Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Dry Incubation Method for Hatching Difficult-to-Hatch Breeds



~ By Karen

I hatch a LOT of eggs – generally more than a thousand annually. Over the years I have had a great deal of luck with the Dry Incubation Method. I hatch a lot of Swedish Flower Hen eggs, and for whatever reason, this breed can be very difficult to hatch in an incubator – but even shipped Swedish Flower eggs seem to do well using this method.




Circulated Air:
If you don’t have a circulated air incubator, for best hatching results it is best to add a fan. Measure the spacing between the holes in the top where a fan would go, and get a computer fan that is about that size. Wire it with an old cell phone charger that's rated for 5-9 volts. (Computer fans are generally 12v, but the lower voltage means it won't spin at top speed, so your eggs/chicks don't have to hatch in hurricane conditions). 

Fans can blow up or down. Make sure yours is blowing UP. (Circulated air goes out to the sides rather than straight down - usually there are arrows on the side of the fan showing direction it blows).

Auto-Turner:
If you don't have one, add an auto turner, or be prepared to be VERY diligent about turning your eggs regularly. Hand-turning can be problematic as it will cause temperature changes when ever you open your incubator.

Preparing Your Incubator:
It is a good idea to wrap the cheaper, Styrofoam-type incubators in some sort of insulating material. A blanket will work, or a box lined with insulation. These incubators can be sensitive to temperature changes in the room they are in, so if it is possible, set them up in an interior room where there is no direct sunlight. If your house temperature changes throughout the day in the winter, it is a good idea to set up a small, temperature-sensitive heater to try to keep your incubator room at a steady temperature.

Get your incubator set to the proper temperature at least 3 days before setting your eggs. Use a digital, human grade thermometer for best results. If you wish to use a good quality digital thermometer that will stay inside the incubator, be sure to get TWO. Thermometers can be off a bit and if you notice a variance between your two thermometers, get a third to be sure.

Pull all the vent plugs out of your incubator – you won’t be using them for this hatch. Set the temperature where you think it will be right, and leave it alone for 24 hours. If you are using a digital thermometer made for taking human body temperature, wrap it in whatever you have on hand (fabric, toilet paper, whatever) to allow the thermometer to fit in the hole and sit there comfortably, with the hole plugged by the wrapping material. Put the bulb of the thermometer anywhere from the bottom of the fan to about where the middle of an egg would be to get the most accurate reading. (With circulated air, the temperature should be pretty close to the same throughout the incubator, but that's a good area to test. Be sure the thermometer(s) are far enough from a heating element to prevent incorrect readings when testing the temps.)

The cheap digital thermometers you can get anywhere are just that. They’re cheap and can be unreliable.  A lab grade thermometer can be verified/calibrated two ways (and we recommend using both). First, put it in a cup of ice water, stirring the water constantly. It should read 0 C or 32 F.  Second, put it in a pot of water and bring it to a boil, again stirring constantly so the water doesn't get hot spots. It should boil at 100C or 212F.

Whatever thermometer you have, learn how it works and how long it's recording cycle (if digital) is. Be aware if it only goes up to the high stable temp or if it shows variable temps, etc.  Then put it in the incubator (thru the vent hole so you can read it easily) and start watching it.  Write down the temp it's reading (once it's been in there maybe 10 minutes) when the heating element comes on. Time the heat cycle (doesn't have to be exact but helps to know how long it's cycling) and take another reading when the element goes back off. Again, time how long the element is off...  ideally it should be on for a shorter time than it's off.  Figure out, over 5 or 6 cycles, if your incubator temperature stays pretty consistent.  the highest and lowest temps you record will actually be AFTER the heating element turns off and on, since it's got enough thermal mass to continue heating slightly even after it turns off, and the coolest will be after the thermostat turns it back on, again because it takes a second to start building up more heat... 

Taking a number of readings will tell you roughly what the temp range will be.  If it's high or low overall from 99.5 (average temp) then you need to adjust the incubator. (A LITTLE AT A TIME!)  Don’t do more than a quarter turn on the adjuster at a time, and not more than once every 5 or 6 hours at least. 

Once you've got it set well, use the lock nut (a second wing nut at the bottom of the stem against the incubator) to lock it down so it doesn't turn accidentally. Then test your temps again, in case you moved it. (Not all incubators have this locking feature.) Run it for a good 24-48 hours and just check periodically to make sure it's in the right range each time.

Setting Your Eggs:
Once you've got your eggs, set them in the egg turner (which should have been in there while you were setting the temps btw) with the turner turned off for a day or two to allow the eggs to settle a bit (only for shipped eggs, but won't hurt local either). Plug the turner in on day 3. On day 18-19 (I usually do day 19, myself) move the eggs to a paper/cardboard egg crate (lid removed), take out the turner and lay some paper towels (not industrial stuff but the kind you use at home LOL) on the floor of the incubator and put the egg crate in, roughly near the middle of the incubator.

Humidity:
As far as humidity, any old digital hygrometer will work fine, since you really just need an estimate on that in my opinion -  for the first 18-19 days, add NO water. Easy enough. Make note of what the humidity reads, though. Usually the incubator will read anywhere from 15-30% during incubation, and that's just fine. After lockdown, increase the humidity to anywhere from 45-60%, again depending where it was reading before.  What I do is use a disposable plastic container (for food storage), usually the 2-3 cup size, roughly 4x6" rectangle about 2-3" deep. I used some scrap hardware cloth (1/2" mesh) and made a cover for it so chicks wouldn't fall in accidentally, and just filled it up with hot water. Once you notice a pip, again using hot water, quickly open your incubator and fill an empty slot in the egg carton with water. Then leave it all alone until either your hatch is done or more than 24 hours have gone by from the first chick out. If your eggs haven't all hatched after 24 hours, add some more water to the egg crate and leave it alone for another 12-24 hours.

Candling:
Oh - and candling...  I candle all the eggs while they're in the incubator, with the lights in the room off so I can see as much as possible. I candle around 7-10 days and pull any eggs that have no obvious development.  I only candle once more, when I’m moving the eggs over to the egg crates and remove any obvious quitters at that point also.



So there you have it! Good luck and happy hatching!

~ Karen

24 comments:

  1. Wow, I've never hatchef eggs but while following quite a few chicken related blogs and facebook sites I have read countless stories of heartbreak anf failure. I'm sure there's naturally loss but after reading your article my guess is that most people are not planning, preparing snd following through adequately, mskes sense, look at the commitment and determination a broody hen exhibits to get the job done!! Amazing! Thank you you.

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  2. I dry incubate all the time. It's very hard to leave hands off the water if you've used it before, totally unnecessary. Thank you again, Bulldogma, for another excellent article.

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  3. Thanks for the post! If I ever get an incubator I'm back here to study :D

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  4. Thanks Leigh for posting this. (How did I miss THAT?)

    As a bit of background, a teacher contacted Leigh and I, wanting to hatch eggs in her classroom. Previous attempts had been utter failures, so I detailed what I do with my own incubators, to calibrate the temperatures. She followed the directions and successfully hatched 10/12 shipped SFH eggs from Leigh's flock.

    YAY!

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    1. Oh, and as a side note, with summer humidity up there, I'm adding even less water to the hatcher right now. Prior to first pip yesterday, humidity in the hatcher was about 30%. 17/19 (Dorkings) hatched and when I pulled them out the humidity in there was up to 60%.

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  5. Thank you for this. Can I just clarify what you mean by pulling out the vent plugs? My incubator has a "slider" vent so I would like to know if I should leave it fully open or fully closed. Oh and what cuontry are you in please?

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    1. You would want to leave your vents mostly open - at least until lockdown.
      And we are in the US.
      =)

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  6. Can you lay the eggs on their side for hatching? Isn't easier for the chicks to push out of an egg on its side?

    Thanks!

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    1. Chicks hatch just fine from eggs that are either on their sides or fat-end up. I have done my last few hatches with eggs in egg cartons and they did great! It is up to you and what will work best for you and your incubator set-up.
      =)
      Leigh

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    2. Actually this incubation process is not dry a true dry is hatching at the same humidity as when the eggs go in with no lock down or adding water with only a flashlight and a cheap thermometer and never having to count days to hatch!

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    3. Dear John,
      Please allow me to point out that the title of this article is the "Dry Incubation" method and not the "Dry Hatch" method. The two methods are different in that in that Dry HATCH method, no water is added at day 18.
      Perhaps you'd like to write an article for us on the Dry Hatch method?
      ;)

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  7. I suspect large numbers of eggs are creating a microclimate in the incubator by giving off moisture from each egg. Humidity can be increased for hatching though.

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  8. I live in the middle of Arizona and if I don't add water to my Brinsea incubators the humidity is very low during incubation. I wish there was an option to turn OFF the fan once they start pipping. I've had to help more birds out of their shells that zip but the white membrane is completely dry from that fan blowing. I fill the reservoirs to FULL and also add 2 wet sponges and a shot glass of water and they STILL dry out often.

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    1. Do you close part of your vents to keep the humidity inside.? That is what I use to do before I was using the humidity pump. That would be a good idea for you Brinsea then u have total control of humidity. You can adapt a Reptile fogger and a Hygrometer that regulates the humidity for you. Works well I have been using them for over 10 yrs in my incubators.

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  9. Thank you for all this information! I have a quick "lock down" question, if you have enough eggs to almost fill two egg cartons, would I add water to an empty egg slot on each carton?

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  10. What is your hatch rate? I find this blog quite amusing! The tips and the ideas shared here regarding how to make an incubator are simply helpful not only to me but also to many people out there who love making an incubator for a living.

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    1. Karen (the author of this article) gets a 90% + hatch rate on eggs that weren't shipped and a generally good rate on shipped eggs (depending on their treatment en-rout).

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  11. Excellent info here, I am currently doing some research and found exactly what I was looking for.

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  12. Sorry if I've been lax about replying to comments, I honestly forgot that this was here. LOL

    The instructions above were designed for the Styrofoam type incubators. I use the paper egg crates when hatching, and have a separate section I use to put water in, so the eggs aren't getting damp themselves. the paper acts like a sponge and sucks up the water and lets it evaporate, raising the humidity.

    I haven't used the Hovabator much over the last 2 years, as I've been using a Sportsman 1502 almost exclusively, except for my quail, though I did get some quail egg trays recently that have helped me retire the Hova almost entirely. I still use it for odd sized eggs or small hatches I don't want mixed with other eggs due to hatch at the same time.
    Hopefully This has been a good starting point for potential hatchaholics, to get your feet wet, learn the ropes and grow with your addiction. er... hobby.

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  13. GM everyone. I was doing some research on wet vs dry incubation and came across this. Very good read. I just recently bought 2 pro series farm innovator Styrofoam bators. I added water to both wells and they are staying at 31% and 43%. One is on day 10 for quail (31% humidity) and the other I just added chicken eggs yesterday afternoon (43% humidity). This is my first attempt at dry incubating and I really hope I have a good hatch. My last attempts at hatching I used a cheaply made plastic incubator went ok. I had 2 decent hatches but then the plug for the temp and humidity went on the fritz and it is now a useless pile of junk that needs to be trashed unless I can set it up for another hatcher of sorts. Thanks for the info on the dry incubation method. In the near future I plan to purchase a cabinet incubator but have not committed to one in particular. I like the looks of the GQF Sportsman but I've read that a local man in Millen (about an hour- to hour and half away from me) makes the line Dickey's and his are comparable to the GQF but they are made with wood instead of the hard plastic....So I am not sure which one I want. I know also with the Dickey's I can purchase a large tray holder and place 2- 48 egg trays in it per shelf in the cabinet (3 turning shelves). I'm super excited!

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  14. If a person has a full load of 24 dozen eggs in the Dickey cabinet incubator is it a wise idea to not add any water to this large cabinet incubator the first 18-19 days also or with it being a larger incubator should a minimal amount of water be added? Thanks.

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    1. I personally have one of these incubators and I do not add water until day 18 - 19. I have had great success with this method. Just remember - each breed is different. If you have a breed that originates in a dry climate, absolutely try this method!

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  15. I am trying the dry method, however my chicks keep dyeing before lockdown. Any suggestions? I have 2 incubators and both are providing same outcome.

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    1. What kind of incubators are you using? The cheap Little Giants or other farm store styrofoam incubators need a LOT of help if you want to hatch anything from them.
      Copy and paste this link into your browser address bar:
      http://naturalchickenkeeping.blogspot.com/2013/02/great-tricks-for-using-inexpensive.html

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