Incubation – When to Incubate Eggs and When to Leave it to the Birds

Incubating Chicken Eggs for a Trial Run

At Life-Springs-Farm & Aviary, we have fired up our incubator for a trial run. Every spring about this time, we thoroughly clean and disinfect our incubator and hatcher using a reliable disinfecting spray made for incubators. Once that is done, it’s time fire them up and make sure they come up to, and stay at, the correct temperatures (roughly 99o F). Also, humidity needs to be kept at 55%. For the humidity control, we use only distilled water in our machines. Our incubator automatically turns the eggs so we don’t have to do this by hand. If your machine does not do so, you will have to turn them yourself at least four times a day. Another rule of thumb is to candle the eggs (put a candler or flashlight against the egg to see inside, sort of like an egg ultrasound but with light) when the time is getting close to be sure that the eggs are viable and not rotten.

Our trial run is done with chicken eggs – we raise Buttercups (a type of Leghorn) and Speckled Sussex. Chicken eggs hatch out in roughly twenty-one days. Once they are “pipped” – that moment when the chick is beginning to hatch, we move the eggs to the hatcher. Any baby bird must go through a drying off period before being placed in a brooder. After a day or so in the hatcher, they go into the brooder with chick feed, clean water, and a heat lamp (we use infra-red bulbs which discourage picking at each other).

The main use for our incubator is to hatch out pheasant eggs, as the mothers are not the best at sitting. These take about twenty-three days to hatch. The humidity should be about 51% and the temperature 99o F. Some breeds might take a day or two more and others a day or two less. Again, once the egg is pipped, it is moved to the hatcher. We have put pheasant chicks in the brooder with chicken babies because the chickens help the pheasants learn to eat.

Duck Nesting Boxes

The ducks we raise – wild species such as Wood Ducks – are allowed to stay in the nests until they hatch, as they do best with the mothers sitting. At that time, we must be on top of our game to get them out of the nest (wait until they are dry but haven’t jumped out of the nest box) and take them to a brooder. Once the babies jump out of the nests, they are very difficult to catch and can actually slip out of the netted sides of the aviary.

If you want to learn how to hatch domestic species duck eggs, Cornell University has a great website at:

Last week, we had a number of baby Wood Ducks hatch. They are now in the wet brooder (a brooder with a heat lamp, dry area, and small swimming area) and doing well. If the weather is decent for us up here in the cold north, we should have a great year hatching and raising ducks, pheasants, and quail. For those of you hatching out your own broods, we wish you the best for a productive season.


Published by Jeff and Rita

Rita is a wife, mother, homesteader, library branch manager, and freelance writer. She enjoys spending time in the garden and later preserving the harvest. Gardening, knitting, tending to chickens and other critters, and taking long summer walks are among her favorite activities. Jeff has had a long time love of waterfowl and gamebirds. He spends his time working full-time as a medical courier when he is not enjoying his collection of wild ducks and pheasants from around the world.

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