Dry incubation: Raise your hatch rate by not adding water

Since it's chick hatching season I thought I'd talk about an incubation method that I've used for several years. It's called dry incubation and is pretty much exactly what it sounds like...incubating eggs without adding water to the water wells of the incubator.

I know this is completely against all the incubation instructions you've read up until now, but many people who had low hatch rates switched to this method and swear their hatch rate skyrocketed. That is exactly why I first tried this incubation method years ago and I still use it all the time, although I do sometimes hatch chicks the regular way as a comparison.

Dry incubation method for chicken eggs

The traditional incubation method calls for the humidity inside the incubator to be 40-50% during the first 18 days. With dry incubation you're going to allow the humidity level to get as low as 15% before you add any water. With both methods you're going to raise the humidity to around 60-65% during the lockdown period.

When incubating eggs, it's important to note that the incubator is affected by the humidity level of the room it's in. If you live in a very humid climate or your incubator is in a room with higher humidity like a bathroom or kitchen, it affects the humidity level inside the incubator also. A good hygrometer is essential to knowing exactly what the humidity inside your incubator is. 

To get a little more technical: during the first 18 days of incubation an egg should lose around 13% of its weight. (no matter which incubation method you use) That is all moisture loss. If an egg does not lose enough moisture during incubation, when the chick pips internally the excess moisture causes them to drown. If you have a lot of eggs that develop all the way up to day 18, but don't hatch this could be your problem. 

Poultry Keeper: The most common reason for hatch failure is caused by too much humidity.

If you're experiencing low hatch rates, but the chicks are fully developed, the dry incubation method allows the egg to lose more moisture from inside the shell which prevents the chicks from drowning before hatch. 

Though it is the most reliable way to track moisture loss, most people don't weigh their eggs before and during incubation. If you candle your eggs a few times during incubation (I usually do day 3, 10 and 18) you'll notice the air cell getting bigger which indicates moisture loss. 

Now here's the tricky part, you only want the eggs to lose 13% of their weight and no more. If the humidity in the incubator is too low and too much moisture is lost, the chick will be too small and weak to hatch. Obviously you don't want that to happen either.

Here's an image to show how an egg should look at day 18 with proper incubator humidity. Both the high humidity egg and low humidity egg would have difficulty hatching.

Incubation humidity effect on hatching eggs

Dry Incubation Method

I keep my incubator humidity around 15-30%. I add a little bit of water when it gets down to 15% and try to never let it get above 30% during the first 18 days of incubation and that works perfectly for me. Consult the hygrometer often!

On day 18 candle and replace viable eggs in incubator, then raise humidity to 60-65% for remainder of hatch period. Do not open incubator during hatch/lockdown for risk of chicks becoming shrink wrapped.  

If you live in a humid area, you may need to have a dehumidifier in the room the incubator is kept in. If you live in an arid area, you may have to add water to the incubator more often to keep the humidity in the right zone. (this is applicable no matter what incubation method you use!)

I have spoke to some people who have tried this method and it either didn't seem to work for them or made no difference in their hatch rate. Always use what works best for you, and if you're getting a good hatch rate with the traditional incubation method, then stick with that! 

If however, you are having hatching problems that could be attributed to humidity levels, then dry incubation may be the answer to those problems!


Here's a complete list of incubation and hatching terms and definitions in case I mentioned anything you're unfamiliar with.

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  1. Thanks for your help. I have lost a great deal of time and money trying to hatch rare breeds. I will try this and follow up with my results.

    1. You're welcome! I hope it works out for you!


  2. We have lost more than we have hatched and almost all seemed fine till around day 18. I am going to give this a try as no other tweaking or explanation has solved it for us. Thanks!

  3. I raise chickens in the carrebean during the summer months when I go for vacation and the incubator humidity is always about 40% without any added water. I’m getting about 50-55% hatch rate. How can I lower the humidity?

    1. You can run a dehumidifier in the room that the incubator is in. This will lower the humidity in the room and in the incubator. I do this sometimes in summer and it really works.