Cooler weather is here, and that means I’m itching to fill up my incubator. I’ll be contacting breeders this week to see if I’ll be able to get some beautiful Heritage Barred Rocks, Black Copper Marans, and White Leghorns to add to my flock. I can’t wait to share that hatch with you. Hatching chicks is a special kind of fun! It is beyond awesome to candle the eggs and watch the baby chicks growing and changing every day. If you would like to try hatching your own chicks, the first thing you’ll need is an incubator. So I thought we’d talk today about the different incubators that are available and the pros and cons of each kind.
First you need to decide which options you are interested in, because they are the biggest variable in price. If you can’t be on hand 3 or more times a day to turn the eggs, you will need a turner. You may want a model with a fan to circulate the air, which helps keep the temperature steadier. It is also possible to get an incubator that monitors humidity for you and adjusts it as needed.
Most people getting started will choose the Styrofoam style incubators that they sell at the farm store. It’s the cheapest way to get started, short of building your own incubator. There are several big brand names for this style incubator, including Hova-Bator, Little Giant, and Farm Innovators. There are also a wide range of prices depending on what options you want. A very basic still-air incubator will run about $40-$60. An incubator with a fan and turner might be as much as $200-$250. I have heard of people who had wonderful experiences with these incubators. But I have also known people who struggled with wide temperature and humidity swings that can jeopardize an entire hatch. If you choose to use this type incubator my main suggestions would be to get a thermometer with an alarm that will warn you if the temperature goes crazy, and to keep the incubator closed unless it is absolutely necessary to open it. That’s actually a rule with all incubators, but opening this type seems to have more of an effect than other types of incubators. Having a turner will help greatly in reducing the number of times you have to open the incubator. Another problem with Styrofoam incubators is trying to clean them after the hatch. It is very important to sanitize an incubator well and kill off all the germs that those hatching eggs leave behind. But Styrofoam, as a porous surface, so it’s harder to get really clean.
If you have the money and want to splurge on an excellent quality incubator, I’d suggest you look at Brinsea. These incubators are so unique that I can’t even put them in a category with other incubators. They have tiny models that will hatch just a few eggs, and huge cabinet models that will hatch hundreds, but the most popular is the Brinsea Octagon 20. All the Brinsea incubators are plastic and easy to clean. The Octagon 20’s unique design means that you can tip the entire incubator from side to side to turn the eggs without ever opening the incubator. They also sell an auto-turner that will do the turning for you, and one model even has a humidity pump that will keep your humidity right on target. It is the ultimate in “hands off” incubation.
Another option is to check Craigslist and Ebay for homemade incubators. People design and build their own incubators and sell them, and they can be quite economical and even beautiful. Be careful to check the sellers ratings on Ebay to be sure that nobody is complaining of poor quality. The incubator I use is one of these Ebay finds. It is a cabinet style incubator with three drawers. Each drawer will hold about 30 large eggs. The incubator has a fan and a reservoir for water, and I did a slight modification that allows me to add water to that reservoir without opening the incubator. It does not include a turner, and there is no option for adding one, since the drawers are not large enough to accommodate a standard turner. But it is a beautiful piece of furniture that looks wonderful in my home, and my first ever hatch was almost 100%, so I’m quite pleased with it. Even when I had the door open for longer periods, the temperature and humidity would rebound to normal ranges within 1-2 minutes.
I could go on to describe other, less common incubators, but I think these are the ones you will be considering for home incubation. If you use another type of incubator, leave us a comment and tell us about it and how your hatches have gone.