Sometimes you may have fertile Chicken eggs that you are yet to incubate. Whether you wish to incubate eggs artificially in an incubator or intend to place them under a broody chicken, you can store them for a certain period before doing so.
Storing and Caring for Fertile Eggs Before Incubation
You must ensure you store your fertile eggs safely so that they remain as healthy as possible. This gives you the best chance of hatching healthy little chicks to your schedule.
Hens naturally lay several eggs over a few days before they begin sitting on them – so a clutch of eggs can be up to a week old or even more before the incubation process starts.
By storing eggs for later incubation, you need to replicate the natural process as closely as possible.
- Collect eggs first thing in the morning to help keep them clean and safe from predators. Handle them very gently.
- You need a clean, hygienic place to keep your fertile eggs. This will avoid the clutch of eggs becoming contaminated with bacteria.
- Use clean, brand new and unused cardboard cartons or washed, sterilized plastic/resin containers. Mark the container clearly so that the eggs are not eaten!
- Your eggs must be kept cool and dry and at a stable temperature. Embryos will not begin to develop until the eggs reach a certain temperature. It’s best to keep them in a cool, dry garage or another dry environment between 5°C and 10°C. Above this temperature, the embryo will begin to develop, and this can result in problems once they are actively incubated. The ideal humidity level for storing eggs is 75-85%.
DO NOT store your fertile eggs in the refrigerator unless absolutely necessary!
This environment is too cold and too dry; your eggs will lose too much moisture through the shell and may not be viable. In summer, however, this may be your only option. Use the door of the fridge if possible as it is not as cold there – and minimize the storage time.
- Hens naturally keep their eggs lying on their sides, not upright. Ideally, store your eggs on their side, packed with food-grade tissue paper to help protect them. If you can’t easily store the eggs sideways, always ensure they are placed with the “pointy” end down, as this helps the yolk remain suspended properly. Storing with the rounded end down can dislodge the air cell and kill the embryo.
- Broody hens regularly turn their eggs before they incubate them, and throughout incubation. This helps ensure the embryo does not become stuck to the shell’s inner membrane. You must also do this with your fertile eggs. If they are stored sideways, roll each gently onto its opposite side in the morning and again in the afternoon – keep a log so you remember to do this every time. If you’re storing them upright, twist each egg on the same schedule.
How Long Can Eggs Be Stored Before Incubation?
Fertile eggs should be incubated, either in an incubator or under a broody chicken, as soon as possible. The longer between them being laid and incubated, the less fertile they will ultimately be.
If kept in “perfect” conditions, eggs may remain viable for up to 21 days from laying. Ideally, however, fertile eggs will be incubated within a week at most. Thereafter, the likelihood of hatching falls and the membrane within the egg can begin to break down. The vitamin content of the egg also drops.
Preparing Fertile Eggs Before Incubation
Allow your eggs to rest and settle for 12-24 hours at room temperature before incubation. Allowing them to heat up too quickly can lead to thermal shock and kill the embryo.
Can Fertile Eggs Be Cleaned Before Incubation?
Any eggs that are heavily soiled, particularly weak, or cracked should be discarded as soon as they are laid. Very small eggs will often have a low amount of albumen compared with the yolk. Very large eggs may have a double yolk, representing twins, and these will not successfully incubate.
You may clean dirty eggs, however, this requires care and is not recommended unless absolutely necessary as eggshells are porous and the integrity of the egg may be compromised.
Brush slightly soiled eggs and sanitize them with a gentle solution of water and bleach and allow them to dry completely before putting them in the incubator. Wet cleaning solutions can enter the egg and contaminate its interior. If you choose this method, the solution must be warmer than the egg. Using a wet solution to clean an egg also removes its outer cuticle, so the egg must be incubated as quickly as possible.
Can You Use Refrigerated Fertile Eggs?
As mentioned above, refrigerated fertile eggs are less likely to be viable. The odds are against refrigerated eggs hatching if they are later incubated – but they can and do sometimes produce healthy little chicks. The key to success is to remove the eggs from the fridge and incubate them as quickly as possible. They must first be allowed to slowly come to room temperature, storing them in a cool dry place for a few hours and then bringing them to room temperature before placing them in the incubator or under your broody hen.
If you have fertile eggs that have been kept cool or refrigerated promptly after laying, and you decide not to incubate them, as long as they are fresh they can certainly be eaten!
All eggs are at their highest quality as soon as they are laid. Incubating as soon as possible is ideal for hatching success – but with the right care and storage, you can successfully incubate and hatch eggs a little later. Good luck!