Michigan 4-H Embryology Course: Considerations Before Starting Egg Incubation

February 24, 2021 -

Thank you for your interest in the Michigan 4-H Virtual Embryology Course. This program is designed for teachers, homeschool groups, community partners, 4-H leaders and other caring adults to teach youth about the science of hatching eggs. Before getting started, here are some considerations and planning tips.

Where will you get supplies?

If you own embryology equipment, examine all the pieces to verify they are in good condition and in working order. If you need equipment and supplies, please contact your county MSU Extension office. There may be equipment available to borrow, and MSU Extension staff can also connect you with local resources. 

If purchasing supplies on your own, here are a few ideas.

  • Possible funding. Consider contacting local chapters of organizations such as Farm Bureau, National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever to see if they may be interested in supporting the project.  
  • Eggs. Consider getting fertilized eggs from a local farmer. Fertilized eggs can be purchased from a hatchery, but may be more expensive.  
  • Brooder supplies. Consider containers youth can see through. Tubs with see-through lids (screen, mesh, something breathable, no solid plastic) also allow for viewing chicks.  A heat lamp, food container and water container will be needed. Bedding can be purchased or recycled paper can also be used inside the brooder. Also consider the depth of the container, so chicks can’t jump out as they grow.
  • Incubator. When selecting an incubator, consider one with an automatic egg turner. This eliminates having to turn the eggs by hand four or more times per day. Also consider incubators with a clear window which allow youth to view inside the incubator and digital readings for humidity and temperature, which make monitoring the incubator much easier. 
  • Optional materials. Additional materials can be purchased to help further the embryology experience for youth. Some materials may be suited better for specific ages so check them out if interested and decide for yourself if they fit your audience.
    • Chick Life Cycle Kit. Features 21 two-piece eggs in a storage tray that show a realistic illustration of a developing chick inside the eggs.
    • Supplemental books. A list is provided with.in the course as optional supplemental material

Do you have homes for chicks after hatching?

Every fertilized egg has the potential to hatch a live chick. Homes are essential to determine, before starting incubation.

Plan the hatch dates.

Eggs can start hatching between 20 and 22 days. Consider holidays and weekends when planning a date to start incubation.  

Who will monitor the incubator?

Incubators require frequent monitoring. Temperature, humidity and the turning of eggs needs to be consistent throughout incubation. Consider who will be responsible for these tasks. Creating a chart of rotating tasks among youth will engage everyone. Incubators also need to be monitored on weekends; this may require special planning due to building hours of operation. Once eggs begin incubating, the incubator cannot be moved. Using the tracking sheet provided in the D2L course can help to ensure the incubator is being monitored and teaches youth record keeping skills!

Who will care for the newly hatched chicks?

After chicks hatch, they are placed in a brooder. Chicks require a stable temperature, since they can’t regulate on their own. This requires frequent monitoring. Some buildings have a heating system that adjusts during hours of closure and this can cause the chicks to get cold. Consider the location and any factors that may affect the temperature of the brooder. Also consider how food and water will be monitored. A  brooder with live chicks can be moved carefully, so transporting it over weekends may be an option.

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