Regardless of which came first, you need both a chicken and an egg to hatch a chick. Right?
Well, not exactly. If your barnyard lacks a broody hen, there are a few other ways to hatch chicken eggs.
Incubators are the most common and reliable way to hatch chickens without a sitting hen. But if you’re looking for a low-cost option, you might be thinking about hatching eggs using the warm water trick.
The warm water trick for hatching eggs can refer to two separate hacks: the float test (to determine if the egg contains a live chick) and the towel incubation method (to aid the hatching process). This guide will discuss both tricks.
Chicken Eggs 101: What To Expect When You’Re Eggspecting
Robust egg layers will lay about one egg daily once they reach seven months old. Egg laying will decrease after two years of peak production.
Remember that a chicken will lay eggs regardless of whether or not a rooster has mated with her. Chicks can only hatch from fertilized eggs.
The incubation period for a fertilized chicken egg takes 21 days. In some cases, chicken eggs may hatch at 19 or 20 days. But three weeks is a pretty reliable timeline.
Chicken eggs require a stable incubation temperature of 99.5 F. Humidity levels should start at 58%RH. For best results, egg turning should occur once every hour.
On day 18, you should transfer the chicken eggs from an incubator to a hatcher. The hatcher should have a marginally lower temperature (98.5 F) and a higher humidity (chicken 66–75%).
In ideal conditions, chicken eggs have a hatch rate ranging from 75-80%.
Types Of Egg Incubators&Nbsp;
Regarding poultry, an incubator refers to any enclosed area that maintains the conditions necessary for hatching eggs.
By this definition, mother hens are the original egg incubators!
If you are determined to hatch eggs au naturel, you must provide hens with a nest or box filled with straw, wood shavings, or other nesting material. And, of course, you will need to provide the fertilized eggs if your barnyard does not contain a rooster.
But it’s not just any hen that will get the job done. Hatching eggs specifically requires a broody hen. A broody hen is simply a hen who wants to sit on a group of eggs until they hatch. Hormones, time of year, and egg availability will cause a hen to become broody.
If you want to rely on something other than a hen, there are several other ways to incubate eggs.
These methods mimic the services a broody hen provides: temperature control, humidity control, egg turning, and air circulation.
Forced-air incubators include a built-in fan that circulates the air. This airflow helps maintain oxygen and air moisture levels. It also reduces temperature fluctuations.
Still-air incubators, also known as gravity-flow incubators, do not contain a fan. Instead, they rely on natural ventilation for airflow.
Forced-air incubators tend to offer a better hatch rate than still-air incubators. But this advantage comes at a higher cost.
You can also use a heat lamp. However, this DIY method is probably the most challenging.
Last but not least is the warm water trick.
Warm Water Trick: Step-by-Step Guide
The warm water trick is not a practical method for the entire incubation period. However, if your eggs have exceeded the 21-day mark, this trick might help promote hatching.
First, warm a bowl of water on the stove or in the microwave. Then, use a digital thermometer to check that the temperature rests at about 100 F.
Once you have established the correct water temperature, submerge a towel in the water. Then, wring the towel to remove excess liquid.
Next, carefully wrap your eggs inside this damp towel and nestle this package in an empty bowl.
Place this bowl under a desk lamp, roughly six to 12 inches from the bulb.
Again, use your thermometer to monitor the temperature next to the eggs. You want to maintain conditions above room temperature, within the 99.5 to 100.5 F range.
Maintaining this temperature, turn the eggs every six to eight hours. When you rotate the eggs, you should also re-warm the towel.
Why Aren’T My Eggs Hatching?
Several factors impact hatchability. Some of these include the health of the parent chickens, egg storage, egg sanitation, egg handling, and incubation conditions.
It’s called the miracle of life for a reason. But, even if everything goes right, eggs might not hatch.
Here are some possible causes and observable symptoms of hatching problems:
- Humidity is too high — chicks hatch late, chicks die after pipping, malformed legs
- Humidity is too low — chicks hatch too early, chicks die after pipping, malformed legs
- Temperature is too high — no embryo develops, chicks die before hatching, chicks hatch too early, chicks die after pipping, malformed legs, weak chicks
- Temperature is too low — no embryo develops, chicks die before hatching, chicks hatch late, chicks die after pipping, malformed legs, weak chicks
- Eggs are too old — no embryo develops, chicks hatch late, weak chicks
- Eggs were handled roughly — no embryo develops
- Eggs were not fertilized — no embryo develops
- Eggs were not turned properly — chicks die after pipping
Again, many causes behind hatching problems, such as issues related to diseases or breeding, may be out of your control.
How To Tell If Your Egg Contains a Live Chick
Regardless of how you have incubated your eggs, two home remedies can help determine if your egg contains a live chick: the float test and candling.
In addition to these two tests, you can inspect the egg for signs that the chick is attempting to pip. Pipping is the chick’s attempt to break out of the egg. Look for a tiny crack in the shell. It can take up to 20 hours for the chick to crack open the eggshell completely.
Don’t worry if you notice that the chick is pipping in spurts. These periods of rest are natural. You only need to start worrying once the hatching process has exceeded 20 hours.
Note: this float test is not the same floating egg test used to determine if an egg is safe to eat, although similar science applies.
Egg owners can use the float test to determine if an egg contains a live or dead chick.
To conduct this test, fill a glass with warm water — ideally 100 Fahrenheit (or roughly 37.7 Celsius). Then, place the egg in the water, being as gentle as possible.
As a chick develops inside the egg, an air cell will form inside the egg. This air cell will cause the egg to float.
So if the egg sinks to the bottom of the glass, you know that the egg has not been fertilized.
If the egg floats just below the water’s surface, it contains a live chick. The embryo has developed if part of the egg pokes above the water’s surface. But unfortunately, the chick has died.
To double-check the results of the float test, it’s worth conducting a quick candle test.
The candle test is another way to determine if your eggs contain developing embryos.
Bring the egg into a dark room. Then, shine a light onto the egg. (It doesn’t have to be a candle, you can also use a flashlight or phone light.)
In fertile eggs, you should be able to see the veins or shadows of developing chicks.
When conducting the float test, the two most significant risks are egg handling and water temperature.
You don’t want to crack the eggshell. But even just moving the egg too roughly could disturb the developing embryo.
Hot water can also harm or even kill the unhatched chick.
Because of these associated risks, you should avoid conducting either test until the egg has passed 21 days of incubation.
Tips For Faster Egg Hatching
It might be tempting to count your chickens before your eggs hatch.
But attempting to expedite the hatching process could harm or kill your flock-to-be. So instead of focusing on hatching chicken eggs faster, consider taking steps to improve your hatching success.
Chickens typically take three weeks to hatch. But different breeds of chickens do have slightly different incubation periods. Larger breeds take about 21 days. Smaller breeds, such as bantam chickens, take roughly 19 or 20 days.
You can buy seemingly anything on the internet, including hatching eggs. Which may be an excellent way to get an expensive chicken breed for a low-cost. But if possible, you should avoid having fertilized eggs shipped to your house. The egg shells and developing embryos are incredibly delicate. Cross-country shipping is not for the faint of heart.
Instead, purchase hatching eggs from local hatcheries or poultry farms.
Using a forced-air incubator will likely give you the best chance at success. That said, familiarize yourself with the instructions before using the incubator to hatch eggs.
Keep track of time. There can be some variance to the three-week mark. But in general, this is how long chicken eggs must incubate before they can hatch.
If you’re really impatient, try hatching a different kind of bird entirely! Those other barnyard birds, ducks, have a 28-day incubation period. But quails and pigeons require just 17 or 18 days to hatch. Doves take even less time — merely two weeks!
Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.