Hatching baby chicks, ducklings, etc
This is a great exercise for the springtime to teach children about life cycles of living things.
- Fertilized Eggs
- Box or Cage
- Chick/duckling food
- Newspaper for bottom of box/cage
You can get fertilized eggs at most farms and there are many places on-line where you can order fertilized eggs and incubators, but here are a few to help you:
1) Storing the eggs until ready for incubation
- Store eggs in a cool, humid area, ideally 55 deg F with 75% humidity.
- If the eggs will be stored for less than 10 days, place the eggs on egg flats or in egg cartons with the large end up. Eggs should be stored with the large end down when they are held for more than 10 days.
- If the eggs will be incubated within 1 week from the time they are laid, there is no need to turn the eggs during storage.
- Eggs held for longer than 1 week should be rotated from side to side over a 90-degree angle once a day.
- To turn eggs during the holding period, place a 6-inch block under one end of the carton (or flat) holding the eggs. The next day, remove the block and place it under the opposite end of the carton.
2) Preparing the incubator
- Prior to placing the eggs in the incubator, check the incubator for 2 to 3 days to make sure the temperature stays constant. Temperature should be 100 deg F for forced-air incubators and 102 deg F for still-air incubators. Check the temperature by placing the hatching thermometer at the same height that the top of the eggs would be. The heat source should be adjusted if needed.
- Select a location for the incubator that is protected from drafts and direct sunlight.
3) Setting the Eggs in the Incubator
- After confirming the temperature and humidity are correct and stable, you are ready to set the eggs in the incubator.
- Allow cool eggs removed from storage 2 to 4 hours to warm up to the ambient temperature where the incubator is located prior putting them into the incubator.
- If you have not done so already, mark each egg with an "X" on one side and an "O" on the other. These marks help verify that the eggs are being turned in the incubator.
- Set the eggs in the incubator on a Tuesday or Wednesday if possible. This allows the best chance for the class to see the eggs hatch during the school week, since incubation time may vary based on incubation temperature.
- Orient the eggs so that the large end is higher than the small end. An embryo orients during incubation so that the head develops toward the large end of the egg, where the air cell is located. If the small end of the egg is higher than the large end, the chick’s or ducklings head can orient away from the air cell. An embryo oriented in the wrong direction will not hatch.
- Once the eggs are in the incubator, do not adjust the temperature or humidity for a few hours unless the temperature exceeds 102 deg F. After 4 hours, you may make the proper adjustments. The final temperature should vary only 0.5 deg above or below 99.5 deg F. The temperature of an incubator without a circulating fan fluctuates more than that of an incubator with a fan. As long as the temperature does not exceed 102 deg F, the hatch should not be harmed.
4) Turning the Eggs
- Before and after turning the eggs, make sure to wash your hands.
- The eggs need to be turned 180 degrees so that the X an the O alternately face up at each turn. Eggs need to be turned at least three times a day, but five times is even better. It's best to stick to an odd number of turns though so that the egg is oriented differently every night.
- The turning schedule must be maintained even over the weekend. If this is not possible, it is recommended that you get an incubator equipped with an automatic turner.
- As you turn the eggs, remember to always keep the large end higher than the small end.
- Also try to quickly replace the incubator cover after turning the eggs in order to minimize disruption of the temperature.
- Use the Incubator Data Chart located under handouts to keep track of turning.
- Since the eggs need to be turned five times per day, this may be a good opportunity to involve the children in the process by allowing them to take turns.
- Be very careful while handling the eggs to prevent damage to the eggshell. A cracked egg will not hatch and should be removed immediately from the incubator to prevent contamination of the other eggs. Also extremely dirty eggs should be removed from the incubator. Eggs that are slightly dirty can be cleaned by gently rubbing with fine sandpaper. Never wash an egg with water.
- If hatching chicks day 18 is the last day you need to turn the eggs.
- If hatching ducklings day 25 is the last day you need to turn the eggs.
Not all of the eggs in your incubator will be fertile and produce chicks or ducks. Starting at about 10 days into the incubation process, you can start examining the eggs. It is important to remove infertile or dead eggs from the incubator to minimize the risk of contamination. The process of candling is a simple way to identify these eggs. Candling consists of shining a light through the egg and examining the embroy development.
You can build your own candling device by rolling up a several pieces of plain white printer paper into a cone shape, with a hole the size of a quarter on the small end. Get a slide projector and tape the wide end of the cone on the lens of the slide projector. This will allow only a quarter size beam of light to escape the slide projector. Get the room as dark as possible and hold each egg one at a time up to the light. Carefully examine the contents of the egg. You can use a non-fertile egg from the grocery store for comparison. The embryo appears as a dark spot that becomes more massive as incubation progresses. Eventually, only a dark mass and the air cell is visible.
The hatching statge is the final 2-3 days of the incubation process. During the hatching stage, you should no longer turn the eggs. If you have an automatic turner, remove the turner and place the eggs on a cloth. Make sure to keep the cloth away from the heating element. The temperature should remain at 99.5 degrees F, and humidity should be at least 86 to 90 degrees F, wet bulb. The humidity can be increased by adding a wet sponge or wet paper towels to increase the evaporative surface in the incubator. If you are hatching chicks, they should start to pip out on the twenty-first day of incubation. If you are hatching ducklings, they should start to pip out on the twenty-eighth day of incubation.
The hatching process requires a lot of effort from the chick or duckling. The chick or duckling alternates between periods of activity and lengthy periods of rest. The entire hatching process requires nearly 24 hours. Do not be concerned about the time any individual chick or duckling requires to hatch, unless the process exceeds 24 hours. Once chicks or ducklings successfully leave the shell, they should remain in the incubator for 24 hours.
When all chicks or ducklings have hatched, lower the temperature to 95 degrees F. Any eggs that have not hatched 24 hours after the first egg hatches should be discarded humanely. Do not try to help chicks or ducklings to hatch or free them from the egg shell.
7) After Hatching
Chicks or ducklings can be moved to the brooder 24 hours after hatching. You do not need to worry about feeding the chicks or ducklings right away after they hatch. Prior to hatching the chick or duckling will absorb the yolk of the egg which will nourish them for 2 to 3 days.
8) That was fun. Now what do I do with all these chicks or ducklings?
Before starting this great project, you need to think about what you are going to do with the chicks or ducklings after they hatch. Many farms will accept live chicks and ducklings. When you are searching for fertilized eggs for this project make sure to ask if they will accept live chicks or ducklings back when you are done with this project.
To spark the children's interest in hatching eggs, it is helpful to ask questions to get the children thinking. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Who here has seen a chicken (or duck) up close before?
- What do chickens (or ducks) look like?
- How big are chickens (or ducks)?
- What color are chickens (or ducks)?
- What kinds of sounds do chickens (or ducks) make?
- Where do chickens (or ducks) live?
- Where do baby chicks (or ducklings) come from?
- How long do you think it takes a chick (or duckling) to hatch from an egg?
It's not important that the children get the correct answer. The purpose is to get the children thinking. The process of going through the incubation and hatching will provide answers to many of these questions.
Another fun way to involve parents in what their children are learning is to write out a list of these questions and interview each child independently asking them to take a guess at each question. Write the child's response to each question on the paper and send it home with the parents. Parents will be amazed at the answers their kids come up with. Here's a handout to help you out: Hatching Egg Questions
After going through the incubation and hatching process, you can revisit these questions with the class and see how much they've learned from the experience.
Control Of Error
Points Of Interest
To help children understand the importance of carefully observing and caring for eggs and chickens in the classroom. Also to introduce the children to life cycles of living things.