If you've read any of my other posts about hatching chicks and ducklings, you probably know by now that I'm a hopeless hatching addict. So the fact that we're more than halfway through January and I haven't started up any of my incubators yet is a sign of unusual self-restraint.
In just a few more days though, it's going to be time to set the first batch of eggs, so I can start filling the earliest of my customers' orders. WooHoo! I can't wait to snuggle some fluffy little chicky babies!
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Before hatching season starts, I like to go through and make sure all my equipment is in good order, and that I have my egg-storage set-up all ready for holding the hatching eggs until I'm ready to put them into the incubator.
Interestingly, of all the many questions I get asked about how to hatch chicks and ducklings, this is one of the questions I find myself answering most frequently: "How should I store eggs that I want to hatch, while I collect enough to fill my incubator?" And it's a great question, because how we store hatching eggs really makes a significant impact on how successful a hatch we have.
Here are the factors to keep in mind as you're storing eggs that you intend to hatch.
How to store hatching eggs
1. Make sure eggs are clean before storage
I consistently achieve the best hatching results when I set clean, but unwashed, eggs. This means they were laid in a clean nest, and aren't at all soiled with mud, dirt, or chicken poop. So they never get washed before being put into the incubator.
That's the ideal that I consistently aim for. However - that's not always an option. I remember a VERY wet couple of weeks last spring, and no matter how hard I tried to keep my ducks' nesting area clean and dry, somehow those eggs were always quite splashed with mud, until the long rainy spell finally dissipated. Sometimes you get dirty eggs, and that's just how it is.
If the eggs you want to hatch are dirty, wash them in warm water immediately after collecting them. Dry them thoroughly. Then go ahead and put them in the boxes or trays where you'll be storing them until incubation.
2. Store at the correct temperature
Temperature is an interesting issue when it comes to storing hatching eggs. The short answer here is that you want to store eggs between 50 and 70 degrees.
Choosing a more precisely optimal temperature actually depends on how long you expect to store your eggs before beginning incubation. Based on the studies I read (see bibliography), here's chart that can help you determine your optimal storage temperature based on expected length of storage.
All this said - for most of us, as we're hatching chicks and ducklings on a relatively small scale, it's unlikely that we have a temperature-controlled place to store our eggs. So if you're like me, keeping the temperature above 50, but below 70 is probably enough. I keep my eggs on shelves in the basement, where the temperature is usually between 50 and 60 degrees - perfectly fine for a small operation like mine.
3. Maintain an optimal humidity level
Almost every source I have read points to 75 percent humidity as being optimal, if eggs are stored for less than a week. For storage longer than a week, a humidity level of 80% provides better results.
I never store my eggs for very long - 4 days is really about tops for me. So I don't worry too much if I see my humidity levels drop a bit lower than that, but if I see them dipping below 60, I do set up humidifier next to the egg shelves. This is my absolute favorite humidifier, which allows for setting a target ambient humidity level.
4. Store eggs in the correct position
This one is probably going to surprise you. It surprised me, when I really started digging into best hatchery practices, because honestly it's contrary to what almost every online "chicken expert" says.
It turns out, several studies (I've included a bibliography below the post, since there are quite a few!) have actually shown that hatchability is improved by storing eggs in the small end up position.
Based on this particular study, the difference is minor enough to be almost negligible when stored for a short time (3 days or less).But for storage periods longer than 3 days, storing eggs in the small end up position leads to significantly improved hatch rates.
Hatch rates also improve when eggs get turned during storage. This study determined that turning the eggs 90 degrees, "four times daily during pre-incubation storage was adequate to improve hatchability of fertile eggs in most cases, irrespective of flock age."
You can accomplish this by storing hatching eggs in an automatic turning tray like this one, and leaving it plugged in during storage. What I do is much more low tech. I store eggs (small end up!) in egg cartons tipped on their side, like in the photo with the thermometer/hygrometer. Several times a day, I simply turn the carton - first to the flat, small-end-up position, then onto it's other side, still with the small end mostly up.
That's it! Keeping hatching eggs stored in premium conditions
Becker, W.A., Spencer, J.V., Hawkes, B.W. 1969. Angle of turning chicken eggs during storage.Poultry Science, 48: 1784.