How long can you keep fertile hatching eggs before incubating?
Fertile hatching eggs are alive with the potential to be a chick and each time a fertile egg is handled improperly, its chance of hatching is reduced. A hatching egg can be stored for 20 days and then successfully incubated but the odds of success start to decline rapidly after 10 days in storage. Aim for 7 days maximum to ensure the best chance of a hatch. You want to store them with the round or big end with the air cell in pointing up and the pointy tip down.
How to avoid problems?
1. Keep clean nests
2. Collect eggs regularly
3. Store eggs cool and in the correct position
4. Handle carefully
5. Turn the eggs at least three times a day
6. Incubate as quickly as you can
Below: When eggs stored without turning the membranes may stick.
Storage temperature has some real effects on the outcome of incubation.
In a commercial study, fertile White Leghorn eggs were stored for periods ranging from 24 hr to 7 days in environments controlled at 40, 60, or 80°F and 70 per cent and relative humidity.
The eggs were then incubated, and observations on numbers of incubator clears and dead embryos at 10 days and again at 17 days, numbers of chickens hatched, weight at hatching, sex ratio, weight of pullets at 14 days of age, and moralities were recorded.
Eggs stored at 40 and 60°F showed no effect of age of egg on number of clears, dead embryos, or number of chickens hatched.
Eggs stored at 80°F showed a rapid fall in number of chickens hatched linked with the age of the egg before incubation, this effect being produced by increases in number of clears and dead embryos.
Storage at 40°F produced a lower number of chickens hatched than at 60°F, owing to a higher number of incubator clears.
There was no difference in sex ratio between chickens hatched from eggs stored at 60 and 80°F, neither departing significantly from 50 % pullets.
However, storage at 40°F produced significantly more pullets than cockerels, 54.6% of the chickens being pullets. This just means more males dies during storage rather then their being any effect on the actual gender of the embryo.
Storage temperature and age of egg did not affect the hatching weight of the chickens, but when 14 days old, pullets from the eggs stored at 80°F were significantly heavier than pullets from the other groups.
Clean eggs store better:
A clean nest will help when getting clean eggs for incubation.
These are eggs from my blue laced barnevelders waiting to be incubated. I collect over three days then incubate the choice eggs.
Collecting fertile hatching eggs:
Try to gather the eggs as soon as possible after they are laid. Two to three times per day if possible in extreme weather. Gather eggs in a clean container with clean hands. The less you handle the eggs the better they are. Be gentle with them to avoid cracking.
Handle with care
Remember that each egg contains a living cell mass that develops into an embryo and finally into a chick. Be very careful to prevent damage to the eggshell.
An egg with a cracked shell will not hatch and should be discarded to prevent contamination of other eggs. Also discard extremely dirty eggs.
Below: select the best eggs for incubation and discard the others no matter how tempting. This image below is advice from over 100 years ago about which eggs to select and which to avoid and it still stands today.
If a small area of an egg is soiled with dirt or faecal material, clean the egg by gently rubbing the soiled surface with fine sandpaper.
Examine the egg carefully to make sure that what appears to be dirt is not a stain.
Cleaning and washing fertile hatching eggs:
I'm not going to say never wash your eggs as I have done it before myself. I will say avoid it if you can and follow these tips to help.
Dry dirt can be scraped off or sanded away with some very fine emery paper. This keeps them dry.
You should never attempt to store a dirty egg for incubation, only store the best clean eggs. If you can't just wipe the egg clean with disposable kitchen towel then it is best rejected as a candidate for incubation. Washing with water can push bacteria through the natural protective coating of the egg.
Always use a egg washing disinfectant like this one from brinsea and follow the instructions. Use water warmer than the egg and dry as quickly as possible with disposable towel.
Never wash an egg with plain cold water.
Hatching egg storage temperature:
Fertile eggs need to be keep above 40 and below 60 degrees until incubated. Below 40 degrees the embryo is at risk of dying from cold especially if kept cold for a long time. Also as it warms up condensation can form on the surface allowing contaminants into the egg and turning it rotten.
Above 70 and the embryo begins to develop in a haphazard fashion and some parts grow faster than others which generally kill it or it will be horrendously malformed.
During cold weather you have the risk of freezing or getting cold enough to kill the embryo. During warm weather you have a risk of them getting to warm.
Room temperature is best, depending on how warm room temperature is for you this time of year. I store mine in my basement where the temperature is 10C or (50F) and consistent.
Providing incubation has not started the egg can be kept cold for quite a while, up to 2 weeks at the most. You should try to mimic natural nest conditions.
Humidity during storage of fertile eggs:
The humidity level during the storage period should be 45% to 55% but consistency is much more important than the actual level. If you can only manage 40% then that is fine especially if you can maintain it although higher is better as if it is too low the egg may lose too much moisture and the chick will either be small or desiccated. Over 75% or below 35% for any length of time is likely to effect the end results.
Can you incubate refrigerated eggs?
Or refrigerate eggs that you plan to incubate later. So here is the thing that you should not chill eggs that much if you intend to hatch them.
That said I have accidentally put egg earmarked for incubation in a fridge overnight and it had no effect on the results It is better to fertile hatching eggs at 6C (42F) in a fridge than at 24C (75F) in your warm living room or where temperatures swing wildly during the course of the day and overnight like a shed or garage.
At least a fridge has stable temperature and humidity levels. You must allow the stored fertile hatching eggs to warm naturally between taking them out of the fridge and setting them in your incubator.
Yes, refrigerated eggs will hatch. One of my first turkey hatches I set thirty turkey eggs that had been in the refrigerator from one to fourteen days as I only had a trio of birds to breed from and it was mid summer. Only two were clear, Twenty eight went into the hatcher and 25 made it to growers.
It's best to store eggs between 5 and 15C (40-60F) degrees at a fairly high humidity. I have a friend in Florida who keeps all his hatching eggs in the fridge.
We do turn our hatching eggs twice a day while in they are in the fridge.
How long can eggs sit out before incubating:
When hens lay eggs, they just lay them where ever, and they set in the nest until she decides to set and start incubating them. That means that if there are 12 eggs in the nest it took at least 12 days to produce them and they have been just fine. Hens have a knack of mostly choosing a good spot to nest with average temperatures.
That works in nature, so in theory you could just leave them set wherever they won't get broken. In practice, the optimal way is to store them in a tray, rounded end up.
Chances are most of them will be good for 10 to 12 days, but after that seems to be the point where hatch rates go down. So chicken eggs can stay fertile for up to 20 days but at this length of time the success rate be less than a third.
It's far better to set all the eggs at once, and have all the chicks hatch at once. Staggered hatches can be such a pain to manage, and you really don't need to.
I myself will keep eggs for 6 days then set them. I have found over years of incubating that I can keep them this long and have good hatch rates of 80%-90%.
What about storing shipped hatching eggs?
If you would like to mark the egg with breed or date collected it should be done with a pencil. Never use a magic or permanent marker as some ink pens contain solvents that can damage the embryo. I mark breed and date on the side of the shell so I can keep track of the eggs during incubation.
Wrap each egg in kitchen towel and place eggs in a clean Cardboard or Styrofoam egg carton. They must not rattle about. I wrap them in bubble wrap and place in a box of paper shavings with at least 2 inches of shavings between the fertile hatching eggs and the box wall.
From my tests and the eggs I have posted out over the years I know that shipping reduces the time you can safely store fertile hatching by 50% meaning that posted hatching eggs should be incubated within 7 days at most.
I still prefer to incubate eggs that are 10 days old or less. However my last hatch of Turkey eggs this year I did not get eggs set one week and held them until the following week. So I had Turkey eggs that were a full 2 weeks old. Out of 54 eggs that were 10 days to 14 days old I had an 80% Hatch rate with several hatching that were a full 14 days old. I was surprised that they did as well as they did. I think the storage of these eggs was the main reason fore the success.