Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Lesson 706 – Getting Ready for the Spring Hatch Using Incubators

By Wendythomas @wendyenthomas

2011-07-05 15.13.48

Not only do you know that Spring is coming when it’s President’s Day, but also because you start hearing a lot of talk about incubators.

Spring is the time for schools and home schoolers to do that little lesson on birth and development from an egg to a chick. It’s a tremendous experience, one we’ve done ourselves and if you have the means to follow eggs from fertilization to hatch, do it. Just be sure to take the care that is necessary.

A few lessons we learned about classroom incubators:

  • Antibacterial soap is a must. When you start incubating eggs, the natural bloom that had “sealed” the egg from outside bacteria wears off. The egg is now permeable which means that bacteria from your hands (and if you have hands, you have bacteria on them) can be transferred to the shell and introduced to the developing chick.

I know, I know, there are a lot of bacteria in a coop. How on earth do the chicks out there survive? In the coop there is what is called local bacteria. Those are the germs that are considered “normal flora” and to which chickens have built up a form of resistance. Once in a while there can be an overload of a bacteria which leads to illness (case in point, the salmonella fiasco of a few years ago) but for the most part, the coop is a lovely brew of very familiar bacteria. We, however,  tend to carry a few different types of bacteria, the most potent being the staphs and streps.

The short of it is that you *must* wash your hands well, before you even think of handling the eggs.

  • Speaking of permeability, that’s why it’s so important to keep the eggs at a constant humidity. If the humidity drops, water will pass from the egg into the atmosphere drying it out. The incubator we used had a good heavy seal and plastic walls which allowed the humidity to stay put. There was also a scale which we checked faithfully, adding water to bring up the humidity when it was low.

A lot of schools try to save money by buying those cheap Styrofoam incubators. Due to the importance of the humidity not escaping these are usually not a good bet. Styrofoam is filled with air and you can’t really get a good seal on it. I know of a classroom that used a Styrofoam incubator and didn’t get one live chick out of the experience.

Perhaps others have had better experiences, if so, please let us know.

  • While we’re talking about water, when you are incubating eggs, use distilled water. Many towns add chemicals to the local water mix which can then be introduced to the eggs. Even if you have well water like we do, over time, the minerals will deposit on the incubator junking the workings up. It makes life so much easier for all if you just go ahead and use distilled.

I’ve been asked by readers for the names of good classroom incubators. I’ve only used one and although we were very successful with our hatch, I’d appreciate the names of any incubators you might like to recommend.


I write about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact me at [email protected]

Also, join me on Facebook to find out more about the flock (children and chickens) and see some pretty funny chicken jokes, photos of tiny houses, and even  a recipe or two.

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