Introduction: Foam Cooler Egg Incubator
It is springtime in the northern hemisphere and it is a good time to hatch some chicks. You can usually find chicks for sale just as easily as fertile eggs but if you cannot find chicks or pullets or you want to have a certain type of chicken or game bird then you might want to incubate some eggs. Chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, and quail eggs can all be found for hatching.
The natural method is to have a hen that becomes broody and decides to do all the work for you. If you have fertile eggs and a broody hen you can isolate her from the rest of the flock and about three weeks later you have chicks. There are a few things to do to help her out, but in essence, that is how it goes. This doesn't always happen when it is convenient for a would be poultry owner.
This incubator is for chicken eggs, but it could be used for quail, duck, or goose eggs also. I will refer to chickens from here on out, but much also applies to other fowl. I am entering in the egg contest and the animal contest because if all goes well I will start with eggs and end with chickens.
I would like to thank Rush Lane Poultry and Game Birds for posting videos of his coolerbator. My incubator is very similar but not an exact copy of his design.
Step 1: Here's What Ya Need!
I started this project because I had some things lying around that I knew I could turn into an incubator. A commercially manufactured incubator can cost upwards of $150. You can find some very terrible incubators for sale starting at $20 but they are tiny and usually don't work very well or at all. The Hova-Bator and The Little Giant are considered good starter incubators and many people use them for years to increase their flock or do classroom experiments. The basic models of Hovabator and Little Giant will cost about $50 or so. I knew I could do this much cheaper.
When I was 8 years old I made an incubator with an old lamp, a wooden box and some tin foil to hatch out some eggs that my aunt gave me. Total cost: $0. I was able to hatch 2 of 6 eggs from that. In fact there are some plans for homemade incubators that are essentially that. I am a little older now and I want to do better. However, I use free, or very inexpensive materials to do it. You might have some of this stuff lying around like I did or you may have to buy it all.
1 styrofoam cooler (Free)
1 picture frame glass
1 light bulb (red 25 watt party bulb from walmart $1.88)
1 light bulb socket adapter (walmart $1.27)
1 extension cord (broken plug free)
1 cord with polarized plug (from a broken electric can opener free)
1 12 V computer fan (computer parts pile free)
1 L-bracket (hardware pile free)
2 12 V DC adapters (computer pile free)
1 mini muffin tin (free)
1 piece 1/2 inch cpvc approximately 15 inches( free)
1 small ceramic dish (free)
1 piece shelf liner (free)
some rocks( dollar tree $1)
wine corks (free)
1 piece of screen or hardware cloth (free)
1 mercury thermometer (walmart 97 cents)
1 electronic thermometer/hygrometer (ebay $1.98)
1 DC12V Heat Cool Temp Thermostat Digital Temperature Control Switch -50-110°C F5 (ebay $3.60)
Various tape, screws, zip ties, wire nuts, solder, and heat shrink (free)
Total cost for me was less than $13.
Drill with 3/4 spade bit and 3/16 inch drill bit
small phillips head screwdriver
Step 2: Putting It Together: the Window
It starts with your cooler.You can use any type of cooler you happen to have. Styrofoam is good because it is cheap and easy to work with. It is also a very good insulator. Mine had a crack in the lid so it was a perfect place to put a viewing window. I took my picture frame glass and traced it on top of the cooler lid. next I cut a square hole using the razor knife that was 1/2 inch smaller than the picture frame glass. I then sanded the edges using fine grit sandpaper to get rid of the crumbly bits of foam. Then I taped the edges around the frame to the lid.I used aluminum tape because it is strong and it sticks well to the foam and the glass. Razors are sharp, try not to cut yourself.
Step 3: Heating
The heat in circulating air incubator must be 100 degrees F. To achieve the heat we will use a 25 watt light bulb.To power the bulb we will use a socket adapter. Some people will use a socket from a kit or from a lamp, but I prefer this very simple socket. It plugs into an outlet and I assume it is most often used as a nightlight or a light that stays on permanently. I just made a hole a tiny bit smaller than the socket and slowly worked it in. For an outlet I used an extension cord. The plug end was broken so I spliced in a plug that I had lying around. If you just plug the light into the socket and put it in the cooler it will get very hot. A 25 watt bulb will raise the temperature well above 125 degrees F. Since we want to hatch our eggs and not cook them we have to regulate the heat. My first attempt was with an old hot water heater thermostat I had, but it was not sensitive enough to regulate the heat very well. Heat went from 95 degrees F to 105 degrees F. Not good enough. I was searching on ebay for a thermostat and found one from china for about $4 with free shipping. My cheap little heart swelled with joy! Thank you Fulllove365.
Wade Rush posted this video showing how to install it.
Axeprice posted this video explaining how to program it and demonstrating how it works. You can also buy the switch from his ebay store.
Wiring is very simple but before we go any further I must warn you; electricity is dangerous. You can be seriously hurt or killed if you do it wrong.
Now for us daredevils: You need to supply 12 v to the temperature controller.
Take one of your 12v power supplies and find the positive wire. That goes into the far right connection in the board. Cut off the end of the wire with the adapter tip, strip the wire back about a quarter of an inch and after loosening the connector screw, jam the wire in the little connector hole and tighten down the screw. The 12v ground goes in the next connector. If you did it wrong it just won't work.
If you did it right, your controller will light up.
Next you need to take the extension cord wires and get them sorted. From the plug to the outlet you will have two strands of wire. If you cut your cord in half or used 2 different bits of cord you will connect one side with a wire nut. If you used a single extension cord you can leave one strand intact and cut the other for the temperature controller. Mine was labeled load and load power supply. Simple enough: the wire that went to the outlet was the load and the wire that went to the plug was power supply. Sorry I am doing it right to left, but that is the way I did it.
I used a red light because red is a less harsh light than white to the eyes.
Some tape to hold the wires together and out of the way is also nice.
Step 4: Airflow
You can make a still air incubator but I wanted one with air flow. Take your 12v fan and attach it to the inside wall of your cooler. I used a couple screws to attach the L-bracket to the fan and zip ties to attach the fan to the cooler. Styrofoam is very easy to pierce, so I just jammed the sharp end into the wall of the cooler. I tried to use screws in the cooler but they didn't want to hold, hence the zip ties. It is very important to add vent holes for fresh air. I just took a drill bit and twisted a few holes here and there. I made a few big holes when I was still trying to figure out where to put the bulb and fan, but luckily I saved the bits of foam from the lid that I cut out. I was able to shape some plugs. I also used a wine cork to plug one of the vent holes so I could vary the humidity. Wiring the fan is as simple as wiring the thermostat. It works one way and not the other. Lucky for me the yellow wire was positive so I did not have to check it. I soldered the wires together and used some heat shrink to cover the solder job. Some of my vent holes were small but on the wrong side so I taped them over.
Step 5: Humidity
Chickens need 50-60% humidity for the first 18 day then 60-70% humidity for the last 3 days. Opinions on this vary, some say that they need less humidity for the first 18 days and others say more for the last 3 days.This is something that I haven't personally worked out yet, but I am going with this. To maintain humidity put a dish in the bottom of your incubator and cover it with hardware cloth or a bit of screen so when the chicks hatch they don't fall in and drown. If your humidity is too high open up vent holes, if it is too low add some wet paper towels or more water. Some people have a spray bottle with warm water ready every time they open the lid to get the humidity up quickly. The water also adds thermal mass. I add rocks to the floor of my incubator for the same effect. The rocks and the water hold in the heat and keep the heat from varying too much.
I also added another thermometer/hygrometer to keep track of humidity. Multiple redundancies make me feel more secure with temp and humidity.
Step 6: Turning
You need to turn the eggs about 3 times a day for the first 18 days them leave them alone until they hatch for the next 3 days. This is like exercise for the chick embryo. If you leave it too long on the same side it will not develop correctly. Some people open the lid and turn the eggs by hand, They put and X on one side and an O on the other and turn them every day an odd number of times. Other people have fancy automatic egg turners that slowly shift the eggs one side to the other over a matter of hours.
I just took a mini muffin pan , drilled some 3/4 inch holes in the bottoms and mounted it on a piece of cpvc. I connected the pipe to the pan with some zip ties and made a bracket with some leftover foam and punched a hole in the wall of the cooler so I could turn them with out opening the lid.
To make the bracket I just cut a triangle about the right size and shaped it with sandpaper until it was how I wanted it.
Then I made it level, carved a hole a little smaller than the pipe and shoved it through. Turning will be from the little bit of pipe I left sticking out the side. I also plugged the end of the pipe to keep cold air from getting in.
Step 7: Lockdown
At 19 days the chicks will start to pip. They make a tiny hole with their beak and if the air is too dry the membrane will be too tough and it will stick to them causing them distress and even death. So, don't open the lid till all the eggs have hatched and the chicks are all dry and fluffy.
Step 8: Chicks
I haven't used this yet to hatch chicks. I am still waiting for my hygrometer and I haven't gotten any eggs yet. I have tested it and everything seems to work well so far. I will update this once I have hatched some chicks. This instructable is not about hatching chicks but about building an incubator. I have left out a lot of information about using an incubator so please consult another source on how to actually get the chicks hatched.
Baby chicks are super cute and they are fun to watch and they will play with you. They grow into chickens, which ,in my opinion are highly underrated as pets. They need care and feeding for about 4-5 months before they start laying eggs. The eggs are so much better than the ones you get in a grocery store. Before you hatch out some chicks you will need a brooder, and before too long, a coop. If you don't want to put in the effort of raising chickens you will need to find homes for your chickens.
Everything you can learn from the internet about chickens you can find at backyardchickens.com
The rest is something you can only experience for yourself. Chickens are amazing animals and deserve our respect.
So if you decide to keep chickens, you may find out what I mean.
First run of this incubator hatched 9 out of 12 eggs successfully! Two eggs failed to develop after fourteen days and were pulled. Ten eggs made it to day eighteen and nine of them hatched.