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Incubation of Eggs

Avian vet Dr Chris Kingsley addressed the Eastcape Bird Club on 2 December 2000. The club committee requested that this address be published in Avizandum because they were so impressed by it, that they want to share it with everybody who is interested in bird keeping and breeding. Here is the section on Incubation:

HAND RAISING STARTS WITH CORRECT INCUBATION

If the temperature and the humidity in the incubator are not correct, you will start off with a weak baby bird whose chances of survival and normal growth are not good. I am not going to discuss incubators here, but they are essential and there are good books on incubation.

Humidity and temperature must be accurate and correct. An egg has to lose about 15% of its mass from when it was laid to hatching. For successful incubation you need to weigh the egg to make sure that the loss of mass is occurring and that the rate at which it occurs is not too fast or too slow. If the egg loses too much moisture (normally because the egg shell is too porous or the humidity in the incubator is too low) it is losing more moisture than it should and that will end up in a baby bird that does not develop correctly. The baby bird is smaller than he should be. He will be dehydrated upon hatching, if he is able to hatch at all, because they are often too weak and unable to hatch if they are dehydrated. Exactly the same happens when the moisture level is too high. The baby bird has to lose a certain amount of mass.

The air space in the egg is very important. Once the baby bird breaks through the inner membrane he needs to have enough space to move freely and be able to pip the shell all the way around the egg so that he can hatch normally. Many of you will have experienced that when you need to help a baby bird out of the shell, it normally has a big problem. You normally just help it along toward its death. If he is not strong enough to hatch on his own, you normally find he has a serious problem.

It is also possible, if the egg comes from a dirty incubator or nest, for bacteria or fungi to pass through the egg shell. You then lose the baby bird in the shell or shortly after hatching as a result of an infection picked up while still in the egg. If the conditions under which an egg hatches are not hygienic, baby birds can already be ill when they hatch.

CLEANING OF THE EGGS

If eggs that are taken from the nest are fouled with droppings it is not advisable to take them and actually physically wash them because in doing so, the surface structures of the egg may be damaged and the egg is likely to lose more mass during incubation than it should. There is a very delicate cuticle over the surface of the egg which is important in preventing bacterial penetration and also in allowing normal exchanges of gas and water vapour across the eggshell membrane to take place. Do not scrub the eggs clean. When you have a dirty egg, make up a soluIf eggs that are taken from the nest are fouled with droppings it is not advisable to take them and actually physically wash them because in doing so, the surface structures of the egg may be damaged and the egg is likely to lose more mass during incubation than it should. There is a very delicate cuticle over the surface of the egg which is important in preventing bacterial penetration and also in allowing normal exchanges of gas and water vapour across the eggshell membrane to take place. Do not scrub the eggs clean. When you have a dirty egg, make up a solution of disinfectant (in the case of Virkon it is 1:200) and dip the egg in it. Let the egg dry; do not wipe it. Transfer the dry egg to the incubator.Caption: In this particular case, a hole in the egg was patched with normal brown cello tape, the egg
was artificially incubated and the chick hatched successfully

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