Most of us at some point in our chicken careers will decide to buy or build an incubator. There are so many ideas out there, some are better than others, as i go i will try to explain the benefits and drawbacks of each style to the best of my abilities. Building an incubator is not as complicated as it sounds, and can be easily accomplished by anyone with a few tools and some time.
Choosing your incubator's size and features:
I have seen incubators that hatch 3 eggs, and incubators that hatch 10's of thousands of eggs. The incubators we will discuss will start at 20 or so eggs a batch, for someone who is just building (or replenishing) a flock. I will explain some theories of larger units, but my plans will stop at around 1500 eggs. The next main feature is turning, some people prefer to turn the eggs by themselves. Others (especially people who hatch hundreds a week) will want auto turners.
If you plan on a hatchery type business, you will want to take the number of hens and multiply by 5. This is your estimated weekly egg production. In the event you plan on growing, multiply that number by 1.5, this allows for growth. Example: if you have 60 hens, multiplied by 5 gives you 300 eggs, multiplied by 1.5 for growth gives you 450 eggs weekly. Some people will plan on using one incubator for 3 weeks worth of eggs, others will build 3 separate incubators. If you are planning on one incubator to take care of all of your needs, you will need an incubator to hold 1350 eggs.
The last main option is your hatching area. If you're just hatching a few chickens for yourself, hatching in your incubator is fine. If your thinking of a hatchery type business, you will probably want to consider a separate hatcher. This frees up your incubator 3 days earlier, and keeps most of the mess (and bacteria) away from your incubation process.
Coolerbaters for small batches:
Several people I have talked to started with coolerbators. They are simple and fairly inexpensive to make, and will hold several eggs (depending on size of cooler).
cooler, styrofoam is fine - plastic is a touch better for sanitation reasons.
heat source, most people use light bulbs, heating elements don't blow as quick, but are harder to find replacements.
thermostat, I prefer dual wafer setups, some like electronic, some use water heater thermostats (not as accurate)
humidity tray, basically anything that is capable of holding water, usually 3x4 or slightly larger. shallow is better.
corks, or something to plug vent holes with.
fan, optional but allows for more even heat.
*Most people hand turn with coolerbators, but you can purchase a turner for a Hovabator or Little Giant incubator and use it with no problems.
this page is a work in progess, please check back for more information.