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Friday, January 23, 2015

Egg Hatching 101: Day 2 & Power Outage Preparedness

We are on Day 2 of our Hatching 101 series and today's post is going to include being prepared for a power outage. Why? Because your incubator runs on electricity, and if you lose that electricity during your incubation period, you better have a backup plan if you want a fighting chance of hatching anything in the end. Here in Eastern NC we typically deal with several hurricanes/tropical storms a year because we tend to be a magnet for them, so before we get into today's egg development, we're going to touch on things you can do in case of a power outage with an incubator.

An incubator's sole job is to keep developing eggs at a certain temperature and humidity level for a set amount of time. In the chicken world, that is 21 days. So what do you do if the power goes out? Well if you have been following along in this series, you may remember I mentioned that studies have been showing that eggs may actually benefit from a short daily cool down period, mimicking the hen leaving the nest for a quick break. (Actually some studies say the hatch rate increases, some say it stays the same. But they are pretty much all showing that it doesn't hurt them.) So if we are talking about short outage, don't freak out about it too much. Chances are the eggs are fine. However being prepared for a longer outage is smart, especially like right now when we are dealing with a potentially major storm.

Things to know:

  • Growing embryos may survive if they are not kept below 90 degrees F for more than 20 hours.

  • Many things can affect the survival rate:

    • Length of time the power is out: The longer its out, the lower the potential hatch rate

    • Temperature fluctuation due to power outage: Cooler temps lower hatch rate

    • Development stage of eggs: "Older" embryos actually create a small amount of their own heat

So if a storm is coming, have a plan for your incubator. There are several things you can do to help keep your incubator warm:

  • Put bottles of warm water in the incubator

  • Insulate incubator with blankets/towels to trap heat in (NOTE: Eggs need AIR!)

  • Insulate using a pre-warmed cooler (NOTE: Eggs need AIR!)

  • Use an alternative power source (generator, car, etc.)

As shown in the photo above, we prepared with a warmed cooler during a hatch a couple years ago that unexpectedly coincided with a massive hurricane heading our way. I had a small electric throw blanket inside it, and periodically throughout the day I turned it on for an hour just to make sure the cooler is warm, and then turn it back off, keeping the lid closed. This ensured that if the power went out, I had a pre-warmed safe place for the incubator. I would put the incubator inside, stuff some blankets around it, and leave the lid partially open. Remember that eggs are porous and need to "breathe" or else you risk suffocating the developing embryo, so don't completely cut off their air supply.

If you have any other power outage tips for egg incubation, we would love to hear them!

So on to Day 2 of development... here is what is going on in our incubator right now:

  • 25 HOURS: The heart begins to form

  • 33 HOURS: The ears begin to form

  • 42 HOURS: The heart begins to beat

33 Hour Embryo48 Hour Embryo

Photos by the University of Illinois

They kind of look like little tadpoles at this stage, but that is pretty amazing development pretty fast. On the 48 hour embryo, you can definitely make out the eye. The part sticking out that looks like an arm on the right is actually the heart.

Candling these eggs today wouldn't show much of anything. Candling is when you shine a light through the egg and observe the shadows to monitor development (or lack of). We will show our first candling tomorrow (end of Day 3). We should be able to see some veining in the eggs as the blood supply is forming to sustain the developing chick.

This post is part of a series about hatching eggs on The Farm at Beaman’s Fork blog.
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