Using an incubator to hatch chicks is a good approach if you plan to hatch eggs each season and would like maximum control over the process. Alternatively, you may also try allowing one of your broody hens to do the incubation for you. Taking advantage of Mother Nature saves you the investment cost of purchasing an incubator, but it also introduces more variables, which means you are less in control.
There are two primary types of incubators:
- Still-air Incubators: traditionally smaller capacity without fans for air circulation
- Forced-air or Circulating Incubators: support larger volume of eggs, often for commercial applications
An important point to mention is that each incubator is unique, so it is important that you read the instructions carefully for your particular model. If you got a deal by purchasing a used incubator but cannot find the original instructions, we highly recommend that you contact the manufacturer to request a new copy.
All incubators provide the same basic functions:
- Store your eggs (small end facing down)
- Control temperature
- Control humidity
- Provide air flow
Incubators range drastically in size. You may remember having one in your classroom that held three eggs, and there are commercial versions that hatch thousands. For home use, you probably want to focus on incubators that are larger than a classroom version, but smaller than commercial models. Keep in mind no more than 85% of your eggs are likely to hatch, so if you go with a capacity of 48, plan it to support hatches of around 40 chicks.
After capacity, the second consideration is often whether or not to get an incubator that automatically rotates your eggs for you. If you must manually rotate the eggs, you have to be available to do so at least 4 times a day, for 21 days straight. It’s a significant investment in time. That said, going with an automated turning solution turns out to be an investment of it’s own, but this option won’t impact your schedule, but may impact your wallet!
We offer several incubator options depending on the scale of your project.
A candler is a good item to have on hand when you are incubating eggs so you can check progress.
Maintaining the correct temperature throughout the incubation process is critical. Eggs that get too hot or too cold will fail to hatch properly. Forced-air incubators typically run at 99.5 degrees, and still-air incubators run a bit hotter at 102 degrees. As mentioned above, always rely on the instruction manual that comes with your specific incubator to determine the correct temperature settings. If eggs are kept even ½ to 1 degree too hot or too cold, they may hatch early or late with significant birth defects.
Airflow is also critical in every incubator. Forced-air models use one or more fans to circulate the air. Still-air model rely on the natural circulation that results from heated air rising through vents on the top while fresh cool air enters from vents on the bottom. Even though eggshells feel hard and appear solid, they are in fact porous and allow small amount of oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to exit. Without proper airflow, your eggs will not hatch properly.
Humidity is also critically important to your hatch. Different type of incubators have different methods of adding humidity to the air. The basic concept is that the larger the surface area of water, the more water evaporates into the air. Many models have display that helps you monitor the humidity. Less expensive models require you to take humidity readings using a wet thermometer.
When you add water to your incubator, it is best to use warm water instead of cold. Using cold water will reduce the temperature in the incubator and could have negative effects on your hatch.