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Chicken musings

Cute frizzle chickens

Cute frizzle chickens

I never used to think much about chickens. In fact I don’t think I thought much about them at all. I was more used to the fluffy cuddly type pets like dogs and cats and bunnies. Having said that, since I’ve embarked on a suburban sustainability and a ‘tread lightly’ on this earth journey, it would appear that if you are even remotely trying to start an organic/permaculture type garden, then chickens are a must-have in the backyard. Thus started our chicken adventure and to be honest, they have grown on me and I really like them. They have funny little personalities and keep me company when I’m gardening.

After the first taste of success with the styrofoam homemade incubator I decided that I needed (or wanted) to take it to another level of sophistication. I read online that aquarium shops often stock larger styrofoam boxes that had thicker walls. The last homemade incubator was made from your run of the mill brocolli box from the greengrocers which was okay but I thought with thicker walls I would have better insulation. I toyed with the idea of using an old esky but there weren’t that many lying around so I went with the aquarium shop idea.

Here’s the difference in size
homemade incubator styrofoam size difference

I also resolved to have a bigger viewing window (therefore a bigger lid was required) and also one that was double glazed to prevent the condensation problem that you get when you increase humidity in the last few days. I went to my local Reject Shop and bought 2 document frames, took out the bits apart. I cut a hole in the styrofoam box lid and stuck the glass pane down on either side of the lid, then did the same with the black frame. I found that the backing board fitted the front of the frame and attached it so that it acted as a ‘door’ to open up the viewing window.
Lid closed
homemade incubator double pane glass viewing windows

Lid open
homemade incubator double pane glass viewing windows

Then I started work on the insides. I wanted a 2 chamber incubator where 1 side was the egg chamber and the other was the one with the heat source and water to maintain humidity. Using the old styrofoam incubator wall I cut out a section of it so that it would fit snugly inside the new styrofoam box. I also cut out a hole for the computer fan and 2 holes on the bottom fitted with circular plastic vent snap ons (I think they were supposed to be for cupboard vents).
homemade incubator fan and circulation vent holes

The idea was that the fan would suck air out of the top of the egg chamber, into the heating/humidity chamber and then out through the vent holes on the bottom. I slid the wall in and then caulked with silicon along the sides to ensure a snug fit.
homemade incubator egg chamber and heating chamber

Although the fan is really too high for any scalping of chicks to occur, I still wanted to play safe, so I cut out a bit of plastic gutter guard and covered the fan on the egg chamber side by attaching it to the fan with screws.
homemade incubator fan cover

Realizing that the incandescent bulb is on its way out production wise, I was keen to trial halogen lamps. Bought one from Bunnings and attached it (50W) – I was concerned that it would melt the styrofoam because it’s so much shorter than your conventional bulb fitting, so I put the metal lid of a soup can on the back to prevent any direct heat hitting the styrofoam. I was a bit disappointed because I found that the single 50W halogen was insufficient to provide heat – I tested it – so I decided to just throw in an incandescent on the side to provide additional heat (40W) and it worked well.
homemade incubator heat source - halogen light and incandescent bulb

I wanted to ensure that the airflow was working and so I stuck 2 strips of tissue paper on the vents and turned on the fan. The last thing I did was to cut 2 holes on the side walls – 1 into the egg chamber to allow me to turn the eggs and to fish chicks out when they hatched, the other in the heating/water chamber to allow me to add more dishes of water or to fill up water trays as needed. I also cut 2 holes on the top wall directly opposite the fan in the egg chamber to allow for air exchange. Then I plugged in the old thermostat that I had to the 2 lights, slipped the sensor into the egg chamber, plugged in the fan and ran it for a day with a couple of thermometers in there to check that temperatures were stable.
styrofoam homemade incubator

I tested it on some quail eggs I ordered over the mail and hatched them on day 17 – if you look carefully you can see the strips of tissue I attached to check air flow.
homemade incubator successful quail hatch

What I like about this incubator compared to the first one :

  • The side hatch doors – the last incubator only had 1 access point ie the lid on the top, everytime I opened it, all the hot air would escape (hot air rises) – eg when you want to take a chick out whilst the others are still hatching. The side hatches ensured that very little of this happens and temperatures within the egg chamber stayed stable
  • The 2 compartments and air flow ensured a more even flow of heat throughout the chamber – I tested it with different thermometers throughout the chamber and the variation was less than 0.5C. That could account for the tighter hatch. The first incubator I had chicks hatch over 3 days – this one they all hatched within a day of each other.
  • The large double paned viewing window – I had very little condensation – which was perfect during hatch time when the last thing you want is a fogged up window when all the action is happening!
  • What I would change:

  • With the quail eggs, it really takes up a lot less room and with the large egg chamber I find that I’m heating alot of air so perhaps a smaller more compact version could be made – problem I have is that styrofoam boxes come in standard sizes and you don’t have much of a choice there
  • Maybe some sort of semi-auto turner. Currently with the side hatch, I can just open it and run my hand over the eggs to turn them. Ideally I guess I could devise some sort of egg rocker type thing similar to what the Hovabators have. Definitely something to think about.
  • Homemade incubator

    I wanted to hatch some chicks from fertile eggs in the post. Council doesn’t let me keep roosters so I had the choice of getting point of lay hens or to hatch some from fertile eggs in the post. My last 2 hens were Australorps (standards) and I found that they were too big for my suburban backyard so I wanted to replace them with bantams. A nice man came around to take Anabel and Blackie to their new home in the mountains where they have lots of room. This is how my first incubator looked like – it’s made from a styrofoam brocolli box that had a lid. Heat source is an incandescent bulb – 60W. I hooked up an old computer fan to circulate the air. A takeaway container below the fan/light bulb served as a water container to maintain humidity at the desired range. Wire separated the egg chamber from the water/heat source. I also put some aluminum foil in front of the bulb to stop the heat from directly hitting the eggs.

    homemade incubator heat source

    Poked some holes in the lid for ventilation and put a viewing window (perspex from a picture frame)

    homemade incubator ventilation holes and viewing window

    My thermostat – I didn’t know where to get one so I got one from a store that sold beer brewing products. Since then I’ve learnt that it’s not the best one to get because it’s not as accurate as it should be – it should read to 1 decimal place. I didn’t want to cut holes in a plastic junction box so I ended up using my son’s lego pieces to build a box for it – it’s perfect!

    thermostat for homemade incubator

    Here’s the result :

    thermostat for homemade incubator

    What I’d do differently :

  • Make the viewing window bigger
  • Make the viewing window double paned – when I increased humidity during the last few days of hatching, the window tends to fog up and it’s distressing not being able to see!
  • Make a permanent wall between the egg chamber and the water source because on the last hatch one of the chicks squeezed past the wire and drowned in the takeaway container
  • Make it so that the heat is circulated more uniformly throughout the egg chamber
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