[ reposted from my Cappers Farmer blog: http://www.cappersfarmer.com/blogs/falcos-poultry.aspx ]
Hatching out your own chicks using an incubator can initially seem to be a daunting task. My preference is to allow hens to hatch their own chicks, but you may want to use an incubator until you have a few great broody hens willing to do the work for you. In this case, a few pointers to go from a 20% hatch rate to an 85% hatch rate are in order.
To ensure that the majority of your eggs are fertilized, have one rooster who is about two years old to four years old per 9-12 hens. Select eggs during spring or fall for best results. Select the best, unspoiled by dirt or poo eggs within a 10 day period of time. Store potential eggs in an egg carton in a room which is about 65o F until enough eggs have been gathered. Do not remove the natural bloom on the egg shell. Candle each egg to ensure that the shell is sound and the yolk and white looks properly balanced. Using a pencil, mark the date the egg was laid, the hen and rooster (if available) and an “X” on one side of the egg to assist in turning during incubation.
There are quite a few incubators on the market, but I only can recommend the Brinsea brand. It maintains a constant, dependable temperature, thus you will get a consistent hatch. Get your incubator up and running at least one day before you place eggs to ensure a consistent temperature. Place each selected egg pointed-side down or on its side if no egg holder is provided in the incubator. Chicken hens incubate their eggs for 20 – 22 days. The incubator should remain at a constant temperature of 99.5o F. Hens turn their eggs twice per day, rotating them to ensure that the chick doesn’t stick to the side of the egg and for proper development until day 18.
Your eggs will lose weight daily while creating an air pocket. Candle your eggs every three days to ensure the proper development of the air pocket and the chick. If it isn’t developing as it should, vent some of the moisture from the incubator so that it can properly dry and create the space. If you find that some eggs didn’t develop properly, discard. You do not want to pollute the moist, warm environment with bacteria.
You may buy an automatic egg turner or you may place a book under one side of the incubator in the morning and switch sides in the evening – every day for 18 days. On day 18 of incubation, stop turning your eggs. During incubation, a humid environment should be maintained at 45% during incubation and a humidity level of 60% during hatching. You can use a wet sponge in the bottom of the incubator or you may fill the channels provided at the bottom of the incubator.
On day 20-25 (add a few extra days just in case) adjust the level of humidity to ensure the shell will not stick to the newly hatched chick. Wait and be patient. I do not advise assisting with a hatch. If the chick is struggling, please do allow it to struggle. Birth is a difficult thing. I am not saying every chick will make it, but interfering in an attempt to help can cause damage to the chicks intestine and other organs. Once the down of your chicks starts to dry and pouf, you may remove the chick to your brooder cage or transfer, at night, to a broody, motherly hen.