Artificial incubation is a way of hatching eggs by putting them in an incubator. An incubator is a machine that imitates a mother hen. Eggs need four things to hatch: proper heat, moisture, ventilation, and turning.
Eggs need heat to grow and develop. Ideal incubator temperature is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on what kind of an incubator you have, the temperature should be slightly higher or slightly lower. No matter what, the temperature should not rise above 102 degrees or fall below 98 degrees. Too high of a temperature will quickly kill the embryos. Too low of a temperature is not a problem for a short time, but if it goes on for too long, the embryos will become chilled and die.
Eggs need moisture, because without it the insides of an egg will evaporate and shrivel up. To prevent this, you need to add water to your incubator to keep it humid. Your incubator should have water rings or a water tray for this purpose. Humidity should start out low, and get higher as the eggs come closer to hatching time. Be especially sure that there is plenty of water in the incubator during the hatch.
Growing embryos need ventilation, because like all living things, they require oxygen. A "still-air" incubator is ventilated by the force of gravity pushing air through small holes. The best temperature for a still-air incubator is 100-102 degrees. A "forced-air" incubator is one that is ventilated with a fan that pushes air through it. The best temperature for a forced-air incubator is 98-100 degrees.
Eggs need to be turned to prevent the embryo from sticking to the shell, and to rotate it to an area with more nutrition. If you do not have an automatic turner in your incubator, you will get to do it by hand. With a pencil, mark each egg with an "O" on one side and an "X" on the other. Each time you turn the eggs, they should be rotated one half turn, from "O" to "X" or "X" to "O."
Most people store their eggs before incubation so they can acquire all the eggs they want and incubate them all at the same time. Eggs should be stored in a cool place such as a basement. Do not store them in a refrigerator - that is too cold. Do not store them for more than two weeks. Store them at an angle with the big end up, and turn them once or twice every day.
To turn the eggs, place one end of the carton on a box. Rotate the carton three times a day so that the other end rests on the box.
Some important things to remember:
- Be gentle while handling your eggs. Rough handling can break delicate blood vessels and kill the embryos.
- Only collect clean, normal sized eggs without cracks or dents.
- Only hatch eggs from healthy hens.
- Don't keep opening the incubator during the hatch! If you want to watch the hatch, make sure to buy an incubator with plastic viewing windows.