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Maintaining high humidity in an incubator during hatch

Wet, new chickAround day 19, when the first chicks could potentially start to pip, it's time to raise the humidity in your incubator to 65% or more.  High humidity during hatch is essential to lubricate your chicks as they do the hard work of wiggling around, pecking their way out of their shells.  At the same time, you need to keep the vent at least a third of the way open because these hard-working chicks need more airflow to feed their struggles.  But the open vent tends to lower the incubator's humidity, so that's the solution?

Increasing humidity in an incubator with a wicking clothYou can buy evaporating card to stick in your incubator's wells, but the cheaper method is just to use a piece of cloth.  If you place part of the cloth or evaporating card in the well and let the rest sit along the bottom of the incubator, water will wick up into the extra surface area, resulting in more evaporation and higher humidity.

For an even bigger dose of humidity to counteract the vapor lost when you open the lid, heat up some water until it's steaming but is still just cool enough to stick your hand in.  I poured some of this warm water into the wells every time I opened the lid of my Brinsea Octagon 20 incubator, which meant that the humidity rebounded within a minute of me opening and then reclosing the lid.

Opening the incubator lidMost websites will tell you to be as hands-off as possible during the hatch, opening the lid only once every six to eight hours.  Now that I've had a bit of experience, though, I disagree.  I've learned the hard way that if a newly hatched chick rolls a neighbor egg so that its pipping hole is facing the floor, the chick still in its shell can expire before you're allowed to open the lid again.  Knowing some tricks to maintain high humidity while still being allowed to open the lid seems to be key to higher hatch rates.

Our chicken waterer keeps chicks healthy from day 1.

Incubating chicken eggs

After several rounds of trial and error, I figured out the best way to incubate chicks.  You can read the blow by blow experimentation here, or splurge 99 cents on my ebook for the more refined solutions.

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My Scots Dumpy Eggs are due to hatch in the next 3 days so was so pleased to find this site especially as I'm using the Octagon 20 too and was concerned about keeping the humidity up. Many Thanks! Fingers crossed now for a good hatch!!

Comment by Dawn Wednesday afternoon, December 21st, 2011
Good luck! I hope you have a great hatch rate!
Comment by anna late Wednesday evening, December 21st, 2011

I have sarama chicks hatching and also have the octagon 20. I have now filled both water trophs but the himidity is now quite high (77). Can high humidity be dangerous at this stage? The vent is fully open?

Please help.

Comment by Amelia Sunday afternoon, April 29th, 2012
Amelia --- Your chicks are probably out of the shell by now, so maybe you can comment again and let us know if you had any trouble? I don't think you should --- more lubrication is generally better at the hatch stage, as long as you don't close the vent and lose the air flow.
Comment by anna Monday evening, April 30th, 2012
I have been reading all your information on the incubator humidity levels. My eggs are in their final days (yesterday was day 18)of hatching in my octagon 20 advanced, but my humidity level won't stay high! I am struggling to keep it high, even with the humidity programed at 65%. It has been fluctuating between 55% and 62% but it won't reach 65%. How can I keep the humidity up enough to keep the eggs alive?!
Comment by Meaghan early Tuesday morning, June 5th, 2012

Meaghan --- Did you try the washcloth method I mention in this post? Once I started doing that, and making sure I went into the hatch with both wells completely full, I didn't have any problem keeping the humidity up.

That said, 62% is fine! Don't worry about a little fluctuation.

Comment by anna early Wednesday morning, June 6th, 2012
I am on day 23 with RIReds ....eggs are moving but not pipping. One egg pipped early this morning but not a lot of change throughout the day. So I read where you can help them some for they may be stuck to sides. So I gently moistened egg and the shells are very thick & hard. But when I saw blood I frantically stopped. Bird is still alive & churning. I AM A NERVOUS WRECK...somebody please help me. First time to hatch.
Comment by Joan Gaudet Friday night, February 8th, 2013
Joan --- This post on helping chicks might be useful, but from your symptoms it sounds like everything's just running slow and you need to give it more time. Actually, since it's now a couple of days after you commented, hopefully you have lots of cute fuzzballs and it's all water over the dam?
Comment by anna late Monday morning, February 11th, 2013


Having trouble with my humidity-its summer here and so its humid but i have incubator in a room that is 70 degrees- I have a little water in there as none makes the humidity go way below the 51% optimum. It keeps going either too high or too low. I add a little more-too high-i take some out-too low. I am going nuts lol. Will this affect my eggs too much? I don't know how to keep it stable. Thanks for your help

Comment by Darlene Saturday afternoon, July 20th, 2013
Darlene --- It sounds like you're not hatching at the moment, which is when you want that high humidity. Otherwise, we actually use dry incubation in the summer, with the goal of 13% weight loss by day 18. Unlike temperature, humidity spikes won't harm your eggs (although too low humidity can cause chicks to stick to the eggs during hatch). Your goal with humidity is to get it to average out to the right amount, and weighing the eggs every two days is a good way to make sure you're on the right track there. Then, at day 18, you boost the humidity way up to lubricate your chicks as they start working their way out of their shells.
Comment by anna at lunch time on Monday, July 22nd, 2013
I just lost a chick starting hatching yesterday had a hole in egg but no progress in 24 hours lots a rolling and chirpingI didnt know if I should help checked on it its no longer breathing. The chick was breathing hard earlier is that normal or was it struggling for air? I removed one of the plugs from incubator but them I was having trouble with humidity. This was my first attempt to hatch by incubator so any pointers would help . Did I open lid too much? I still have eggs that should be hatching now but no noise or movement.
Comment by Cindy harris Friday night, January 16th, 2015
Cindy --- It's hard to know what might be going on without seeing your chicks. It's normal for one chick to start hatching before the others, but the fact that it didn't make it out of the egg suggests that something went wrong with your hatch. I'd recommend letting it run for a couple more days just in case someone hatches out, then doing an autopsy so you'll know what went wrong for next time. My incubation handbook will give you a lot more details.
Comment by anna late Monday morning, January 19th, 2015
I am using the Octagon 20 Advance and placed the eggs in today. I have both water troughs filled and still can not get the humidity past 39%. I have opened the incubator several times today and don't want to open again until tomorrow. Should I put the wash cloth in there at that time to increase the humidity? Is there a danger to the low humidity at this early stage?
Comment by Debra Grubbs Tuesday evening, February 24th, 2015

Debra --- During the early stages, improper humidity isn't going to cause much of a problem. I generally weigh the eggs every couple of days, and use that to determine whether I need to increase or decrease the humidity. The danger of extended periods of low humidity early on is that you could make the eggs lose weight faster than you want them to, which would give the chicks inside less room to develop.

Only when you're getting ready to hatch do you need to boost the humidity up to the point that you'll need to add a washcloth to the bottom.

Comment by anna Monday afternoon, March 2nd, 2015
Thus Is My First Time Trying To Hatch Eggs in The INCUBATOR Today Is Day 22 I Have 4 Eggs That SUPPOSE To Hatch Only 1 Started So Far Nothing Yet With The Other 3 I Can't Get My HUMINITY To Go Up Past 45 I Have The Water Chambers And Also A Wet Wash Cloth IN It is it Normal that some eggs take longer? If they don't start hatching could I try and open the eggs to see of the chick is even alive? I am so frustrated about this please help
Comment by cindy Friday night, March 6th, 2015
cindy --- I hear your frustration --- hatching your own eggs can be so daunting the first time around! By now, hopefully your chicks have hatched --- if they haven't at least pipped by day 23, I'd do a float test and then pull the plug. Here's hoping it all worked out for you!
Comment by anna at noon on Monday, March 9th, 2015
I thought I would share my tips on raising the humidity those last few days. I have a humidifier right next to the incubator. I also placed shallow pans of water (I use cake pans) as close to the incubator as possible, sometimes stacking them on top of each other. And pribably the most effective for me has been getting a large towel warm and hanging it up as close to my incubator as possible.Hope this helps, I know how frusterating controlling the humidity can be.
Comment by Amanda Cox late Tuesday afternoon, March 17th, 2015
Hi im new to using the incubator, my incubators humidity only goes to 50 at max, will i have to keep my room warm for the humidity level to get higher te first few days? Also when chicks start pipping out one by one, are we supposed to take them out of the incubator as soon as they are out? Or wait for all to peep out?
Comment by Anonymous Wednesday evening, March 25th, 2015

Anonymous --- Keeping the room around the incubator warm will definitely make it much easier to raise the humidity levels inside your incubator. Amanda's tips above are also very handy --- I hadn't thought of them before, but they sound like they should work well!

As for taking the chicks out one by one or waiting, it's all about humidity levels. You must keep the humidity high in the incubator during hatch, and if the exterior air is too dry, you can cause problems by opening the incubator repeatedly. That said, I prefer to take chicks out once they've hatched so they don't accidentally harm other chicks who aren't yet out of the egg. So it's up to you and your ability to manage humidity. Good luck!

Comment by anna mid-morning Monday, March 30th, 2015
hi, my bother and I have tried on three occasions to hatch eggs but our success rate is very low due to the humidity being too low on the last few days - he had one chick the first time, 50% formed but no hatch on the 2nd time and 3 hatched the third time. I currently have 4 polish eggs that are developing well and 3 hybrids that are also growing (my wyandottes didn't start :-( ). I need to get the humidity up but even with the wells completely full the humidity doesn't go above 59%. can I put the eggs onto a moist towel so that they can get the moisture that way or is there anything else we can try - last time I kept topping up the wells with steamy water but that only lasts for so long and I don't like to keep opening the incubator because of the temperature difference.
Comment by joe early Thursday morning, August 27th, 2015
Joe --- I wouldn't put your eggs directly on a wet towel, but you can certainly spread a towel out across the bottom of the incubator beneath the tray so it expands your water reservoir dramatically. And don't forget the vents, of course --- closing them increases humidity. Good luck!
Comment by anna at lunch time on Monday, August 31st, 2015

I had a similar problem with humidity not going higher than 66% with water maxed out including extra sponges etc. so what I tried was a bit more adventurous. I gave the heater element a quick little squirt of water (not near the wires or the sensor ) and quickly closing the lid, sure enough I got my 80% humidity. Also another tip/warning, when adding trays of water etc into the incubator (you may be trying to get moisture up etc) to be sure that when you close the lid of the incubator the thermocouple doesn't end up in the tray of water or you'll be having poached eggs the next morning.. Happy days :)

Comment by Dave early Sunday morning, October 11th, 2015

So it looks like i have different issues my humidity is to high its around 55-60% "i took most of the water out"there on day 5 and i ordered some more eggs from ebay that are going to come in about 5 days... so that means i will have eggs 10 day apart :( Im new at all this and now reading i see that the last few days my humidity needs to go up so any idea what i can do with the eggs that the humidity is not suppose to go up yet??? I have a good incubator it has a fan and it rotates etc.. Thanks

Comment by karen gonzalez in the wee hours of Tuesday night, November 18th, 2015
Karen --- This is a common problem for us if we incubate eggs in the summer. Hatch humidity is good, but it's hard to keep the humidity low enough during the rest of the cycle. The best I've come up with is trying to put the incubator in the coolest part of the house and setting up a dehumidifier, but it can still be dicey! In general, I try not to incubate when house humidity is so high it's going to be a problem.
Comment by anna Tuesday afternoon, November 24th, 2015

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