Starting Single-Stage Incubation

Advice on hatchery management changes when starting single-stage incubation from Henry Arts of Pas Reform.
calendar icon 27 December 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Management in a multi-stage hatchery is based on a daily routine of setting eggs according to a strict setting schedule per setter type. The common principle for establishing a setting schedule in a multi-stage incubator is based on the need to transfer metabolic heat from more developed embryos to the less developed, heat-demanding embryos in the early stage of embryonic development.

Embryo temperature in a multi-stage incubator is mainly controlled by the pattern of alternating ‘old’ heat-producing embryos and ‘young’ heat-demanding embryos. The incubators are filled according to the direction of the airflow in that specific make or model of incubator. In addition, the temperature controller is fixed at a specific set point. Embryo temperature is thus only supported approximately in multi-stage incubators.

Management in the multi-stage hatchery cannot accommodate egg quality or the needs of the growing embryo. However, it has becoming increasingly clear that today’s modern breeds need a more accurate approach to incubation to achieve high numbers of good quality chicks that fully realise their genetic potential (Fairchild et al, 2007). Furthermore, the multi-stage incubator cannot easily be cleaned – because it is never empty.

For these reasons, more and more hatcheries are making the transition from multi-stage to single-stage incubation management.

Single-stage incubation runs specific incubation programmes such that the climate in the incubator is programmed to match the specific needs of the developing embryos. Single-stage incubators can also be cleaned after each incubation cycle and thus meet high hygienic standards of today’s food production industry.

Often, the transition from multi-stage to single-stage incubation is initiated by the replacement of aged multi-stage incubators by new single-stage equipment, without an awareness that hatchery management too will need to be adjusted. Management in a single-stage hatchery is certainly not based on a routine, but rather adjusted to accommodate the needs of a specific egg type. Consequently, hatchery managers need to learn about variation in needs of embryos from different egg types, as defined by strain, flock age and the duration of storage.


  • Plan size of setters in accordance with size of batches of eggs. A batch of eggs is the total number of eggs produced on a specific day by one flock in one farm
  • Create an overview of the egg types incubated in your hatchery
  • Do not mix different batches of egg types. If separating egg types for incubation is not possible:
    • Fill setters with batches of eggs that have similar characteristics with respect to strain, flock age and days of storage.
    • Avoid filling one incubator with eggs from flocks more than five weeks apart in flock age.
    • Avoid filling one incubator with eggs from one flock but with more than five days’ storage difference.
    • If the incubator has to be filled with more than one batch of eggs, do not combine fresh eggs with eggs stored for more than five days.
  • Follow manufacturer’s guidelines carefully when starting the first incubation cycle in the single-stage incubator.
  • Keep records for each incubation cycle, per egg type used and showing the different management steps taken per type.
  • Use data with respect to hatchability, incubation time and chick quality from recording forms to fine-tune your incubation programmes.
  • Train hatchery personnel so that they are fully advised regarding the different management steps required when using single-stage practices.
  • Highlight the need for change: make sure hatchery personnel understand that single-stage management requires a different approach to multi-stage management to succeed.

December 2011
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