How to store and handle hatching eggs to get the best hatch rate

I always have a full incubator. Or 3. lol I know a lot of you are like me after all, hatching chicks is addictive isn't it? There are lots of do's and don't of handling hatching eggs. The funny thing is that what one person swears never works, another person swears it's the reason their hatches are so successful!

Over the years I have tried everything! I've tested every hatching 'rule' and myth. It just so happens I keep excellent records, so I went back through my hatching logs and collected all the data on which myths were just that, and which ones were actually true!

storing eggs, hatching

The format for this post is simple. First I'll name the hatching 'rule'. I'll list why that's the recommended procedure and then I'll discuss why some people don't believe it. I'll then give you my results from testing the myth. Finally, I'll give you the answer as to whether that hatching rule needs followed or not.

How to handle hatching eggs

Now on to the rules and real life experiences!

1) Absolutely do not wash an egg before incubating. 

Reason: It washes away the 'bloom' and allows bacteria to enter the egg. Just brush off any dirt or don't set the egg if it's too dirty. 
Common rebuttal: All the big hatcheries wash and sanitize their eggs first.
Personal experience: I have done it both ways and have tried to see a difference but I can't. However, really dirty eggs never hatch for me whether I wash them or not.  

Answer: well, yes and yes. First, you really don't want bacteria in your incubator. It could ruin your whole hatch. Second, yes the big hatcheries clean their eggs first...however we don't know their hatch we can't really use that as an argument.

2) Do not use odd shaped eggs, or eggs that are abnormally small or large. 

Reason: larger eggs are often double yolkers which very rarely hatch. (and always need assistance) often small eggs are pullet eggs which shouldn't be hatched. Odd shaped eggs won't allow the chick proper room to grow and it will die in the egg or be malformed.
Common rebuttal: pullet eggs are perfectly fine to hatch, big eggs just hatch big chicks and it all depends on the odd shape.
Personal experience: Large single yolked eggs hatch big chicks, however....I never incubate double yolkers. I tried a few pullet eggs and none of the chicks made it past a few days old. Most didn't develop at all. 

Answer: hatching pullet eggs is up to you! There are lots of us that refuse to hatch pullet eggs because of multiple bad experiences. There are others that swear they always hatch just fine. I know the itch to hatch those first eggs is unbearable! Technically they should be fine....but since people seem to have varied experiences with this, it's a personal choice. 

Large eggs do hatch larger chicks, just candle first to make sure you don't have a double yolker. It may be a cute idea to have 'twins' but do you really want to watch one die as it hatches? As far as odd shaped eggs go, how odd shaped is it? Can a chick fit in it? If it's just a little bit long or round that's one thing, if it's shaped like a snake...

Related reading: Does egg shape indicate chick sex?

farm eggs in storage container

3) Eggs must be stored small side down before incubation.

Reason: This allows the egg to settle and the air cell to 'set' in place 
Common rebuttal: This doesn't matter unless the eggs were shipped or jostled in some way. Mama chicken doesn't sit her eggs on end before going broody. 
Personal experience: I try, really I do! Sometimes I end up with eggs in a basket for a few days before setting though and they are laying all kinds of ways. I haven't noticed a difference in hatch rate. However I always allow shipped eggs to set upright to settle before hatch.

Answer: Yes, the egg has an air cell which needs to be fixed at the top for incubation. Allowing it to set with the wide end up allows this to happen, especially important with shipped eggs that have been jostled a bit. The air cell should be just fine in your own chickens eggs and shouldn't need time to settle before setting.

4) Rotate eggs 3 times a day during storage 

Reason: It keeps the yolk from sticking to the side of the shell.
Common rebuttal: It won't stick once it starts developing and is being turned regularly.  
Personal experience: I hardly ever do this anymore. The most I do is once a day and I haven't noticed a difference. 

Answer: ummmm...all the research says to do it. Seriously, that's all I got on  this one since it doesn't affect my hatch rate. In nature the mother hen lays multiple eggs before she sets. She gets in and out of the nest once a day to add a new egg. She arranges the eggs so she can set, which probably turns them. As long as you turn them once a day, they should be fine.

5) Do not refrigerate eggs before incubation. Store at a humid 55-65 degrees.

Reason: Humidity keeps the egg from losing moisture. (eggs are porous) Temperatures below 65 keeps the egg from starting to develop too soon. Temperatures too low destroys the eggs ability to develop.
Common rebuttal: Fertile eggs from grocery stores and farmers markets hatch all the time. Coop temperatures are not kept this stringent and a broody takes days to collect a clutch before incubating.
Personal experience: Refrigeration seems to lower the hatch rate on average. Deviation from 50-70 have been fine. Eggs have been left in my snow covered coop for 2 days then have hatched. I don't recommend it, but I have pulled eggs out of the refrigerator and stuck them in the incubator from time to time. 

Not too many hatched, but some did.

Answer: This is a game of odds. Your best odds are when the proper temperature and humidity are kept, however they can still hatch if you deviate from these. You're percentage will probably be lower though.

chick hatching from brown egg

6) Let eggs warm up to room temperature before incubation.

Reason: If the eggs are cold condensation can cause bacteria to grow on the eggs. Bacteria in your incubator can ruin the whole hatch.
Common rebuttal: This one always seems to be "I tried it and it was fine" 
Personal experience: I do this when it's too cold outside and the eggs come straight from the coop. regular storage area is in my laundry room which is usually 60-65 and I never move them to a warmer room to warm up before incubation. I haven't noticed a difference.

Answer: This one is true. However, if you stored your eggs at 55-65 you shouldn't have far to go to get to room temperature (70)  

7) Don't incubate eggs older than 10 days. The hatch rate decreases after that. 

Reason: The egg begins to breakdown as it gets older and there is less of a chance it will develop and hatch.
Common rebuttal: A mama hen often collects a dozen or more eggs before setting. At one egg a day, that is past the 10 day mark for at least a few of those eggs.
Personal experience: I've hatched eggs almost 2 weeks old before. A low percentage of the eggs hatched, but some did. If I'm tight on incubator space though, I skip the older eggs...unless I really want that particular egg to hatch. Then what the heck, give it a try.

Answer: This one is true....but remember we're saying the hatch rate decreases, so some can still hatch. The older the egg gets though, the less chance there is that it will hatch.

So, to sum it up....all of these points can contribute to your hatch. We all want 100% hatch rate and sticking to these points can help you get that. However, slight deviations may not impact your hatch too much. 

Happy hatching!


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  1. Thank you for this! I have a broody right now setting on eggs I bought that we laid the day before so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

    Also on this point here: 4) Rotate eggs 3 times a day during storage I just read on Backyard Chickens that if the eggs are not rotated enough, the chick's organs will develop outside the body (accompanied by a photo of just that). So, that's a good reason to rotate too!

    1. Good luck with your broody!

      I've never heard that the organs being outside the body was because of storage methods....I had only heard of it happening when the eggs aren't turned enough during incubation. I'll have to look up that thread, it sounds like an interesting read!


  2. Thank you for all that info, I have made a incubator with only a light bulb to heat it, the temp stays 97 all the time and my hatch rate is 100% What temp do you use?


    1. I use 95.5 but mine are forced air incubators. Technically yours shouldn't be as effective at that temperature....but if its working then keep doing it that way!


  3. Thanks for the tips, the recommended temperature ranges were spot on. Also liked your tips as I was able to avoid allot of potential pitfalls.

  4. Thanks for your help it really raised my hatch rate tremendously.

  5. Glad I came across this post as it was a great help, thank you!