High Altitude Incubation

bumpershoot

Songster
10 Years
Feb 21, 2009
519
18
161
Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
I have a serial killer in my house. It's called a Hovabator. And yet, I believe that all the deaths surely cannot be it's fault alone. It has once or twice actually managed to hatch some eggs for me. To improve things a few years ago I built a new incubator. Very heavy. Lots of fans. Digitally controlled. It too was a killer.Why was the question that got put aside when life went insane and I left BYC for a few years.

Apparently there are very few BYC'ers that live at a high altitude (6800ft here) or I am dense because I find very little discussion about the problems and solutions of incubating high up. Perhaps everyone has given up and like me just orders the chicks you want. Still, I believe there must be a way for folks to hatch eggs here. So, I am going to post my thoughts here and ya'll can post yours and eventually I am hoping we can get a decent number of eggs to hatch.

First things first! Review these files so that we are all talking about same thing.

Fundamentals of incubation:

https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/hatching-eggs-101

Egg shell temperature:

http://www.aviagen.com/assets/Tech_...ow_Tos/03HowTo3MeasureEggShellTemperature.pdf

Muscovies in particular:

https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/incubating-and-hatching-muscovy-eggs

The reason for muscovies is this is what I have. One drake, four females and free fertile eggs that were laid at this altitude, which removes one of the variables (i.e., moving from sea level to here) and not shipped, which removes another variable.

By the end of this adventure I am hoping to have built a new incubator that will be heated with water (like heated floors), is still air (because evaporation of moisture from fans is a problem this high up) and can deal with the differences in oxygen between sea level and 6800. We are currently in discussion around here about how that will happen. Perhaps an oxygen concentrator to float more oxygen across the eggs OR a partial pressure chamber with carbon dioxide scrubbers. We shall see!

For this hatch I am using this box:


As you can see it's heated with a ceramic emitter. I like these because they can heat in very small increments and are more efficient. The blue lidded plastic container is mostly for a heat sink. It does let out a little humidity, which I am allowing since there is a storm here with high dry winds and it's sucking the moisture out of the air. I will take a humidity reading in the box later today. Ambient right now is 20% and the eggs are being turned by hand. The white lidded thing is a tiny canning jar with a plastic lid on it and the temperature probe submersed. The vent holes that are open are the ones on the top of the box (which is why there's a glove shoved into a hole on the end). I am using a spyder robotics temperature controller attached the heat probe and emitter. Several years ago this was top of the line and it does work very well still. Now there are much cheaper ways to do the same thing. I will discuss using an arduino and probe another day when I start posting about building the new incubator. The eggs are sitting on a towel on the bottom of the box (which is insulated). I did not want to worry about heating the air underneath the eggs so I removed that gap.

So, still air. Check! A must for muscovies. But what temp? Convention wisdom is 102 F but air is different up here. Thinner and barometer can jump. Reading through the material it seems that SHELL temp is more important than air temp. Ok, lets use that as a baseline for decided what air temp should be. Shell temp should read 100 F.

I started warming these guys in the box Saturday night. Basically I brought the box and the eggs up to temp together. I did this because I know this box is very temperature stable and the box and the eggs were starting from the same temp. By 10pm last night the box had been stable at 99.5 for six hours and I decided to take a shell reading by using my infrared thermometer. Temps were all over the place! Some were 100, some 95, some 104. So, I turned the eggs, closed the box and let it go for the night. This morning at first heat check and turning of the eggs the box was reading 99.3 and the eggs around 95-99. I increased temps to 99.9 and will check to see where shell temp is in a couple of minutes. Remember, the temp probe is in the water of the canning jar, not in the air.

A note on weight. All the eggs were weighed prior to being started. However, my scale only weighs in increments of 5 grams. Goal moisture loss for this project is 2.8%. To measure that I will need a finer measurement. Through the mercies of Amazon a finer scale will be delivered Tue/Wed and I will note the finer weight measurement and go from there.
 
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bumpershoot

Songster
10 Years
Feb 21, 2009
519
18
161
Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
temp on readout: 99.7 temp of eggs: 97.5, 90.7, 90.6. 95.5, 86, 90.3, 94, 97.5, 86.7, 84, 88.6, 92.7. I did not measure all the eggs as it was clear they are too cool. Temps were, in general, highest measured first and lowest measured last. Since they were all too cool I shut the box and jumped the temp to 101.5. I will measure the other eggs (eggs left out of the first sample) in about an hour. Normally I would have only done a half degree jump, but the warmest eggs were still 2 degrees cooler than temp readout and the goal is to get them stable at 101 asap.
 

ChickenLegs13

Songster
6 Years
Sep 4, 2013
1,401
178
143
Lower Alabama
If you read the instructions for your Hovabator you will notice it says do not install the red vent plugs at high altitude. If you have them installed you're starving the developing eggs of oxygen.
 

homeschoolmama

Songster
10 Years
Apr 10, 2009
143
1
119
Flagstaff, AZ
Following this thread-I'm at 6900' and dry in Flagstaff, AZ. Working on and tweaking an incubator and waiting for my reliable good mama to go broody so I can give her whatever chicks I hatch so I don't have to do another brooder this year. I'll be doing local barnyard mix eggs and will probably stick a few eggs under broody mama in case i have an epic incubatot fail so she'll still have babies to raise.
 

bumpershoot

Songster
10 Years
Feb 21, 2009
519
18
161
Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
If you read the instructions for your Hovabator you will notice it says do not install the red vent plugs at high altitude. If you have them installed you're starving the developing eggs of oxygen.
I don't think I even have the little red plugs anymore!
Looking back at my posting history I should have noticed that the darn thing gave me fits before. My only excuse is that it's been a few years since I have done anything in the world of chickens. It PIA factor is exactly why I built my current incubator and kind of why we are designing the next rev. of incubators currently. Those who do not remember history are indeed doomed to repeat it!
 

bumpershoot

Songster
10 Years
Feb 21, 2009
519
18
161
Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
So, at 1:30 pm I checked the eggs left unchecked this morning. The incubator temp reads 101.3 and the eggs are: 89.3, 94.1, 87.8, 90.8, 87.7, 89.6, 92, 93, 88.7....these eggs are from the back rows farthest away from the heating element. They are still not as warm as is necessary, so I jumped the temp up to 102. I will check again in a couple of hours. I wonder if I am going to need to rotate their positions when I turn them? Like front to back or side to side. Thoughts?
 

bumpershoot

Songster
10 Years
Feb 21, 2009
519
18
161
Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
I did a quick check of shell temps since the incubator is sitting at 102. All but 1 were at 100, so not too bad. I will turn at dinner time and do a quick check of temps then.

ChickenLegs. For this hatch I would very much like to do it all still air. However, I have been thinking about getting a pancake fan that I can modifiy to turn SLOWLY. Very slowly. It would be interesting to see if I could hybridize between still air and the traditional forced air style. Just the slightest air movement to help move the warm air layers. This I will add to the next hatch. Heaven knows I have plenty of Muscovy eggs!
 

ChickenLegs13

Songster
6 Years
Sep 4, 2013
1,401
178
143
Lower Alabama
I can picture that. Perhaps heating from the bottom upward rather than from top townward would prevent the layers. Just thinking out loud here.
 

bumpershoot

Songster
10 Years
Feb 21, 2009
519
18
161
Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
The next 'bator I build will be heated with water like you would a heated floor. Warm water going through tubing. We are trying to decide if the eggs will sit directly on the tubing or if we will fill the space around the tubing with sand so that we have a larger radiated heat area. It is my opinion that eggs will do better with contact/transfer heat. Depending on what solution we choose for dealing with altitude change (air pressure and oxygen issues) will decide if we can put a fan that moves slowly into the box.
 
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