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!

On a Budget Contest

Participated in the
On a Budget Contest

3 People Made This Project!

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43 Comments

0
i am here
i am here

12 months ago

can you use a cardbord box? i need this fast! my hens are firtile egg laying mashines!

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britd864
britd864

1 year ago on Introduction

My incubator won’t raise in humidity but finally stabilized around 103 degrees. It’s not going really over 25 % humidity. Is there any advice you can give?

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C_Pilk
C_Pilk

Reply 1 year ago

make sure theres not any HUGE holes in the incubator and make sure theres enough water in the dish

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Potsyman
Potsyman

Reply 1 year ago

Add a sponge to your water dish and an ounce of vinegar.

0
C_Pilk
C_Pilk

Question 1 year ago on Step 6

Where did you get the lightbulb or what is the EXACT name of it? And the light bulb socket too. I tried to look it up on Amazon but I can't find anything! PLEASE! My eggs are arriving soon and I need to build this incubator within THREE DAYS!

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Potsyman
Potsyman

Answer 1 year ago

I just got done making my incubator with an Omaha Steaks cooler. I tried a couple different socket and bulb combos, but what has seemed to keep good temp was a combination I stole from some of my wife’s stuff. I took the lamp from a salt lamp, which has a dimmer switch on it and the 25 watt candle warmer bulb. I tried it at full strength and it was sitting about 115 f, so I dimmed it to 3/4 strength and it’s been holding at 99.9. We ordered some eggs this weekend that should be here in a few days.

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britd864
britd864

Answer 1 year ago

I found a light bulb and connecter at the local hardware store!

0
DAngelo17
DAngelo17

Question 1 year ago on Introduction

Is the incubator made so that the frame holding the eggs sits in the middle of the foam box? Does the water container go under the frame?

0
C_Pilk
C_Pilk

Answer 1 year ago

the dish goes UNDER the frame so that hatched chicks dont drown. Chicks should not be able to get under the frame

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arice13
arice13

1 year ago

does it have to be a foam box i dont have any foam boxes and I NEED TO BUILT IT FAST before they hatch ps. its winter time where i live

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lbsaayman
lbsaayman

2 years ago on Introduction

Hello,did you also do the rotating just want to know .
because you only put in in the bulb gives heat all around the eggs right.

0
dave.klein87
dave.klein87

2 years ago

Where did you get the screen cloth?

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ReginaW26
ReginaW26

2 years ago on Introduction

I went to work one day and my incubator lost heat for two hours (power went out) :( I have already seen that the embryo is growing and they have about a week left. Do you think this two hour period of losing heat will kill them?

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Zumidachopstick
Zumidachopstick

3 years ago

Hello! I am a 6th grader in the CNMI. I have a STEM class and I have a speical project to make a homemade incubator and the eggs have to HATCH!! (If it does not I will not get extra credit points :( ) Anyways, I was extremely worried that I would not be able to succeed this project, but the information here will probably get me an A+. Thx!

0
maywevver
maywevver

Question 3 years ago on Introduction

How do you connect the light bulb to turn on and off with the thermostat to maintain a constant temperature?

0
PaulN107
PaulN107

Answer 3 years ago

There are more ways to do this... The easiest is to you a thermocouple on the thermostat. Or you can use timers though they are a bit complex and slightly expensive for this DIY project

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Nina622
Nina622

Question 4 years ago on Introduction

Where did you get the bulb socket?

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TheGrovestead
TheGrovestead

Reply 3 years ago

Hardware store, either lightbulb or lighting dept.

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PepaJ
PepaJ

5 years ago

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 :)

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AllThingsAnimals
AllThingsAnimals

Reply 3 years ago

How did you fix that problem?