Building A Home Made Incubator For Hatching At Higher Altitudes, Any Advice?

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by Velvet Sparrow, Mar 2, 2013.

  1. Velvet Sparrow

    Velvet Sparrow Chillin' With My Peeps

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    We moved last year to a new home in the Eastern Sierra mountains of Nevada, our elevation is around 5000 feet. It also can be VERY dry here year round, and cold in the early Spring.

    Last year we had some issues with using our good ol' Little Giant 9200 incubators--we have one still-air and one forced air. Namely lots of early (at 7-15 days) and full-term quitters. Out of 20-22 eggs in each 'bator, we got about 6 chicks per unit to hatch. :( The early ones didn't bother me so much, but the number of chicks that quit at day 18-20 really bothered me. I did a breakout and found very little obviously wrong--some had turned into hatching position, some hadn't, none had pierced the air sac and all looked perfectly healthy. Why so many full term chicks had quit was a mystery. Very few chicks hatched (but were overall very healthy), and a few had to be assisted due to a thicker membrane. Most of the eggs were shipped eggs, but some were our own from our hens (admittedly they were stressed from moving from southern California, only about 200 feet above sea level, just 3 weeks before)--no difference in hatch rate success between shipped/our eggs OR between the still/forced air 'bators. Chicks hatching early at day 19-20 and looking a wee bit 'undercooked' happened last year, but they were Belgian d'Uccles which are rumored to be early birds generally. :)

    We have loads of experience at incubating & hatching chicks in the past, but since we moved here the issues have been: temperature fluctuation, difficulty keeping the humidity high enough and ventilation. I've experimented with every aspect I can think of--adding sponges for more humidity, trying a bit lower temp, changing ventilation both ways, using a water weasel/temp probe to replicate as closely as possible temps inside the egg, fewer eggs, digital humidity gauge, hand/auto turn, etc. Nothing made a drastic difference. I've done research that suggests that hatching at high altitude using sea level eggs can result in a low hatch rate, this year we plan to use only local eggs, no shipped eggs.

    My husband is fed up with last year's dismal hatch and wants to build a no-kidding wooden incubator that will hopefully eliminate temperature changes, hold humidity better and give proper ventilation. We have an automatic egg turner but in the past I've turned eggs 3x daily--no change in hatch rates between auto/hand turning for us. We can cannibalize our old styrofoam 'bators for parts as needed. We web-broadcast the hatch every year, so a large viewing pane on top is a must for the webcam. We plan on doing our hatch April 20th and hopefully avoid some of the colder weather spells.

    Anyone have experience with building a frankenbator and/or high altitude hatches? Any help or thoughts would be much appreciated. :)
     
  2. Bill 101

    Bill 101 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    The biggest issue you will have is humidity. I lived in Reno & but I was able to adjust my incubators to compensate for the extremely low humidity. There is a Poultry Club in Reno. It's the Northern Nevada Poultry Fanciers. You can email at
    [email protected]. I'm sure someone can tell you how best to use your current incubators or even make one yourself
     
  3. Velvet Sparrow

    Velvet Sparrow Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks Bill, will do! :) Yeah, the low ambient humidity is a real bear.
     
  4. Velvet Sparrow

    Velvet Sparrow Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Well dang, that email you gave me got bounced as no good. :(
     
  5. Bill 101

    Bill 101 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Instead of clicking on the email address I gave you, try typing it into your address bar. Where do you live? are you close to the Reno/Sparks area? I guess I can give you her PH#, she published it in a National Poultry Newspaper !!!
    1-775-847-7948. Her name is D.D. Monroe.
    I had a hard time getting the adjustment on my Roll-X incubator to allow enough water into the incubator, finally got it by adding spacers between the adjustment screw & the base & adding a sponge
    The elevation where I lived was 4500-50000 & the elevations didn't seem to affect hatching. Most of the eggs were from my birds although I did get some hatching eggs, both from Ohio & Calif. which had no problem
    I've lived in the Sacto. Valley, Reno & now Oregon. I never considered elevation. I made sure temperature was exact & that humidity was 50-55% during incubation & 70-80% during hatch. There is no adjustments on my bators for venting, they are pre-drilled holes, 4 above the fan (suctions side) & 4 on the pressure side (inside the bator)
    Have you tried insulating the bottom & around the sides of your bators to avoid temp variations? Don't block off vents. I always set mine on a folded towel to prevent heat loss from the bottom. A piece of carpet would work well too, just make sure the incubator is level.
     
  6. Velvet Sparrow

    Velvet Sparrow Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for the suggestions and the phone number, I'll see if I can give her a call. :) I've tried doing the towel thing, and doing without it, no appreciable difference. I added sponges to the incubator base in little dishes, filling all of the available space without blocking ventilation holes, when I set the eggs, and when the time came to up the humidity I added water to those, which helped--but the highest I could ever get the humidity up to was 65%. It absolutely would not budge any higher. I even tried adding a humidifier to the room nearby to increase the ambient room humidity.

    The articles that referred to difficulty hatching at higher altitude I found online--while they mostly refer to VERY high altitudes such as 8000-9000 feet, they did say that trying to hatch sea level eggs at higher altitudes like mine resulted in a poorer hatch rate. It was interesting because that issue hadn't occured to me! Maybe this year, now that my chickens are acclimated, things will be better.

    That's one reason I'm suspecting that my incubator itself needs to be beefier, to eliminate temp/humidity variables in the room. I've tried everything under the sun I can think of to get more peeps!
     
  7. Velvet Sparrow

    Velvet Sparrow Chillin' With My Peeps

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    For anyone interested in how higher altitude can affect the hatch, there is a very scientific article here: http://jp.physoc.org/content/586/6/1469.full

    It's aimed at human physiology but uses a chicken hatch study as a model. Basically it talks about how less oxygen at high altitudes can negatively affect a hatch, they even experimented using sea level eggs at high altitudes, high altitude eggs at high altitude and sea level eggs at sea level. The best hatch was sea level/sea level, the worst was sea level/high altitude. They even did sea level eggs at high altitude with added oxygen to combat the high altitude hypoxia! Granted, this was a higher elevation than mine...

    Another article using the same study, a bit more in-depth and a bit less science-jargony: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2375513/?tool=pmcentrez

    Here's one that is VERY scienc-y, it talks about how shell thickness, and sea level eggs with larger pores vs. high altitude eggs with smaller pores affects O2/CO2 exchange within the egg: http://www.ias.ac.in/jarch/jbiosci/19/429-440.pdf

    Thought I'd share in case anyone else had hatch issues at higher elevations.
     

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