As most of you know Mike and I have been fine tuning our incubation methods the last few years. Many years of doing the same old things with lack luster results has been our motivation. There has to be better ways and even old dogs can learn a few new tricks. A few observations I have made this year in hatching a record amount of chicks.
1#. Never and I mean never incubate and hatch in the same machine! Sure you can do it, but it drastically reduces your hatch rate. I only make a very few select matings designed to get certain results and every chick is important. I won’t set 100 eggs to only get 50 chicks. If your hatch rate is not in the high 90% rate, you doing something wrong.
2#. Contant temperature and humidity rates will produce better hatches. For many years, I dry set eggs with no added water in the setter and ran the hatcher at 55-60% humidity. While I had decent hatch rate in the 70% range, I was always disappointed some eggs did not hatch. This year I have maintained constant humidity of 45% in the setters and 55-60% in the hatcher and am around 97% percent. It will never be a perfect 100% but I will take 97%. Some reasons I think this works is that this mimics what commercial hatcheries do. They are in the business and a higher hatch rate means more profits, even a few percentage points makes a big difference. Fine tuning that, most older Incubators are either on or off. That means when the heater is on the temp is higher and the decreases until it kicks back on. This causes some variation in temperature that can affect your hatch. The narrower that range, the better your hatch. Thus, the newer electronic controls ramp up the temperature incrementally instead of simple heating at full power and then cooling off till the switch kicks in again. While it sounds like a little thing, I believe this makes a huge difference in hatch rates. Plenty of times in past years I seen 2-3 degree temperature ranges and I had poorer hatches than I have with the tiigher digital ranges. They can say all they want about micro switchs and wafers but they are full of beans. I will take an old Zytron or new electronic temp controller anyway. The next issue is constant humidity. It is much harder to regulate constantly than temperature. I believe this is the single most important factor in successful hatching of eggs. In my situation, 45% during the 18 days of setting allowed the eggs to dry down to 1/3rd air space which is the optimum for a chick to hatch. You need to maintain that 45% constantly throughout the 18 days or your dry down will be higher or lower depending on what happens and adversely affect your hatch rate. How do I maintain a constant humidity? The old Stonehouse Humidity units worked great but were expensive and hard to operate. A water pan is only as good as the person operating it. The Brinsea had a humidity pump but I found it unreliable. In my hatchers I regulate humidity with a water pan and exhaust vents. Opening or closing the vents to get the % I want. My incubators and hatchers are in the basement and have consistent temperature and humidity in the environment. This would be near impossible to do outside. Thus why folks struggle in that situation, and hatcheries regulate the temperature and humidity of their hatching areas. I regulate the humidity in my new Rite,Farms setting incubator thru a electronic controller and a gravity fed heated water pan. The pan heats as it gets data from the controller, too low humidity, it kicks on and warms the water till it gets to the desired humidity %. If humidity goes high, an exhaust fan kicks on and expels the excess humidity. This back and forth keeps it constantly at 45% and uses a gallon of water a day. Until I got the Rite Farms unit, I struggled to maintain a constant humidity and my hatch percentages were fluctuating. I believe this contant temperature and humidity regulation is the reason for better hatching percentages this year.
#3. Own an accurate thermometer and hydrometer. All the above is useless unless you can verify the true temperature and humidity of the unit. Verify everything before you make any adjustments. Many hatches have been lost because of it.