How exciting! You’ve got eggs set to hatch in a few days and you’re very (im)patiently waiting. Lockdown has hit…and now, for some reason—oh no!—you need to open the incubator! But what are you to do? All the books and blogs and forums have told you not to.
Some folks will make you believe if you so much as think about opening that incubator lid after lockdown has started, your hatch with be ruined and every single baby chick will die.
Okay, y’all. Here’s the deal.
Humidity is important, but you’re not guaranteeing a ruined hatch if you have to open the incubator. After six years of running incubators, I figured I should offer some advice to help you through that stressful to open or not to open question that everyone who runs an incubator will eventually end up asking.
Yes, humidity matters…
During the first part of incubation, we keep our humidity between 60-65%. But three days before the eggs are due to hatch, things change. These last three days are referred to as lockdown because you stop turning the eggs and leave the lid/door/top closed. This not only helps the chicks to get correctly oriented for hatching, but it helps to raise the humidity since you’re no longer opening the incubator. During lockdown (and the hatch that hopefully results), we raise our humidity to 70-75%. (You will find many sites tell you different “correct” humidity percentages. This is generally because of climate, current temp and humidity of area the incubator is kept, type of incubator, etc.)
If the humidity in the incubator is too low, a chick can have a really hard time breaking out of their shell. The membrane inside the shell dries out and is nearly impossible for them to get through. A dry membrane can also stick to the chick, which brings with it the risk of pulling out feathery fluff or tearing skin.
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This is the reason we are advised not to open the incubator during those three days before hatching. We want to keep the humidity nice and high so the chicks can do what they need to do.
…but what happens if you have to open the lid?
There are many reasons you might need (or want) to open your incubator, including:
- a water well or tray that has run dry
- an issue with a chick that is hatching
- an issue with a chick that has hatched
- hatched chicks causing issues for those who are still hatching
- bulb burned out
- to wipe condensation so you can see the hatch
- to remove chicks that are completely dry and ready to come out
So what do you do to deal with these things? Watch and stress out and hem and haw about what to do?
No. In my opinion—formed over the last six years—you should (quickly) open the incubator and deal with the issue.
A couple things to keep in mind if you need to open the incubator:
If you’re opening the incubator to fill a dry or dangerously low water tray—which you should not hesitate to do, since no water means no humidity at all—use hot water so the bulb doesn’t have to work harder than necessary to get things back up to the correct temperature and humidity.
Don’t open the incubator and leave it open for an excessive amount of time. If you need to open the incubator, this is a get in, get out operation. Do what you need to do as quickly as you can and then shut the incubator again.
So, that’s it folks. If you see a situation that needs remedying and it requires you to open the incubator after the Almighty Lockdown Phase has begun, go ahead—get in, get out, and get the job done. I’ve done it multiple times without issue in the many years I’ve been hatching chicks.
Feel better now? Good. Now get to hatchin’!