As a turkey breeder, whether novice or professional, incubating and hatching the eggs of a turkey is a delicate but interesting process. The eggs are laid between April and June. Depending on the size of the hen, the number of eggs per clutch can vary. Heavy breeds lay as few as 50 eggs, while lighter turkey breeds can lay as many as 100 eggs. Turkey eggs can either be hatched naturally by the turkey hen incubating them, or artificially, using an electronic incubator. Natural incubation is normally avoided, especially if the turkeys are bred for consumption, as the turkey hen can be a slightly careless mother. Below, the process of how to hatch turkey eggs using an incubator is detailed.
How to Hatch Turkey Eggs in an Incubator
The hatching process is divided into the following main parts.
Selecting and preparing the eggs
- Prior to handling the eggs at any time, always wash your hands well.
- Do not touch other objects, including your face, then touch the eggs. As the dirt from your hands can contaminate the eggs through their thin surface.
- Choose eggs that have clear, smooth surfaces, free of any cracks or damage.
- Wash eggs with a sanitizer, especially if there is visible dirt on them.
- A week before incubating the eggs, you should place them in egg cartons and store them in a cool dark location.
- Eggs should be incubated as soon as possible. Ideally they should be stored for just a week before incubating. As the eggs get older, their rate of hatchability decreases.
- Before placing the eggs in the incubator, let them reach room temperature.
- The eggs need to be rotated in the incubator, so that they are uniformly warmed. You can mark the flat sides of the eggs with different letters using a pencil, so you can differentiate between sides.
Preparing the incubator
- Try to get an incubator with a temperature regulator, or you will need to use a digital thermometer, so you can easily measure the temperature present within the device.
- The amount of moisture or humidity in the incubator is also important. Fill the water channels as mentioned in the manual, to maintain the correct level of humidity.
- Read the manual well, so you understand how to set its temperature properly. Make sure it is clean and disinfected before use.
- If possible, try to test your incubator and its working process beforehand with a trial run by incubating chicken eggs.
- Place the machine in a location that will be undisturbed at all times and remains at a consistent temperature. An ideal temperature setting is between 70°F and 75°F.
- Make sure the incubator is placed far away from air vents, doors, or windows, as such locations can let in cold air or sunlight, that can affect its temperature.
- Set up the incubator well in advance to placing the eggs. It should be prepared for use 24 hours before placing the eggs.
- Turkey eggs require 28 days to hatch, so keep track of the days of incubation accordingly. The first 24 days are key formative days for the eggs.
- The optimal temperature of the incubator is between 98°F and 102°F. Make sure it has reached such a temperature range and remains constant. The machine's temperature should not go above or below the optimal temperature range.
- Keep checking the incubator's humidity levels. It must not get too dry or too wet. A humidity level of 55% should be maintained throughout the incubation period. To precisely measure humidity levels, you can use a hygrometer.
- The incubating eggs need to be turned to ensure they receive uniform warmth. Movement also stimulates the hatching process. But the eggs should not be disturbed repeatedly. They should be rotated at least 3 times a day.
- Some incubators will turn the eggs automatically as needed. Other models will need you to manually turn the eggs. Place the eggs in the machine, all having the same mark or symbol side up.
- The eggs should be turned by 180 degrees, such that the side with the other symbol is completely visible. Turn all eggs in the incubator at the same time.
- Stop turning the eggs on the 25th day of incubation. If your incubator has an automatic egg turning ability, lay the eggs out on the wire floor of the machine. Otherwise turn the eggs, such that their larger end is slightly elevated. The eggs should remain undisturbed for the last 3 days of incubation.
- During the last 3 days of incubation, the humidity levels should be increased to 75%. Depending on the humidity levels at your area of residence, you may need to increase or decrease the humidity levels within your incubator.
- The eggs are most likely to start hatching on the 28th day of incubation. It can take between 5-10 hours for a chick to hatch out of the egg.
- Cracks may appear in the egg's shell. Make sure the cracked side of the egg is facing upwards, so the chick can emerge properly. You may even hear peeping noises.
- Do not interfere in the hatching process. Let the chick hatch on its own. Hatching is the first test of survival. A chick capable of hatching on its own, is a healthy and strong chick. Chicks too weak to hatch, will remain weak and will soon die.
- A newly hatched chick should be left alone for 5-6 hours in the incubator, until it dries from the hatching process. Then show it some food and water. Keep it warm and wash your hands before handling it.
Hatching Turkey Eggs Naturally
A turkey hen preparing to lay eggs and nest, can get very territorial and broody. Once she has established her nesting place, she will not budge from it and will get very aggressive if you try to. She can injure you painfully with pecks and jabs and if you touch her eggs, she may decide to abandon them. So leave her to nest, with sufficient food and water and let nature take its course. After the eggs have hatched, move the mother and her brood of chicks to a secure pen. The pen should protect the newly born chicks from predators as well as be covered and warm enough to protect them from the weather.
Once the chicks are born, it is time to follow the right rearing and breeding practices to grow healthy and hearty turkeys. It may seem difficult at first, but the incubating and hatching process with any fowl's eggs, needs patience, research, and attention to detail to succeed.