Perhaps you’re thinking of starting your own brood of backyard chickens to provide your family with fresh eggs, or maybe you’ve just always wondered how long it takes for a chicken egg to hatch and what the process involves. Either way, let’s get you the answer you came here for!
So, how long does it take for chicken eggs to hatch? It generally takes around 21 days for fertilized eggs to hatch if they are incubated properly. Factors that can impact hatching time include incubation temperature, humidity, ventilation and egg turning.
Hens, as it turns out, are not always perfect mothers; while some may look after their eggs to the point of hatching, many will be neglectful and can’t handle the responsibility of motherhood.
For this reason, many chicken keepers will opt to use an incubator and care for the eggs themselves.
This limits the number of things that can go wrong with a natural incubation process, resulting in more successful hatchings.
Not to mention, it’s very rewarding when you can say that you’ve played a part in one of life’s miracles and brought new chicks into the world!
If you’re worried that your chicks are taking longer than expected to hatch this article will explain the possible reasons why and how you can help.
So, be sure to keep on reading to get all the information you need on this important, yet often misunderstood, subject!
Can It Take Longer Than 21 Days For A Chick To Hatch?
While most chicks will usually hatch at around 21 days, it’s important to know that this is just an average and there are many factors that play a role in incubation to hatching time. It can take longer.
As a rule, chicks can take as long as up to 26 days to hatch.
If any eggs are taking longer than this then it is likely that they are non-starters and should be removed from the incubator; these eggs may not have been fertilized or the embryo may have died at an earlier stage of development.
Eggs naturally incubated under a broody hen should take around 21 days to hatch too if the hen is keeping the conditions optimal for the egg.
As mentioned above, this method is less reliable and may result in fewer eggs hatching than if you were to use a mechanical incubating chamber.
The most important factor in determining the incubation time of an egg is the temperature within the incubation chamber.
The optimal temperature is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but you should be aiming to keep the temperature between 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep the temperature as constant as possible as prolonged periods above or below this range will reduce the hatching success.
Temperatures below 99 degrees Fahrenheit will result in slowed development of the chicks and may unnecessarily prolong the hatching time or even stop development all together.
If this is the case, you might find that your eggs hatch a few days later than 21 days.
Chicks that hatch later will often not be as strong or healthy. If any eggs have not hatched after 26 days, then they should be removed from the incubator and discarded as there is a high probability that they are not viable at this stage.
Temperatures above 102 degrees Fahrenheit will reduce the number of successful hatches and may result in crippled or deformed chicks.
As you can see it is crucial to ensure that the ambient temperature within your incubator remains constant.
It’s also important to note that the temperature may not be the same in different areas of the incubator, using a fan will ensure that heat is evenly distributed throughout.
Humidity is another factor that plays an important role on whether your eggs will hatch on time.
The relative humidity should be kept at 50-55% for days 1-17.
On day 18 raise the humidity to 70% until your eggs hatch, this ensures chicks don’t become stuck to the inside of the shell when hatching.
Not doing this can delay the time it takes for your hens’ eggs to hatch.
You will also need to turn the eggs at least 3 times per day to prevent the chick from becoming stuck to the inside of the shell.
Automatic incubators may turn the eggs every hour. Not turning can result in fatal damage to the chick and therefore prevent hatching from occurring altogether.
Do All Chicken Eggs Hatch At The Same Time?
Not all chicken eggs will necessarily hatch at the same time or on the same day. Various factors will influence hatch times from the age of an egg, the genetic makeup of the egg (and mother), and fluctuations in the incubation temperature.
The quality of your incubator may have a large part to do with this.
Incubators with a fan are better at ensuring that all areas of the incubator are kept at the same constant temperature.
Cheaper incubators may have large fluctuations between different parts of the incubation chamber and so eggs that are in a prime spot may hatch sooner than those that are not being kept in the ideal conditions.
It’s not the end of the world if all your eggs aren’t hatching at the same time so long as each chick eventually comes out healthy.
A brooding hen will often wait until she has laid multiple eggs before starting the incubation process.
This helps to synchronize all the eggs so that they will roughly hatch at the same time.
What Happens If Eggs Don’t Hatch After 21 Days?
As we have mentioned, it will sometimes take a little while longer for some eggs to hatch than the average 21 days.
Don’t give up on your eggs until about 25-26 days have passed since first starting the incubation process, to allow for late hatchers.
However, after this point, the viability of any eggs is greatly reduced.
There can be many reasons why an egg doesn’t hatch in the time you’d expect it to; the egg may not have been fertilized or the embryo may have died at some point during the incubation process.
If you suspect this to be the case, then discard any eggs that have not hatched by 26 days post-incubation.
Candling is a technique that can take the guesswork out of whether your eggs are fertilized and viable in the early stages of incubation.
After all, it’s far from ideal to be incubating non-viable eggs only to find that by day 21 there is no signs of hatching.
Candling, simply put, is the art of shining a bright light through the egg to check that certain vital components are developing as they should be.
By day 3-5 of incubation, you should see spider-like veins spreading within the egg when a light is shone through it – this confirms that the egg is fertile and viable.
You can keep checking that these blood vessels are continuing to develop up until day 18, at this point the egg should not allow much light through it as the chick is almost ready to hatch.
Don’t candle the egg past this point as you can interfere with the hatching process. This is a great way to make sure that your chicks are developing properly throughout the entire process.
If at any point you see a lack of blood vessels or a blood ring forming, then the egg is likely non-viable and should be discarded.
Should I Help My Baby Chicks Hatch?
Even though it may be very tempting to help your baby chicks hatch out of their shells, you should avoid interfering with the hatching process as doing so can cause fatal damage to the chick.
It is completely normal for the entire hatching process to take up to 24 hours but if the conditions within the incubator are right, hatching will often occur soon before this.
Humidity plays an important role in ensuring hatching occurs effectively; a moist environment will help prevent the chick from becoming stuck to the inside of the shell.
Another reason why a chick may not be hatching successfully is if they are unhealthy or deformed.
If more than 24 hours have passed since the chick started trying to hatch you can very carefully try to pry open the shell, but this should only be done as a last resort.
Interfering with the hatching process can very easily cause irreversible damage to the chick and even kill them.
Opening the incubator to help your chicks can also lower the humidity, further reducing the chances of other chicks hatching successfully.
Less is more when it comes to the hatching process.
The successful development and hatching of chicks are the result of years of evolution.
So long as the incubator conditions are optimal it’s best to sit back and watch as nature takes its course.
With the proper tools and knowledge, you’ll be on your way to a brood of healthy baby chicks in no time!
Well, between 21-26 days to be more precise!