HATCHING EGGS | 5 TIPS FOR BOOSTING HATCH RATE

BUYING EGGS ONLINE CAN BE A GREAT WAY TO BUILD YOUR COLLECTION, GET FANTASTIC NEW POULTRY BREEDS AND KEEP IT RELATIVELY CHEAP. BUT HOW CAN YOU BOOST THOSE HATCH RATES?

I love buying hatching eggs as opposed to ready-made young chickens, keets or ducklings. Bio-security is a big thing for me - and for most homesteaders and smallholders. We tend to have smaller flocks, pure breed varieties and a far less financial leeway than commercial units, so we need to make sure our birds aren't infected. Quarantining new birds is, of course, essential but they can still bring in nasties. Even hatching eggs can hide infections (such as mycoplasma). However, by keeping a closed flock and only using hatching eggs, you can significantly reduce risks. 

BUT HOW CAN YOU GET THOSE HATCH RATES HIGH? ESPECIALLY FROM MAIL ORDER EGGS?

Duck eggs sent via the post in a polystyrene box.

Duck eggs sent via the post in a polystyrene box.

Firstly, you should remember that sending eggs through the mail is pretty traumatic for any potential embryo. The postal service doesn't care what's inside the package so your eggs are going to get thrown around even if packets are smothered in 'FRAGILE' labels. So, to protect your eggs...

1) MINIMISE MAIL TIME

If possible, avoid the postal service altogether. If eggs are relatively near by, see if you can drive to pick them up and try and source locally. If this isn't possible, then reduce the time the eggs are spent in the post. For example, if a delivery attempt fails and you eggs are taken to the sorting office go and pick them up yourself as soon as possible and DON'T select a redelivery. Doing the latter simply scrambles those eggs even more. 

2) REST FOR 24 HOURS

It's really important to let hatching eggs that come through the post rest for at least 24 hours. Open the packet, make sure all the eggs are sitting tip down and then leave them. This gives the eggs a chance to settle and for the air-sac to reattach itself inside the egg. Even if it doesn't completely attach, at least it can float back into the right place and any bubbles can dissipate. 

Rest for 24 hours with the TIP pointing DOWN. This allows the air sac to settle.

Rest for 24 hours with the TIP pointing DOWN. This allows the air sac to settle.

3) CANDLE BEFORE HATCH

We normally use candling to see if eggs are fertile and watch the chicks develop. In this instance, however, you want to look for microscopic cracks in the egg shell that have happened during transit. Some cracks can be repaired, or even left in some cases, but badly damaged eggs should be discarded. Whilst a chick can still develop in a cracked egg, any breakage allows bacteria to get inside far more easily, resulting in dead embryos and eggs that could, potentially, transfer nasties to their incubating neighbours. 

4) DO NOT ROTATE

Rotating eggs is essential to ensure that developing embryos don't become stuck to the side of the egg. A broody hen naturally rotates them and in the incubator, we artificially replicate this by manually or automatically turning them. In shipped eggs, however, turning eggs too quickly can cause more damage than good. 

For the first three or four days, do not rotate the eggs. This allows further stabilisation of the egg sack and developing embryo. After this period, turning on the turner or manually flipping the eggs twice or three times a day is advised. 

5) KEEP AN EYE ON HUMIDITY

Getting humidity right for an incubation can be a complicated affair, with too much not allowing the air sac to grow, and not enough resulting in a trapped chick. In hatching eggs where the air sac often becomes 'saddled' (ie instead of a rounded shape, it looks like a horse saddle inside the egg) it's important to keep humidity a little higher. I've had many chicks with saddled airsacs hatch successfully. This is because I keep the humidity higher and therefore the air sac doesn't grow as large. With a saddled sac this means the chick doesn't become squashed at one end and unable to hatch.

With any luck you'll soon have babies. Here are THREE (can you see them?) guinea fowl keets I hatched from mail order eggs.

With any luck you'll soon have babies. Here are THREE (can you see them?) guinea fowl keets I hatched from mail order eggs.

So they're my 5 tips for getting the best from your hatching eggs. Good luck!

Any extra advice on hatching eggs? Let me know below!