What is a Hatchery?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hatchery is a facility where eggs are incubated and hatched. Many hatcheries also care for the young animals in their first few days or weeks of life, until they are healthy and old enough to be shipped to another location. There are several different types of hatchery in use around the world, and hatcheries may be established for numerous purposes, ranging from conservation to a need to create a stable food supply. People who want to order fertile eggs or young animals from a hatchery can do so through catalogs and mail orders.

Many salmon are bred in fish hatcheries.
Many salmon are bred in fish hatcheries.

Some hatcheries handle fish such as salmon. They collect, monitor, and incubate the eggs, using the young fish to stock ponds, streams, and fish farming operations. The hatchery may be established for the purpose of increasing the population of an endangered species, or for supplying fish for sport, ornamentation, and food. Fish hatcheries tend to specialize in a particular species. The release of hatchery fish into the wild has been a controversial topic in some regions, with opponents arguing that the fish may cause problems in native fish populations, ranging from weakening genetic stock to spreading disease.

Chicks are hatched in a hatchery.
Chicks are hatched in a hatchery.

Other hatcheries deal with poultry such as chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Poultry hatcheries often handle multiple species, using large incubators to incubate the eggs and protect the young in the early stages of their lives. Some hatcheries breed birds for private consumers, such as fancy breeds of chicken kept by hobbyists, while others supply poultry to the agriculture industry. Many large poultry farms have an attached hatchery which ensures that the supply of birds is consistent and steady.

Hatchery work can be grueling and very dirty. The facilities are usually supervised by biologists or veterinarians who are familiar with animal husbandry, and they require a lot work on the ground every day. Workers must ensure that the eggs are handled safely and properly, and that the young animals are provided with necessary nutrition, water, and clean facilities. A full time hatchery may constantly have eggs in incubators at different stages of development along with young animals which require monitoring, and this necessitates a large staff.

People can also establish a hatchery in their own homes or small farms, using small incubators in a scaled-down version of the commercial hatchery. Hatcheries are also sometimes used for educational purposes, as in classrooms where children learn about animal husbandry by hatching and raising chicks.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@TreeMan - We were just talking about how a chicken hatchery is run in one of my classes the other day.

Like the article mentions, there is a separation between the hatchery and other areas of an operation. The whole process is pretty high tech. For a lot of companies like Tyson, they keep their exact procedures secret.

The basic process is that they choose the best chickens and only use their eggs. They put the eggs on huge trays and incubate them in a special oven, thousands at a time. At just the right moment, they pull them out and take them to a new section where the chicks hatch and are sorted to weed out the unhealthy ones.

After all this, they are put in special pens until they are large enough to move to the main buildings.


Which is the biggest market for hatcheries? Is it chickens or fish? I know over the past couple of years there has been a push for more fish hatcheries, especially for tilapia and catfish. I actually heard about a shrimp hatchery starting not far from where I live.

How sanitary are hatcheries? If you have thousands of fish or chickens together in a pen, it can't be very clean can it? I was also wondering about all that went on to maximize the number of animals that the site can produce. Does anyone have any experience with how hatcheries are run?


@titans62 - That sounds like a great experiment. My school did something similar as part of a science fair, but they used chicken eggs. I guess the sex of chickens develops the same way as turtles.

The article mentions salmon, but where I live, trout hatcheries are a huge business. I think for fish I have always heard them called fisheries. I'm not sure if there is really any difference.

Once a year they release the new fish into the streams for people to catch. It is kind of sad that there aren't enough fish to reproduce on their own. I can see the problems with genetics that the article mentions.


One of the funnest parts of grade school for me was when we set up a turtle hatchery. I'm not sure what we were learning about or how the hatchery related to the topic, but it was fun.

Depending on the temperature the eggs are kept at, a turtle will develop into a male or female. Everyone in the class got to choose whether they wanted a male or female, and then the eggs got put into their side of the machine.

Unfortunately, some of the eggs didn't hatch, but for the ones that did, we learned how to check whether the turtle was male or female. If our parents would let us, we got to take them home. Otherwise we released them into a nearby pond. Looking back on it now, I'm sure they didn't fare too well, but it was a fun experiment anyhow.

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