Many people enjoy incubating and hatching eggs in the springtime. Whether you use an incubator or a broody hen to do your work, the hatchability of the egg itself is of the up most importance.
The first step is to start with healthy, happy hens. Healthy hens are hens that eat a varied diet that is high in protein. Varied can mean table scraps or what they find free ranging. Healthy means being free from disease and parasites.
Hens must also be getting a source of calcium in their diets. This can be obtained through their feed (layer feed) or added in the form of oyster shell. This will help to strengthen the shell of the egg.
Happy hens are hens that are not too crowded. They have clean bedding and clean containers for food and water. They have companion hens so they are not ostracized or alone. They have access to the outside and plenty of room to scratch and take dust baths.
The ability of the rooster to perform his duty will make a huge difference in whether or not your egg will be fertile. If the hen was not mated successfully , the egg will not become fertilized. You may need to trim around the vents on both the rooster and then hen so that contact can be made easier. The feathers can get in the way.
Age of both the hens and roosters can also play a part in the hatching ability of the egg. Young hens who are just beginning to lay often lay very small eggs. These are nick named “pullet eggs” and they have a low chance of hatching out chicks. Young roosters also are very inexperienced when mating and the eggs are often not fertile. Older hens and roos also experience the problems of infertility. Older hens often lay sporadically and eventually stop laying altogether. Older roosters can become heavy and have a harder time mounting the hens.
The area where the hens lay their eggs should be clean and soft. I add fresh bedding to those spots every day. Broody hens come in handy as they will sit on other hens eggs and protect them from getting dirty or getting stepped on and broken. Some birds will try to peck and eat eggs left alone in the nest.
Eggs need to stay dry and clean and collected several times a day. Do not wash dirty eggs but gently pick off the dirt or use fine sand paper to rub it off. Washing will destroy the “bloom” on the eggs and allow bacteria to enter it.
Store your collected eggs in a dry, cool spot. I have a place in the cellar that stays around 50 degrees all year round. Do not keep eggs longer than 10 days before incubating as their fertility will drop. Eggs that are odd shapes do not hatch well. Eggs that have very porous shells do not hatch well either.
Eggs that are shipped can often become “scrambled” and do not have a good development and hatching rate. It is best to buy eggs close by and not have them go through the postal service.
Following these simple suggestions will increase the chances of your eggs hatching even before you place them in the incubator. Each egg is precious at VJP Poultry and we do our best to make sure that each egg can improve its chance at hatchability!