How Correct Humidity can Improve Your Incubation and Hatch Rate

20190528_163125Humidity in the incubator has always been a tricky thing.  Too much of it or too little of it can ruin your hatch rate.  Humidity starts out at one percentage but then needs to be raised at just the right point in order for a successful hatch.  This can leave some people scratching their heads at just how to accomplish this feat.

Air can absorb water. This water vapor is a gas.  Water vapor in the air can range from none to the full maximum which air can hold.  We call this saturation. This full maximum can increase as the temperature rises.

When talking about humidity in the incubator we are usually discussing the Relative Humidity.  This is expressed as a percentage. It is a measure of the amount of water vapor in the air compared with the maximum that could be absorbed at that temperature.  If the Relative Humidity level is 50% that means that the air contains half of its maximum possible water vapor capacity.

Most people (unless they practice dry incubation) shoot for 40-50% for the first 18 days of incubation and then raise it to 65-75% for the final three days of hatching.  In general, slightly lower humidity is better than too high of humidity during incubation.

Start by following the manufacturers recommendations for humidity and temperature for your individual incubator.  Then for future hatches you can tweak the numbers and make minor adjustments for what works best for you.

Many factors affect humidity such as : Egg size (the smaller the egg, the greater the moisture loss.), Porous shell (which increases with a hen’s age), elevation, egg storage length and conditions, weather, incubation temperature, air speed and shell thickness (which decreases with hen’s age. Thinner shells require higher humidity.)

Egg shells are porous and they allow water to pass through.  The amount of water that an egg loses during incubation is important and is determined by the humidity levels in the incubator.

If you set your eggs with the pointy side down, you will notice an airspace at the top rounded part of the egg when you candle it.  Water is lost through the shell gradually and is replaced by air which is also drawn through the shell.  This airspace gradually increases in size.  The greater the water loss, the larger the airspace.

This airspace is critical to the chick. It is the first air that the chick breathes and is needed in order for the chick to move into the correct position for hatching.

If the humidity has been too high during incubation, the egg will have lost too little water and the air cell will be small.  This will cause the chick to have trouble breathing and will have trouble breaking out of the shell.  Often you will see the chick’s beak protruding out of the shell. The bird is stuck and unable to zip around the shell and will not be able to hatch.

If the incubation humidity has been too low there will be very large air spaces.  The chicks are often small and weak and will have trouble cracking the shell and hatching.

Monitoring air cells when you candle will also let you know if your incubator is maintaining the correct humidity.  This chart shows you what your air cells should look like as the egg loses water. Use a pencil to draw the outline of the eggs air cell every time you candle.

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During incubation, you can control humidity through the use of vents to monitor the amount of fresh air entering the incubator.  The more fresh air entering, the lower the humidity.  There are also pans of water that can be added to increase the humidity or troughs at the bottom of the incubator that can be filled with water.  Covering the pans with foil will decrease the water surface area.  It is not how deep the water is but the amount of surface area on top of the water that determines how much water will evaporate into the air.

During the last three days of hatching, you will need to up the humidity in the incubator/hatcher.  Add more water surface through the use of pans, troughs and sponges, humidity pads or wick pads. This is where a good hygrometer will serve you well.  Use it to keep track of where your humidity is at.

You can also monitor humidity during incubation by weighing the eggs.  Most eggs need to loose 13% to 15% of their weight from the time of setting eggs until hatching.  Weigh them every 5 days and chart their weight. Use this chart as an example.  Adjust your humidity if your eggs are not losing enough weight or are losing it too quickly.

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I use Hovabator incubators for the first 18 days of egg incubation.  I only fill the first trough with water and remove the red vent plugs so that the eggs get plenty of fresh air.  I end up putting additional water in that first trough about every three days.  It will dry out if you don’t add more water.  Depending on the time of year I am at around 50% for the first 18 days.  Candling on day 18 should show an air cell that takes up about 1/3 o

I use a Brinsea Octagon for the last three days of hatching.  I increase the humidity by placing two absorbent shop paper towels so that they hang into the troughs and up under where the eggs will sit. When the water is poured into the trough, it will wick up making a large wet surface area. This will increase humidity in the hatcher.

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I begin by only filling one of the troughs with water and I place the basket that will hold the eggs on top.  I then cut out little holders for the eggs made from paper egg cartons.

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I place the eggs in their holders and leave the hygrometer inside where I can see it through the window. Humidity is around 66% at this time.  The hatcher stays this way for day 18 and day 19. On the morning of day 20, I fill the 2nd trough with water and begin lock down.  I like to wait until I see the first egg pip before I add water to the second trough.  This will cause the humidity to go up into the 70s %. I keep the vents open slightly to let some fresh air in, but keep most of humidity trapped .  Once the eggs start hatching I try to delay lifting the lid for as long as possible. Once the lid is lifted it is hard to keep the humidity up for hatching. It can cause the membrane to dry out and make it harder for the chicks to break through. If I need to open the lid I make sure to spray the inside walls with warm water to bump the humidity up faster. I have found that this method works very well for experiencing wonderful hatch rates.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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Silkies For Sale – 5/27/19

Here is what is available for the week of May 27, 2019. My next scheduled hatches are for May 31, June 5, June 11 and June 16th.  We are NPIP and a state inspected hatchery.  No shipping/Pick up only.  Baby chicks are unsexed but ask about our rooster return policy.  Pen 20 – One week olds hatched 5/21 – 10 buff, 4 white, 5 grey/partridge, 2 partridge – $12 each.  Pen 21 – Newborns hatched 5/26 – 13 buff, 8 white,  7 black,  13 grey/partridge, 1 splash – $11 each.  If you would like to set up an appointment to pick up chicks or if you just have questions you can text me at 612-756-1414 or PM the VJP Poultry Facebook page.20190524_151008-1

Correct Brooder Temperature and Introduction to Outdoors for Chicks

20190227_151759-1It is both fun and exciting to have baby chicks in the house.  Many first time chick owners fret about what the ideal brooder temperature should be. As the chicks grow and their space needs expand many people wonder when would be the best time for integrating the chicks outdoors with the rest of the flock in the coop.  We will be exploring both of these questions in this article.

When deciding on a source for brooder heat you need to think about the air temperature surrounding your brooder. A brooder should be inside to regulate temperature and moisture and to prevent predators from getting at the chicks. Inside means that it can be in a garage, laundry room, shed or barn.  It can even be inside of your coop.  You will want to have some kind of cover on it to keep out predators.  A cookie rack or screen works well.

A newborn chick’s body is covered with down. The newborn will have a hard time controlling it’s own temperature since it does not have real feathers yet.  They will warm themselves by huddling close together.  Chicks need an additional heat source until their down gives way to hard feathers.  Chicks raised by a mother hen will be seen darting in and out from under her wing as they use her body as a heat source.  A hen’s internal temperature ranges from 105-107 degrees F.

The rule of thumb is to start your brooder temperature at 95 degrees F (35 C) and reduce it 5 degrees F (3 C) each week until the brooder temperature is the same as the room’s temperature.

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This chart from Roberts Farm is a good resource to judge what temperature the brooder should be for how old the chicks are. It also can give you an idea of what age they can transition to the outside according to the outside temperature.  For example, if your chick is 6 weeks old, it needs to be at least 65 degrees F for it to be outdoors.

Make sure that your brooder heat source is up and running for at least 24 hours before you introduce chicks to it.  Chick brooder temperature is measured with a thermometer placed 2 inches (5 cm) above the brooder floor. You may want to measure it with several different thermometers as sometimes they will each read differently.

Many people use a brooder heat lamp with a 250 watt bulb.  The red heat bulb helps to prevent picking among chicks and can help with night time light. Start by hanging the lamp with an adjustable chain at about 18 inches above the chicks. Don’t rely on the clamp to hold the heat lamp safely. You need to add a chain and hang it from a hook above the brooder.  You must take safety precautions when using this type of brooder heater as if they fall they will cause fires.  As the chicks grow, you can shorten the chain to decrease the temperature in the brooder.

A heated panel uses radiant heat.  It only heats directly below the panel.  This makes it easier for chicks to move away from the heat. Ecoglow can have its heat adjusted by lengthening its legs.  Sweeter Heaters are hung from above and can  be raised and lowered to change temperature.  Heated panels are not a fire hazard and will not burn out like a heat lamp bulb could do, which would chill your chicks.

A chick’s body language will tell you whether or not they are too hot or too cold.  Chicks that aren’t warm enough will crowd towards the heat source.  They will peep shrilly and constantly. Their poo will begin to paste up on their bottoms.  Pasty Butt can clog their vents which could lead to death.  In an attempt to get warm while they sleep, the chicks could pile up and smother each other. Piling often happens at night when the room temperature drops.

Chicks that are too warm move away from the heat source. They spend less time eating and grow more slowly. They pant and crowd to the edges of the brooder. They keep their heads down and are very quiet.  If the brooder is hot enough to raise their internal temperature above 117 degrees F, they will die.

Chicks at the correct temperature are happy chicks.  They wander around their brooder making musical sounding noises of contentment.  They breathe through their nostrils and do not pant.

Chicks need one half square foot of space each for the first two weeks.  They grow fast. You will need to increase the amount of space as they head into three and four weeks of age. You will need a bigger brooder or split the group and get a second brooder.  They can be off of the heat lamp when the temperature of the room they are in matches their age on the chart above. Chicks hatched in winter or early spring will need a heat source longer than chicks hatched in late spring or early summer.  Larger breeds will be sooner than bantams.

When they are ready to transition outside (They must be feathered out) start by letting them outside during the day.  Chicks can be vulnerable to predators such as hawks and the neighbor’s cat so be sure to keep an eye on them.  A dog kennel or fencing keeps them protected and doesn’t let them escape.  Bring them back inside at night.

If they are too cold outside they will let you know by puffing up their feathers and peeping in a frightened way.  Don’t leave them alone as they could become chilled quickly.

Don’t be in a hurry to put them with other adult chickens. Ideally, they should be the same size as the rest of your flock. Pecking order is a real thing and they will be pecked at by the larger birds.  Start by having them close together but separated by a barrier.  They will be able to see each other but not touch each other.  Gradually give them more opportunities to be together.  The integration process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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Silkies For Sale – 6/12/18

Silkies For Sale – 6/4/2018