Notes from Windward: #69


Something New in an Old Way

Opalyn describes our latest incubation work

     Last Summer Monica had quite a bit of success with incubation in the warmerator but I was often excavating at the Pearl and did not take advantage of her knowledge before she left. Doing better at tranferring skills learned to the rest of the team is one of the key goals for our Notes (blog). The Windward Notes is a place where we share with the world what we are up to and provide a historical reference for each other so that when someone new picks up a project, they won't have to start from scratch. I reviewed Monica’s notes on incubation and Monique’s notes on the warmerator before getting started.

     This spring with our cold nights and May snow showers we decided not to use the Warmerator since it was having difficulty maintaining the 99 °F required for incubation when the over night temps were falling to freezing or below. Part of the reason for that is that the Warmerator is located in our unheated Freezer room. By way of contrast, commercial incubators are designed to operate in rooms that are kept between 68 and 72° F.

the 9200 with 7200 forced air incubator

     In order to learn more about the process we decided to try incubating inside our office trailer. It's generally unheated, but it stays warmer than the freezer room. We also invested in a “Circulated Air Incubator with Forced Air Fan Kit” made by Miller Manufacturing.

     On reason for going with this make was the availability of the optional accessory of an egg turner. Turning the eggs by hand wasn't difficult, but it needed doing at least four times a day and quickly became a chore. Having the egg turning done automatically would be better for both the chicks and us.

the egg turning mechanism

     At the end of April, we raided the nests of our Rhode Island Red chickens, Indian Runner ducks, and Pearl guineas for some 24 eggs to launch this spring’s incubation project.

     Every day I check on the temperature of the incubator and add water to keep the humidity up. That initial load only took up about half the space in the incubator, and I've been adding a few more eggs every day. The date and type of each egg is marked on it's big end so that we can keep track of which egg is which.

a full house of chicken, duck and guinea eggs

     After 18 days for chicken eggs and 25 days for the duck and guinea eggs, they will need to be moved to a hatching incubator where the eggs no longer get turned. At that point the eggs are due to hatch within three days, and the newly emerged chicks can stay in the hatching incubator for a day or two to get themselves ready for the move to the brooder.

May 27:

Learning More about the Process


     In an effort to make the best use of incubator space we decided to make a candling apparatus to check on the development of the embryos. By eliminating undeveloping eggs early we then have more space for new eggs. This is an important step since the Guinea Hen(s) have been laying one egg per day and our starter incubator was full in just a few days. While it is possible to hold eggs before they go in the incubator this can reduce the viability of the egg.

     After reviewing the recommendations from Mississippi State University, we decided to make a candler by mounting a light fixture on a small plywood platform.

the candler's base

     We then used a hole saw to cut a hole in the bottom of a #10 coffee can. Note, the metal in a coffee can is actually pretty strong, so use a slow speed and plenty of oil on the blade as it cuts. The fixture was made so that the coffee can fits snugly over the round part of the candler's base.

the coffee can light cover

      Screw in a 40 watt light bulb, and the candler's ready to give us a view inside our eggs.


     The egg below was fresh from the nest and placed on the candler to show what a “new” egg looks like.

a fresh egg is translucent

     Eggs that appear to have a solid mass in the middle to upper part of the egg shell have an embryo growing. The lower portion of the egg will be translucent. You might even be able to view veins through the egg shell.


     Some week-old eggs appear to be speckled when set on the candler, especially the guinea eggs, but don't immediately discount these eggs if there is a dark mass in the upper portion of the egg.


     We have lots to learn about chick development, lots of fertile chicken eggs to work with, and limited space in our research incubator, so we're opening chicken eggs at various stages of development so that we can compare what we see on the candler with what's going on inside the egg. For example, I removed a week-old egg yesterday that was speckled but it also had a dark mass in the upper portion of the egg. When I opened the shell, I found a growing chicken embryo.

     Click Here to see the half-formed embryo.

     Eggs can be candled as early as 4 days and should reveal a medium dark mass and/or veins. The duck eggs, being white, show veins more clearly. One text also recommends repeating the process at two weeks to ensure the continued development. The candling process has allowed me to remove eggs that are not developing making space for more duck and guinea eggs.

June 10:

Equipment Preparation

     The next thing to do was to get the hatching incubators and the brooder set up.

     The warmerater just needed cleaning out and it was ready to serve as a hatching incubator. The last three days that the chick is in the egg, the egg is allowed to "rest" in that the regular moving of the egg is stopped. Also the chicks need higher humidity so that they don't tend to dry out and stick to their shells.

the warmerator ready to serve as a hatcher

     I also found a galvanized metal circular incubator in deep storage and got it cleaned up. The heating element had failed and we decided to replace the element with four ceramic light sockets and 40 Watt light bulbs. An extension cord was cut down to become the new power cord and four tuna cans filled with water raise the humidity.

the top of the round hatcher

the bottom of the round hatcher

     The hatching incubators are now ready for eggs.

      After 18 days of incubation in the Styrofoam incubator with the egg turner, I moved 12 chicken eggs to the circle incubator and 5 chicken eggs to the warmerator. My plan was to test known equipment (the warmerator) against equipment with an unknown track record (the newly repaired circle incubator).

     One of the realities is that equipment these days is made to last a time or two--a season at best--whereas older equipment, when you can find it, was built to last.

     With chicks three days from hatching, I headed over to Prop House to ensure that the Brooder would be ready for live chicks. Camille did a great job with raising the Cuckoo Morans and Aricanas this spring and the brooder stood waiting for its next batch of hatchings.

the brooder ready to house newly hatched chicks

June 14:

Hatching Success

     While the eggs are in the starter incubator I would add some water every morning and spritz the eggs several times a day to keep the relative humidity above 50%. The first batches of chicken eggs have been moved to the circle hatching incubator and the warmerator so I can compare the effectiveness of the two types of incubators. I've been checking on the eggs in the two hatching incubators several time each day and spritzing water to keep the humidity up and the chicks start to pip: make noises and crack the eggs.

chicks a'hatching

     A few more hours and several chicks have emerged from their shells tired and thirsty.

chicks exhausted from the effort of hatching

     I show them the water troughs and they get their first sips of water. Since just hatched chicks can be shipped cross country via the USPS, I waited several hours or overnight before moving them to the brooder. When I relocated them I dip their beaks into the water so they know where to get more water when they are thirsty.

     While the hatchlings dry and recover from their hatching efforts, they explore their environments and one chick climbed into the water tray and drowned, while another in the warmerator fell through the shelf and drowned. I've modified a window screen for the warmerator to prevent the chicks from falling through the shelf into the water tray and added sponges to the little water trays in the circle incubator.

A chick just moved to the brooder – dry and ready to grow

     This is a research project. One way we learn is to vary something in our process in order to discover what areas need improvement, make those improvements and then run the experiment again. We have a large flock of chickens and more eggs available then with our smaller duck and guinea flocks so it made sense to have the chicks test out our new equipment first. Next week the duck and guinea eggs that went into the starter incubator at the same time will be ready to hatch and will receive benefit from what was learned this week.

a two day old chick starting to get his plumage

     Twenty-four chicks went into the starter incubator three weeks ago and now we have 10 healthy chicks and learned some good lessons to protect future hatchlings. I hope to increase the ratio of eggs to live chicks as I work to improve the incubation process and candling helps remove non-fertilized and undeveloping eggs early in the process.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69