the number of eggs that hatched was significantly lower.
Storing Eggs Before IncubatingIf you have to store your eggs and can’t incubate them immediately, it is safe for the eggs as long as you store them correctly. To properly store chicken eggs before incubation:
- Position: If possible, you will need to store them lying on their side. If they cannot safely lay on their side, you should store them with the smaller end down.
- Temperature: When storing fertile eggs, you must keep them between 40°F and 50°F. The eggs will not begin to develop before they reach about 70°F, so you want to ensure that they are stored below the development temperature.
- Humidity: Store your eggs in a place with as little humidity as possible to prevent development before incubation.
How Cold is too Cold for Fertilized EggsIn order for chicken eggs to hatch, you cannot allow them to get too cold. Eggs that have been refrigerated or frozen will not hatch. Fertile eggs must be kept at a temperature above 50°F in order to remain alive and hatch.
Incubation: How to Make Your Eggs HatchWhen incubating chicken eggs, you must provide the eggs with perfect conditions to hatch healthy chicks. There is a science behind the ideal environment and the embryo developing correctly. When incubating eggs, it’s also a good idea to have some form of backup for electricity, such as a generator, in case you lose power. To properly incubate a chicken egg:
- Provide the correct temperature and humidity.
- Rotate the eggs at least 3 times a day (5 is better).
- Provide adequate ventilation inside the incubator (or another container).