Friday, February 12, 2010

How To Make Your Own Incubator

So you want an incubator but you checked on all the online auctions and shops you could think of and the prices were ridiculous. You thought heck, I could make one of these - all they need is heat and humidity right? Right! Here is how I made mine. (This will be particularly helpful to you if you live in Christchurch, New Zealand, as you'll be able to source your thermostat from the same place I got mine.)
You will need:
  1. A chilli bin/polystyrenebox with lid/wooden box with lid if you can't find the other two. I used a polystyrene box from a catering company delivery.
  2. A thermostat. I found one at Musgroves for $5. It's an old hot water cylinder thermostat and works just fine.
  3. A thermometer and maybe even a hygrometer (measures humidity).
  4. A light bulb and socket.
  5. An old computer fan. I used a CPU fan for mine. (Optional)
  6. An unused phone charger which will power the computer fan.
  7. A piece of glass so you can look through and see the temperature and the eggs as they hatch.
 STEP 1:

Cut a hole in the lid of your polystyrene box for the piece of glass to sit in. I found a craft knife did the trick for cutting through polystyrene, but if you have proper polystyrene cutting wire use that. Cut the hole a couple of centimeters smaller than the piece of glass so you can make a ledge for the glass to sit on. This is better than having the glass stick out the top of the lid.


Place the glass in the groove you cut for it and duct tape it securely in place. Duct tape will help to keep the heat in, as the glass will probably be the area of greatest heat loss in your whole incubator.


Now we have our incubator ready, we need to add the two most important parts - the lightbulb and the thermostat. The lightbulb is going to generate the heat that the embryos need to grow, and the thermostat is going to regulate the heat. You'll read that a hot water cylinder thermostat is not accurate enough for this task, but this was not my experience. Once the system settles you will find that you are seldom adjusting the thermostat and the temperature is staying either constant or near constant. We went for quite long periods without any adjustment. Even the bought incubators recommend checking the temperature four times a day, so this seems comparable to that. You can allow your incubator to settle by turning it on and monitoring it for three or four days before you begin incubation.

Attach your thermostat switch to your light socket. If you turn the thermostat to the lowest temperature you will be able to test whether it is working. Heat it with direct light from the lightbulb and see if it turns itself off and on. Once you have wired this correctly, Make some holes in the side of you incubator box to plug both the lightbulb and the thermostat through. Ideally you would want the thermostat closer to where the eggs are going to be and the lightbulb further from the eggs. This is because you want the thermostat to respond to the ambient temperature rather than the heat radiated from the lightbulb. It is not crucial, as you will see from my picture where I did not follow this advice but was still able to successfully hatch eggs. I would have followed this advice if my length of wire permitted it.


Skip this step if you are going to make a still air incubator rather than a forced air incubator. If you have a computer fan available I recommend using it. I would have more confidence in an incubator with a fan circulating the air, especially if I was putting a lot of eggs in it. A fan will provide a more consistent temperature throughout the incubator.

Make a small hole in the side of the incubator near the lightbulb. Heat rises so the fan should be closer to the top of the incubator to push the hot air downwards. Push the wires through this hole so the fan is suspended on the inside of the incubator. Cut the phone charger plug off the end of the wire and attach the red and black wires from the computer fan to the two wires you find in the phone charger. They only work one way, but it shouldn't take too long to work out which as there are only two possible ways to connect them! The reason for the separate power supply for the lightbulb and the computer fan is that computer fans run at 5 volts and lightbulbs run at 240 volts. So the mains would blow the fan out of the water.


The next step is to place the area where you will put your eggs into the incubator. Place your thermometer (temperature) and hygrometer (humidity) in the incubator in the opposite end to the lightbulb. These should be lower than the eggs to stay out of their way when they are hatching, but close enough so that they are reading the actual temperature of the eggs. Also place a small container beside these so you can regulate humidity. On top of the hygrometer place a cut to size piece of chicken wire. This must completely cover the whole incubator so that the chicks can't hurt themselves by touching the lightbulb or any sharp edges. It will also assist you in cleaning if you don't allow your chicks to touch any of the other objects in your incubator.


Stand back and admire your handiwork! That is a complete home made incubator which you will be able to introduce some lucky chicks to the world through.

I hope you have as much success with the incubator that you have just built as I had with mine. If you have any questions about attaching the thermostat or computer fan feel free to leave a comment. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.


  1. Hi,Leanne here, from your auction.

    Thats good, am using small 40w bulb already so will check it shortly, as turned it down when it was still light. Should be about 4 hours. It is getting lower than 97 too, so I am hoping it will just stabilise somewhere in the middle.

  2. Sounds like it'll be well ready by Tuesday.

    The reason for waiting four hours between adjusting the thermostat is that it takes a while to change temp when you do it, so you can over-react and end up chasing your tail for ages. Wait til it's holding a temperature for at least four hours, and then adjust it if the temp is too low/high. That's assuming it will hold a temperature :)

    Also, you'll be turning it two or three times a day anyway, so it only really has to be able to hold temp in the 97-103 range for about 12 hours max. That would allow you to sleep peacefully at night, and only adjust it when turning.

  3. Ha yes, chasing my tail, thats a good analogy! Up down up down. Did that for a while.

    Seems to have settled, as much as its going to. Seems to be good at night, hubby milks cows, so checks temp when he goes, which is pretty darn early, and pretty darn cold, and it always seems to be hovering around 38.

    Eggs come tomorrow hopefully, or maybe wed. A full dozen, so even if its not that great, I should get some chicks from it at least.

    And I am thinking of ways to improve it for a future hatch. Might look at a more sensitive thermostat, if I can get one cheap enough. Pet supplies look interesting for that. Reptiles and things like that seem to need thermostats that are really bang on in a small range. You can find anything cheap on trademe if you wait it out!

  4. I agree for most things. But I never saw incubators for cheap. I listed mine as you know and had about 30 watchers on the auction even though just two bids.

    I didn't find a cheap thermostat on there either, it was the one thing I was willing to spend a bit on, but not as much as trademe sellers wanted.

    Are your eggs in yet? Make sure you keep good notes on temp, when you adjust the thermostat or add water and turn etc. You won't regret it, especially if you're looking to improve it for future hatches.

  5. No, I never found a cheap incubator on there either, always seem to be about the 200 mark, and a reptile thermometer seems to start at about 60. I have become quite obsessed by thermostats lately, constantly checking things out in op shops, does it have a thermostat, whats its range, can I use it etc!

    Eggs are in now, temp still a bit up and down, but hoping for the best. Hatch date should be 22 April. Have to leave the whole set-up in the hands of my teenage son for a weekend in the middle of incubation, as I am going away, bit of a worry. Have been drilling him on turning, temps etc. Fingers crossed!

  6. Oh, i meant reptile thermostat, not thermometer!

  7. Awesome, four days in. You should be able to see something now if you candle them?

  8. I candled this morning. Hubby built me a candler with a beer box and a spot light. Works well. I have never actually candled eggs before, and despite studying googled pictures till my eyes were sore, I am still not entirely sure what I am actually looking for! But I did manage to pick out two that were NOT good, so that is something I suppose.

    Finally got my hands on a CPU fan the other day and stuck it in. I know it was optional, but it does seem to make quite a lot of difference to the temp stability.

    Have definitely got the max temp sorted now, but still not entirely happy with HWC thermostat. It still seems to drop too low for my liking before turning on again. And if I turn it up it gets too hot before turning off. I think I will shell out for the reptile thermostat later so I can be more certain of its stability.

    You were right..its nerve wracking stuff!! But somehow slightly more exciting than letting a chicken do the job. I feel like an expectant mum, and of course, the resulting (fingers crossed!) chickens will be a lot tamer once raised, as they will have been hand raised.

  9. Candled again. Can see what I am doing now, 7th day. But now I am down to 5 good eggs! Quite fascinating looking inside the egg. Can see all the little veins spidering away from a blob. On 5 of them anyway.

  10. That's good - what was wrong with the others, did you think they weren't fertile? I was ready to throw eggs out if they started stinking but it never happened. And I didn't get real good vein patterns, but I could see a black bulge and an air sac from pretty early on.

    Very exciting! I wish I'd taken photos of candling from day 5 through to day 18.

  11. Most of them were oozing. It had dried on the shell and just looked like golden sticky stuff dried up.I got really good vein patterns on the five I have kept. I may have stuffed up, and thrown a couple of good ones away (prefer not to think about it!) but I am certain about the ones I have kept.

  12. Yay, 14 days in now. Can see them moving when I candle them. Really excited about this hatch! Already eyeing up my next lot of fertile eggs on TM!

  13. 18 days! You can't touch them any more... just got to wait.

    Good luck

  14. 17 days yesterday (first day I put them in it was late in the day, so that is apparently day 0). 18 today. Candled them for the last time yesterday, to show my kids who had been away for 10 days. 2 more quit on me, but have 3 alive and kicking. Pretty sure the high rate of loss is totally down to the way they were posted.

    Popped them back in, choosing the side with no mark so I can be sure of spotting the first crack on Thursday. SO excited! And bought my next lot of eggs last night, white rocks.

    Was just wondering what happens as they hatch with air supply? Do I need to prop the lid up a little to supply fresh air? Googled hatches online and in a shop bought incubator it says "open air plug holes", which of course, mine does not have. Did you do anything about that, or was there enough air in there?

  15. Success at last! On day 23 (yesterday, possibly so late because the temp was a bit low sometimes, which I have dealt with) they finally started chipping through. Can you imagine the nerves by then? :) Discovered I have a small issue with humidity, but with a bit of help with a cotton bud and water I have 3 healthy looking chickies from 3 hatches so I am pretty happy. Cheers for all your help. I have 6 new eggs in already, at perfect temp, and a plan to deal with humidity at hatch time.

  16. Nice work! Sorry I didn't get to your comment in time - I forgot to mention in my incubator building post that I put some holes in the side of it for air. I poked through the polystyrene with a screwdriver in about 6 places around the box.

    They're so cute when they hatch, what a great moment - hope you have a better success rate with your next hatch! 23 days.. gosh, good on you for holding on!

  17. No worries, we got through with a couple of air holes. Read with interest your bit on slippers. I haven't had that problem, but one of them did have splayed legs, which apparently was due to lack of humidity at hatch, and struggling against a dry membrane. I found a site 'Musings from a Stonehead' where he showed how to make little woollen hobbles, to get their legs back on track. It seems to have worked, which is great, as I have had splayed legged chicks before, and never knew how to fix it.

  18. I saw some photos of splayed legs, looked quite cute! I guess you strap them together somehow, similar to the slippers?

    That chick looked really cute with slippers on, and because they're growing so fast it only takes about a day or two and you can't tell the difference between a chick who used to have bent toes and a normal one.

  19. Hiya. Onto my third hatch now, 7 days in. First two hatches have given me chicks, but quite low hatch rate on both. There have been small issues with the actual eggs, like TERRIBLE packaging on one lot, and the time of the year, which sometimes effects the actual fertility of the eggs in the first place.

    But after a process of elimination, I am pretty certain I have everything right with the incubator, other than possibly humidity, especially at the actual hatch. Currently have a shallow tray, under the light bulb, taking up maybe 1/3 of the floor space in incubator, and the air in there feels reasonably wet any time I check. No hygrometer though, so can't be absolutely certain of level.

    Any tips for adding humidity? Or is it likely to just be the obvious step of increasing the water surface area more.

    Oh, and the splayed legs. You make little hobbles with wool, either by crocheting a length of chain, or just making a chain with your fingers (your wife the slipper maker will know what I mean!) Then you tie it loosely round their legs and kind of hobble their legs together at about the right distance. It takes them an hour or so to figure out that they can walk with them on, and about 3-4 days until their legs firm up into that position, and you can take the hobbles off again. You have to check them often to make sure they are not digging into the legs, and also to make sure the chicks don't pull them off. Just like with your slippers, the other chicks become absolutely obsessed with getting them off!

  20. Hi, how did your last hatch go? It must be challenging keeping your brood warm at this time of year for the first couple of weeks.

    It sounds like your humidity is fine if you can feel it when you open the box. My hygrometer tended to indicate that my humidity was too high if anything, but a little bit of water direct onto the polystyrene floor near the lightbulb raised it 10-15%. Generally I just lifted the lid to lower humidity as necessary.

    I'd love to post some pictures of your chicks with splayed leg treatment. Let me know if you have any that you'd be happy to share, or if you'd like to write an article for my blog.

  21. Hiya. My last hatch? I'm not sure I know which hatch that was! I have hatched heaps of chicks now, its so much fun. I am well and truly addicted!

    I have actually upgraded, from the polystyrene box to an old fridge/freezer. It lays on its back, and the fridge part is a brooder, with two areas, so I can have different aged chicks seperately.

    The freezer part is set up as the inc. It has two lightbulbs, wired up so that if one blows there is still another one going. I have had a couple of near misses with blown lights, and it definitely weakens the chicks. It holds heaps of eggs if full to capacity, which I have not done yet. It has 10 eggs in it, which are all candling well, and the temp and humidity are REALLY stable. My only real worry is air supply at hatch time. Wonder if I should prop the door open a little and monitor the temp for a couple of hours.

    Sorry, no pics of the splayed leg treatment. I didn't think of it at the time, and have had none since. Should take some pics of the new inc/brooder I guess. Not sure how to get them to you though, or whether I can post them here. This is the first, last and only! blog I have ever subscribed to, or even had a conversation on, so I am not sure how blogs actually work! Not particularly net savvy! As you can see, I have only just worked out how to add a picture to my profile!

  22. Hi again. Just a note to say, hope you and your wife and family are all ok after the quake, as I know you are in Christchurch. I am guessing it may be a while till you answer this ! but hope all is well. Leanne

  23. Incubators are also used in the poultry industry to act as a substitute for hens. This often results in higher hatch rates due to the ability to control both temperature and humidity. Various brands of incubators are commercially available to breeders. Incubators nz