How to hatch eggs in incubator

In the Smart Harvest edition of November 5 last year, I covered the consequences of having a faulty incubator and the losses associated with poor quality incubator machinery.

In this edition we will address an issue raised by many poultry farmers including Mary Nekesa of Kitale, who wants to know how to produce and select quality eggs for incubation. Mary, just like many farmers, has been disappointed by getting poor quality chicks as well as poor hatchability.

Hatchability refers to the percentage number of chicks that hatch in relation to the total number of eggs incubated.

Not all eggs are fit for incubation and therefore good selection criteria must be employed to ensure high hatchability and quality chicks are obtained. For these two requirements to be met, we have to bring into the picture the hens and cocks involved in producing the fertilised eggs. The art of producing quality fertilised eggs involves several steps.

Egg selection

Most commercial hatcheries have breeder farms where the parent stock - birds producing eggs for hatching are reared. In these farms, several factors are considered including ratio of cocks to hens, feed diet, bio-security and flock age among others.

The ratio of cocks to hens is an important aspect since it determines the number of eggs that are fertile. The ideal ratio is 1 cock to 10 hens. Small variation in the number of hens for instance 8 to 12 per cock has also been observed to give good fertility results. When the number of cocks is too high, they tend to be aggressive and due to the issue of dominance they fight a lot. The cocks become exhausted when the number is too low and therefore mating does not occur as expected. This leads to production of a high number of unfertilised eggs.

Breeders diet

A special diet known as breeders’ diet is fed to the birds. It is formulated with important vitamins and minerals that ensure production of quality chicks. The birds used as parent stock should be vaccinated against the infectious diseases that are normally transmitted from hens to chicks. This guarantees production of disease-free chicks. The age of the parent flock is equally important. The recommended age for birds producing hatching eggs is from 24-70 weeks (6-17 months). Purchasing of hatching eggs should be done from reliable sources/farms that follow the requirements above. If you produce your own hatching eggs ensure that you provide the required conditions.

Eggs that end up in the incubator must be selected for certain traits. Incubate only the ‘normal looking eggs’ – this is in regard to size, shape and colour. Misshapen eggs and all other funny looking eggs should not be used. Eggs retain high fertility for about seven-10 days after lay. It is thus advisable to incubate eggs that have not been stored for longer than seven days.

Note: Eggs should be stored in a cool and dry place. Storing eggs in a warm place initiates development of the embryo. Other parameters that are paramount in the incubation phase include turning of eggs as well as adequate ventilation and proper sanitation.

The writer is a vet surgeon and runs Nature Kuku, a farm in Naivasha that produces kuku kienyeji breed and trains small holder farmers. [email protected]