Our happy chickens lay healthy eggs!
Everyone does it differently. A broody hen is perfection. Usually. However, I want my girls to lay eggs so I try to collect all the eggs every day and set the ones I want to hatch in my incubator from my breeding pens. I will show how I do mine and hope it helps others but not every situation is the same.
First and foremost, feed the breeder birds the best nutrition possible. I have a feeding page on this web site that explains how I feed mine but I also add vitamins to their water. Not just any vitamins but the best I can afford. The past 2 years I have had good luck with Avian Super Pack.
When I collect my eggs from the breeding pens I use a wicker basket (just my personal preference) with paper towels on the bottom or even the shelf liner material. You can see I attach a place to put a pencil on the side so it doesn't get lost down in the eggs and if I need to write on the eggs it is handy.
Try to make sure the nest boxes stay clean with fresh shavings, shredded paper or other bedding material. I don't like to use pine needles or straw or hay because of mites but they often pick them up on the wood roosts, too.
With as many breeding pens and varieties, not to mention bloodlines of those within them, I write on my hatching eggs when I collect them. I usually always keep only one rooster per pen. His name is written on the top of the egg. The big end. I store eggs pointy end down.
Dark eggs, such as the Marans eggs, are often hard to read with a pencil. I have had no problems when I use a sharpie marker but do avoid it when I can.
If you don't have a name for the rooster, that is okay, too. Listing pens A, B, C is fine as long as you know who are in them. Or if you only have a certain cross like I marked on the blue egg seen on the right, Mar/Amera (short for my Marans roo over an Ameraucana hen).
I store my eggs, pointy end down, in egg trays. I try not to keep them longer than 7 days before I set them in my incubator but I have kept them for several weeks and set them with decent success. They need to be turned a few times a day so I place a book under one side of the tray and 6 hours later move it to the other side of the tray so they tip one way and then the next way to keep the yolk from sticking to the side of the egg. If I have an empty egg turner that goes into an incubator then I use it and let it do the work. Sometimes the eggs only get turned twice a day, sometimes I forget for a day or so but the hatch rate is still pretty good. I have never had a total flop of a hatch from forgetting.
I have used styrofoam incubators like the Hovabator Genesis 1588 with great results. But it was too small for me so I used it as a hatcher once I got the big cabinet incubator, a Sportsman 1202.
I tried using a still air Little Giant without a very good success but often got about 50% to hatch from it. I do much better with forced air incubators that keep the warm moist air moving in the chamber.
I went to Walmart and bought a hygrometer for my incubators. It records temperature and humidity. In the photo on the right you can see it on the top shelf. The temp is 97 and the humidity is 31%, though the temp and humidity were higher before the door was left open for a photo.
The white tray on top holds water. It doesn't matter how deep the water is but rather how much surface of water you have to maintain humidity. You will notice on the bottom of my incubator, in the hatching tray, I have a red bowl of water, too. I also add sponges to help wick the moisture out. I adjust these as needed.
I generally give my incubators a good scrubbing down on the inside twice a year with Oxine. I may vacuum out the bottom to get the dander and egg shell bits once a week. The dust and dander will build up depending on how many are hatching.
When I set my eggs in the incubator I write the date on the eggs of the day I set them and I also write them on my hatching chart so I know how many I have from each pen and when they are due to hatch. I used to keep a book to record how many chicks hatch from each rooster to figure percentages but it is fairly easy to tell from just looking at the charts if a rooster is doing his job.
I try to remember to candle eggs around day 10 of the incubation to see if I can get rid of any quitters or non-viable eggs to make room for more. I often pull out a whole tray and go into a windowless room like the closet and use a bright LED flashlite to see in them. Once you get the hang of what you are seeing you can move the flashlite along the top of the eggs without handling them. But sometimes I enjoy picking up an egg and shining the light behind it to watch the new life swim around. It is so miraculous to me.
Here are 2 eggs that I took photos of to share. The one with veins and a dark spot is one that I dropped on the steps bringing it into the house from a hen that had been sitting on it for 8 days. The other egg is one that had also been in the nest for 8 days and was not viable.