An incubator is a box that holds and rotates eggs while maintaining appropriate temperature, humidity and oxygen levels. Incubators of several types and capacities with adapters for eggs from different species are available. A well-designed incubator should maintain temperature within 1/4 degree F and humidity within 1 degree F wet bulb temperature.
There basically 4 types of needs when bird breeders think of getting an incubator
Incubators for All Needs:
· Incubators for the Hobby Breeder - Inexpensive, yet Functional
· Incubator Packs for the Educator - choices of inexpensive incubators and complete education packs, which include everything you need for the incubation and raising of the chicks
· Intermediate Level: One Step Up - Increased Reliability & Capacity
· Professional Incubators: Features for Advanced Use & Maximum Hatchability
Several features are standard in popular or larger incubator models:
- Automatic turners that turn eggs at least once every 2 hours to 4 hours are recommended.
- Humidifiers: There are different types available. Some are actuated by wet bulb systems while others are designed to maintain humidity by a simple water reservoir surface area system. Either of these systems can be used effectively. Humidity should be raised 1 day or so before hatching is due and particularly when the eggs start pipping. The only reason to raise humidity at hatching stage is to prevent the shell membranes to dry out which makes it very difficult and sometimes impossible for the chick to emerge. When they dry out they become like leather.
- Temperature can be controlled by the older wafer system or by newer microprocessor systems. Whatever the system chosen, an incubator with a backup controller set at less than 102 degrees F can save the hatch if the primary temperature controller ever malfunctions. Remember that temperature, humidity, ventilation and turning are the important factors during incubation.
Consider the differences between forced draft and still-air incubators before choosing a system to use:
· Forced-draft incubators maintain more consistent temperature and humidity levels throughout the incubator, and recover temperature and humidity to regulated levels faster when doors are opened during the incubation period.
- In still air incubators, wet bulb readings are misleading and a water reservoir with a large surface area is needed. Temperatures in still air incubators must be monitored at the level of the eggs since temperature can vary considerably between locations within a still air incubator.
The temperature and humidity of the room housing the incubator should be controlled and stable.
- Place the incubator in a stable environment, free of drafts and away from direct sunlight.
- Locate the incubator and hatcher away from breeding flock / other birds. The equipment and newly hatched chicks can be contaminated by older birds, and the dust that accompanies growing birds.
- Keep foot traffic to a minimum; limit trips between the growing area and the incubation area as much as possible. Do this by attending to the incubator and hatchlings before maintaining other areas.
- Chicks can be hatched in the same unit in which they were incubated. However, hatching creates large amounts of dust and down. Hatching in a separate unit prevents contaminating and soiling the incubator. Temperature and humidity also can be managed more effectively if separate units are used for incubation and hatching.
- It is best to keep hatchers in a separate room from the incubator.
- The incubator and the hatchers should be constructed and coated with material that is easily sanitized. The incubation and hatcher rooms should also be constructed or coated with impermeable material that can be easily washed and sanitized.
Turning the Eggs:
- Eggs must be turned at least five times within a 24-hour period. Turning more frequently is better; once per hour is best.
- An automatic turner is recommended. If the incubator is equipped with an automatic turner, eggs will be turned at least every few hours.
- Do NOT turn for the final 3 days.
Temperature, humidity and ventilation of incubator:
- Temperature in the incubator should be 99.5 degrees F to 100 degrees F (37.5 degrees C). If the temperature deviates more than 1/2 degree from 100 degrees F, a poor hatch is likely.
Temperature should be checked at least twice a day.
- Relative humidity should be set at 86 degrees F to 88 degrees F (30 degrees C) wet bulb temperature. Humidity should not fluctuate more than 1 wet bulb degree. If the incubator uses a passive humidity control system, water should be added daily to the water pan or trough to ensure correct humidity levels. If the humidity in the incubator is too low or too high, the hatch will fail. When humidity is too low during incubation, the air cell will be too large at the time of hatch. The contents of the egg will be too thick and sticky for the chick to turn. The membranes will be too tough to break. The navel will not close properly.