Many people have asked me about how I hatch eggs and if I have any tips to improve hatches. Most hatches have so many variables working for them or against them. Health of the parent stock, age of the hatching egg, cleanliness of the incubator, heat and humidity staying balanced throughout the hatch. So many factors! But the one thing that really improved my hatch rates was hatching in egg cartons. I had read about it somewhere online one day after I had a meager hatch and was wondering why I had so many developed chicks that just did not hatch? I had noticed the chicks in the incubator were kicking the unhatched eggs around and wondered if that could be the problem? They were spinning around in there like a top. It made me dizzy just looking at them!
So, after reading about egg carton hatching, I decided to give it a try. I figured it would be one more learning curve. On day 21 of the hatch, the first thing I noticed about the eggs is that it was really easy to see any pips that had started. You could monitor them much easier because the eggs weren't moving around. I also noticed that it took less time for the chick to zip. I worried about how they would get out of of the upright egg, but with a few good pushes, they managed to get out just fine. After all was said and done, my hatch rate had improved greatly. I went from getting maybe 7-8 eggs out of a dozen to at least 10 or no casualties at all.
Here's my thoughts as to why I think this method of hatching works so well. Bear in mind, there is no scientific backing to it, just my own observations and ideas.
If you think about how an egg sits under the mother hen when it is hatched naturally, it never moves or rolls around while it's hatching. I've noticed this when putting my hand under a hen as she was hatching out her chicks. Any movement under her is quickly quelled by her squeezing together her thighs and legs. The egg does not get knocked about by it's siblings, it's held in place. I'm sure the weight and down of the mother hen help with this as well. The little hatchlings hop around the egg and over it, but they do not move it. In the incubator, it's like watching a European soccer match! The poor little eggs are punted everywhere. This leads me to believe that the chicks inside the egg get disoriented and have a harder time figuring out how to zip. Their zip was upward a minute ago and now it's facing down. Wait! Now it's sideways!
My next observation was that during the first 18 days, eggs are generally pointed fat end up in an egg turner. The eggs therefore developed with the air cell upwards and that's how they've know it since they began. Then, their last days in the shell are now on their side. Again, I'm sure this would be disorienting. When they are standing in the egg carton, they seem to pip and zip much faster than when I've seen them hatch on their side. Saying all this, it doesn't mean that hatching eggs on their side leads to their impending doom. For some, it works out just fine. But for myself, I got better hatches out of the deal and it's now my "go to" hatching method. Plus, clean up is a breeze! Of course you still have to sanitize the incubator afterwards, but all the little pieces of egg shell stay in the carton and get thrown out with the lot in a tidy little package.
I'll post some photo's and instructions of how to set up egg carton hatching. It's very simple and worth a shot.
All you need is some scissors and and egg carton. If you plan on hatching a lot, you can use a styrofoam carton and just wash it after each use and reuse it.
Next, just cut off the top and lip.
After the top and lip are off, trim down the sides, remove the center pillars and poke holes in the bottom of each compartment. You are trying to create more areas for airflow and lessen the chance of the chick hitting any parts of the cardboard while zipping.
Set your eggs upright, fat end up. The air cell (fat end) should always be facing up. This is where the chick is going to internally pip and start breathing air. If the air cell is downward, you run the risk of the chick dying.
After going in to "lockdown" on day 18, your eggs will countinue to develop until day 21. Hatching day! In this photo, you can see how the chick zips at the top of the egg. It's like watching a hard boiled egg top come off.
Finally, the chick manages to make his way around the shell and pop out like a little Jack in the box. I find it much easier to watch the chicks hatch with the egg carton method. It's also much easier to see if anything is going wrong with any of the hatchlings.
And there you have it! The egg carton hatching method. Easy peasy and fun to watch. If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it went. I'm alway curious to hear other peoples experiences, tips and tricks!