So you're thinking of raising your own chicks but not sure how to start?
Choosing the right eggs to incubate is critical to getting a good hatching rate. If you're using your own from your existing flock this won't be so much of a problem - you know your hens and you know they're well cared for.
Relying on someone else's produce, though, isn't always that easy. Here are some pointers as to what you should look out for.
If you're not choosing from your own hatching eggs, make sure you buy from a reliable source. Places like eBay or Craigslist are not always dependable - sellers could be sending anything. A local, independent breeder is ideal.
If possible, try to see how the flock you're buying from is kept. Active, free-ranging hens in a healthy environment and fed a good diet will lay strong, clean, well-formed eggs which will have the best chance of hatching.
Buying by post from a good breeder is more risky but sometimes the only way. Make sure the seller packages them well and labels them 'fragile'.
If they're going to be sent to a post office depot, let staff at the depot know you're expecting them and ask them to call as soon as they arrive. Collect as soon as possible.
Hatching eggs which have travelled need to rest for at least twelve hours before they're put into the incubator. Take them out of their packaging and store them with the pointed end facing downwards.
When storing fertile hatching eggs, keep them cool but not cold and relatively moist. For more detailed information about how to store see this page.
Choosing eggs for hatching should be done as soon as possible after laying.
How old can an egg be and still successfully hatch? Ideally, they should be put into the incubator seven days or less after laying. Fertility starts to fall after that and hatch rates are therefore likely to be less.
However, I have successfully hatched eggs which were three weeks old. Hatch rates weren't high - about 45% - but it can be done if they're properly stored.
Eggs sent by post often have a detached air cell caused by jolting en route. These have a poor hatch rate, although I've always found it worth trying. Candling a few days into incubation will show a saddle-shape at the blunt end.
This egg, 7 days into incubation, had a very obvious detached air cell and didn't hatch.
When choosing from a group of eggs, pick those with a 'normal' shape. If it looks too long, it's rounded at both ends or it's pitted, choose one with a better shape.
One exception to this is the Marans' egg. These tend to be rounded at both ends and are perfectly good for hatching.
A beautiful Black Copper Marans egg - hard to tell which end is which!
Discard eggs with cracks, even if small. Don't try to fix them - they won't hatch and there's a danger that bacteria in the crack will contaminate the incubator.
How to see cracks? Don't rely on the naked eye - you may miss some hairline fractures. The best way is to use a candling device or a bright light underneath the egg.
Is the egg too porous? There's mixed advice about this. Some people automatically discard any porous eggs. Personally, I have successfully hatched some which have looked far too porous to survive.
This Wyandotte egg was porous but nevertheless hatched a healthy chick.
If an egg is porous, under a candling light it will look mottled. Slight mottling isn't unusual but something as porous as this probably won't hatch (and this one didn't).
Make sure when choosing your hatching eggs that they're as clean as possible. The problem with putting dirty eggs into the incubator is the potential for bacteria, which is potentially fatal for the growing embryos.
There are various options for cleaning, depending on how much dirt there is. If possible stick with just scraping it off with a fingernail. This leaves the 'bloom' on the outside of the shell, which protects it from bacteria, intact.
If that isn't enough try using dry sandpaper and very gently scraping the shell. The problem with this is the danger of cracking the egg, and the potential for rubbing the bacteria in the dirt into the pores of the shell rather than removing it.
The egg on the right is too dirty to go into the incubator. Gently washing it in warm water will make it clean enough.
If it still looks too dirty to put into the incubator, you have the option of gently washing it. Use either tepid water - not cold - or a special egg washing disinfectant. Some people use a diluted bleach solution.
Personally, I don't like using bleach and have found that warm water generally does the job. It can remove the bloom from the shell, but better that than risking dirty hatching eggs leaking bacteria.
... about where to find and how to store fertile hatching eggs or what to do next?
These pages should be of help to you.