The Art of the Lockdown Phase

Oh, the lockdown phase.  It is definitely the most exciting of all.  If you’ve hatched chickens (or other birds) you know exactly what this is, but for those who don’t, the lockdown phase is is the last three days of incubation, which is day 18 for chickens. The eggs are not turned anymore, which means you don’t have to manually turn them anymore (yay!) or you remove them from their auto turner and set them on the bottom of the incubator.  At day 18 for chickens, the chick is finally getting into hatch position and it’s fuzz is growing.  The chick moves it’s head to the blunt end of the egg now.  Once it starts pipping it will pip in a counter-clockwise fashion and then pop the end of the egg off and emerge!

I always candle my eggs before I ‘lock them down’ to make sure all my eggs are still viable from their day 14 candling.  In the past, I’ve had a few eggs that quit on me in that period.  I usually throw out the quitters on day 14 and have all good ones by day 18, but since I have the incubator open, I like to take a look at my babies!  The picture to the right shows what an egg looks like at approximately 18 days of incubation.  Since I don’t have a fancy-schmancy candler my eggs didn’t look this clear, but I could still see what I was looking for (thus, I borrowed a picture).  The bottom, blunt end of the egg holds the air sac, which should have gotten bigger as incubation progressed.  You can see veins above and the black, lumpy area is the chick.  Some people elect to weigh their eggs every few days to make sure they’re losing enough weight but not too much and then adjusting their humidity accordingly, but I don’t really want to do that.  Seems like a lot of unnecessary work.

Now that lockdown has begun, I begin worrying about humidity.  From the beginning of incubation to day 18, I don’t even look at it.  As long as my incubators say it is about 20% (which almost every home is that), I don’t worry.  Now, once I get my eggs settled on their sides, out of the turners, I work on increasing humidity.  In my Brinsea, it’s as easy as changing the settings.  Since I opted for the humidity pump (because I’m a techy nerd and I’d saved my monies up) all I had to do was change the settings.  The Brinsea comes pre-programmed at 20% from the factory, and as long as humidity doesn’t dip below that, it doesn’t alarm or turn the pump on.  If there’s no pump, you would fill the water channels and use paper towels to raise humidity.  All I had to do was hit the plus button on the Brinsea brain and my pump brought humidity to 65% in a matter of minutes.  Fool proof!

Optimal humidity for lockdown and hatching is about 60-65%.  This allows the egg shells to soften and keeps it moist enough in the incubator to prevent the chicks from drying too quickly.  If humidity is too low, the chick could dry out too quickly once the shell is pipped (the chick pecks a hole in it) and could perish.  If humidity is too high, it could cause drownings.  This said, all vent holes on the incubator need to be open to allow plenty of fresh air into the incubator.  NEVER, EVER, EVER open the incubator lid for anything in these last three days.  It could drastically drop the humidity and cause premature deaths in your peepers!  You want the environment to remain stable.

Which brings me to my next point.  With my LG styrofoam incubator, I have to be able to fill the water channels to keep humidity up.  My LG has two vent holes that I keep open during lock down, so I use a straw and fish it through the hole to the water channels and squirt water in with a syringe.  Just a regular bendy straw works fine.  I also cover part of the mesh bottom with a folded paper towel and stuff the water troughs with paper towels.  This increases the surface area of moisture to increase that humidity!  Make sure, if you do add water to your incubator, that it’s warm water.  No ice cubes please!  My LG also doesn’t have a hygrometer so I  bought one, and it’s not even close to being right.  So I have to calibrate it every year using the salt water technique (Google it and you’ll get thousands of step-by-step instructions) and go from there.  I usually check the humidity every few hours or so during the day because I’m nuts, but it really does stay stable for me by adding water twice a day or so.

Just remember, stabilization is the key.  Stable temperatures and stable humidity during lockdown equals success.  No drastic changes!  Hopefully I have some cute chick pictures to share here in a short few days!

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