I’d planned to have started incubating our first batch of eggs by the end of February. If all three hens were laying, we should be able to collect 14 or so eggs in a week, which would make a reasonable load for our 20 egg incubator.
Alas, only senior hen is laying. The other two have seemed on the brink of starting to lay for weeks now, but no actual action. So I ordered eggs from two breeders, one in Lincolnshire, the other in Argyll & Bute. So there are 6 each of theirs plus 5 of ours in the incubator.
Modern domestic incubators are wondrous devices. They keep the eggs at the exact temperature and humidity that you’d find under a sitting hen. They turn the eggs automatically at intervals, just as a broody hen would do. (They need to be turned so that the developing embryo doesn’t stick to the membranes inside the shell.)
We have an R-Com 20 Pro from P&T Poultry. It comes ready-programmed. Here’s the display:
It takes 21 days for chickens’ eggs to hatch. The first 18 days make up the incubation period, with the eggs held at a steady 37.5C and 45% humidity. They’re turned by 90 degrees every hour. The last three days are the hatching period. The machine stops turning the eggs, the temperature drops slightly, and humidity increases.
During incubation, we can monitor progress by weight (eggs lose 10% to 12% of their weight during incubation) and by candling. Candling is a wonderfully old-fashioned word, referring to the days when the contents of the egg would be examined in a darkened room by the light of a candle. The technology has moved on a bit, although the principle remains the same. We have a Brinsea OvaView candler. It uses a high intensity LED to light up the inside of the egg so that you can see the developing embryo. The picture shows a shop-bought infertile egg.
There’s an add-on called an OvaScope, which is a simple shroud with a mirror so that you can view the egg through an eyepiece, and turn it with a thumbwheel to give it a quick but thorough examination. Even better, you can take pictures to keep a record of development.
The first progress check will be at Day 8, by which time it should be obvious which eggs are developing normally, and which are infertile (“clear”) or not developing or infected with bacteria, and which therefore have to be discarded.
I’ll post pictures then. Fingers crossed for a reasonable fertility rate!