We searched the NET for many nights to find plans for a simple homemade poultry incubator. Time after time the links we followed came full circle to the same three incubators. No matter which search engine we tried the results remained the same. We have since found some others but they all revolve around these basic types:
Refrigerator - A full size fridge is much too large for our purposes but the concept is not without its merits. Not only is the box ready-made but it is well insulated. Personally, I would like to use a bar fridge to make an incubator but they are much too small for our purposes.
Plywood - I have spent my life working with metal and that is the medium with which I feel most comfortable. Wood working isn't my cup of tea. Keeping this unit clean and odour free would prove to be a problem.
Styrofoam cooler - Our first incubator was a store-bought styrofoam model. We found that humidity built up to undesirable levels. The other problem was (after a rotten egg exploded inside) that it was impossible to clean it so that it wouldn't smell. Reluctantly we discarded it.
Discussion eventually led us to decide on building something different (some might say it is even "off the wall"). We settled on a design that would have to be simple to make and the components relatively cheap to buy. Oh yeah, it would have to be easy to keep clean. During a shopping trip to town we finally chose a small table top charcoal BBQ at the local Canadian Tire Store.
The dimmer is used for temperature control. It was housed inside a plastic electrical connection box such as what is commonly used for household wiring.
For the first hatch we used a 100 Watt bulb but it made things much too hot with even the slightest touch of the dimmer control. Now we use a 40 Watt bulb. It can still cause over-heating but it is much more accurately controlled because the dimmer isn't so touchy now.
Since the BBQ is basically an uninsulated metal container, fluctuations in ambient room temperature makes it hard to keep a constant temperature so we are going to install a safety device in the future. We purchased a replacement thermostat for an electric baseboard heater at the local Canadian Tire Store and will use it to limit the maximum temperature on those hot days. When the set temperature is exceeded the thermostat contacts will open and break the electrical connection to the heater, allowing the temperature to fall back to desired levels.
A hole was drilled in the lid and a cheap floating thermometer for an aquarium was mounted with silicone sealer. The bulb of the thermometer is at the upper third from the top of the eggs. If it is accurate enough for tropical fish it sure is good enough for an incubator. And so it is.
This is what greeted me a full two days early when I went to spray the eggs with water. The eggs had been turned twice per day until the day before yesterday so that was cutting things close. Only two eggs had hatched so far but another three were piping.
Just visible is a little white spot (the first peck hole) in the egg above the empty egg shell. Another three eggs were getting ready to hatch. The lid went back on for 12 more hours until I return home from work that day.
A successful hatch:
Six out of 13 eggs had hatched by the time I returned home from work that day and it was still two full days early.
THIS is my favourite 'Reality Show'.
Dara is removing the empty egg shells so the new chicks can have some elbow room :)
A weakness with this incubator is that the eggs are just sitting there. The new hatchlings played football with the unhatched eggs and that cost us another four chicks. I would take small rubber O-Rings and sit the eggs into them to keep the eggs from rolling around if we use this incubator in the future. Something in the way of 3/4 to 1" diameter should do the job as long as it is 3/16" cross section.
Out of the original thirteen eggs only two proved to be infertile.
You really have to be on your toes to keep the chicks from hopping into the centre, above the hot lamp. One has jumped in already and had to be rescued. They won't survive long if they remain there. There is not enough room between the lid and the chimney ring for chicks to hop in when the lid is on so that is normally not a worry.
Another problem with this design is that a chick or two can easily jump out and fall to the floor when the lid is removed. With the incubator up on top of a workbench in the basement and sitting near the end it is a long way down to the cement floor.
The lid was replaced.
A close look will reveal at least one fuzzy bum behind the ventilator. It was left open so the chicks could dry out while they wait for sundown. There was a hen eagerly trying to hatch some golf balls that was designated as the "Mother Hen". She had gone broody on a single egg so we took the egg and replaced it with three golf balls so she would stay focused until the eggs in the incubator hatched. After dark she was moved to a new location and the chicks placed under her. No way will she leave those chicks because by morning she will think that they are hers. Thus, our problem of how to keep the chicks warm was to be solved.
Guess it was all worth it :)
Mama Hen is as proud as punch. She spent her first day off the nest exploring the chicken house with the new brood while she clucked non-stop. Five chicks have survived the whole ordeal and the flock has some late season additions to add to the gene pool.
By day three Mama Hen had taken her new brood outside for 'scratch & peck" lessons. Was all this worth it? Just ask her!