After becoming dissatisfied with my Little Giant's propensity to temperature swings and other assorted nastiness, I went on the market for a new incubator. I wanted something of a medium size that was cheap and reliable. Unfortunately, I discovered that finding all three of those in the average commercial incubator was about as easy as hatching a double yolker egg—if not harder! I found a few hovabator models that seemed to fit the bill somewhat, but they were still $150 or more and were made of Styrofoam. Have you ever tried to clean one of those things? It isn't very much fun. So, I ended up at the conclusion that making my own was the only way I could get everything I wanted without spending hair-curling amounts.
Hopefully this article will help you if you are on the fence of making your own. It can be made of anything, really, and I have even seen 5 gallon buckets or frying pans used successfully. Use your imagination and sense of frugality. I am going to be using a plastic tote, because I can't seem to locate an appropriately sized cheap cooler for anything. I'll try to include as many pictures as possible so you can see what I'm doing. There will be links to where you can buy suitable supplies, but I suggest trying to use what you already have or else the total cost for the build will be painful. With some re-purposing and basement digging involved, the total cost for this build was a little under $45.
Linked below are some helpful articles and videos.
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4
- Utility knife
- Mitre saw
- Drill—1/4 and 3/16 inch bits
- Wire strippers
- Plastic tote
- A type of interior insulation (styrofoam, bubble wrap insulation)
- 8 x 11 sheet of plexiglass/plastic
- Duct tape
- Two light sockets
- Two light bulbs—25–60 watts
- One wafer thermostat assembly—make sure you are not getting the disc only
- 60+ CFM computer/gaming fan
- 12v AC/DC adaptor
- Assorted wire nuts
- Hot glue / liquid nails / gasket sealer
- Wire extension for the thermostat wires—this can just be an old extension cord piece
- Another extension cord—to make reaching the wall easy
- Electrical tape
Wafer thermostat assembly:
The rest of the adapter. The fan plug's ends are not compatible with the adapter plug so the ends must be cut off and spliced together.
Gaming fan—64.4 CFM. Note the ends. The white things will be cut off and spliced with the adapter. There are 3 wires, and the yellow is not the live or ground.
Here are the wires coming out from the fan.
Here is the first end. You can cut in this location if you wish, or at the next end so you don't have to do anything with the yellow wire.
See how the yellow wire stops, but the red & black keep going?
The second end:
The light sockets. I am using this style because it is what I have on hand. Due to space concerns, they will need to be installed with the majority of the socket on the outside of the incubator.
This tote will make up the incubator body. The sides come in a ways which will make installation of some parts a tad more difficult.
Here is the tote with the foil bubble wrap insulation duct taped on.
After wrapping the incubator up I stopped and cut the hole in the lid for the viewing window. What good is an incubator if you can't watch the chicks? The dimensions of the hole are 7 x 10 inches.
After that I duct taped a square of insulation on the underneath and cut out the excess.
I put a bead of hot glue between the insulation and the plastic to keep it secure. I didn't want it getting caught or torn.
Next comes the plexiglass. I used hot glue because I had it already.
Now, I cut holes in the back of the tote. I used a utility knife and cut a hole for the head to stick through. I also removed some of the insulation around it so it wouldn't touch the lightbulb.
Picture of the socket being hot-glued in.
Back view of the tote:
Make sure you lay everything out before gluing/screwing it in. Here is an image of how far away from the side I have the fan to ensure adequate airflow.
And here is the wafer thermostat being installed. I used 2 screws about an inch long.
Later, you will drill a 1/4 inch hole for the blue wires to come through in the side.
Here's a sketch of how the wires all go together. This is how I did it, and the thing didn't explode, but I am not an electrician so take that as fair warning.
Purple = fan wire
Green = adapter wire
Blue = white wire
Yellow trimmed in purple = thermostat wire/extension
Brown = black wire
Orange = extension cord
See the tiny ends of the thermostat wire, to the left? To wire, refer to the Rush Lane Poultry video links above.
The lights turn on now. Just the fan left, and this will be all done.
These are the fan and adapter wires. The actual wire part was too thin for wire nuts, so I covered it in electrical tape and then duct-taped it to the side.
I mounted the fan on 2 pieces of scrap wood because I didn't have long enough screws.
The thermostat turns the bulbs on and off, and the fan runs. Success!
Make sure you add several vent holes around the bottom and top to ensure adequate airflow.
I will be updating this page with results after I have done a test run & and actual hatch. Thanks for reading!
2/3 eggs from the test run hatched out nice and cleanly. I think we get to say that this thing works.
Upgrade #1. I've been thinking about past hatches in my spare time and thinking on how to improve hatch rates. I have noticed that despite air cells looking fine at lockdown, hatched chicks are rather "wet" and often have discolourations on the inside where the outside was touching the bator floor. I am thinking this is due to water that drips from the sides and gets the papertowel on the floor sopping wet. It also gets really mucky and it stinks to high heavens.
So.... I made a hardware cloth grate that raises the floor a bit. Water can fall through and get the underlying papertowel wet, but the eggshells can't touch it.
You can't see in the photo, but it has about 1 inch high sides. Since the photo was taken, I've taken it out and covered the poky bits with duck tape for ease of removal.
Upgrade #2.... HWC over fan. This became necessary due to upgrade #1.
Upgrade #3: Tubing to add water in lockdown.
Bator upgrade #4: Peep hole to stick my hand in and candle when I really shouldn't.
I decided to do a rebuild on the bin 'bator and put it into a cooler body. Same supplies used as above, except they were screwed into a cooler instead of a plastic tote and I did not use insulation. If anyone else wants to try using a bin, I highly recommend screwing a piece of wood on the back to screw the thermostat to and NOT putting it over insulation. I believe the sides were too flexible, which made the microswitch slip and not turn the lights off/on well after a period of time.
Lid cut out with a jigsaw, plexiglass cut to size with a mitre saw and hot-glued into place.
Holes for the sockets cut out using a hole saw.
I lined the edges with duck tape for a cleaner look.
Sockets hot glued into place.
Front view of bulb sockets, thermostat, and fan. I hot glued the fan in, no idea if it'll hold but it's worth a try. 7/30/17 it's worked well so far with no signs of peeling away.
This cooler has a really deep lid, which is why I can get away with the bulbs so close to the top.
Wiring all done up:
This image shows how much room there is once the lid is on. If you have a lower lid and install at this height you'll likely need baffles.
I have a test run going with 40w bulbs in it. Temperature is 100* stable but lights have a 15 second on 30 off cycle so I might reduce the wattage of the lightbulbs. I will update once I set and hatch eggs in here.
7/30/17: I set shipped duck eggs in here and got a 57% hatch rate. Not half bad, and I'm pleased with temperature stability. I'll probably mess with it and upgrade a bit more.
Thanks for reading.