Springtime is the best time of year for raising baby chicks because temperatures are warming up, so it’s a good time to collect eggs for incubation and hatch the baby chicks yourself. But, it’s important to start with proper egg collection and storing techniques to insure high hatch rates and healthy chicks.
Collecting the Eggs
Chicken egg incubation temperature and humidity are also ideal for the growth of bacteria; so it’s essential that eggs collected for hatching are clean. However, hatching eggs ideally should not be washed, as this removes the protective egg bloom (see Egg Bloom). The egg bloom protects the egg from both bacteria and moisture loss. We made the mistake of washing the first eggs we collected for hatching; and predictably, none of them hatched. If bacteria enter the egg, they can cause it to rot, and in the worst case, explode during incubation (thereby contaminating the remaining incubating eggs). Promote clean eggs by making sure nest boxes are clean (clean them out and add fresh litter prior to collecting hatching eggs), and by collecting the eggs several times daily. In addition to selecting only the cleanest eggs, select only eggs that are the “norm” in shape, size, and color for the breed that you’re hatching. Eliminate any eggs that are strangely shaped; or that have wrinkled, abnormal, or cracked shells. Double yolks rarely hatch, so eliminate possible double yolks. Remove small eggs laid by pullets or older hens as these typically produce smaller, less vigorous chicks.
Storing the Eggs
It’s natural for a hen to collect eggs for several days before going broody, so we can copy nature and collect eggs for several days before starting the incubation process too. Hatching eggs should ideally be stored out of sunlight as close to 55°F as possible; and humidity should be low enough that the eggs don’t mold but high enough that moisture doesn’t evaporate from the eggs (don’t refrigerate them). Even under optimal conditions, egg hatchability begins to drop after 6 days – although it’s said that storage time can be increased up to three weeks by wrapping eggs in plastic wrap (we haven’t tried this). Eggs should be stored in clean, unused (don’t transmit bacteria from any old eggs) egg cartons. The eggs should be placed in the carton with the large end up (small end down) to keep the yolk centered within the white. If storing the eggs for longer than six days, alternate slightly elevating the end of the egg carton each day to keep the yolks from sticking to the inside of the shell. After six days, hatchability begins to decrease and it will take slightly longer for the eggs to hatch. Save only the best eggs for hatching and store them carefully; if all goes well, these will be your new flock additions!