HATCHING SHIPPED EGGS: hints and tips
Let me preface this resource by saying, I’ve hatched out a lot of shipped eggs. Honestly, more than I would care to remember., and have been breeding poultry for nearly 25 years. Coming from a Island where there are limited bloodlines and availability after a while of keeping chickens, I started wanting something a little different. Generally im the gal that fits the “Don’t tell her it’s unusual, hard to find, or hard to hatch, cause she’ll want it!” … I like left of centre and I love a challenge!
At times, I’ve saved a lot of money adding new breeds to our flock by purchasing eggs, and other times. . . not so much. Hatching shipped eggs is always a gamble as there are so many variables that can affect their viability such as: rough handling during shipping, x-ray machines, changes in air pressure, exposure to extreme temperatures, etc. Even though I regularly have 100% hatch rates with our own eggs, I usually only expect to have 40-60% with shipped eggs (the best I’ve ever had with shipped eggs was 97% and the worst is, of course 0%).
Please Keep in mind these tips work for me, but they may not for anyone else. So here goes:
Shipping. Try to avoid having eggs shipped to you from the other side of the country, during months with extreme temperatures, and during inclement weather. I usually stick to purchasing eggs from reliable sellers with the preference given to the “closest to home the better” I also try to avoid buying eggs during the extremely hot summer months (particularly from hotter states like Queensland) and the much colder winter months. Having said that I often send eggs to Western Australia and have super results reported to me!
Cracks. Once your eggs have arrived, carefully unpack them and examine each one (preferably candling them). If any of the eggs have hairline cracks, you can try melting candle wax and dripping it on to the crack to seal it. This doesn’t always work, (in fact, I’ve only ever had one chick to successfully hatch out from a repaired egg), but my belief is that it doesn’t hurt to try. Keep in mind, though, that you will need to be on guard for possible bacterial problems. Should the sealed egg develop a blood ring, begin to smell, or seep fluid immediately remove it from the incubator (Believe me, you don’t want to leave it in and risk the chance of it exploding – cause that has got to be the worst smell ever!).
The Bloom. I don’t wash hatching eggs – Ever. Eggs have a protective coating called a bloom that works to keep out bacteria. Washing them removes that. If any eggs have dirt on them, I very lightly rub it off with a paper towel.
Settling. Allow the eggs to sit upright in an egg carton (large end up) for 24 hours at room temperature (in fact, I set them out in the same room that the incubator is in).
Location. Location. Location. You wouldn’t think it, but location is a big part of incubating eggs – particularly if you’re using a still air incubator. Make sure your incubator is located away from drafts, direct sunlight, and in a room that isn’t prone to temperature fluctuations. I prefer the room my incubators are in to be kept at about 20 - 23 degrees
Damaged Air Cells. Air cells are basically a small pocket of air located on the large end of an egg. One of the most common problems you’ll encounter with shipped eggs is damaged air cells. Rough handling during shipping will cause the air cell to become misshapen, detached, etc. To combat this and give the air cells a chance to settle, I place the eggs in the incubator upright (large end up) in the automatic turner or in an egg carton and I don’t turn them for at least the first 4-7 days of incubation, depending upon how badly they’re damaged.
Temperature is fairly critical in that too high a temperature and you will have chickens hatching with crooked feet. Much too high and they will die in the egg. Too low and it also has an effect with delayed hatching and poor viability.
You need to know what the accurate temperature is and not rely on what various temperature reading devices tell you. Further to that you need the eggs to be at about 37.7 degrees C. The temperature of the incubator is largely irrelevant in that respect as long at the centre of the egg is 37.7
Various incubators work in different ways and basically there are two ways. One type, the still air type work on radiated heat. That is like sitting in front of a fire on a cold night. The closer you are, the hotter it is so you move closer or further away until you find a comfortable zone. These type of incubators need to be adjusted to a higher temperature until you get the eggs getting just the right amount of heat to be at 37.7 C.
The second type is where the heat is share by convection currents. Its like being in an air conditioned room where the heat is being blown to all parts of the room simultaneously. No matter where you are it will be the same temperature so you set the temperature to 37.7 so that in time the centre of the eggs will be that temperature. These are the incubators that have the air being blown around by a fan.
Now that we have the types of incubators clear and how they work, we can get back to the thermometers. The need to be calibrated. Mostly you cant adjust them but you can calibrate them. This is best done using a known accurate thermometer such as a medical thermometer. You use the thermometer in either warm water or in the incubator. In warm water you test all three by inserting the probe over a range of temperatures. Say, 25 degree, 35 degrees, 37 degrees and 40 degrees. Assume the medical type is the accurate thermometer. Compare the differences. If the others are reading higher or lower then note the differences and make mental adjustments so that you are getting the temperature in the incubator at the centre of the eggs to a true 37.7 degrees C.
Just to say it again. The temperature at the centre of the eggs is what is important. Not the temperature of the air in the incubator above or below the centre of the eggs.
Turning. After those first 4-7 days of not turning the eggs has passed, it’s now time to reverse course and start turning them. If you have an auto turner, that’s great . . .sit back and let it do the work for you. If you don’t, then make sure to turn the eggs an odd number of times each day. When I hand turn shipped eggs (which I always do with waterfowl and sometimes with other birds like peafowl), I do it one of two ways, depending upon how badly damaged the air cells are and what type of bird it is. The first option (and the way I usually do waterfowl) is the normal hand turning method – I mark each egg with an X on one side, then I lay the eggs on their side in the incubator and turn them by rotating til the opposite side is facing up. The second option for hand turning is the method I use if the air cells are really badly damaged – I set the eggs upright (always large end up) in an egg carton in the incubator and use a block of wood underneath the carton to tilt them from side to side (similar to how an auto turner works).
i don’t have to enlist the second method as often anymore, simply because almost all of my incubators have auto turners now. And before I forget, when hand turning I also keep a small dry erase board by the incubator to keep track of how many times I’ve turned the eggs that day.
Candling. The first hatch I ever did, I almost literally candled everyday. Not surprisingly, that hatch was completely unsuccessful. . . not a single chick hatched. I learned my lesson and now, I usually candle at day 15, and the day the eggs go on lockdown. I use a small handheld candling torch for candling. It’s best to handle the eggs as little as possible lest you risk the transfer of bacteria to them or even accidentally dropping them (No matter how careful you are, there’s always the chance that an accident can happen ). When you do handle the eggs, wash your hands thoroughly and ensure they’re completely dry beforehand.
Lockdown. Three days before your eggs are due to hatch, they should be placed on lockdown. Lockdown means exactly what it sounds like. You don’t open the incubator. AT ALL. Opening the incubator will cause the humidity to quickly drop at a time when you want it to be high to enable the chicks/poults/ducklings/etc to hatch out successfully.
Humidity. When you put eggs on lockdown, you also have to bump up the humidity. I usually don’t have any problems keeping the humidity at an appropriate level during the main part of incubation, but some incubators are more difficult than others to increase at lockdown. To combat that, I suggest placing a wet sponge in the incubator - Remember, it’s the surface area not the depth of water that increases humidity.
Pip. Zip. Hatch. There are three main parts of the hatching process. First, a chick (or poult or whatever it is you’re incubating ) will make a tiny hole through the eggshell (this is the pip – there’s also internally pipping, but for now we’re just talking about the stages you might be able to witness through your incubator window). They’ll usually rest for a while after that (after all, it’s hard work making your grand debut into the world). . . although some are in a hurry and burst on out into the world not long after. Others take their sweet time – in fact, it’s not unusual, 24 hours later, to still be waiting on the next stage to begin. But during this time, the chick is not just resting, it’s also making it’s final preparations to enter the world, such as absorbing the yolk, allowing the blood vessels to dry up, etc. Which brings us to the next stage. . . zipping – the chick will begin to break through the shell all the way around the egg. Almost like it’s unzipping it. Once the chick has zipped all the way around the eggshell, they’ll usually hatch fairly quickly. . . which is our third stage. The chick will hatch out wet and not at all like the cute, fluffy little things people usually associate them with. They may even have bits of eggshell or even an umbilical cord attached (and if they were in a real hurry to hatch as some of mine have been, even an occasional unabsorbed yolk). Have no fear, give them a little time and the chicks will dry out and fluff up.
Eggtopsy. Now, once your hatch is over, you’ll most likely have eggs that didn’t make it. By eggtopsying those eggs, you might be able to gain some clue as to what went wrong or at the very least ensure that those leftover eggs really aren’t going to hatch before you toss them. Believe it or not, I actually had eggs that I was eggtopsying (5 days after the last egg had hatched), and one of them contained a chick that was still alive. Needless to say, that egg was quickly put back into the incubator and successfully hatched out the next day
Click HERE for our information relating to eggtopsy - please note there are graphic images that may distress some viewers
Further Reading: We recommend “Hatching and Brooding” by Gail Damerow