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Saturday, February 27, 2016

First Time DIY Incubating - Learning Experience #4,286

I decided a few months ago that it was time for me to learn how to incubate and hatch eggs. In my endeavor to learn everything chicken, this is clearly an incredibly important part. I'm feeling the pinch right now, so instead of investing in an incubator that I would only use once if I discovered I hated the process, I bought a book and hit the web for different kinds of DIY incubator options.

Styrofoam coolers seem to be a popular choice, but this time of year, I couldn't find any locally, so a small plastic tote from Home Depot would have to suffice. I followed the instructions in a youtube video declaring you can make an incubator for $20.00. I picked up a 25 Watt appliance bulb, an extension cord, a light socket that can be plugged into an extension cord, 2 cheap thermometers with a round humidity reading on each and some sealant. At home, I grabbed a square 8x8 baking dish, some hardware cloth and my dremel.

First, I used the dremel to carve a hole for putting the socket and used the sealant to make sure it was air tight and set in well. After letting it dry for a couple of hours, I put in the light bulb, placed the dish with the hardware cloth over it into the tote, taped each thermometer to each end with electrical tape (not ideal), cut a few holes near the top of the walls for ventilation and snapped the lid on to see where the temperature would land. Since this was a still-air incubator, I wanted it to be around 102 F inside.
To make a long story short (I didn't really, this is still long), it took me about a week to balance out the temperature. In the end, I used a medium box from Lowes and put the tote inside the box. I also managed to find a styrofoam cooler at Kroger and broke it into pieces. Then I inserted the pieces into the walls between the box and tote. I added a couple of towels as well and after a week, I had a fairly solid temperature ranging between 99-102 depending on opening it and such. I chose to let the humidity be as it was reading about 30%. Then I added a digital thermometer I had in my aquarium. It's aquatic so it has a wire with a little sensor at the end. I could tape it to the roof of the tote and let the sensor dangle right above the eggs, getting a reading right where the eggs are.

On the big day, I met Molly, from a local farm, and bought 10 eggs from her: 6 cochin and 4 cochin/ameraucauna mix. I put the eggs in 2 half egg cartons and put one of the lids torn off the egg carton between them in the incubator to tilt them both slightly. Then, to turn them, I would just exchange sides 3-4 times a day.

Day One: February 2, 2016 - I got the eggs at the end of the work day and went straight home with them and placed them in the incubator around 4:30pm EST. I turned them once that night, then the next morning started the routine of turning them right before I left for work - 7:20am, then when I got home - 4:30pm, and last time before I went to bed - 10:00pm.

Day Two and Three: February 3 & 4, 2016 - My furnace decides to give me trouble. The first day I come home and the temperature in the house was 60 degrees and the incubator was 93.5. It likely had been a slow decline all day. I got the temp back up that evening, but  it happened again the next day and it fell to around 95 degrees. This turned out to be a challenge that continued throughout the entire hatch. We bought a new thermostat and did some furnace maintenance and that seemed to help, but it was a constant battle. Sigh.

Day Seven: February 9, 2016 - I did my first full candle of all of the eggs this day. They were doing wonderfully. The olive was a little harder to candle than the brown eggs, but I managed and nine of them were fine, one had a blood ring. I broke open the blood ring egg and it looked like it hadn't developed at all really and I tossed it.  I placed the remaining nine back in the incubator and continued on.

Day 12: February 14, 2016 - I was anxious to see what was happening and I went ahead and candled again. Seven of them were perfect and two more had stopped developing. There were clear blood spots, so I went ahead and broke them open. It looked to be they stopped around day seven or eight. Hopefully my last candle didn't have anything to do with that one.

Day 10 - 17: February 12-19, 2016 - I decided that I was getting some maran eggs and I wanted to go ahead and start them in the incubator. But, the cochin eggs needed to go into lockdown. So I went with making a hatcher. This one I really didn't want to spend any money if I didn't have to, so I went outside to the garage and got a 10 gallon aquarium my husband and I weren't using for the moment. I cleaned it up as much as possible (fish are disgusting - haha) and brought it inside with the cheap little rickety hood I had bought for it a while back.

Now, in this one I needed to get the humidity up, so I put a dish in the bottom, with hardware cloth and a towel over it and a couple of wet towels around it. This was all a mistake. I am now not a big fan of the dish with hardware cloth under the eggs at all. And, interesting, regular towels seemed to keep the humidity out of the air and I didn't want that. So, I bought some cheap cleaning clothes from Kroger for $1.99 for four. I wrapped the tank in bubble wrap and two towels around the outside, with an opening for me to watch easily and set up a webcam.

I pulled the dish out from under the eggs and I put two glad containers with water and sponges in them on either side. Aquarium hoods also have a gap at the lid, so I placed a warm wet towel there as well, that I replaced a couple of times a day.

 Day 18: February 20, 2016 - I put the eggs in the new hatcher and closed everything up. I felt that as long as I kept the humidity around 60% or higher, I was good to go. I was wrong about that, BTW, needs to be higher than that.

In the end, four beautiful little babies hatched on Day 22, February 24, 2016. I got up that morning
 and three eggs had pipped, then by the time I got to work I watched the first one hatch through the webcam. My kids, my husband and the daughter of a friend of mine all watched that first egg from school and work and wherever we were. It was pretty marvelous. by the time I got home, a second one had hatched and a couple of hours later, two more hatched. I waited a couple more days and checked the remaining eggs. They had fully developed and were shrinkwrapped. This made me sad, but considering my complete ignorance, setup, and furnace issues, I'm going to still call the hatch a success. These four babies are gorgeous and I am thrilled I managed to bring them into the
So, in the end, here's 10 things I learned:

1. Facebook groups are priceless for going to for advice and support. There are folks doing the same thing at the same time and worrying just as much as you are! There are a few interesting folks. For example, I had a person tell me I was "killing my babies" by candling at all, but in general, they're wonderful.
2. You absolutely can buy eggs off of eBay. I'm glad I focused on ones I could avoid having shipped, but I have now met another cool chicken person and had a fun learning experience with good eggs.

3. Temperature is key and needs to be balanced.Keeping the temperature in the house consistent plays an important role when you're doing a DIY setup. I'm unsure with a regular incubator, but I would doubt it's as much.

4. Humidity is incredibly important during lockdown. I didn't take that as seriously as I should have and I will next time. My goal next time is to keep it around 70%-75%.
The first hatch! A little lady I named Stevie

5. A webcam is easy, awesome, and I will have mine on soooo much. My coworkers and I all staring at baby chicks is the best thing. Make sure the audio is off though. Realizing other people could have heard some of the things I said to my husband last night was not ideal. Funny, but not ideal.

6.  Baby chicks flailing about right after hatch will break other eggs. One of the eggs that died had a crack that Stevie gave it when she was first hatched. I'm pretty sure that played a role in the demise of that chick. Unlike the other two remaining, it showed blood spots.

7. Don't use terrycloth towels when trying to raise humidity. I had someone on one of the groups tell me this and they were right. I noticed an immediate change when I switched them out. I used little cleaning rags and loved them.

8. Don't use a dish with hardware cloth on it, even though every youtube video making a DIY setup seems to recommend it, it takes up too much space. Keep it simple, just set the eggs on the bottom of the incubator/hatcher. As long as the hatcher has something the chicks won't slide on and hurt their legs and the incubator has something that tilts the eggs, you're good to go.

9. Educate yourself, but don't overthink it. It doesn't need to be super complex, just what works.

10. You can't make an incubator for $20, unless you already have supplies at home. It sounds like a great idea, but it's really not so simple as a cooler, light and thermometer. I used several towels to hold in heat, bubble wrap and the box. I had all these already, but I still needed quite a bit more than $20 could have covered if I needed to buy everything.

So, I hope this is helpful and enjoy. If you'd like to see some videos of the chicks hatching and such, check out my youtube channel. I also still have the livestream and will have it up intermittently so people can watch the chicks and the next hatch. My next post will be a chick update.

Happy chickening!