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Storing fertile chicken eggs.

Got your eggs but not able to put them into the incubator yet? 

How to store fertile chicken eggs: Pin for later.

Now you need to make sure they're stored safely to keep them as healthy as possible until you're ready, so that they have the best possible chance of hatching.

How?  Easy!

Let's make like a hen!

In the wild, a hen will lay several eggs before she starts sitting on them - sometimes as many as twelve. To her, incubating one at a time makes no sense. 

So, as hens can only physically lay once each day, her clutch can be several days old before she begins to incubate.

What can we learn from a broody hen?

As with everything in hatching, our aim is to reproduce as closely as we can the way a hen will instinctively behave until she's ready to hunker down and start incubating.

Here are 5 pointers, learned from learning about chickens in the wild, watching my own hens, and my own experience in successfully hatching several clutches after transporting eggs from the UK to my coop in Italy.

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1.  Keep your nest box clean!

One of the most critical issues for hatching is to avoid contamination with bacteria. By choice a hen will use a quiet, clean place to set her clutch. 

If for any reason you need to store your fertile eggs for a few days before incubating, copy that instinct.

Although you won't be able to see it, bacteria can lurk in storage containers. Unless you're careful with hygiene, you run the risk of contaminating your current clutch.

How to avoid problems?

If you're storing your fertile eggs in standard cardboard cartons, make sure they're new - don't use them for more than one set. Mark them "Fertile eggs - not for eating"!

If using plastic or resin containers, wash thoroughly before use. I use a baby-bottle sterilising liquid but a mild bleach solution is fine. Use one teaspoon of bleach to one litre (about one quart) of warm water.

A container like this one I use is ideal. It's strong, reusable and easily washed. After incubation it can be used to store eggs for eating.  


2.  Store the right way up!

A hen will keep her eggs lying sideways, and that's the way smaller incubators like the Brinsea Mini Advance (my favourite incubator) also work.

If you need to store them in a container like the one above, the eggs should always be stored with the more pointed end facing downwardseven if it's only for a short time. This makes sure the yolk stays properly suspended.

A baby chick sitting on container stored eggs.

It's the way they should be set in the incubator, too. 

If the more rounded end faces down for too long there's a danger that the air cell will become dislodged and the developing embryo will die.

Experience and evidence is clear that storing fertile eggs the wrong way up, and certainly incubating them the wrong way up, will result in few, if any, hatching.

My preferred option is to remove them from the upright container trays and lie the eggs on their side, protected by either kitchen roll or tissue paper.

It's how I transport them by car or plane, too.

Some of my hatching eggs placed on their side.Some of my hatching eggs placed on their side to rest before going into the incubator.

3.  Turn them at least twice each day.

If you watch a broody hen (a hen who is about to sit on her clutch, or is already incubating) you'll notice that she turns them every so often both before and during incubation

She knows instinctively that she has to prevent the embryo sticking to the membrane inside the shell. 

So we need to do the same.

Brown hen brooding a clutch of chicks.Proper storage means a successful hatch!
  • If you're storing your fertile eggs upright in a container, you will need to twist each individual egg, making sure the pointed end remains downwards.
  • If you're storing them on their side in a container, you can simply turn the container upside down. That way, the pointed end remains flat; the eggs are moved from one side to another. that's how I do it, and it works well.
  • Make sure you mark the container so you know which side is which: a simple '1' and '2' will be fine. If you're likely to forget whether you've turned them or not, mark them something like 'morning up' and 'afternoon up'. That way, you know which side should be facing upwards at which point in the day.
  • Remember: if your eggs are smaller than the container you'll need to use packing to make sure they don't break when you turn them. Food grade tissue paper is a good solution. 

4.  Keep them cool and dry.

A hen knows instinctively that an embryo won't start to develop until she sits on her clutch and they reach a specific temperature. So, until we're ready to begin the incubation process, we need to keep our own 'clutch' of fertile eggs cool and make sure they don't get wet.

This is really a question of balance. Wherever you store your eggs, their fertility will be best maintained if they're cool - but not too cold - and dry - but not too dry.

Chicken eggs in a cool box.Store somewhere cool - not frozen!

How to find the ideal setting?

Look for somewhere in your house that's not heated and not humid. A garage or a dry basement or cellar is ideal, particularly if it's got a concrete floor. The ideal temperature is between 5º and 10º Centigrade (40º to 50º Farenheit).

Whatever you do, don't store them in your refrigerator - it's too cold and the air is much too dry. In dry air, eggs will lose moisture through the shell, particularly if they're small bantams or have particularly thin or porous shells. 


5.  Incubate your fertile eggs as soon as possible.

If your chicks-to-be have arrived by post, or if like me you've carried them long distances, they will need to settle and come to room temperature before you set them in the incubator.

Coloured eggs in a basket.Using your own fertile eggs? Collect them daily.

Allow them to "rest" for at least twelve, preferably 24 hours after arrival. Wherever possible, begin incubation immediately after that.

Advice about how long eggs will remain fertile varies. In reality, the longer they're left, the less fertile they become.

If they're kept in ideal conditions, some authors - Gail Dammerow, for example, in her wonderful book "Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks" - considers it possible that they will remain viable for up to three weeks.

When I've been driving to Italy from the UK with hatching eggs, I've had to keep eggs for as long as two weeks before incubating. 

I've kept them in as near-optimal conditions as possible in the meantime, and hatch rates have been about 75% - 80%. It's obviously much better to incubate before that, though.


Where to next?

Preparing fertile eggs for a successful hatch - link.

You've chosen your eggs, transported them safely, and stored them correctly to make sure they remain as fertile as possible.

It's nearly time to incubate!

Before that, though, there are a couple more stages to go through: candling to choose the best quality eggs, choosing the right equipment and setting up your incubator.

The articles here will walk you through those steps.


Looking for more information about hatching and caring for chicks? Try these articles!

Incubating equipment explained - link.
Incubation FAQs - link.
The amazing hatching chicken eggs section - link.
Got new chicks and not sure how to care for them? Here's all you need to know!
Name that chick (or chicken)! Link.
Free newsletter. Link.
Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.