A Guide to Incubation

SPR Centre has many years experience in most aspects of incubation and rearing.
We can also offer practical advice along with a full customer service with every incubator sold.


* First of all, don't expect all the eggs to hatch perfectly. They will need to have been produced from good quality, healthy and virile birds.*


Don't use any cockerel without a proven genetic background. This means that if you want to breed future egg producing pullets then the cockerel must come from a dam (female parent) who has a good record for egg production etc.
Don't use old cockerels for breeding - they lose fertility the older they get. Cockerels will provide the best hatching results and subsequent rearing if mated with during their first two seasons (after which fertility and hatchability starts to reduce quite rapidly). Select young healthy virile birds for best results. It is better that young cockerels run with two or three old hens during final development. After which, when introduced to a new flock they will not only be very confident, but also experienced. This means that 14 days after their introduction, the eggs can be collected and saved for hatching.


Breeding Birds
Make sure that the birds you wish to hatch eggs from are fed on top quality
layers poultry feed (if a breeders ration is impossible to buy). The feeding of this ration should commence at least six weeks before the first eggs are collected for hatching. If an ordinary ration is to be used, then provide a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement such as
Stressless in their water during the breeding season.

Don't set all the eggs that are laid.
Only select eggs which are the right colour, within the correct weight  for breed type, and especially well shaped with have a good quality, strong shell.

* Remember to also keep the nest boxes clean at all times and to wash your hands before and after egg collections.*

Don't handle the birds whilst collecting eggs.
If a breeding hen needs inspecting then do this after the eggs have be collected and stored. I
f the eggs need to be washed, then this
should be carried out using water at blood temperature, adding a strong disinfectant to it such as
Vanodine V18, or Biolink Liquid Egg Wash.
Immediately rinse the eggs off under cold running water and then allow them to dry out naturally in a wire basket or on the kitchen draining board.

Don't set eggs the same day they are laid.
Allow them to cool over night. Eggs may be kept for up to 14 days before setting in the incubator. Eggs kept for hatching should be stored at
temperatures between
12.7°C - 18.5°C ( 55°F - 65°F ). If they are kept at temperatures exceeding 21°C ( 70°F ) for more than 10 to 12 hours,
they will start to incubate and then die off because of insufficient heat. The outcome to the naked eye will be that they will test as infertile.

Don't collect eggs just once a day.
Collect them 2 to 3 times each day to ensure they are clean and able to cool off quickly. Cold eggs kept in storage should not be placed in the incubator
as soon as they have been taken from storage. Take them out 8 hours earlier and place them next to the incubator to bring them up to room temperature.

Incubator Rooms
Don't place the incubator in a spare room or outhouse without adequate ventilation and heating.
An Incubator room should be warm. i.e.
18.3°C to 21°C ( 65°F to 70°F ).
make sure that the incubator room is secure and not too large.

No other animals should be allowed in the incubator room to prevent the possible risk of cross infection.
Place the incubator as far away as possible from the poultry flock.

Keep an Incubator Thermometer in the room at incubator level and record the temperature once a day.

Don't place the incubator near the door, against the wall or in front of the window and keep the door shut at all times. The incubator should 
be placed so that it has the benefit of an
even controlled temperature. Hang an incubation chart near the incubator and record the incubator
temperature as well as room temperature. Also record how much water is added to the incubator and how often, plus the amount of fertile eggs
hatched as well as those dead in the shell. Also seal and paint all the porous surfaces in the room so that it is easy to wash and sterilise.

Incubators and Hatchers
* Don't select your incubator on price alone. *
Proven quality, together with a good back up service of spares and experienced advice more than compensates for the
many price differentials. On the other hand, don't be tempted into buying a cheap second hand incubator until you are
sure that essential spares can still be easily purchased. Too many second hand incubators that are purchased at sales
and auctions are made by manufacturers that have long since ceased trading - and spares are impossible to buy.

Don't be tempted to buy incubators which boast an 'all in one' operation.
Incubators in which you can set eggs in every week or fortnight while hatching out in a hatching tray at the bottom will give poor results.

No future setting eggs should be kept in the incubator room while hatching is taking place.
Eggs from the 18th day (or four days before they are due to hatch) will normally require a little extra humidity, and certainly
a great deal of humidity will be given off during hatching, adversely affecting the other younger eggs. More importantly is the
fact that the amount of chick 'down' given off will block the shell pores of the other eggs and any harmful bacteria present
will be able to multiply unhindered with a detrimental knock on effect of reducing the hatchability of each successive hatch.

It is also very important that the incubator is scrupulously cleaned and disinfected between each batch.

Those with larger incubators which enable them to set eggs each week or fortnight will be well advised to buy a cheap,
yet capable incubator to use only as a Hatcher. In this way all the requirements of good hygiene can be encompassed.

Never use an incubator that has not been cleaned or sterilised.

Always heat up the incubator at least 48 hours before it is required. By doing so, the temperature reading can be monitored and altered if necessary
(as well as ensuring the correct temperature remains constant and does not fluctuate). The correct internal temperature will vary according to the
design or type of incubator (this will be given in the instructions). Make a note of this on the wall of the incubator room, or if possible indelibly mark
it on the incubator. The given temperature will be different for each species - i.e. bantams eggs can be incubated at half a degree less than hen eggs.

All 'still-air' incubators are those with only one layer of eggs. For more than one layer, a fan will be included to force the air to circulate, thus
providing an even temperature throughout. There are one or two incubators on the market which have only one egg tray, but because their design,
a fan is also included. In general though, still air incubators have to be run at higher temperatures than 'forced draft' incubators (even with the
newer incubators that occasionally move the eggs around so that the eggs on the outside move to the centre, or bottom trays move to the top).

One or two chicks may hatch out a day earlier than the majority.
Don't take them out, as the Incubator lid must not be opened until the hatch is complete.
Once the incubator lid or door is opened, the internal environment will alter and
considerably reduce the chances of the rest of the eggs hatching out successfully.

On the 18th day (for bantam and hen eggs) remove all the eggs and test them for infertility with a Candling Lamp (Candler). 
This involves shining a bright light through each egg. Those which remain black with a large egg space at the top, put back in to the
incubator, and remove the ones that the light shines through. This will then give you a better idea of the possible hatching numbers.

To count the 21 days of incubation, don't count the first day, and take the hatch off on the morning or evening of the 22nd day.
Taking the incubator hatch off in the morning is better than during the evening, as it gives the chicks a whole day to drink and feed before
settling down for the night. The chicks whose hatches have been removed in the evening (even though the light may be left on all  night
for them to drink and feed) tend to settle down immediately they are under the brooder and so lose valuable time getting started.

Don't take the chicks out of a warm room and put them out into a cold environment (even though the
overhead brooder may be the right temperature). Chicks will chill very easily during the first 48 hours which will
be evident from those running around with dirty bottoms - after 3 or 4 days    many of which will subsequently die.

Don't on the completion of the hatch help any chicks struggling to get out of their shells.
They are already weakened and are not healthy stock, so don't sacrifice the good in the hope of increasing numbers.
Kill these quickly and humanely by pressing their necks with your thumb over the edge of a table or wooden box - dislocating the neck vertebrae.

Sterilisation Between Batches

After the completion of each hatch, wash out and sterilise the incubator using a good quality incubator disinfectant such as the Chicktec Hatchery Sanitiser (right) and also thoroughly clean out the incubator room.

Sterilise hatching eggs just before they are placed in the incubator using a good strong disinfectant such
as Poultry Shield or
Biolink Liquid Egg Wash. (right). These can then be used when the fertile eggs
are replaced on the eighteenth day after candling without any harmful affect.

Don't leave old egg shells or other waste from the preceding hatch in the incubator. This should be removed immediately the chicks have been taken out and placed under the brooder. Bag and seal all the rubbish and dispose of it in an outside bin ready for collection.

Only Hatch from Good Quality Eggs

Good quality eggs are those which have strong shells and are uniform in size, shape and colour. Poor quality eggs are difficult to hatch - such as those that are porous and weak and may result in breakages during the period of incubation. Even if some of them do hatch, it's almost certain that you will not wish to breed from progeny which may produce even more poor quality shelled eggs as well as weak chicks. It is well worth the extra time to select and save only the best eggs from your healthiest laying birds, and not because they may be laid by exhibition type birds.

Eggs should not be too large or too small. Today's grading standards would possibly place them in the upper-sized 'medium to large' range. Similarly use a satisfactory size associated with smaller breeds of bantams.

Don't set dirty eggs. Eggs can be easily and safely cleaned in the following manner:
Place all dirty eggs in a bowl of warm water (blood temperature), having already added a disinfectant to the water. One of the best solutions
is Vanodine V18, although Poultry Shield is proving a very good alternative. Wash the eggs quickly with your bare or gloved hands.
Never use cleaning cloths as they carry infection.

Place the washed eggs on a cold draining board to cool and dry.
When they are dry, store the eggs in a cool room with a temperature of no more than 15.5°C ( 80°F ).

When the eggs are set in the incubator, never count the first day as it will take at least 8 to 12 hours before the centre of the egg has
reached a high enough temperature for germination to begin. At the other end, remove all the chicks on the morning of the 22nd day.

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S.P.R. Centre. Greenfields Farm, Fontwell Avenue, Eastergate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO20 3RU.

Telephone: 01243 542815   Email: info@sprcentre.com

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