Setting or initial incubation
In this step which lasts for 18 days the eggs are placed in the incubator. Eggs need to be turned around; otherwise the embryo will die. As rule of thumb, eggs need to be turned 180 degrees every eight hours. The humidity in the incubator is very important. The humidity should be between 50 and 55 percent.
Incubation (from: The Poultry Site.com; P.J. Clauer)
Four factors are of major importance in incubating eggs artificially: temperature, humidity, ventilation and turning. Of these factors, temperature is the most critical. However, humidity tends to be overlooked and causes many hatching problems. Extensive research has shown that the optimum incubator temperature is 100°F when relative humidity is 60 percent. Concentrations of oxygen should be above 20 percent, carbon dioxide should be below 0.5 percent, and air movement past the egg should be 12 cubic feet per minute. There are two types of incubators commonly used:
1. Forced-air incubators which have a built in fan to circulate the air. The forced-air incubator should be set at 99-99.5°F and 60-65% relative humidity (83-88°F wet bulb). The advantage of the forced-air incubator is that it is easier to maintain humidity at a constant level because of air circulation.
2. Still-air incubators which have no fans, so the air is allowed to stratify. Still air incubators are smaller and air flow is harder to manage. Set still-air incubators at 100 to 101°F at egg height. This is important since the air stratifies in these incubators. There can be as much as a 5° difference in temperature from the top to the bottom of some of the still-air incubators. Humidity should be 60-65% (80-90° wet bulb) during incubation and 70-75% (92-97° wet bulb) at hatching time. It is very easy to overheat the eggs in still-air incubators and difficult to maintain proper humidity.
During the warm-up period, the temperature should be adjusted to a constant 101°F for still air, 99°- 100°F for forced air. To obtain reliable readings, the bulb of the thermometer should be at the same height as the tops of the eggs and away from the source of heat. Using two thermometers is a good idea to ensure you are getting an accurate reading.
Incubator temperature should be maintained between 99° and 100°F. The acceptable range is 97° to 102°F. Mortality is seen if the temperature drops below 96°F or rises above 103°F for a number of hours. If the temperature stays at either extreme for several days, the eggs may not hatch. Overheating is more critical than underheating. Running the incubator at 105°F for 15 minutes will seriously affect the embryos, while running it at 95° for 3 or 4 hours will only slow the chick's metabolic rate.
An incubator should be operated in a location free from drafts and direct sunlight. An incubator should also be operated for several hours with water placed in a pan to stabilize its internal atmosphere before fertile eggs are set. Do not adjust the heat upward during the first 48 hours after eggs are set. This practice cooks many eggs. The eggs will take time to warm to incubator temperature and many times in small incubators the incubator temperature will drop below 98°F for the first 6-8 hours or until the egg warms to 99°-100°F.
The relative humidity of the air within an incubator should be about 60 percent. During the last 3 days (the hatching period) the relative humidity should be nearer 65-70 percent. (Too much moisture in the incubator prevents normal evaporation and results in a decreased hatch, but excessive moisture is seldom a problem in small incubators.) Too little moisture results in excessive evaporation, causing chicks to stick to the shell, remain in the pipped shells, and sometimes hatch crippled.
During the hatching period, the humidity in the incubator may be increased by using an atomizer to spray a small amount of water into the ventilating holes. (This is especially helpful when duck or goose eggs are hatching.)
Using a wet-bulb thermometer is also a good way for determining relative humidity. The wet-bulb thermometer measures the evaporative cooling effect. If the wet and dry bulb read the same temperature, you would have 100 percent humidity. The greater the evaporation taking place, the lower the temperature reading on the wet-bulb thermometer and the larger the spread will be between the wet- and dry-bulb readings.
The table below (Relative Humidity) will enable you to calculate relative humidity using readings from a wet- bulb thermometer and the incubator thermometer.
The best hatching results are obtained with normal atmospheric air, which usually contains 20-21 percent oxygen. It is difficult to provide too much oxygen, but a deficiency is possible. Make sure that the ventilation holes are adjusted to allow a normal exchange of air.
Eggs set on their sides must be rotated 1/2 turn at least 3 times daily. Eggs set with the air cell end up should be tilted in the opposite direction 3 times daily. This keeps the embryo centered in the egg and prevents it from sticking to the shell membrane. If hand turning, to insure proper turning, mark each side of the egg with a pencil. Put an "x" on one side and an "o" on the opposite side.