How To Hatch Chickens

Have you always wondered which came first?  The chicken or the egg?

I think it is facinating to learn about the chicken coming out of the egg.  And I am not the only one who is interested.  My children are facinated with the whole process too.  Hatching chicken eggs is a great experiment to do with your children at any age, young or old. 

Today we are honored with a guest post from Tracie Wallace of North Carolina Mountain Homeschoolers Coop.  We extend a warm welcome, as she shares about hatching chicken eggs and raising chickens.

Tracie has a passion for learning, and a love for teaching.  She and her husband homeschool three children.  She is also the Coordinator for the NCMountain Homeschool Coop and a member of Henderson County Homeschool Association.   

Tracie has a B.S. in Biology and did graduate course work in Spanish and French.   She is the Vice-Chair for Henderson County Extension Advisory Board.  She has been a part of 4-H for four years with her children, and the leader of the 4-H Wildcats club for three years.  Tracie started raising chickens three years ago with the 4-H Embryology program.  She says her love for chickens started as a science experiment with her children, and grew in to a life’s passion.

All About Hatching Chickens

                                                                            by Tracie Wallace

Hatching chickens has become an art at my house and it is addictive. There is nothing more amazing than watching that small miracle occur, and seeing a fluffy new friend emerge from the shell.


To hatch chickens, I recommend that you have a forced air incubator, with a fan.  If you only have a still air incubator, there are different specifications for temperatures using those.  You should set your incubator up at least 24 hours in advance of setting eggs.  You want to make sure that it is clean and maintains a temperature of 99.5 degrees F for several hours.  


Before you set the eggs, mark one side with an “o” and the other with an “x”, and use a pencil only.  This will help you keep track of which side should go up or down when you turn them.  You set your eggs and keep them still for 24 hours.  Then after the first day you will rotate them 3 times a day.  I usually make a simple spread sheet with boxes for the dates and times that the eggs are rotated.


The eggs will incubate for 21 days. Sometimes they may hatch early or late.  You will rotate until day 19 and then stop rotating them and let them sit still for the rest of the time.  I use a hygrometer to measure the humidity in the incubator.  I keep the humidity at 50-60% until the last 4 days, then I add water in jars to drive it up during the hatch.  The increase in humidity keeps the inside of the eggs moist while the chicks are hatching. This is important because drying can cause them to give up during the hatch.  If they get too much humidity prior to the hatch, they can get mushy chick syndrome where their gut is distended and bloated and the umbilicus will not heal properly.


Several days before the anticipated hatch, set up a brooder box.  For this I use a 80 gallon plastic storage tub.  I fill the bottom with newspaper, and then I add a layer of  Diatomaceous Earth (DE) on the news paper and then put a few inches of shavings on top.  You do not want to use fine shavings because the chicks will eat it instead of food and it isn’t good for a developing gut. I place a couple layers of paper towels down on top of the shavings.  The purpose for this is so that I can see that the chicks gut is working and they are putting something out. The first fecal matter will be green in color this is from the nutrients in the egg, then it will go to a clear liquid and then on to more normal looking materials as they eat.

For food, I use a high protein chick starter with 19% ground finely.  I get this locally at Southern States.  After two weeks, I go to a coarser grain, still a chick starter at Community Mill or TSC.  The DuMor will cause more odor, not sure why but it does.  You will want a small waterer also. In the ring of the water, place clean marbles.  The young chicks fall asleep randomly and if this happens while drinking, the marbles will keep them from submerging their beaks in the water and drowning.   

Place a light with a 90 Watt bulb just above the box and keep the temperature between 95-99 degrees F for the first week.  Then, each week raise the light enough to lower the temp by 5 degrees each week, until it is room temperature. At some point to keep the light closer to the box, you can change the light bulb to a lower wattage.


I clean my boxes weekly to keep down odor and germs.  By placing newspaper under the shavings, you can roll the shavings up to clear the box and reset it all.  I use DE each time, but I remove the paper towels after the first two days just after the hatch.  You can use small wooden blocks under the food and water containers to keep some shavings out, but as they learn to scratch this will be an ongoing cleaning effort.

The purpose for the DE is three-fold.  It is made of fossilized diatoms from the earth, usually mined around chalk/clay.  If ingested, it is a natural de-wormer, anti-parasitic agent.  If they dust bathe in it, it serves to get rid of chicken mites, which are natural on chickens and they are not harmful and do not bite humans. Third, the DE helps to sustain the odor in the brooder box and makes it a little more tolerable.

Back to the hatch -once the chicks start pipping, or breaking through the egg, they usually emerge and complete the hatch within 24 hours of breaking the surface.  They will rest after initial break through and before “zipping” the egg open.  This is amazing to watch and in a good hatch, you miss a lot of it because it goes quickly.  If a chicken starts pipping and does not continue, it can die because the down fluff will dry to the egg membrane and it will be painful to move in the egg.  


I have assisted hatches but it takes skill and patience.  If you do it wrong, the chick will die from blood loss.  There is a membrane around the chick, just like a human, only a chicken draws that membrane into it’s umbilicus as it hatches for nourishment.  If you rupture those vessels before they are dried, the chick could die from blood loss.  Once they hatch, wait until they are somewhat dry to place them in the brooder box and try to have at least two in there at a time.  They are flock animals and do tend to feel more comfortable in a group rather than alone.


A good healthy hatch is almost effortless and fun to watch.  After three days, the flight feathers will start to appear and you can guess at the gender.  Roos will generally have straight lined feathers, same length , and their tails are slow to emerge.  Hens will have flight feathers alternating in length and their tails will be a few days behind these flight feathers.  Hens tend to feather quickly.  Hold your chicks daily, as often as possible.  Once they feel loved, like any pet, they will tolerate being held as adults and be a lot friendlier.

I have hatched Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and Silkies.  I chose these for temperament and tolerance to weather conditions where I live.  Good luck on your chicken journey, hope you have a clucking good time!

Have you tried hatching chicken eggs or raising chickens with your children?  Leave us a comment, and share your experience with us.  

Do you have egg or baby chick crafts you would like to share?  Leave us a comment too.  Thank you.

Don’t forget to read our other posts about eggs and chickens here.

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This entry was posted in 4H Clubs & 4H Activities & 4H Fairs, Animal Science, Family Fun, Guest Post, Homesteading & DIY, Science on by .

About Melinda Weiser

I am a sinner, saved by grace. I am on a journey and offer to share my story with the hope that it will bless you. My one desire is to bring glory to my creator. I am a wife and the mother of 6 children, plus two in heaven. I enjoy homeschooling, research, teaching, homesteading, natural gardening, grass based farming, cooking, fresh raw milk, herbs, children, midwifery, and music. I am a writer, biblical mentor, and also work part time in the healthy foods and vitamin business I have a BSW degree from Kansas State University, and trained professionally as a medical social worker, biblical counselor, tutor, and vocal performer. Thank you for stopping by to read about our homeschool and family life adventures. Be blessed!

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