It doesn’t matter whether you own a chicken farm or simply want to have a steady income of fresh eggs, having an incubator goes a long way, especially during the colder seasons.
More and more people are catching onto the trend of building their own incubators rather than buying consumer-grade models simply because they are quite expensive. In fact, a solid high-quality incubator can cost you over a few hundred dollars while making your own costs next to nothing.
Why should you consider making an egg incubator?
There are people who shy away from the DIY approach simply because they think that you need technical skills, hours of watching YouTube videos, and a well-equipped workshop. Even though you’ll need a little know-how, building a chick incubator is pretty easy, especially if you have a step-by-step guide.
The best part about making your own incubator is that you will get to decide all of its main components – how big it is, how it will be designed, how many eggs can fit in it, and so on, and so forth.
Obviously, you will also save quite a bit of cash during the process, as all of the materials you’ll require can be acquired for a pocketful of dollars at nearly any regular convenience store. You might need to take a trip to the hardware shop if you don’t have the basic tools, but that’s pretty much it.
Before you get started – tools and materials
It wouldn’t hurt to talk about the materials you’ll need so that you get a better perspective of how they work in synergy.
The core of your DIY egg incubator should ideally be made of Styrofoam. This particular material has tremendous insulating properties, which is the main reason why we recommend sticking with it. Ideally, you should get a big chunk of Styrofoam; optimally, a Styrofoam box.
Gluing and taping smaller Styrofoam pieces is also an option, although this will make the process a bit harder.
You can use a pair of scissors to cut the Styrofoam and to shape the contraption, but we recommend using a scalpel. While scissors are, perhaps, a bit easier to use, a scalpel will benefit you increased cutting accuracy.
Styrofoam is pretty squishy, which means that you could easily cut it with a plain kitchen knife too. However, for the sake of precision, use a scalpel.
An egg incubator is not simply a ‘storage place’ for little chicks. You’ll need a heating source that will help the eggs hatch in the most natural way possible. Chickens lay atop their eggs to ‘warm them up’, so you’ll need to hit the right spot in terms of temperature.
Using a 25-watt light bulb as a heating source is our recommendation. It’s neither too strong nor too weak, which means that it’s perfect for this particular job.
You’ll be using duct tape in one or two situations. Firstly, if you haven’t been able to find a big piece of Styrofoam, you can duct tape several smaller pieces together; duct tape has great insulation properties, just like Styrofoam, so taping the pieces together seems like a better idea than gluing them together.
If on another hand, you’ve found the perfect Styrofoam box, you’ll use duct tape to secure the light bulb. Taping around the heat source ensures that the risk of Styrofoam catching fire is kept to a bare minimum. Note that Styrofoam is incredibly flammable.
Since incubators aim to recreate a natural hatching environment for little chicks, you’ll also need to introduce a humidity source. Again, just like it’s important for Styrofoam to not catch fire, it’s equally important for it to not get wet. Water and electricity usually don’t go too well hand in hand.
We recommend putting some water in a small bowl and inserting a sponge inside. The sponge will soak up the water and substantially reduce the risk of spilling while still providing the atmosphere with the right dose of humidity.
Getting started – design & dimensions
It’s important to note that the materials we’ve discussed above are needed for ‘building an incubator from scratch’. The amount (and quality) of the materials you’ll use largely depends on what type of design you want to go for.
For example, bigger, more complex incubators usually need several heating and humidity sources. Additionally, low-consumption 25-watt bulbs won’t cut it. In that regard, all the materials we’ve discussed are meant for building an average, simple DIY egg incubator.
Step 1 – Building the core
The ‘core’ of your incubator is basically its ‘exterior’. This step requires patience, as you’ll be cutting and taping a miniature home for your future chickens.
First of all, take out the Styrofoam and decide where you want to go from here. If you think that the box is too small, cut it up in even pieces. Take note that you’ll also need a bit of Styrofoam if the box features an open top. In order for the core to be properly insulated, it needs to be sealed.
After the ‘core’ is made, you’ll need to cut open a hole in the Styrofoam. Ideally, if the core is rectangular, it should be cut at either end of the longer sides. If it’s built like a square, it doesn’t really matter.
The hole should be just about big enough to fit the smaller end of a 25-w light bulb. You can carve it a bit smaller and then use the bulb’s end to gently pierce the remainder of the hole.
Step 2 – connecting the bulb with an electricity source
Before you test out the bulb, use duct tape to secure it in place. Even though you’ve pierced the hole with the screw-in mount (smaller end), duct tape will ensure that it doesn’t come loose at any point. It’s imperative that the bulb is securely affixed in one position; if its angle drops, it might reach a point of contact with Styrofoam and eventually set it afire.
Duct tape provides extra insulation and protection from both electricity and fire. As a measure of precaution, you could also tape the bottom end of the core around the bulb, just to be safe. Alternatively, you can place hard-wire mesh at the bottom. Even though this will cost a couple of extra dollars, it will provide your newly hatched chicks with an additional layer of protection against excess warmth.
(Optional) Step 2.5 – Dividing the core & inserting the thermometer
The reason why this process is optional is that it involves spending a couple of extra bucks, a bit more cutting, and a bit more taping. Even though chicken eggs will be perfectly safe even under direct exposure from the warmth coming out of the bulb, you can purchase a thermometer to directly monitor everything that’s happening inside the core.
Budget thermometers usually cost around $15 to $20, so there’s no need to go with boutique models that come supplied with all the fancy features.
Now, if you still want to proceed with this step, you should use hard-wire mesh to split the core in two. The mesh will soak up excess heat, but it will also cut down the core’s capacity by half. This will, however, ensure that the hatching process goes as smoothly as it possibly can be.
The thermometer should be placed where the chicken eggs are supposed to be (the opposite end of where the bulb is).
Step 3 – adding a humidity source
Styrofoam has incredible insulation properties, which only means that all of the heat build-ups will remain inside of the core. This can create terribly unpleasant and unnatural conditions for the new hatchlings, so it’s important to add a humidity source – water.
Since you can’t simply pour some water down because electricity’s involved, you should put a bowl of clean water on the side where eggs are. A sponge can be placed inside the bowl for easy water quantity adjustment.
Humidity is just as important as heating in the egg incubating process; eggshell is porous, which means that water can freely pass through. Regardless of whether eggs are incubated or hatching under normal conditions, they slowly, but steadily dry out. Since eggs gradually lose water, the ‘artificial’ humidity source will help keep their ‘dryness’ at a balanced level.
Small note – incubators with poor humidity conditions can impact the respiration of new hatchlings. Chicks might not be able to come out of their shell.
Step 4 – make one side of the core viewable
It’s important to monitor how the eggs are doing, and you can only do so by making one side of the core ‘accessible’ and viewable. You shouldn’t open the top of the core as it will unbalance the atmosphere that has been developing inside (heat from the bulb and humidification from the water with sponge).
By observing the incubation process you can counter any potential problems; if you notice that the water has dried up you can replace it in time; if you see that the bulb’s angle has been off, you can adjust it, and so on.
You can use any type of see-through glass as your viewing portal; if you want to be extra careful, use fireproof glass, but note that this will cost you slightly more. The see-through side should be, obviously, smaller than the core’s size, at least an inch from each side. After taking measurements, simply duct tape the glass to the side and you’re done.
Incubation Temperature & Humidity parameters
Aim to create a controllable atmosphere inside the incubator by following these parameters:
- The incubation temperature should be maintained at approximately 99.5 F (37.5 degrees Celsius)
- The incubation humidity level varies; it should be 40% to 50% during the first eighteen days; it should be 65% to 75% during the last couple of days, just before the eggs hatch
The margin of error regarding these parameters is equal to statistical error (<1%), which basically means that you’ll have to check on the temperature and humidity levels several times per day. This is where a thermometer will help you a great deal.
You can affect these levels in several ways:
- a) You can decrease the core’s temperature by punching a couple of holes in its sides. Keep track of how the temperature changes on the thermometer. If the temperature slides down too low, you should tape one of the holes. If it’s still too low, tape a couple more up.
- b) You can affect the humidity of the core’s atmosphere by sponging the water up. Squeeze in some more water in order to increase the core’s humidity level.
Testing your egg incubator
Before you actually start using the incubator, you should take it out for a test drive and make sure that all of the features are properly functional. There are numerous little details you could have missed by accident, so the testing phase is fairly important.
First, you should check if the core is properly insulated. You can easily tell if it’s sealed in an adequate way by checking the initial temperature. For example, if your room temperature is around 86 F and the core’s temperature is 100 F, it’s sealed in tight. If the numbers are too close to each other, the chances are that your room temperature is ‘leaking’ inside the core.
The same goes for humidity, but this time around it’s even easier to notice. The average room humidity is approximately 50%; due to the fact that the incubator is sealed and heated at the same time, its humidity level should be higher. Adjust the level by adding more water via sponge.
Making your own egg incubator is remarkably easy; all you have to do is follow these simple steps we’ve provided in the sections above. Take note of every little change that’s happening inside the incubator each day, and optimally, keep a log. Follow the temperature and humidity parameters, make changes when you need to, and you should be completely fine.