Home-made Egg Incubator for chicken brooder
updated 28th May 2012
You can easily hatch your own Chicken eggs if you have the patience to wait for twenty-one days.
In my first attempt I got nothing out of the six eggs. I had to discard them after waiting for 25 days. When I broke them, there were no signs of embryos. I had bought them and so wondered whether they had been fertilized at all. This time I used eggs laid and fertilized in my compound, so I was very sure of their potence.
In the incubation I will describe here, two out of twelve eggs hatched. Not too good but a major improvement. It means something was right. I will give you details of my homemade incubator and maybe we can improve on it together.
The heating unit
At first I used a 60-watt bulb during the testing stage. The temperatures shot to beyond 46 Centigrade. I changed to a 40-watt bulb and the temperatures remained at slightly above 40 degrees. That was not good enough since even opening the trap door completely did not lower the temperatures significantly. I felt that I needed to be able to raise the temperatures by closing the trap door and vice versa. That is when the idea of drilling extra breather holes came to mind (see diagram).
I lined the inside of the light box with aluminum foil to reflect the energy. That helped to raise the temperatures a little from around 30 degrees to 36 centigrade. I found that by closing the trap door on the light box I could raise the temperatures to the desired 40 degrees. I was now able to keep the temperatures to within the required range.
The box is made of wood lined with ply-wood which is tacked with panel pins. The trap door is also a piece of play-wood hinged with cloth. The cloth is stack with wood glue.
I used a glass fish-tank of 15" x 9" x9" inches. I lined the inside of the aquarium glass tank with carton material to improve on the insulation. On the front face of the glass tank, I cut a small window into the carton of about 4"x 4" so that I could peep inside and monitor the temperatures with a thermometer placed inside and secured with selo-tape.
Next I bought two plastic containers - the kind that people use to save food in a refrigerator. I discarded the lids. One of the containers would hold the water to maintain humidity in the incubator. The other container which was slightly bigger would contain the eggs.
Turning the eggs
In my first failed attempt to hatch chicken, I used to turn the eggs over by hand. Eggs must be turned three to four times during the day so that the yolk does not stick to the sides. Apparently, real hens are aware of this and do it without a second thought. I found turning the eggs individually a bother and maybe the constant handling was not good for the eggs either. Hands can transfer germs, oils and even water. The egg surface is porous and prone to infection. I also read that it has a coating that serves a bactericide which is why eggs for incubation should not be washed. This time, I devised a method that would save me from handling the eggs until they were ready to hatch. Three days before the anticipated hatch, the eggs should not turned.
I cut five strips of carton and used them to make compartments in the larger plastic container. Then I drilled a hole in the dead centre of the plastic container. I pushed a bolt through the hole and secured it tightly with a nut. The bolt was about three inches long. This meant that at any time, I could have the entire container leaning on any of the four sides.
· So, first thing in the morning, I made the plastic container lean to the left.
· Around eleven, somebody helped to nudge it to the right - where the water pan is (see diagram).
· At about four it was nudged to lean forwards.
· Just before bedtime, the container was nudged to lean backwards (see diagram).
Monitoring the temperatures inside was very important. I strived to maintain them between 36 and 40 degrees Centigrade as I had read from experts. However, power failure for a few hours if common in Kenya but that did not pose a problem. The temperatures never went 30 degrees centigrade. There was only one day when there was power failure for 10 hours. Maybe that day caused significant damage, but I will never know. The temperatures dropped to about 25 degrees centigrade but quickly normalized when power was restored.
The only routine that had to be followed was the nudging of the egg tray four times a day. The water in the plastic container was only topped up twice in the incubation period. The trap door was rarely adjusted except after a power failure. In such a case, I shut it to encourage the temperatures to rise to the desired range.
Preparing a home for the chicks.
At around the 16 days of incubation, I prepared another fish tank ( I used to keep a lot of fish and have plenty of tanks lying around), this time a 36” x 18” x 18” with a light box. I sanitized it with methylated spirit and lined it with a plastic sheet. I then placed sawdust on the base and left it open to fume off until the chicks hatched. I bought a commercial chicken feeder for solids and another one for water and placed them in the tank. Then I started to test the temperatures. That would be their new home. I wanted them to at least have the same temperature range as they had during incubation and then lower it gradually later.
Three days before the expected hatching I removed the eggs from the compartments. I put the compartment away, living only the water pan. I lined the space with soft fabric and carefully placed the eggs on the fabric. i made sure that the large end of the egg was facing up-wards otherwise the chick, as they say would drown. The air-sack is on the large end. I wonder how hens know this but this is just one of the many wonders of nature.
On the 21st day, one of the eggs cracked and a chick piped. It took 15 hours to completely get out. I was very tempted to help. The chick was so big compared to the egg that it seemed like a miracle. This chick was dry and the literature says it could have been due to excessive heat. This is doubtful because the next chick was not dry.
On the following day, the 22nd day, another chick freed itself in record time. I was not present but I was informed that it achieved the feat in half an hour – a real marathoner. It was skinnier and wetter than the first. This they say could be due to low heat.
The small chick has turned out to be the more active one. One interesting thing is that it cannot be separated from the first one without screaming to death. It believes that is its mother because that is the first moving object it saw. It really bothers the first one by attempting to always go under it.
On the second day after hatching, the chicks started to peck at the sawdust. I placed a saucer with food and another one with water since they ignored the commercial feeder containers. The two siblings are doing fine.
Out of 12 eggs, only 2 hatched. This is a great improvement from ‘NOTHING’ in the first attempt. We should count the small blessings, and I am greatly encouraged to improve on that in the next batch. Below are the areas I will improve on:
1. I will select only the most recently laid eggs. Nothing older than seven days. In this batch, even though the eggs were our own, I had no idea how old the eggs had been.
2. I want to increase humidity by having a larger container, preferably below the eggs, not beside.
3. Lastly I will watch the temperature range more closely and invest in a wet bulb thermometer (to monitor humidity).
I wish you better luck than this. Let me know what happens in your attempt.
The Siblings at seven weeks
Three months later
Second generation incubator
on 12th January, the second experiment bore fruit. Out of 24 eggs, seven chicks hatched successfully. On analysing the unhatched eggs, three had died halfway in the incubation period. 14 eggs had no signs of growth, meaning they were infertile. I sampled some of the eggs that have been laid recently and found that some were not a deep yellow as expected of 'Rooster fertilized eggs.' I concluded that the Rooster has been sleeping on the job or probably has a favourite wife among he four hens - hence many infertile eggs.
Anyway, the incubator was much improved as follows:
1. instead of having a water container within the 24 X 12 X 12 inch fish tank, I put the water directly in the fish tank to a level of about an inch. That way, the egg containers (two this time but same design as above) were completely surrounded by water. Proper humidity was assured even though I did not have a gadget to measure it. During the incubation period, the water was topped up twice.
2. I realised that temperatures increased in the early afternoon and dropped in the eveining as influenced by the external weather. They stayed steady throughout the night. I therefore established a routine of opening the entire Light box cover about an inch in the afternoon and closing in the evenings to keep the temperatures between 36 and 39 degrees Centigrade.The vents alone were not adequate to lower temperatures. That is why it is wise to tinker with your incubator for a few days before you place the eggs.
I will be posting the pictures of the seven Chicks on a week by week basis as they develop in the 36 X 18 x 18 glass tank. Their older siblings are settled in a coup outside near the Rooster and his four hens.
When the chicks hatched, four were an off-white colour (cream), while three were black. As they mature, all the chicks are developing brown feathers. The previously off-white chicks now appear to be a light brown as a result. The previously black chicks still retain some of the black, but the brown feathers are changing the overal tint to a dark brown. There father is all brown anyway, and it is expected that they should take some of his genes. The laying hens are 2 white (with some black spots) and two brown (with some black spots). It appears like all the breads in the world are represented. At three weeks they behave more like birds than chicken. If let out, they fly. I had to work very hard to retrieve two that were going under everything to get away from me.
27th May 2012
The January brood is now medium sized. All the chicks survived except one which succumbed to Coccidiosis about a week ago. This was outright carelessness on my part. I had already established a regime of giving them a broad spectrum antibiotic for five days every 5 to 7 weeks, but this time it was neglected. Coccidiosis infection occurs when they are exposed to their own waste as happens in enclosures. Walking on their food transfers and increases germs in their gut that are otherwise harmless in small quantities. I would have lost the entire brood but acted fast. Two of the chicks had eye infections and I intervened with an eye ointment from a vet. The cream-coloured chicks changed to a light brown, but the black ones have retained their colour.