A homemade incubator for your chicken eggs -
money saver or time waster?

Depending on the make and model, egg incubators can be a very expensive luxury. 

So can a homemade incubator be any less expensive whilst still providing the  optimum levels of heating and humidity you need for a successful hatch?

Here are the good bits, the 'could do better' bits and three sets of instructions for making your own if you decide it's the way to go for you.

Here's what we're all aiming for from our incubator - a healthy, successful hatch!  These are two of my own chicks aged three days - a Sablepoot bantam (left) and a Light Sussex.

Baby chicks.

I should say here and now that I have never had a homemade incubator myself, but a lot of my friends here in Italy have - in fact, my automated incubators became something of a celebrity because they were such an unusual sight. 

The information on this page is taken both from reading extensively about them, and hearing from those friends and neighbours who have used them - and still do.


Pros and cons of a homemade incubator.

  • It's a more inexpensive way of hatching than using a store-bought incubator - at least it is on the surface.  However, this does need to be balanced against the fact that hatch rates are generally quite low in homemade incys - around 33%, although some do claim to have a much higher success rate.
  • You can make it largely from re-cycled items you may have around your home, so it costs even less.
  • You have the satisfaction of knowing you're using re-cycled (upcycled) items.
  • On the downside, it's notoriously difficult to keep temperature and humidity levels right.  These are two of the most critical parts of incubation and if they're not controlled properly hatch levels tend to be very poor.
  • They tend not to work as well in rooms which have a low or fluctuating temperature - although this is also true of some of the smaller commercial incubators.
  • Hatch rates in general from homemade incubators tend to be quite low - usually less than 50%.  However, it's important to remember that in any clutch of eggs there will be some which don't hatch for all kinds of reasons which are nothing whatever to do with the incubator - low fertility levels, time of year, poor storage, bacteria infecting porous eggs and so on.

Still want to have a go yourself?  Let's look at what you'll need.


Shopping list for a homemade incubator.

A search on the internet brings up a huge number of homemade egg incubators which will hatch any kind of poultry egg.  Here's what they all have in common and what you need to buy if you decide to do it yourself.

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The container itself : it needs to be well insulated in order to keep heat and humidity levels constant.  Popular choices are picnic cool boxes, styrofoam containers and disused  refrigerators. 

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A way of heating it.  The most popular choice is a standard 25 watt bulb attached to a lamp fitting, slotted into a corner of the container.  I have also personally seen an electric heating pad used.

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Some pebbles or stones.  Heat can be sustained at a more constant temperature by placing some stones in the bottom of the container. 

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Strong wire mesh.  The heating element must be separated from the eggs and, later, the chicks - otherwise there's a real danger they will be burned and depending on the material, the incubator itself may be at risk. 

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A bowl and sponge to hold water and keep humidity at the right level.  The bowl must be kept away from the hatching chicks, otherwise it's easy for them to drown.  Placing it on the floor with mesh on top is a good solution.

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A thermometer and hygrometer to read temperature and humidity levels respectively.  This needs to be placed near the eggs for a true reading, as still air homemade incubator models tend to have hot and cold spots.

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Some models also include a fan - generally a computer fan - to circulate the warm air more effectively, and sometimes a small motor for some kind of turning mechanism - otherwise the eggs have to be turned manually.


Making your own incubator.

I've trawled through hours and hours of videos and come up with the four sets of instructions which I think are a combination of easy to follow and efficient in combining the different elements required.

My advice would be to watch all four - they only take a few minutes each - and decide on which combination of features would be best for your situation.


How to make it : model #1.

This is the most basic of the homemade incubators I've featured here, and it had a very poor hatch rate - only one of the eggs hatched.

However, it has some excellent features such as the pebbles to sustain temperature, so it's worth considering combining those with more advanced features in the other two.

Positives.

Quick, easy and inexpensive.

The pebbles in the water help maintain temperature levels.

The dimmer switch helps to control temperature more easily.

Problems.

Temperature is quickly affected by fluctuations in room temperature.

Need to be on hand to monitor temperature and humidity levels.

Styrofoam is very hard to clean, which is critical if it's to be re-used.

Homemade incubator #2.

Of all the instructions available, this is probably my favourite.  It's simple to make, inexpensive and this video has very clear step by step instructions.  Again, however, it had a poor hatch rate of 25%.

Positives.

Simple to make.

Inexpensive.

A dimmer switch would make temperature easier to control.

The sponge in the bowl will prevent newly hatched chicks from drowning.

Problems.

Lack of a fan will create hot and cool spots in the incubator.

Have to be around to turn the eggs and check on temperature and humidity levels.

The observation window would be better with two glass pieces to provide double insulation.

Homemade incubator #3.

This video shows you a simple automatic egg turner to go with the incubator, and a fan to circulate the warm air more efficiently.  Unfortunately the incubator is already made so the steps aren't quite as clear.

However, this is a detailed video for making the automatic egg turner seen in the video above.  It's longer than the others (nearly 20 minutes) but if you want to go this route, it's extremely helpful.

Positives.

An automatic turner is a definite bonus - otherwise you have to turn the eggs by hand every few hours.

Problems.

Obviously, it's more complicated to set up than the basic incubator from the first video.

If you want to compare the homemade incubator with commercially produced ones, have a look at these pages.

How to choose your perfect chicken egg incubator - click here for more!
Click to see a review of Brinsea's most popular 7 egg incubator.
The Brinsea Octagon 20 - an all-singing, all-dancing egg incubator.


Have you made your own incubator?

If so, and especially if you think it's better than those featured on this page, please use the comments section below to describe it.

Tell me all - I'd love to hear from you!

If you're interested in hatching, you may find these pages helpful.

Want to incubate chicken eggs?  Here's how to choose the best.
Link to the perfect way to candle incubated eggs.
My step by step guide to incubating, hatching and brooding chickens - click here for more!

If you found this helpful, please take a few seconds to share it - thank you!

Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.