The Big Egg Hatching Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Hatch Chicken Eggs in an Incubator

One of the most convenient aspects of chickens – both as farm animals and as pets – is how easy it is to get more! As long as you have a handful of hens and a competent rooster, they can multiply faster than rabbits. Plus, you can leave them to raise their own young if you so choose, and with a little protection from predators, they’ll virtually sustain themselves.

While a hen has all the instincts she needs to successfully hatch a clutch of eggs, many of us choose to use an incubator instead. An incubator gives us a little more control over the hatching process, and most importantly, it’s fun! In this egg hatching guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to start hatching your own eggs, how to use your incubator, how to maximize your hatch rates, and more.

Before we start, a disclaimer: we’ve listed some prices in this guide, and while they’re accurate at the time of writing, they often fluctuate over time. Please note that the prices we’ve listed here are meant to be taken as estimates only, and may not be exact.


Step 1: Selecting Your Incubator (And Other Supplies)

Incubator technology has come a long way over the last few decades. Gone are the days of one or two manufacturers dominating the industry. Now, you can buy an off-brand incubator from virtually any online marketplace, and it’ll do a decent enough job.

That being said, in our opinion, some brands still do better than others. A knock-off incubator from Amazon might get you a few good hatches, but it may not stand the test of time. However, if you only plan to hatch a few clutches of eggs, that trade-off might be worth the low price.

If you like hatching and plan to do it often, we have a few recommendations for you to try. In the sections below, we’ll explore four different incubator brands, ranging from large and expensive to small and cheap. Within that range, there’s a perfect solution for virtually every hatcher.

That doesn’t mean you can’t go with another brand, though. By all means, do some shopping and ask your chicken-hatching friends for advice. You might find another great option that we haven’t listed here!

Little Giant (Foam Incubator)


Little Giant incubators are affordable foam boxes that your local farm store probably keeps on the shelves. They’re the classic “starter incubator” – the one that, for many years, you’d expect to see in classrooms and backyards. While there are more options to choose from today, they’re still an excellent option.

Little Giant incubators start out at a great price (usually around $50-$70), and they work with tons of optional accessories, such as auto-turners, air fans, humidity attachments, and more. Plus, the simplicity of these foam ‘bators means that, if you’re handy and willing to tinker, you can swap out parts as they break instead of buying a whole new unit – or just jerry rig them to do what you need.

For these reasons, we recommend foam incubators like the Little Giant for first-timers. We use our Little Giant foam incubator as a hatcher. A hatcher is an incubator that you use exclusively during the last three “lockdown” days of the incubation process. This allows us to keep our other incubator clean and ready to use at a moment’s notice, since only the hatcher really ever gets dirty.

Foam incubators are extremely easy to disassemble and clean, which is part of what makes them so useful. The main downside of the Little Giant, though, is that it can be inconsistent. Any incubator can go through temperature and humidity fluctuations, but foam incubators are especially vulnerable.

Still air incubators also tend to have hot and cold spots inside the incubator itself (this is usually solved with a forced air attachment, but not all Little Giants come with one out of the box). Keep your foam incubator in a room with consistent temperature and humidity levels to help minimize this as much as possible. Some chicken owners wrap their foam incubators in blankets or towels to help stabilize temperatures, especially in drafty rooms or during cold weather.

Fortunately, foam incubators are extremely easy to customize. Since they’re made of foam, you can pierce or cut away pieces of the foam to add attachments. We put an inexpensive miniature desk fan in ours instead of buying the official forced air attachment, and it keeps temperatures stable throughout the incubator.



Brinsea is a high-end incubator brand that sells options for newbie and experienced hatchers alike. Our main incubator here at the Farm is a Brinsea that we bought more than a decade ago, and it’s still our favorite!

Most of Brinsea’s incubators come in an “Eco” version, an inexpensive option with manual egg-turning and humidity adjustments; an “Advance” version with automatic turning, but manual humidity control; and an “Ex” version with auto-turning and programmable humidity control.

Brinsea’s Mini incubators are geared towards the backyard hatcher, and they hold from 7-10 eggs. They come in several different sizes, plus manual and automatic versions. The Mini Eco usually costs ~$120, the Mini Advance costs ~$250, and the Mini Ex costs ~$350.

The next step up, Brinsea’s Maxi series, offers perks similar to the Mini series but in larger sizes. The Maxi series holds 24-30 eggs, so it offers an excellent compromise between quantity and quality for the repeat hatcher. The Brinsea Maxi Eco usually costs ~$190, the Maxi Advance costs ~$210, and the Maxi Ex costs ~$340.

If the Maxis are too small for your hatching needs, the next upgrade is the Ovation series. The Ovation comes in two sizes – 28 eggs and 56 eggs – and all of them come standard with automatic egg turners and temperature alarms. They’ve got the most bells and whistles for your buck, compared to the Maxis and Minis.

Here’s a rough price list for the Ovation incubator line:

Finally, if you hatch a lot of eggs or plan to hatch frequently, you might consider upgrading to Brinsea’s Ova-Easy cabinet incubators. The Ova-Easy cabinets come in multiple sizes, and the smallest model starts at ~$1,000. The largest costs ~$2,700. The Ova-Easy line also includes a dedicated hatcher, which costs ~$1,750.

The prices for Brinsea incubators might seem high – and they are – but keep in mind that these are some of the best incubators on the market, quality-wise. Our Brinsea is more than ten years old and still works flawlessly, and we haven’t treated it carefully, either. Plus, Brinsea’s wide lineup of sizes, accessories, and feature options means you can pin down exactly what you need – and you can expect it to last for a lifetime, too.



GQF is a longstanding brand that many members of the poultry world trust. GQF’s cabinet-style Sportsman incubators are some of the best large-capacity incubators you can buy, and for a (comparatively) affordable price. For just over $1,000, you get unmatched hatching quantity and quality. Yes, that’s a lot to pay for an incubator, but it’s the industry standard for large-capacity hatching. Basically, GQF gives you the most eggs per dollar spent – that’s perfect if you plan to hatch a lot of eggs.

That being said, most people don’t need a full-sized cabinet incubator. If you don’t need one, GQF also sells the Hova-Bator, a foam incubator very similar to the Little Giant (but at a slightly higher price point). Between those options, anyone can find something that works for their operation, whether that’s just one backyard hatch or a large clutch every month.

GQF also sells a cabinet-style hatcher, just like Brinsea, but we like to use foam incubators as hatchers here at the farm (it’s cheaper and they’re very easy to clean).

Nurture Right 360


We’ve never used or owned the Nurture Right 360 here at the Farm. However, over the last decade or so, it’s become the most popular beginner incubator, so we felt we had to include it here. The Nurture Right 360 can hold 22 eggs, which is plenty, and it’s a step up in material quality from foam incubators. It’s a little more expensive at around $160-$200, but it comes complete with all of the accessories you’ll need, including auto-turning and built-in humidity control.

The Nurture Right 360 comes from MannaPro/Harris Farms, another long-standing and trustworthy livestock brand. Customers say that their Nurture Right incubators tend to be pretty hands-off and easy to use, but they can sometimes go on the fritz. Since we’ve never used one on the Farm, we can’t offer any thoughts on reliability and usability, but their overall popularity speaks for itself.

Do you have a favorite incubator that you think we should add to this section? If so, send us an email and let us know!

Other Necessary Supplies

While an incubator is all you truly need to hatch chicks, it’s important to be ready for when they hatch, too. Soon after your chicks emerge, they’ll need a safe place to live, plenty of feed, and fresh water, at minimum.

First, your chicks need a brooder – an enclosed space where they can stay warm and safe from harm. You can make your brooder out of virtually anything, as long as the final result is secure. We’ve seen pack-N-plays, glass aquariums, dog crates, plastic totes, and much more used as brooders. We like to use old baby cribs here on the farm – all you need to do is zip-tie a tarp to the inside of the crib, and you have a perfect brooder ready to go. When your chicks are fully grown, just remove and throw away the tarp or hose it off and use it again.

No matter what you make it out of, there’s two things that your brooder absolutely needs: a lid for when your chicks grow large enough to fly, and a safe heat source. We’ll talk about heat source more at this at the end of the guide, in the care section. As long as you fulfill those things, your brooder will work!

In addition to your brooder, you’ll need chick starter feed, a chick waterer, and a chick feeder. Chick waterers are specially designed to provide your babies with water while minimizing the chances of them drowning. Chick feeders make it easy for your young flock to find their lunch! We like the ones with little legs – they help prevent your chicks from getting too much shavings in them – but there are many sizes and stiles out there that work well.

Step 2: Sourcing Your Eggs

It’s easier to find hatching eggs today than it ever has been before. Depending on where you live, it might be as easy as asking your neighbor for a carton or visiting a roadside egg stand. Even if you don’t have any local options, there’s always the internet!

Our favorite place to look for fun eggs is eBay. Many people sell their fertile eggs online, making it possible to acquire basically any breed under the sun. While it’s more expensive to buy shipped eggs than it is to buy local, eBay eggs tend to be less expensive than buying from a hatchery, so they’re a good middle ground.

With that being said, buying fertile eggs from a hatchery can still be a good idea – you’ll just end up paying a little more. The trade-off is that you get peace of mind and quality assurance in exchange for that extra cost.

You can also contact a breeder directly if there’s a special chicken breed or variety that you want. You can contact breeders through Facebook, through breed websites, or directly at a chicken show. However, some breeders don’t sell fertile eggs – some only sell adult and juvenile birds.

Here’s our opinion on sourcing eggs: buying local is the cheapest and easiest, but your options are usually pretty limited. Buying on eBay is also very easy and you have more options, but the shipping process, which can damage the eggs, sometimes throws a wrench into things, so you should expect fewer eggs to hatch. Networking with a breeder and having them ship you eggs is the most complicated option, but it’s the best way to get high-quality chicks, especially if you’d like to show them eventually.


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Step 3: The Hatching Process

You’ve done your research, you’ve purchased your eggs – now what? The hatching process isn’t overly complicated once you know the steps, but it can feel like a lot to a beginner. Fortunately, once you figure things out, hatching chicken eggs becomes second-nature.

Chicken eggs take 28-31 days to hatch, with larger breeds taking longer and vice versa. Chicken eggs need to turn every day up until the last three days of hatching. Most people refer to those last three days as “lockdown” since you should not move or touch your eggs at all during that time. Don’t even open your incubator!

If you’d like to make the hatching process easier, you can always let an adult hen hatch your eggs for you! We call this the “broody hen” method, and while it’s not the focus of this post, we’ll explain a little about it below.

Hatching with a Broody Hen

A broody hen wants to hatch eggs, so if you have some to give her, she’ll happily handle the entire process for you!

Letting your broody hen hatch your eggs can be as easy as sliding them under her in the nest box. However, we recommend separating your broody hen(s) into a smaller coop of her own if you can. Your new mama will protect her baby chicks from your other birds, but we’ve found that giving her her own space means less stress and less accidents for the whole flock.

And that’s it! Make sure your broody mama has her own space, some food and water, and a safe place to take care of the eggs you’ve given her. Make sure to check on her regularly to make sure she stays broody. It’s a good idea to candle the eggs partway through the incubation process, too, so you can remove any infertile or dud eggs. (More on candling down below.)

Hatching with an Incubator

Hatching eggs via incubator requires a little more work than using a broody hen, but it’s still quite easy. Today’s technology allows a good incubator do automate virtually the entire process for you. Plus, the process is incredibly rewarding!

The first thing to do is preheat your incubator. Get it working at least 48 hours before your eggs are set to arrive – the more time you have, the better. This gives you several days to dial in the temperature and humidity in your incubator before the real thing starts.

Additionally, make sure you pick up a separate thermometer/hygrometer to place in your incubator, even if the incubator has one built-in. You can get them inexpensively on Amazon. Incubators can sometimes show incorrect readings, so having more than one thermometer to keep an eye on your levels is essential. Your incubator should always be set to roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity should be around 50-60%.

Here at Little Onion Farm, we use a method called dry hatching. As the name suggests, dry hatching involves not adding any water to the incubator until the last few days of incubation. Some people find success with the dry hatching method, while others do not. We think it works well for us because our incubators stay in a room with high humidity, so extra water in the incubator isn’t really necessary.

The most important thing is making sure your incubator keeps a relative humidity level around 50-60%. Too much humidity and your chicks can drown in the egg; too little humidity, and the air cell grows too large, making it tough for them to hatch. You can adjust the humidity by adding more or less water to your incubator.

It’s not always easy to figure out exactly how much water to add when you first start hatching your own chicks. As such, if you’re a true beginner and want your first time to go flawlessly, you should consider purchasing an incubator that can handle that part for you. However, if you’re willing to experiment a bit and do some trial and error testing, we promise that you’ll eventually figure out what method works best for you, regardless of the incubator you use.

A strategy that some people use when they can’t get their humidity levels correct is to add a sponge or paper towel soaked in water to the incubator. An absorbent medium can make it so the water gets released slowly instead of all at once. This might be helpful if you plan to go away for a few days, or if you can’t find another way to stabilize the humidity.

If you don’t have an egg turner in your incubator, your eggs need to be hand-rotated several times per day. We like to rotate our eggs 2-3 times each day, but some people like to rotate more often. If your incubator has an automatic turner, it’ll handle that part for you.

If you’re hatching shipped eggs, incubate them large side up in an egg carton (or in your auto-turner, if you have one) instead of laying them on their sides. This helps preserve the air sac if it gets dislodged during shipping, and can dramatically increase your live hatch rates for shipped eggs. You can still turn the eggs by pitching the large side to the left or right. This may be difficult to do in some incubators, like the NurtureRight 360 and the Brinsea Mini/Maxi series, which are designed to lay eggs on their sides, but most other incubators (the Little Giant and Brinsea Ovation series, for example) allow you to set your eggs this way.

Continue to rotate your eggs each day until around day 27 of incubation. During the last three days (days 28-30), your eggs should not be turned! Make sure to top off any water reservoirs in your incubator before lockdown begins, as your chicks need the extra humidity to help the hatching process. If your incubator has an automatic turner, you may need to remove it or turn it off at this point. Then, you wait!

In summary:

Egg Candling

Egg candling is an important part of the egg hatching process, though it takes some time to figure out what to look for. If you have a strong flashlight, you can use it to shine light through the chicken egg and see what’s inside. This is called “candling.” You can also purchase an egg candler, which is specifically designed for this task, and can make it easier if you don’t have a strong enough flashlight.

Candling helps you tell fertile eggs from infertile eggs, live embryos from deceased embryos, and even helps you identify the internal state of shipped eggs. An experienced eye can see development in a chicken egg as early as day 2 or 3 of incubation. We recommend that you wait until at least day 7, but preferably later, to remove any duds, especially if your hatching eggs have thick or dark shells. When in doubt about the viability of an egg, leave it be and give it a chance to develop and hatch. (Trust us – we’ve been there! It’s better to wait and be pleasantly surprised than take a chance and accidentally throw out viable eggs because they “looked” bad.)

It’s important to remove any infertile eggs or expired embroys throughout the hatching process. If you don’t, these eggs can go rancid. A rancid egg, given enough time left on its own, can end up exploding and contaminating your other eggs – something you definitely don’t want! We recommend checking and removing any duds halfway through the hatching process, but it’s a good idea to check again before lockdown begins as well.

Take a look at this diagram from Incubator Warehouse for an idea of what you’ll see in the egg at each stage of incubation. This post from Backyard Poultry also goes in-depth about the anatomy of a developing egg, if you’d like to learn more about how your chicks are growing!

This goes without saying, but you should resist the urge to candle your eggs after lockdown begins. If most of your chicks have hatched and no progress has been made, you can candle any remaining eggs to see if they have living chicks inside. However, do so with caution.

Step 4: Hatch Day

You’ve patiently waited for four weeks, and it’s finally hatch day! As you wait and watch for the first pips to happen, what can you do to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible?

First, do not open your incubator until all of your chicks hatch. Your chicks could emerge anytime during those last three days of incubation, and sometimes even later. It’ll be so, so tempting to pull out the first chick after it hatches, but resist the urge to do so! Not only does a freshly-hatched baby need time in the warmth of the incubator to gain its strength, but opening the incubator early can compromise the rest of your unhatched eggs, too. If you let the humidity in the incubator escape before all the chicks hatch, the remaining babies could become shrink wrapped. Shrink wrapping can be deadly, as it prevents the unhatched chicks from emerging properly.

Baby chicks have enough nutrients inside them to live without food or water for roughly three days – this is why we can send live baby chicks through the mail! As such, the babies that hatch first can safely stay in the incubator until all of their siblings emerge from their eggs. If, for some reason, your eggs haven’t finished hatching by the time three days have passed, you can carefully remove the hatched chicks from the incubator, but make sure you minimize the amount of time the incubator spends open, just in case you have any late hatchers.

After you’ve removed any hatched chicks, check your remaining eggs for pips and candle them. While you will often be able to see movement inside the eggs that contain living chicks, this is not always true. The chicks often take time to rest during the hatching process – it takes a lot of energy – so don’t be alarmed if you don’t see any movement. You may be able to hear any living babies peeping inside their shells as well.

To Assist or Not to Assist

A contentious topic in the chick hatching community is the dilemma of assisting or not assisting baby chicks that don’t (or can’t) hatch on their own. Assisting is a very delicate process, and it’s not something you should attempt lightly as a beginner or an experienced hatcher.

Some chicken owners choose not to assist their chicks on principle. In theory, it makes sense that allowing only strong chicks who hatch on their own to survive means the genetics and vigor of your birds will be higher. However, not everyone subscribes to this view, since many factors can lead to your chicks being unable to hatch – and not all of them come down to genetics.

At Little Onion Farm, we do assist chicks who can’t hatch on their own. However, we recommend doing plenty of research online before you attempt to do so yourself. If you attempt to hatch a chick before it’s ready, it can unfortunately lead to damage or death of the chick. It’s a very delicate process, and you need to be absolutely certain that the chick is ready to emerge before you intervene.

We feel that hatching intervention and assistance is too big and too important a topic to cover within this post, so we’ll likely devote an entirely new post to the topic in the future. Stay tuned!

Step 5: Caring for Your Chicks

The most difficult part of the egg hatching process is over – now what?

You should have been using those 30 days of incubation time to get your brooder ready. A brooder is one step up from an incubator – it’s a safe place for the young chicks to live and thrive, and it has supplemental heat to keep the younglings healthy. Basically, a brooder should provide all the same benefits that a broody hen does once she hatches her chicks.

Once all your baby chicks hatch, move them directly from the incubator to the prepared brooder. We mentioned before that a fresh clutch of baby chicks needs a place they can’t fly out of, plus food, water, bedding, and heat. If you plan to feed your chicks treats other than their normal feed, you should also give them access to grit, which aids in their digestion process. Just put it in a small dish in their brooder, and they will use it as needed.

We recommend giving your chicks a large enough container that they can freely move to and from your heat source. If one end of their enclosure is warm and one end is cool, they can thermoregulate without you having to worry about it. This is especially important as they get older, since their temperature requirements change over time.

As far as heat sources: we strongly recommend avoiding heat lamps. Heat lamps with traditional red or white heat bulbs pose a strong fire hazard. Countless chicken owners have lost their flocks, broods, barns, and even homes to heat lamp fires. We’ve even had a scare with a fallen heat lamp here on the farm. Take it from us – heat lamps are not worth it.

That being said, special chick heaters, like this model from Brinsea, can be a lot more expensive than a heat lamp. Instead, we recommend purchasing a ceramic heat emitter bulb for your heat lamp. This is a super cheap alternative to chick heaters, and it’s much, much safer. Ceramic heat emitters have been around for years, and have traditionally been used to heat reptile enclosures. As you might expect, they work just as well to warm your baby chicks!

The reason why we like ceramic heat emitter bulbs so much is because they fit right into your existing heat lamp. So even if you used to use a red or white heat bulb for your flock, transitioning is super easy – just unscrew the old one and add the new ceramic bulb, and continue using the heat lamp as you did before.

Do note that ceramic heat emitter bulbs produce less heat than red and white heat bulbs (hence why they’re so much safer). As a result, you may have to move the lamp closer to your chicks depending on how your brooder is set up.

Your feeder and waterer should be chick-proofed, too. We highly recommend elevating them off the ground slightly, as your chicks will knock shavings or pellets into their feed and water at every available opportunity! Some chick feeders can be hung above the ground, while others come with little stands (we showed some of these before) that raise them up. You can also just prop yours on top of a rock or brick to keep it from getting dirty, as long as your chicks can still access it.

And that’s all you need! As long as your chicks are fed, watered, and kept warm, they’ll be well on their way to growing into strong, healthy, productive chickens.

Bonus: Taming Your Chickens

What’s the secret to making sure your chickens grow up to be friendly, happy birds? In our experience, there’s no sure guarantee that your chicks will turn out friendly and cuddly, even if you socialize them. Chickens are born with their own unique personalities, just like dogs and cats, so some take quickly to pets and cuddles while others will not.

All that being said, you can maximize your chances of friendly chickens by holding them and interacting with them consistently when they’re young. Approach them calmly, and let them learn that you (and your hands) are nothing to fear. Baby chicks will be scared of you at first – you’re a giant to them, after all! – but if you show you that you’re a gentle giant, they’ll warm up to you over time.

We’ve had the best success in taming chicks here on the Farm by handling them daily as young chicks. This is their most impressionable time. While you can tame adult chickens as well, the process is slow and generally doesn’t “stick” the way it does with chicks.

Start by interacting with each of your chicks every day, even multiple times per day if you’d like. Make sure each chick has a chance to be held or gently pet. Don’t chase after them and back them into a corner if they’re scared, but be slow purposeful in your introductions, too. Teach your chickens that your hands aren’t scary, and you’ll find that they’ll be much more amenable to pets, cuddles, and being picked up as they grow older.

Final Thoughts

What did you think of our chick-hatching guide? Now that you know all the important aspects of hatching eggs at home, are you ready to jump in and get started? Hatching your own eggs is an important rite of passage for any chicken keeper, and it’s a fantastic activity for children to participate in, too. We hope you enjoy watching this incredible miracle of developing life, and if you have any lingering questions, you can always send them to us via email.

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