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Hatching Egg Management

Production of Clean Hatching Eggs

Prevention of surface contamination should be the first major step taken towards the control of egg shell borne chick infections. This can be accomplished by the following:

  • Provide at least one single nest for every four or five hens or the equivalent area in colony nests. Use of roll away nests is preferred for “H&N Layer Breeder” parents. However, if nests with litter are used, keep the nesting material clean at all times.
  • Gather the hatching eggs at least four times daily on clean, sanitized filler or incubator flats.
  • Separate floor eggs, dirty eggs, cracked eggs, and all other cull eggs from the good hatching eggs.
  • Keep the floor litter in good condition at all times. Dirty feet contaminate otherwise clean eggs and nesting materials.
  • It is suggested to lock the hens out of the nests at night to prevent contamination of nests and nesting materials with fecal matter. Birds should also be prevented from roosting on the tops of nests. Nest tops should be scraped clean of any accumulated droppings daily.
  • Keep the dust level in the house as low as possible. High dust levels result in high bacterial counts on the egg shell surface.
  • Fumigate (if this practice is allowed in your area) or sanitize the hatching eggs. Specific directions for fumigating hatching eggs are available upon request.
  • Place conventional nests at a height that is comfortable for the worker and yet low enough so that the hens will use all levels.
  • Place feeders (especially pan types) just above the back levels of the smallest birds in the flock yet high enough to prevent laying eggs under them.
  • Eliminate dark spots and shadows in the house. This will help prevent floor eggs.
  • Prevent cracked eggs. Most cracks are management caused, either through inexperience, inadequate nest material, improperly adjusted equipment, not gathering often enough, gathering too fast, handling the eggs too often or carelessness.

Production Cycle Records

In order to evaluate performance and profitability, detailed production cycle records are necessary.

Daily figures for hen-day production, percent hatching eggs, feed and water consumption and mortality are necessary.

Male and female mortality should be recorded separately and the male : female ratio should be monitored throughout the production cycle. As with growing records, accurate cage and/or pen counts are very important. All results should be graphed. Use of graphs will improve analyses of flock performance trends.

Hatching Egg Storage

Store eggs at 22 °C (72 °F) if setting within 4 days, or 16 – 18 °C (61 – 64 °F) if storing for 5 – 12 days. Older eggs will have markedly lower hatchability. Relative humidity in the holding room should be monitored daily and kept within a range of 70 – 80 %.

Gathering eggs directly onto plastic incubator flats is recommended whenever possible to reduce egg handling and breakage. This assures sanitation of the plastic flats as well. Plastic flats should be washed and disinfected before being returned to the breeder farm.

When hatching eggs are shipped in cases, special precautions must be taken to maintain egg quality. The time period between egg gathering and casing is extremely important for the potential hatchability of the eggs. Hatching eggs must be cooled down overnight and then they may be cased for shipment.

Eggs that are cased on the day of gathering will not lose heat readily, even if the cases are stored in 18°C egg rooms. Substantial increases in early embryonic mortality and a reduction in hatchability will occur from eggs cased before being adequately cooled.

If hatching eggs have to be stored longer than ten days for large orders, we recommend storing the eggs upside down from day one to the time of setting or pre-heating.

Factors Affecting Fertility

  • Mating Ratio: Start with 10 males per 100 females as day old chicks and mate with 8 – 9 males per 100 females at transferring time to the laying house.
  • Unthrifty males and other cull birds: By the transfer time to the laying house, cull any defective or unthrifty males and continue to cull any males that get into poor condition as the flock ages. In fact, when selection is made at housing (about 16 – 18 weeks of age), all culls of both sexes should be removed at that time. This would include sick, injured, runty and deformed birds. It is especially important to remove all sexing errors at this time. Sexing errors that are allowed to remain in the flock will impair the genetic potential of resulting commercial stock. Feather and color sexing accuracy of commercial chicks will be adversely affected as well.
  • High ambient temperature: Mating frequency and fertility decrease as temperatures rise above 29°C, so every effort should be made to maintain house temperatures in a comfortable range. Maximum air movement during hot weather improves bird comfort. High ambient temperatures also reduce feed consumption. Underconsumption of vital nutrients can also affect fertility. Keep drinking water cool under high ambient temperatures.
  • Insufficient water supply: Water consumption rises dramatically with increasing ambient temperatures as illustrated in the table below. If insufficient watering space is available, or if the watering system or supply is insufficient to meet maximum demand, fertility and production can be drastically reduced.

Impact of House Temperature on Water Consumption*

  • High bird density. Overstocking of facilities may result in increased social pressure and reduced fertility.
  • Mite and lice infestations. Severe infestations of parasites will reduce mating activity and therefore fertility. Litter and floor problems. Wet litter and splinters on slats may result in sore feet and reduced mating activity.
  • Disease problems. Diseases may affect males and females in a flock, resulting in fertility loss due to reduced mating activity as well as increased early embryonic mortality and/or loss of hatchability due to poor shell quality and/or internal egg quality.


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