Best Poultry Incubators for Hobbyists, Backyard Gardeners, and Classrooms
A poultry incubator is primarily used to hatch fertile poultry or avian eggs. There can be many reasons for using one: to rescue eggs from a hen that doesn’t do a good job as a mother, to start a flock, or even to bring in a new strain of poultry. Hatching eggs is often used to introduce young children to the miracle of birth in the classroom setting. Modern incubators take some of the finicky detail work out of successfully hatching chicks by automating several important features.
There is a wide range of products available on the market today, and below I have reviewed 5 of the very best options.
**Below, you will find more detailed reviews, but you can also click the links above to see current prices and read customer reviews on Amazon.
Hatching Eggs began as long ago as Ancient Egypt
Hatching an egg is relatively simple – birds do it all the time. All that is needed is warmth, humidity, and a fertile egg. At the same time, it can be a complex process. The temperature must be just right – not too warm, not too cold. The eggs must be turned so that the chick doesn’t stick to the shell. They need to have air circulating around them, and they should not be exposed to smoke or other fumes. Eggs need moist warmth – similar to that created by Mama Hen as she cuddles her eggs beneath her.
The ancient Egyptians had rooms that were devoted to hatching eggs. They burned a variety of fuels to warm the floors of the hatching rooms, and vented the fuel chambers so that the smoke was carried away from the eggs. The eggs were turned by hand at least twice per day. The ancient Chinese had a similar method of hatching eggs. Aristotle wrote of burying eggs in manure-rich compost to heat them for hatching.
Hatching Eggs comes to Europe
Europe, with its cold winters and short summers, had less success with hatching eggs. It was not until the mid-1700s that a French man, M. de Beaumur, worked out a way to keep the eggs warm in this more challenging environment. For the next hundred years, incubators were created that had varying degrees of success.
Forced Air Incubators
In the early part of the 20th century, forced air was added to incubators in the United States. This greatly increased the viability of artificially hatching young poultry, and the modern poultry industry was begun.
Improved monitoring methods also aided in percentages of eggs that would hatch, along with increased understanding of the needs of the chicks – which lead to healthier chicks and increased numbers that live to maturity.
Hatching chicks in an incubator is a breeze compared to the ways used by our ancestors. There are several ways to obtain eggs: from your own hens who have a rooster housed with them; from a friend or neighbor who is selling fertile eggs; or by ordering them from a hatchery or egg farm. If you order eggs, give them 24 hours to “settle” after traveling before placing them in an incubator.Eggs should be placed point down. This helps the egg to correctly develop an air bubble in the large end of the egg.
Next, before adding eggs to the incubator, plug it in and check to see that it is heating up properly, and that all the parts are working correctly – particularly if it has an automatic egg turner.
If everything looks good, you can now start to place the eggs into the egg turner. At this stage, the eggs will probably be on their sides. Humidity is important to proper development of that air bubble. If the environment is too wet, a chick might drown in fluid that has collected there; if it is too dry, the membrane will shrink around it and prevent proper hatching.
If you don’t have an egg turner, mark an x on one side of the egg and an O on the other. This will help you to know if the eggs have gotten turned properly. A mother hen would turn her eggs several times a day. One set of directions suggests turning the eggs an odd number of times per day so that they are always on a different side overnight.
Continue turning through Day 18. Then leave the eggs along for a few days, as they move toward Day 21 – hatching day. In practice, some eggs will hatch sooner and some later. Toward the end of the incubation period, the eggs might start moving on their own.
When it is time to hatch, each baby will hook its beak through the membrane, taking advantage of that air bubble. It will then begin the hard work of chipping its way out of the egg. Leave the baby in the warm incubator until it is dry and fluffy, then move it to the brooder for the next stage of its life.
Modern incubators are relatively easy to use. They have thermostats to regulate the temperature, thermometers and hygrometers to measure humidity. There are even automatic egg turners that will help keep the growing chicks comfy in their shells. It is a good idea to check on your incubator at least twice daily, but hatching poultry isn’t the time-consuming chore it used to be.
The incubator you select could be a compromise between quality and your budget. On the other hand, if you are investing in expensive eggs of specific breeds, you might want to be sure to invest in a reliable incubator, as well.
Here is a selection of five incubators to help you begin the process of locating the incubator that works best for you.
Product Reviews – The Best Egg Incubator
This could be a good selection for a classroom demonstration. It is a fully automated, forced air incubator with humidity control. This means no need to open it, to manually turn the eggs or any other sort of hands-on attention. Other than adding water to a container so that it can keep the humidity steady, all that users will need to do is to keep an eye one the incubator to make sure that it is functioning properly.
One user from Florida commented that humidity wasn’t something that she had a lack of, and that she couldn’t figure out how to set it to reduce the humidity. Some people found that it wasn’t quite as durable as some other models. However, the company is responsive to warranty claims and willing to make repairs on models that are out of warranty. One user commented that she wasn’t sure she could trust her expensive eggs to it.
- Fully automated
- Easy to use
- Clear plastic cover for viewing
- Not as durable as some comparable models
- Needs an external water source
- Might not have a way to reduce humidity
- Egg holders reported to be fragile
This might be a good model for a hobby farmer or backyard poultry fancier. It would work well in the classroom, but might be a little expensive. It is fully automated. No need to open the unit to turn the eggs. It has two water drawers, or you can purchase a humidifying pump separately. However, some users comment that it is necessary to open the unit to add water.
Fully automated doesn’t mean “set it and forget it.” The incubator should be checked daily to ensure that it is working properly. However, one user commented that it holds settings in memory, even during a power outage.
- Fully automated
- Holds 24 eggs
- Clear sides for easy viewing
- Cooldown cycle for better hatch
- Price – it is comparatively expensive
- Humidity pump sold separately
- Need to open incubator to add water
The Genesis Hova-Bator has a larger capacity than the first two incubators – it can hold up to 50 chicken eggs or 130 quail eggs. It does not come with an automatic egg turner, but one can be installed separately. However, it can be a good selection for areas where brown outs or even power black outs are common, as it has a 12 volt setting.
It can still be a good choice for classrooms or laboratories. It does have a digital thermostat for heat control, but is not set up to be operated in a barn or shed where the external temperature would be variable.
- Large capacity
- Controlled heat
- Controlled humidity
- Air circulated
- 12 volt battery powered
- Egg turner is not included
- Body is made of Styrofoam
The Farm Innovators Model requires a little more hands-on operation. It does not come equipped with an egg turner. The temperature is factory pre-set to 100 degrees. It has a thermometer and a warning light that flashes when the temp falls below 97 degrees or rises above 103 degrees. The digital display also indicates the temperature, and the number of days until hatching (adjustable for the type of egg.)
It has a large top window that allows all parts of the incubator to be viewed from the outside. The incubator body is made of polystyrene foam. The eggs rest on an inner grate; water can be placed under the grate to provide moisture. A Farmers Innovator egg turner can be purchased separately, as well as an air circulator for users who wish to upgrade the unit.
This functional incubator might be just the one you are looking for if you are on a strict budget. Even with purchasing the egg turner separately, it is is competitively priced with the more complex incubators. It will hold up to four dozen eggs. If you are planning for starting a sizeable flock, this incubator might be an affordable way to hatch your first poultry.
- Simple design, no moving parts.
- Temperature is factory set – nothing to change
- Priced for the budget conscious homesteader
- Functional, performs within expectations
- Tends to leak.
- Hands on attention needed
- Upgrades require a little mechanical know-how
This little incubator has almost everything you need to get going with that backyard poultry flock. It has an automatic egg turner, digital temperature control, water channels for keeping up the humidity and clear plastic sides for viewing. There is just one small thing: it is sized for eggs from quail egg size to chicken. Duck and turkey eggs are too large for this unit.
Otherwise, this incubator could be a good selection. In addition to having the basic amenities, it is made of a durable material that is easy to clean. It has been designed with an eye toward long-term use. It is moderately priced, and it will hold 55 eggs in the automatic egg turner.
- Moderate price
- Easy to clean
- Intended to last
- Fully automated
- Holds 55 eggs
- Will only accommodate chicken or smaller eggs
- Opaque top makes viewing difficult
Choosing the Best Egg Incubator for Hobbyists, Backyard Gardeners, and Classrooms
For hobbyists and poultry fanciers, and even for classrooms if the school can afford it, I favor the Brinsea fully automated incubator. The only problem with it is its relatively small size.
For larger projects, I would select the Genesis Hova-bator in spite of its Styrofoam body. Even though it still needs to be housed in a temperature controlled room, the 12-volt capability rules out interruption of the electrical current, creating the potential to power it using an alternative power source or to simply run it on a battery for a while.