Since my small mixed flock of chickens and ducks (Guineas too!) are all free range, they tend to lay eggs scattered around the acreage and in the cactus. All my birds are good layers and I get an average of 12 eggs a day (half chicken/half duck) The guineas became broody almost overnight once they laid a pile of about 20 eggs - but this worried me as I lock all the birds up together in the bird house at night for safety and this nest is outside the birdhouse.
So - I decided to build an incubator (my first!) so I can have baby birds when I want and still keep my little hodge podge flock safe from the central Texas predators (ranch dogs, coyotes, hawks, vultures, cats, raccoons, rattle snakes, etc).
Step 1 - Research
My husband had just finished building a tomato grower and I though it would be neat to build an incubator rather than pay top $$ for one that doesn't meet my specific needs (although I'm not exactly sure what needs those are). I looked all through BYC and various other websites before deciding that an incubator made from a mini fridge would do the trick.
Of the materials on the web, I found the BYC Incubator page a real fun research tool - so many types of incubators made from such fun and easy to find items.
That page is here: http://www.backyardchickens.com/chicken-coop-incubator.html
Step 2 - The Search
Next, I needed to find an inexpensive glass fronted mini fridge. The glass fronts are usually found on the wine cooler versions, incidentally, these are also more expensive.
I checked out the following sites:
- Austin's Craigs List
- The Green Sheet
- Austin American Statesman Online
I ended up finding several around Austin on Craigs List that were between $50 & $100. Next day I drove into town and picked up 'The Little Tavern' by Avanti for $60 cash.
The model I bought was dated 2002 and it worked fine, but for my purposes I didn't need one with a good compressor as the goal is not COLD, but HOT.
All the other parts could be picked up at the local hardware store, so my search was over.
- Wire Cutters
- Wire Strippers
- Electrical Tape
- Wire Crimpers
- Philips & Flat Head Screwdriver
- Bolt Cutters
- 'The Little Tavern' Wine Cooler
- 1 x PC Fan
- 1 x 12V Power Supply
- 1 x Thermometer/Hydrometer
- Heat Source*
- Dimmer Switch
- New Construction Light box
- Air Line
*Originally this was designed to use a Heat Pad for a reptile aquarium, but the temp would not go above 86F, so a new heat source is being worked on
Total Cost to Date: $131
- 'The Little Tavern' Wine Cooler (CL) $60
- PC Fan (Best Buy) $12
- 12V Power Supply (Best Buy) $12
- Thermometer/Hydrometer (Home Depot) $8
- ZooMed Reptile Therm* (Pet Smart) $22
- Dimmer Switch (Hardware Store) $15
- New Construction Light box (Home Depot) $1
- Air Line (Hardware Store) $1
Step 3 - The Build
The build out of The Little Tavern Incubator was broken into 2 steps: Disassembly & Assembly.
1. Disassembling 'The Little Tavern' wine cooler
- Remove the racks from inside the wine cooler and set aside for later use
- Turn the wine cooler over and cut the freon lines going into the main body BEING VERY CAREFUL AS FREON WILL ESCAPE IN GASEOUS FORM - DO NOT INHALE. DO THIS OUTSIDE IN A WELL VENTILATED AREA - pull the lines out of the wine cooler unit
- Unbolt the compressor from the metal plate it is attached to at the back of the unit and remove any grounding wires or other electrical connections carefully - DO NOT CUT ELECTRICAL LINES AS YOU MAY REUSE THEM IN YOUR BUILD
You should now have an empty box that consists of the wine cooler shell with no electrical connections or parts.
2. Assembling 'The Little Tavern' Incubator
- Remove the temperature controller from the back of the unit and the controller knob from inside the unit
- PC Fan - I purchased a PC fan with 3 blue LED lights in it which I find pleasant to look at (the only reason for the LEDs at this point)
- Using the hole saw, enlarge the hole that the temperature knob occupied inside the wine cooler unit
- Hold the fan up against the inside of the unit so that it is centered over the enlarged hole you created in step 1
- Mark the bolt holes and pre drill them
- Feed the PC Fan wires through the enlarged hole (you may need to drill a new hole to fit the wires in if they cannot go through the enlarged knob hole without interfering with the fan operation)
- Bolt the PC Fan to the inside of the unit using the 3" bolts (use longer or shorter bolts as needed)
- Strip the wires on the fan lead using the wire strippers
- Cut the end off the 12V DC power supply close to the tip so you have a long cable and plug with no end
- Strip the end of the 12V DC power plug using the wire strippers
- Connect the 12V DC power supply to the PC Fan using wire crimpers & electrical tape
- Plug in fan & test for correct operation
If you want to reduce the wiring you can purchase prewired PC fans from such suppliers as JW Exotics: http://www.jwexotics.com/incparts.html
- Heat Source - I wanted to try something sleek that wouldn't take up any room in my incubator and after much thought, am trying a reptile heat pad by ZooMed. After reading the ZooMed instructions carefully, I decided that the only appropriate place to attach the pad was to the front door glass - it obscures the view a bit, but it is the safest place to put it.
- Remove the power cord from the wine cooler compressor by cutting the cord close to the compressor body
- Strip the power cord to reveal the 3 wires inside (usually one black, one white and one green) using wire strippers
- Cut the plug off the ZooMed Reptile pad
- Strip the ZooMed Reptile pad power cord using wire strippers
- Place the ZooMed Reptile pad on the glass door inside the wine cooler unit
- Run the ZooMed Reptile pad power cord through one of the now empty freon line to the back exterior of the wine cooler unit
- Open the wine cooler unit door all the way and pull the ZooMed Reptile pad power cord through till you have little slack in the front of the wine cooler unit and close the door
- Attach the new construction light box to the metal plate on the back of the wine cooler unit
- Run the compressor power cord and the ZooMed Reptile pad power cord into the new construction light box
- Attach the power cords to the dimmer switch and screw into the new construction light box
- Plug in fan & test for correct operation
- Themometer/Hydrometer - Purchased a ACU Rite combo thermometer/hydrometer from Home Depot for about $8. It's an enclosed unit similar to this pic.Unit should be set inside the incubator. This unit has dual sensors and I have placed the wired remote sensor on the opposite side of the incubator than the primary unit.
- Water Line - A waterline installed allows you to add water to an internal dish without opening the door to the unit. The Little Tavern has a defrost line mid level in the back of the interior - I have run water line into it and up into a dish - in the back of the unit I put a plastic catchup bottle with the waterline attached to the tip so I can just squeeze water up and over into the inside of the unit.
You should now be ready to test your new incubator.
- Egg Racks - There are 2 racks that came with the wine cooler unit - one is a wine rack and it can sit up top or in the middle. The other is a soda can rack and it is split level with a rack across the bottom and a half rack in the middle. I am working on a way to make an auto turner for the eggs that fits within the parameters of these racks, but it is a work in progress
Hatching Eggs Resources
Incubators & Parts Resources