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
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:
- Cut small holes in the lid until you find the right temperature (you can always tape over them if you overdo it).
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.