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.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chicks with Slippers

It's now the second day since we've had chicks in our brooder, and we've already got our first concerns for them. Some of the chicks are walking around with their toes bent, and not looking too comfortable about it. A little bit of googling brought me to a site on curled feet, which details a similar problem and even better - a solution.

Apparently curled feet can be caused by a genetic disposition, or conditions in the hatching environment. When the chick hatches its feet are curled up, and sometimes it doesn't manage to open it properly. The solution I found was to make slippers for my chicks. This isn't really my cup of tea, but fortunately my wife is gifted with an obsession for crafts, so this kinda thing is right up her alley!

Here are some pictures of the magic she worked on one wee chick. Firstly, you need to straighten the toes of the affected foot and place them on a small piece of cardboard.

The idea is to make a slipper that will work as a splint to keep the foot straight while the bones are still soft and developing, so that they develop good and straight. The next step is to make sure the foot is going to stay attached to the splint-slipper. To do this we used little pieces of plaster, so they wouldn't damage the chick's foot when we pull it off (not too sticky).


We wrapped the plaster in sellotape to make sure it doesn't come off, and then had a little test to make sure the chick could still walk. She could walk well enough, but she has temporarily lost her climbing ability. She used to be so cute - when you put your hand down they climb up for the warmth. It'll take some time til she can do this again.
Here she is with her finished slippers. All the others are very jealous.

One other consideration for your chick's slippers - try and make them as boring looking as possible. The last thing she needs is the attention of her siblings who only know how to do one thing - they'll peck at her feet every time they come in sight!

Have you made slippers for your chicks before? I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and a link to a picture if you have one.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hatching Chickens - Success!

The excitement started building yesterday as the arrival of our new chicks rolled closer! One of the six eggs in our incubator was very slightly cracked and occasionally there was some movement of the eggs as the chicks inside rolled around. This morning when I got up at 6.45am to check, I was greeted by the cheeps of our first hatchling. It was hard to believe that an egg had turned from yolk and white into a baby chicken, and was hatching right on time in 21 days!

Since then, two more have hatched. The last three eggs haven't been showing any signs of life while all the drama has been unfolding around them, but one of them has just gotten its first crack. So hopefully soon they'll catch up.

Here is a picture of the chicks still in the incubator which has been holding temperature nicely.


Update: There are now five chicks successfully hatched. Although the last one may be slightly late, there is still a reasonable chance that he will make it so he's still in the incubator by himself. His brothers and sisters are all in the brooder now.

They seem to generally like to huddle together under the light bulb which indicates it's not warm enough in there, but they're not emitting those piercing chirps that they do when they're far away from the light, so I guess they're about right. They're also occasionally pecking at the bits of mash on the floor, and some of them are heading over to the water for a drink. They actually don't change the way they drink their whole lives, because they act exactly like the bigger versions when they're drinking! Lean forward, get some water in their beak, lean back with mouth open and glug glug glug...

Here is a video. Although it was created for my nephew Caleb you might enjoy the sound of the chicks chirping!