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Chicken Incubators

 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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I debated whether to put this here or in one of the rocket stove threads, LOL! 

I have three hens who have proved themselves as broodies, and six young pullets coming up who were bred to be broodies (they are half Silkie, and out of two Easter Egger hens who hatched and raised their own chicks, so the pullets *should* be good broodies themselves).  But I've been pondering incubators.  Sometimes you need to hatch some chicks when there isn't a hen willing to set; I've heard of people losing a valued hen but they had some of her eggs in the frig and were able to incubate them and save her bloodline; and some breeds are worth keeping but have had all the broodiness bred out of them.  So there are some valid reasons for having an incubator around other than a broody hen. 

There is a nebulous picture in my mind of an incubator and brooder that are heated by a rocket stove.  But when it comes to details, I'm not sure how to make it work.  Does anyone have any good ideas?  Or alternative reliable heat sources?  My grandmother says that her mother once hatched out a chick by keeping the egg inside her bra for a few days -- I guess it was already close to hatching and the mother hen disappeared, and Great-grandma didn't want to lose the chick.  (I'll have to verify this story when Grandma gets home from my uncle's house, but I think I have it mostly correct.)  I doubt that this would work for the whole 21-day incubation period, however, LOL!

Kathleen
 
Leah Sattler
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hmmm. I have a great picture in my head of lumpy egg boobs now!  I have a regular incubator. a cheapy one, styrofoam with a thermostat and a little window. I have found it to be very difficult to get a nice even hatch and to keep the temp where it is supposed to be. humidity is important also. if memory serves it is best to keep it around 80% humidity.

I have tossed around ideas of homemade incubators with alternative sources of heat, mostly when I am asking myself.....'what would I do if i didn't have access to electricity?' however after my experiences with this simple incubator I can' t imagine trying to rig up something that could do the job adequatly. a fluffy hen is the best way to go!

I plan to buy an egg turner and blower eventually for my incubator and fromwhat I have read that ought to greatly increase my hatch rates. alot of the problem is uneven distribution of heat supposedly.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Yes, uneven distribution of heat and humidity seems to be what causes the most problems.  I spent several hours yesterday reading about home-made incubators at Backyard Chickens forum, which is what got me thinking about it.  There are some very ingenious contraptions that people have built -- I like the wine cooler ones with glass doors so you can see what's going on in there!  But they are all dependent on electricity.  Seems like with some mass it MIGHT be possible to do a non-electric one, somehow.  (The ancient Egyptians used to hatch out eggs by the thousands in wood-fired incubators....)

Kathleen
 
Leah Sattler
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I never knew that about the egyptians! cool. I would suppose that if it were to be done making it out of something that would retain heat well such as rock or brick would be important to help mitigate temperature and humidity fluctuations, use of water as thermal mass could help even further. maybe an external source of heat that could be blocked off or opened up. I am thinking along the designs of a smoker that has a firebox. of course smoke would have to be diverted. clever engineering and placement of the eggs could certainly utilize convection to minimize hot spots.

I am picturing a pool of water made of brick with a firebox underneath. round would be best.  with smoke being diverted on all sides. vents to help control the heat based on oxygen availability and vents on the covered top to release excess heat as well as vents on the floor to open up more or less water surface area to control humidity. a rack in the middle for eggs.......maybe even rigged to turn slowly with the wind so that no one egg is exposed to a hot spot.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I was thinking about this last night after I'd posted, and wondering how many slaves the Egyptians assigned to monitor their wood-fired incubators 24/7!

I do think it could be done, though, with our modern thermometers to monitor the temperatures.  But it would take some dedication and constant watching.  Probably not very worthwhile for small batches unless you were desperate.

Kathleen
 
Leah Sattler
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oh yes! dont' forget the slaves! we must incorporate forced labor into the equation it would take alot of work and monitoring. its fun to think about but I dont' think I will ever be giving it a try. I'll just keep my broody free range banties around.....they are my slaves...
 
paul wheaton
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I would think that anything wood fired would have heat that is too hot or too cold.  My impression is that an incubator not only has to hold a real steady temp, but has to keep that temp even.  If you use anything other than a chicken or a warm blooded animal, then you need a thermostat.  And I'm not sure how you're gonna work a thermostat into a wood burning situation.



 
Kathleen Sanderson
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paul wheaton wrote:
I would think that anything wood fired would have heat that is too hot or too cold.  My impression is that an incubator not only has to hold a real steady temp, but has to keep that temp even.  If you use anything other than a chicken or a warm blooded animal, then you need a thermostat.  And I'm not sure how you're gonna work a thermostat into a wood burning situation.


These are the problems that I can see, too, Paul, and I agree, it seems like it would be difficult to work a thermostat into it.  I just wondered if anyone else had ever considered it, and perhaps come up with a solution.  It seems like with lots of mass, and some way to direct heat in where it was needed when it was needed, it could probably be made to work.  The eggs do need a pretty steady heat, but mama hens get off the nest for a few minutes each day, allowing the eggs to cool briefly, so a few short temperature fluctuations aren't necessarily fatal.

Kathleen
 
paul wheaton
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I suppose you can go to a lot of trouble to monitor the temp 24x7, constantly adding wood and opening/closing windows. 

A cheaper way might be to keep the incubator near a source of warm that will never get too warm.  Then the incubator just uses less power.
 
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