It is a lot of fun to let nature take its course and have your hens hatch out a bunch of fuzzy, adorable chicks. However, if you are relying on those eggs to hatch, sometimes it is best to give nature a little bit of a hand. This is especially true if your favorite chickens are not typically good setters. There are two main types of chickens that do not set eggs well: egg layers and heavies.
The egg layers are not concerned with hatching out chicks. They have been modified through breeding to become egg-laying machines that jump off the nest as fast as the egg pops out, and rarely, if ever, look back. The heavy breeds may or may not want to sit on their eggs and hatch them, but the weight of their bodies makes it impractical, and they usually fail.
For most self-sufficient homesteaders, the egg-layers are very important. They keep the family in eggs all-year round. Unfortunately, chickens have a relatively short laying life, and as they age, their production dwindles, so it is a good idea to rotate new stock into the flock every year, or two at the least. Since these chickens aren’t likely to do the job, it will fall on you to help them out.
Choosing an Incubator
Unless you’re into factory production, or have a ton of money, you don’t have to buy a big, fancy metal incubator. If you are going to hatch up to a few dozen eggs a year, a simple Styrofoam incubator will do the trick nicely, and they are easy to find, and cost-effective.
Manual or Automatic
Manual incubators require you to turn the eggs several times a day. This type of incubator will save you money, but it may not be worth it in the end if you lose all of your eggs because you got held up in traffic or lost track of time. Automatic incubators turn the eggs themselves. While it is still a good idea to keep an eye on things to be sure it is functioning properly, you won’t have to panic if you get stuck, or if you have a day job.
The main functions of heat and humidity are common to all incubators. You will need a thermometer inside the unit if it doesn’t come with one. You can also get an incubator with a fan that will circulate the heat better for a more even temperature throughout. All you will have to do is keep track of the temperature, and turn the heater on and off, and make sure the humidity levels are at the right setting as specified in your particular incubator’s instructions.
You can also go all out and get a fully automatic incubator that has all of the bells and whistles and will regulate heat and humidity for you as well.
Building Your Own Incubator
There are ways to build incubators from plywood, Styrofoam, and even old appliances such as refrigerators. However, even with complete instructions, these units are rarely as good as the ones you buy pre-made. If you are very good with your hands, you can make one to see if it works for you. The University of Illinois Extension and the Ohio State University both offer pages with instructions for several different styles of homemade incubators.
Good luck and have fun with your chicks!
©2011 Off the Grid News