The Basics of Artificial Incubation

Once the mother lays her egg, she knows what to do. Her instincts tell her to be finicky, and she constantly adjusts them all day long. She knows that if she is even a little inattentive, her eggs won’t hatch. She intuitively understands that constant heat and humidity are important. Timing is everything. Nature has this system down for birds on their nests, but recreating it as humans isn’t as effortless. We can use some help.

If you want to hatch and raise a large number of game birds, it’s much easier with a commercial incubator. Electric incubators are available in many different sizes and at many different price points. For a reliable hatch rate for large quantities of fertilized eggs you should consider investing in a controlled environment like a standing/rotating incubator engineered for success.

Invest In Incubation

Raising game birds year round is possible with proper equipment. When it comes to choosing an incubation system, the variety of options seems daunting. Making a choice should depend on how many birds you want to produce, and how little margin there is for error. If you know you need 2,000 birds hatched a season and no more than 10% loss, it is crucial to have as much science on your side as possible. Enter the electric incubator.

There are other options, but homemade or inexpensive incubators (think styrofoam and lightbulbs) are not ideal for bigger operations. While these simpler set-ups are fine for hobbyists and backyard flock keepers with time on their hands, they don’t pass muster for larger operations depending on a guaranteed hatch rate from the investment in fertilized eggs. While there are many egg incubator plans floating around the internet—when you factor in the time constructing them, hand-turning eggs, and monitoring heat and humidity every few hours, you might as well have chosen to sit on a nest yourself!

The general rule is the cheaper the incubator the more work for the farmer—needing to remember to turn eggs (larger end up as you rotate) every few hours is near impossible while operating a ranch. There is too much else to do, and even when things do calm down basic incubators make evenings away from the farm nearly impossible. For peace of mind and ease of your lifestyle, consider acquiring a machine created to handle this literal mountain of work!

Incubating Game Birds

Most commercial incubators are adaptable for different eggs, coming with the correct trays for pheasant and quail eggs as well as the standard domestics like chickens, ducks, and geese. For most species the heat and humidity levels are the same—meaning you can hatch pheasant and quail eggs in the same incubator but you should plan for different shelves and be aware of the timelines for those animals.

Quail, for example, hatch much faster. Some quail hatch as fast as 16 days from being set. Chickens hatch around 21 days. Pheasants could hatch as early as 22 days.

Your incubator will anticipate the needs of the eggs—humidity, turning, and heat. These amazing inventions allow you to set-it-and-forget-it. Be mindful of hatch dates and monitor the incubator as that time approaches. Shortly after the chirping begins and the dried young birds are born, they are ready to be moved to the next step in the process: the brooder.

Moving Into Brooders

When your game birds hatch, be ready for them with a prepped brooder. For commercial-sized hatches it is best to have a heat-controlled space prepped for comfort and safety of the new birds. Easy feeding and water systems should also be waiting for them post-hatch.

Many commercial brooders fit the bill and some are even stackable for space efficiency. Brooders can bring your birds from the just-hatched stage to their fifth week of life in a protected environment designed to stop overcrowding, piling, drafts, or chills.

If you’ve taken the steps to carefully incubate these birds—after all, they are an investment in your farm—make sure the brooder is of the same high quality standard as your incubation system. Preparing in advance of problems is the key to success in the early stages of game bird rearing.

Raising game birds is rewarding. Incubation is the first step in this journey and the key to future success. Have you had success with commercial incubators on your operation? Share your story, lessons, or tips in the comments below!