From the dirt to our plate; the trials and realities of first-time farm ownership

Egg Incubators: Here’s What You Need To Know

Being the novice that I am when it came to incubating eggs I put plenty of research into incubators and what features are important to have.  If you are looking to purchase a new incubator for the first time or wanting to upgrade, here are a few key items that will make your life easier.


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TEMPERATURE CONTROL

This seems like a no brainer but accurate and easy to decipher temperature controls are essential to a successful hatch.  Some incubators have digital readouts in either Fahrenheit or Celsius, sometimes both.  Whichever you choose, make sure you know what the readings mean.  In other words, if you are used to reading outside temps in degrees Fahrenheit but purchase a Celsius machine, know how to translate between the two readings.

You will also find that some machines offer easy temperature adjustment while others do not.  If you are incubating various species of bird eggs, the heat requirements will vary.  The ability to manually adjust your temperature will allow you a greater range as your experience with rearing poultry grows.  As you explore different breeds or species, make sure your incubator can grow with you, it will save you further expense down the road.

Just as your furnace has a thermostat, so should your incubator.  This will allow you much freedom in monitoring your eggs.  Steady heat without over or under heating your embryos will give you a solid foundation in setting yourself up for a good hatch.

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HUMIDITY CONTROL

For most incubators controlling the humidity is as easy as adding water to the area below the hatch tray.  This isn’t always the most accurate way to control humidity but in most cases it is sufficient.  By increasing the surface area or size of the water resivour it will increase the amount of water in the air when coupled with the proper evaporation temperatures.

Many inexpensive incubators will not have the means to read or make adjustments to the humidity.  This can make it difficult to know exactly when to vent out excess water or when additional moisture is needed.  If you are looking to make a good investment, find an incubator that can monitor your moisture levels or has a humidity pump.  If this is not possible, invest in a separate humidity monitor that can either be mounted or placed within the hatch space.  

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VENTILATION 

As mentioned previously, ventilation is important for adjusting the humidity levels.  It also allows air exchange to flow over your eggs and newly hatched chicks.  What is of utmost importance is that your incubator not have ventilation in extreme excess which would allow too much precious heat and humidity to escape.  Look for adjustable holes to allow for manual adjustment to suit your needs.

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AUTO EGG TURNING

Unless you are available to turn your eggs 3-4 times per day you’ll want to look for this feature when considering an incubator purchase.  It should allow the eggs (of any size) to rest on their side or to be tilted with plenty of space to inhibit the eggs from binding up and dragging instead of rolling or rocking.  Some incubators have separate compartments for each egg while others have divided trays, each section holding a small number of eggs.  

Look for a simple turning mechanism instead of something complicated.  It would be terrible to lose one of the best and most convenient functions of your incubator due to broken parts or fragile mechanics.

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VIEWING AREA

When hatching chicks, a large part of the excitement is monitoring the progress and the miracle of the hatch.  I didn’t really give this feature much thought when I purchased my first incubator but as my initial round of hatchlings began to pip, I instantly wished I would have spent a few extra dollars.

Look for an incubator with clear views from the sides AND the top.  In my version, there were 2 things blocking the clarity of my viewing pleasure;  the foggy plastic container and the heating mechanism which took up the entire top part of the viewing area.


No matter which stage your hatchlings are in, make viewing a priority.  Beyond the temperature or humidity gauges, your visual senses will play an important part in determining any successes or failures happening within your incubator.

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HATCHLING SPACE & UNHATCHED SAFETY

Newly hatched chicks need plenty of space to hatch and flop around, this can be very disruptive to nearby eggs.  The process of hatching is exhausting and coordination can be a struggle for even the most well rested bird.  Ask yourself if there is adequate room in your prospective new incubator for all eggs to hatch at once and spend another 12-24 hours warming, resting and drying.  I realize this would be an extreme event but it will put you in the proper headspace when considering a larger incubator than what you had initially planned.

While a new hatchling could hardly do much damage to nearby pipped or unhatched egg you still want enough room to facilitate easy hatching.   Not only that, you must also consider the surface where a slippery, wet chick will spend it’s first few hours of life.  The hatching area should have a floor that will easily allow water to pass through, humid air to circulate and plenty of walking grip to avoid splayed legs.

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PRESENT AND FUTURE NEEDS

Your first inclination might be to purchase an incubator based on the size and type of flock you wish to sustain now.  However, you must also think about future possibilities and your farm’s evolving needs or wants.  Will you want just chickens, maybe ducks or perhaps something more exotic?  Do you see yourself raising meat birds for butcher?  If so, you may want an incubator to hatch larger sized groups to avoid the constant incubation of smaller groups.  

In a larger incubator you can always set smaller amounts of eggs while in a smaller incubator it’s not possible to increase your set beyond the container’s size capacity.  Keep this in mind when making your considerations.

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QUALITY 

Taking a few of the aforementioned features into account, the quality of your new incubator should assist you now and far into the future.  Unless you are solely hatching birds as an experiment and are fine with tossing money to the wind (careful, hatching is addictive) then by all means go with the more budget friendly models.

There are many options out there to choose from, no matter your purpose or financial limitations.  Again, don’t say I didn’t warn you…once you hatch your first set of eggs you’ll be eagerly looking forward to doing it again soon!

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