The $3, 30-Minute Egg Incubator

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Introduction: The $3, 30-Minute Egg Incubator

About: We moved to the country a few years ago and started experimenting with organic gardening, raising chickens, tapping maple trees, beekeeping, etc. Check out our website for more DIY projects.

We live on a small hobby farm in the American midwest and have been raising chickens for 3 years. This year I decided to try hatching our own chicks. Initially, I researched name-brand incubators but found them to be too expensive (upwards of $200). And after researching numerous DIY projects online, I found them to be overly complex. I couldn't find anything bare-bones simple. The goal of this project was to build the CHEAPESTand SIMPLEST egg incubator possible. I think I succeeded.

I'm sure you can build a better egg incubator than this. But you won't be able to build it cheaper or faster.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

You will need:

  • Styrofoam box
  • Light bulb socket that plugs into standard extension cord
  • Incandescent light bulb (wattage depends on size of box)
  • Scrap wood to make a frame
  • Screen, hardware cloth, or fabric to wrap over the frame
  • Thermometer with humidity gauge (hygrometer)
  • Shallow cup for holding water (the sour cream container in your recycling bin works great)

Caveat, I already had some supplies on hand (most hobby farmers do) such as lightbulbs, thermometer and scrap wood. But other than that, my total out of pocket was $3. This included the styrofoam bait box ($2) and a lightbulb socket ($0.97). I also set a goal of making it in under 30 minutes, which if you don't count the time taking photos for this article, I easily pulled off.

Step 2: Assemble the Frame

Build a frame to fit the inner dimensions of your styrofoam box. Mine was 12" x 10". Any size wood will do, so long as you have enough height to fit a water cup inside (2 inches is plenty).

Step 3: Attach Screen to Frame

Cut out screen or hardware cloth or any kind of porous material that can also support the weight of several eggs. Next, fit the screen over the frame and staple in place.

Step 4: Install Lightbulb

Cut a 1-inch hole in one end of the styrofoam box. Make sure it is neither too low or too high -- you don't want the lightbulb touching the lid of the container.

Insert the lightbulb socket through the hole. It should be a snug fit. Your lightbulb wattage depends on the size of the box. Generally, 10-40 watts should be sufficient. Appliance lightbulbs are perfect because of their compact size.

Test the connection with an extension cord.

Step 5: Cut Ventilation Holes

Drill some holes into the side and lid for venting. I put 2 holes on each side and 4 holes in the lid.

Step 6: Final Assembly

Put the water cup in first, followed by the frame. Then install the lightbulb and place a thermometer inside. Set down several eggs if you have them to test out the weight.

You're finished! Now go find some fertile eggs and begin the 3-week game of hatching roulette.

Step 7: (optional) Install a Viewing Window

If you want to upgrade your incubator with viewing window, find an ugly 5x7 frame and pull out the glass pane.

Cut out a slightly smaller hatch in the lid (about 1/4-inch), then set in place and tape down the edges.

Step 8: Incubating Tips

Temperature

Building the incubator is easy. The hard part is fine-tuning the temperature! Hatching chicks requires a very fine tolerance, 99 to 102 degrees F. And you need to hold that temperature for 21 days. Here are some options for fine tuning the temps:

  1. Cut small holes in the lid until you find the right temperature (you can always tape over them if you overdo it).
  2. Buy a dimmer switch for plug-in lamps ($5 at the hardware store), and play around with the brightness until you find the right temp.
  3. Purchase a water heater thermostat and wire it into the power source. This will automatically turn off the lightbulb when it gets too hot, and turn it back on again when within the desired range.

Humidity

You also need to maintain the humidity around 40-50% for the first 18 days, then increase to 60-70% the last 3 days. It can been difficult to keep the humidity high enough during dry Winter months. I've found a wetted sponge does the trick.

Turning Eggs

It's also important to turn the eggs a few times each day. This keeps the developing embryo from sticking to shell wall and deforming. I turn my eggs 3 times each day, so it is always a different side overnight.

Good Luck!

2 People Made This Project!

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25 Comments

I had a shock this morning, woke up to chirping from the kitchen, the quail eggs have hatched, the kids we over the moon..... now to find something to house these chicks. I threw this together with a cardboard box and tinfoil on the inside, a 30 watt bulb on a regulator and an old sandwich box for the water container... Awesome!!

2 replies

Can you explain what a "regulator" is?

Just looked at amazon, it's called a "dimmer switch" for a house light - one you can turn and adjust the brightness of the bulb. It looks similar to this one, but mine was old, real old and wouldn't work with LED bulbs, hence I had one in the tool box. https://www.amazon.com/Leviton-6602-IW-Trimatron-Incandescent-Rotary/dp/B000FK9WYU/ref=sr_1_7?s=lamps-light&ie=UTF8&qid=1508175047&sr=1-7&keywords=dimmer+switch

I know this is a bit old, but a lot of the large breeders keep their incubators between 98-100F. the cooler the temperature the longer it will take to hatch and the warmer it is the less time. Careful not to get it to warm though at 105F the embryo dies. If you don't want to start your eggs right away you can store them at 60-65F for short term,a few days to a week, and at cooler for longer terms. The longer you store the eggs the less likely they will hatch. If the egg is at 72-75F for about 36 hours the embryo begins to develop. You could probably add one of those dollar store fans to the system to help with air flow, which would help keep the temperature uniform in the incubator.

Well done and well explained!

I made a very similar one, but the problem is that the Styrofoam around the lightbulb socket gets compressed due to the heat, so the hole gets bigger. I am currently working in an improved version :)

I also set out to make an incubator as cheap as possible. I understand you actually had no way of temperature control? just a thermometer. Adding a thermostat is in fact very easy and cheap (1.40USD). I added it to mine. Think I paid 2.40 but price dropped at aliexpress

2 replies

A common way is to use water heater thermostats, but its certainly more than $1.40 (closer to $20-$30) because you have to use both an upper and lower thermostat. Does the $1.40 thermostat you purchased provide for upper and lower shutoffs? The temperature range for incubating is very narrow, 99-102 degrees F.

not sure what you mean with upper and lower shutt off, but the one that i pointed out is a fully functional thermostat that can be set over a very precise range.e.g. you could set it to switch on the heating if the temperature is 37.6 degrees celsius and shut off at 37.7. can also choose a wider range if you so wish.it is just a normal fully functional thermostat. It does what a thermostat needs to do

That's great instructable but what kind of method had u used to turn eggs.manually with hands one by one or controlled motor?thank u guys

nice instructable, I was wondering how to make baby chicks

This one is really easy to build! very helpful!

Yo hice una y esta en la pagina www.zoetecnocampo.com en la seccion de avicultura y en www.aviarioangelcabrera,com, todavia no habia conocido esta pagina y acabo de diseñar un bebero automatico para gallina con una caneca de pintura de 5 galones y esta en prueba

Muy bien hecho

Just curious...what has your hatch success rate been with this design?

Yes, certainly. The breeding process warrants its own instructable, really (which may be forthcoming, be sure to Follow my profile for future updates). Step #8 outlines a few considerations, such as temperature range, humidity and turning the eggs. There is also "candling" the eggs to check for a viable embryo. Total incubation time depends on what you are breeding. For chickens it is 21 days.

We have our own chickens and rooster. But many people order fertilized eggs online, or you can find a nearby breeder (via Craigslist) and buy eggs.

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