Hatching and incubation:

Incubation periods:

Hens: 20-21 days

Bantams: 19-21 days

Domestic bantam duck: 24-28 days

Domestic duck: 28 days

Muscovy duck: 34-37 days

Quail (dependant on type): 16-23 days

Geese (dependent on type): 25-30 days

Guinea fowl: 28 days

Turkey: 28 days

Peafowl: 28 days

Pheasant (common species): 24-25 days


Humidity (for incubators):

Some breeders prefer to run an incubator "dry" until two- three days before hatching. However waterfowl in particular will benefit from humidity being controlled throughout incubation and most breeders do like to control the humidity for all species from start to finish.

Hens/ Bantams: day 1-18/19 40%-50%, 19- hatching 50%-65%

Domestic Ducks: day 1- 24/25 58%, Day 25- hatching 75%

Muscovy ducks: day 1-31 60%, day 32- hatching 75%


Incubator temperature:

The incubator temperature for most species is 37.5 (Celsius)

Incubators should be placed in a clean, dry environment away from direct sunlight or other heat sources. Placing them in a hot or humid area will make the temperature and humidity fluctuate and be much more difficult to control. This will affect hatch rates.

They should be thoroughly cleaned with incubator disinfectant before and after each hatch and eggs should either be lightly rinsed with warm water or cleaned with incubator disinfectant.

During incubation the incubator must not be allowed to fluctuate anymore than 1 degree Celsius as this will affect hatch rates.

All chicks start life as males, faults during incubation will often result in more males hatching as females perish more easily. (Though this is not true when using a broody hen, unless she is inexperienced or leaves the eggs for very long periods of time).

Upon candling (at weekly intervals) infertile eggs should be removed to ensure they do not spread bacteria to fertile eggs. Candling is the process of shining a light through the egg in order to view the embryo, specialist candling looms are very useful and are available from most incubator manufacturers.

You should have a brooder set up ready for the hatch, once more than 50% of the eggs have hatched and these chicks have dried off they can be moved to the brooder. If the chicks cluster together the brooder is too cold, if they spread as far away from the heat source as possible the brooder is too warm. The ideal situation is that the chicks form a ring around the boundaries of the heat source. Food and water should be placed in shallow dishes to avoid drowning, with chicks such as quail it is common practice to place small pebbles at the base of the drinker so that if they do fall in it is not deep enough for them to get into any trouble. You may need to tap the food to encourage them to eat, most chicks will not eat or drink for the first 24-36 hours after hatching as they are still absorbing the rest of the yolk.

A non-slip surface should be provided in the brooder to prevent splayed leg and other problems, shavings are ideal.

The chicks/ ducklings will need to be in the brooder for between 5-8 weeks depending on the time of year and the temperature outside. In very hot weather at about 3- 4 weeks they can start spending the day outside in a safe run on grass, after a week of this they can have the heat turned off at night. By 6 weeks in the summer most young birds are ready to go outside permanently, ensure they have a safe pen as cats/ birds of prey will take young birds. In the winter 8 weeks and sometimes older is the normal age for young birds to go outside permanently.


Feeding young birds:

Young birds will need special feed, most chicks will have "chick crumb," it's advisable to get a type which contains "ACS" which is an anticoccidial drug in the feed, this helps to prevent a very nasty but common disease known as coccidiosis which affects birds up to 30 weeks of age.

Waterfowl and Game chicks (such as quail) cannot have chick crumb as they cannot have "ACS" and require higher protein levels. Ducklings are usually fed duck crumb.

Turkeys also need a special feed known as turkey crumb, this is due to their need for much higher levels of protein.

With quail it is usually necessary to grind up the chick crumb so that it is small enough for them to eat.

With all of the above most manufacturers will recommend moving them on to their respective "growers pellets" at 8-12 weeks of age. However it is perfectly acceptable to keep chicks on crumb feed until 16-20 weeks of age at which point they are ready for an adult feed.

Never feed layers pellets to a bird under 16 - 18 weeks as it can cause damage to their growth and prevent them from ever laying eggs.


Hatching using a broody chicken:

Sometimes birds will go "broody" and sit on their own eggs in order to hatch them. When using this method the bird should be separated from the rest of the flock as early as possible in the incubation process, this is to ensure the safety of the chicks when they hatch as other flock members will sometimes attack chicks that are not their own. If you do not have a cockerel but wish to hatch eggs most breeders will sell "hatching eggs," these are not eggs that are literally hatching but eggs from their own breeding flock. Always make sure to ask for the latest fertility results that the breeder has had from that particular flock in order to avoid disappointment, if possible collect the eggs yourself, this way it's easier to get them home in one piece and you can see the parents.  

After separation broody hens will need a house and a run with very small holed wire to prevent chicks escaping. She will need food placed in the house and water outside, often broodies will rarely leave the eggs, if she does not appear to leave them for the entire duration of the incubation process then do not be alarmed! This is normal, however some keepers prefer to take the hen off the eggs each day and place her in the run. This can be useful for cleaning the house as whilst you should not clean out the entire house while a hen is sitting, they do, do very large poos which should be removed as often as possible.

Once the chicks have hatched feeding is the same as above with incubator hatched chicks, however the chicks can be left with the hen either until they are 8-10 weeks old or until she appears to have lost interest in them. At this stage you can either move her and the chicks to a larger pen until they are old enough to be integrated with the main flock, or put the hen back in the main house and again wait until the chicks are old enough to join her.

Broody hens can also hatch other species, often being highly successful.