Can you Open the Incubator During Lockdown?

Can you Open the Incubator During Lockdown?

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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.

Small fluffy black day old chick in a brooder

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 many 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%.

By the way, you may 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. And, if you’re anything like me, you don’t want to have to make the decision of whether or not to help a chick hatch.

A dry membrane can also stick to the chick, which brings with it the risk of pulling out feathery fluff or tearing skin.

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.

51 eggs set inside an incubator

…but what happens if you have to open the incubator?

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 several years—you should (quickly) open the incubator and deal with the issue.

Pheasants hatching seen through the window of an incubator
Hatching chicks is fun, regardless of what kind of chicks they are. This is one batch of pheasant chicks we have hatched.

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 hatched chicks—both chickens and pheasants.

Feel better now? Good. Now get to hatchin’!

unhatched pheasant eggs in an incubator

More thoughts on humidity and whether you can open the incubator during lockdown: Let’s Raise Chickens blog

11 thoughts on “Can you Open the Incubator During Lockdown?”

  • Thank you for your halp this my first time hatching chicks , l feel like a pregnant mum again (4 kids) l am so nervous l am shaking writing this reply , l will let you know what happens finger and toes crossed . Thanks again

  • You can open the incubator any day, lock down is simply a suggestion that reminds you to remove or turn off turners and bump humidity levels it s not a hard fast rule that has to be observed.

  • It’s funny, the more I read, the more confusing incubation gets. By no means a professional (hen) I have had a 95 percent hatch rate with everything I’ve tried to hatch. I have opened the incubator countless times to remove chicks, help chicks, take pictures of the hatch and all kinds of other things. I was totally ignorant of all these rules til recently. The eggs that didn’t hatch had blood rings, so I didn’t harm anything in my stupidity. This is just me tho. I remember my neighbour had an old huge metal incubator in the 1970s and he always had success and wasn’t hard and fast with the rules either. Trust your gut I guess and learn from the experience. PS…I still open during lockdown 🙂

    • Can someone please help?? My first hatch, on day 19, 3 have hatched perfectly and there are about 4 more that have piped. (22 eggs all together) the last one that hatched has fell down under the rack, I don’t know what to do !! I am so scared it’s going to get burned or shocked or God knows what. The only way to get it is to open lid and unscrew the rack which will take a few minutes!

  • Hi ! I am wondering can I lockdown a day early? First time hatching! Duck eggs and I added banty eggs 3 weeks before hatching and 1 duck egg pipping already I wasn’t prepared!

    • Incubating can be as much of an art as a science. I’m also certain the mama birds do things differently as the situation deems necessary. It’s a tricky situation because it sounds like you have both duck and chicken eggs in the incubator (which I’ve never done because duck eggs have always been a pain for me to hatch out). For clarification, how long have the duck eggs been in the incubator (and what kind of ducks)? Have the banty eggs been in there 3 weeks now?

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