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Duck, Goose, Chicken & Game Bird Hatchery

Incubation and Hatching


What Temperatures Kill In An Incubator?

August 10, 2011

We all know the ideal temperature for incubators range from about 98 to 100.3 depending on the stage of incubation. But what happens if your incubator becomes too hot or too cold? Of course each circumstance is different but I can tell you some of my experiences and maybe this will help you in case you have a problem in the future.

Low Temperature:
We remove some of our fertile duck eggs at 17 days of incubation and sell them as balut (a Filipino and Vietnamese delicacy). Recently we set aside 160 large balut on Thursday for a customer that was to pick them up on Friday. On Saturday we realized they were not going to be picked up. I decided to put them back in the incubator but first I checked their shell temperature. The surface temperature of each egg was between 71 and 73 degrees. Remember, these eggs had been out of the incubator for 48 hours in flats in a case at room temperature.

We monitored those eggs and ten days later 75% of them hatched! They were a day late but we still hatched 120 ducklings! This was only 13% less than if they had not sat out for two days.

These eggs were old enough that they were putting off more heat than they required, so development was slowed but not stopped. So if for some reason your incubator has a problem and cools down for a period of time, don't worry. It probably will not adversely affect your hatch.

High Temperatures
High temperatures in an incubator are an entirely different matter. Injury or death depends on how hot it gets and how long it is hot. Hot temperatures for brief periods usually cause no problem. But sustained higher temperatures allow the entire interior of the egg to become hot and that is when injury and death occurs. And if it is an older embryo, it is generating heat and this makes overheating even quicker.

There are no black and white limits with overheating. Years ago I lost all the eggs in an incubator when it was 105 degrees for six hours. But on another occasion, I had no losses when the incubator was 102 for four hours. An interior temperature of 103 almost guarantees death.

Just recently we had a machine that was supposed to be 98.7 gradually increase to 104 degrees over 3.5 hours. When it was discovered, we cooled the eggs as described below and the resulting hatch was completely normal. The eggs were 24 days old at the time.

What To Do When You Discover Your Hot Incubator
Immediately cool the eggs with water. If you have lots of eggs, spray with a garden sprayer or hose. If you have just a few eggs, dunk each egg in cool, not cold, water. Blow air over the eggs to more quickly cool them. Each time the egg dries, wet it again. Remember that as you cool the eggs, the shell will cool faster than the interior - but it is the embryo in the interior that must be cooled. Therefore, you want to cool the shell lower than the ideal temperature. And as I described above, don't be afraid of cooling them too much as temperatures below ideal will not be a problem.

If you have an infrared thermometer, I would cool the shell to 80-85 degrees. If you do not have a thermometer, hold it against your eye lid. Once it feels slightly cool, put it back in the incubator and turn it on (assuming you have fixed the problem in your incubator!).

Don't Give Up On The Eggs
Once you stabilize the temperature, wait a day and then candle the eggs. If they have died, you will know as there will be no movement and all blood veins will have disintegrated. Only then should you throw away your eggs. If you are not sure, leave the eggs in the incubator. You have little to lose keeping them in the incubator.

What experiences do you have after finding incubators colder or hotter than they should be?