Incubators, and Eggs, and Chicks, Oh MY!

Some of you might remember me talking previously about some pet quail I had started out with from the wild bird sanctuary in Ottawa. They were two hens, both friendly and lovely, who couldn’t be released to the wild since they were tame domesticated birds.

I built them a lovely coop in my apartment. This coop was destroyed when I moved though so I had to build a second one when I moved to the Niagara Region.

The two original hens have since passed on, but more have come into my life, as well as a handsome young Roo I’ve called Leshy.

When my family got me a flight to see my love in BC this past January, I took along some of their fertile eggs for my partner to hatch. He got two hens and a roo from that hatch, and their adventures are a lot of fun to hear about.

For some years now, I’ve been really dreaming of having a little plot of land where I could grow things, including some livestock. It’s been a dream I’ve had for a long time but I really got the bug for it both visiting Maple Hill Urban Farm in Ottawa, as well as when staying with my partner and his chickens, as well as realizing how much my mental and physical health improved when I got access to that community garden plot at Bayshore Park.

For the last several months, I’ve been working towards this goal more seriously in a variety of ways, one of which was trying to see if I could possibly generate some interest in my lovely bird’s offspring.

Professional incubators are expensive however, but the internet is filled with instructions on how to make your own, and since I had a pretty steady supply of eggs, I thought I would give it a try.

My first incubator, I made out of the Styrofoam box that the Oysters my parents purchased came in. I cleaned it out to make sure there was no smell.  The second one, I made from a thicker walled Styrofoam cooler that my Remicade clinic was giving away. The actual process for making both was pretty much the same.

A thin rectangular styrofoam cooler
A thicker styrofoam cooler with a pencil stuck in the top






The total cost to me was maybe about $20 for all the supplies. The second one I made included a fancy magnetic shut window/door on a hinge, which I made from material I had lying around. I had an additional cost in getting a good combination thermometer/Hygrometer to keep track of both the temperature and humidity.

I compared different options for how to make an incubator and then worked on getting my supplies.

The heat element comes from a low wattage lightbulb. I was worried at first because they no longer sell incandescent bulbs, but as it turned out, the smaller heat output from the LED bulbs is actually perfect for what I had in mind. The lightbulb gives off about 7.4 watts of heat.

From everything I had read, the optimal temperature for hatching quail eggs is 37.8 degrees C.

As the socket for the lightbulb and to connect the power source, I got a socket from Home Depot. One end is the lightbulb fixture, and the other is a two-pronged power socket. I also picked up a $4 extension cord from Dollarama.

I also picked up some duct tape, a small picture frame with a glass front, and a plastic embroidery square grate and a small stretched canvas.

I used the socket to measure the size of the round hole I would need to cut in the Styrofoam, then pushed the socket through. If the hole ends up a bit big, you can use duct tape to line it until it is tight enough to not let the socket slip through.

a cooler with the outlet on the side and an outline of a circle in the middle
the outlet over the drawn circle

The first time, I put the lightbulb in the side, and unfortunately a little high up. Not enough to melt all the way through, but it did melt a circular groove of sorts into the inside of the lid, which was not a particularly pleasant smell for the first few days. The following time. I inserted the socket through the lid itself so that the lightbulb would point directly down. I placed it in the exact center to try and make the temperature as consistent throughout the box as possible.

Another note on the lightbulb: The first one I used was a regular white light one. While this worked perfectly fine, I also since learned that white light can encourage the chicks to peck at one another. Since you want to leave the chicks in the incubator until all the chicks hatch, I would recommend using a red-coloured LED lightbulb which not only reduces the potential for pecking, but if you’re like me and keeping the incubator in your bedroom, interferes a little less with your own sleep.

During the first hatch, I made the access to the incubator the lid, which also had the window into the incubator. While it worked, the tendency for heat to rise meant that the temperature dropped more intensely and took longer to come back up. So the second time, I used the window screen as a type of door, complete with hinge and magnet to hold it closed. This allowed me to access the incubator from the side, so that the level of heat and moisture escaping was minimal.

To build the hinged window, I cut a hole that was about 1 inch smaller than the actual glass from the frame, this was so that there wouldn’t be able air escaping from around the glass. I also made sure it wasn’t directly at the bottom of the container to prevent water from spilling out.

I attached the hinge to the glass using silicone and let it cure for 24 hours. This after finding out that super glue MELTS Styrofoam. Then I used silicone to attach the other side of the hinge to the Styrofoam and further secured it with pins through the nail slots and duct tape overtop.

I used part of a mason jar lid as magnetic metal glued onto the bottom of the glass. Then I taped a small magnet to the Styrofoam itself, creating a magnetic shutting mechanism that would keep the window closed in between use.

For the first incubator, I had just cut a window hole and secured the glass over the hole with tape. The problem was that the window being on top allowed through a lot more heat transfer than intended.

The look through the window of the made incubator with the lightbulb and thermometer in site
The first incubator I built with a window on the top






I used the plastic grate stapled into the wooden frame from the canvas to raise up the bottom. The small squares are perfectly sized for tiny quail chick feet not to fall through, and the raised bottom lets me control the humidity by adding water without allowing the eggs to sit in water.

A needlepoint plastic grate with a wooden frame



In addition to everything else, I used duct tape to line all the cut edges. For anyone who has cut into Styrofoam before, you’ve probably noticed that it has a tendency to shed little bits of Styrofoam afterwards. The duct tape helped seal those edges so that that wouldn’t happen. It also looked a little cleaner, and since my duct tape ended up being pink, it also looked wonderfully gay!

A thicker styrofoam box with a window in the side outlined with pink duct tape.

To start with, I poked two holes in the cooler to allow airflow with a long skewer. I placed one hole on the side near the bottom and another at the top, in the hopes that with the heat from the lamp causing warm air to rise, this would create a type of air current through the unit.

After adding the first two holes, I turned on the lightbulb to see how high the temperature would get. When it became obvious that it was a little too high, I added more ventilation holes, waiting a bit in between each one, till the temperature balanced out at the appropriate level.

A note here: the ambient temperature in the room had an effect on the temperature levels in the incubator. As a result, sometimes the temperature would get too low. In order to mitigate this, I had a thin cloth that I would place overtop of the incubator when the temperature needed help rising, and could remove if the temperature started getting too high. This could also be impacted by lights, and electronics used nearby and so nighttime was particularly a concern.

After my incubators were built, I set up my hatching eggs.

a group of quail eggs and a thermometer

In both cases I hatched out three chicks.

The first hatch gave me two Italian colour-pattern chicks which came as a bit of a surprise since none of my birds have that colour pattern, and a tuxedo hen that I’ve since kept and named Melusina. Sadly one of the Italians, the one I named Salieri, failed to thrive, but the other (Bach) grew into a handsome young roo that has found a home with Littlefoot Farms.

three little chicks, a brown one and two yellow ones with thin stripes
a tuxedo chick looking glamorous

The second hatch yielded three lovely Pharaoh colour chicks which turned out to be two hens and a rooster. Both hens have since found a home with a lovely lady in the region. My roo, who is about 5 weeks old is still waiting for his home, but has settled in quite nicely in the meantime. He spends a fair amount of time cuddling with the hen that is most likely his mother.

Three tiny chicks, yellow with three thicker dark lines

Incubators, and Eggs, and Chicks, Oh MY!
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