Choosing the Right Chicken Incubators for Your New Hatchlings.
The purpose of chicken incubator is to provide a controlled environment for hatching chicken eggs. It can be quite a challenge to choose the best incubators for your family’s unique hatching needs. A variety of incubators are available commercially, each with different features and functions.
Right now, we're just going to discuss commercially built incubators. Many people do build their own incubators and since we're big fans of self-sufficiency, we applaud that. All of the specifications listed here are equally applicable to homemade as well as commercially built incubators.
Here are some things you'll want to consider when incubating chicken eggs.
Fully automatic, Semi-Automatic or Manual
There are various features and levels of control available on modern commercial chicken incubators.
Fully automated incubators will control the humidity and temperature at the touch of a button, and even turn the eggs for you. Some incubators come as packages that allow you to buy them with or without the turning racks. We think that the automatic turners are a handy feature.
Semi-Automatic may offer some of the features like temperature and humidity control.
Manual means that you're doing everything yourself, from setting and maintaining the temperature and humidity to turning the eggs every 3-4 hours. Doing it this way requires constant care and monitoring so you might want to have someone available for the next few weeks.
Whichever route you choose, you'll want to have a good thermometer that is properly calibrated to confirm that your incubator is set at the correct temperature.
You'll also want a good hygrometer (also known as a wet bulb thermometer) to set and monitor your humidity settings.
Your chicken incubator should be set up at least 24-48 hours prior to setting your eggs.
If you get your eggs through the mail, you should let them sit for about 24 hours, pointed end down, prior to setting your eggs in the incubator.
After setting your eggs, your temperature and humidity will probably change, so check it after the first couple of hours and then monitor it periodically throughout the day.
Still Air and Forced Air Chicken Incubators
There are two main types of incubator. The main difference is the forced air has a fan and the still air type doesn't.
In forced air incubators like the one pictured above, air is circulated throughout the incubator by a fan. This keeps the temperature constant in all parts of the incubator so you can check the temperature anywhere within the incubator. The recommended temperature range for forced air is 99.5° F, + / - .05° F.
In still air incubators (like the one shown to the right sold by Tractor Supply Company, they have a large variety of chicken supplies available), there is no fan.
Because of this, the heat forms layers inside the incubator causing the temperature to vary between the top and bottom of the incubator.
The temperature should be checked at a height even with the top of the egg. The recommended temperature for still air is 101.5° F, + / - .05° F.
Correct Humidity and Ventilation
Humidity is the amount of moisture held by the air.
It is generally agreed that having the right humidity level / range is important and that a lot failed hatches are due to the humidity not being set correctly. Humidity levels that are too low can cause the eggs to become too dry, killing the chick.
Unfortunately this is also an area of disagreement among the experts. The ranges most agreed on are between 58-75% relative humidity (RH) as calculated by using a hygrometer and conversion chart. A good rule of thumb is to keep RH at 58-60% for the first 18 days and then set it at 65% for the last 3 days.
There is a nice relative humidity calculator available here that you can use to determine your RH. Just punch in the wet and dry numbers and hit calculate.
Ventilation is equally important since the shells are porous and need to breathe. Changes in ventilation (air flow) affect the humidity. More air flow decreases humidity, less air flow increases humidity. This is one of the most common ways for chicken incubators to control humidity.
All of these things; temperature, humidity, and turning your eggs can have a big impact on your hatch rate, so you will want to monitor them on a consistent basis.
Hatching your own chicks is a little more work than buying chicks, but there really is something magical about watching the beginning of a new life!