As I said in the previous post, we have lots and lots of babies on the way. I had started collecting duck eggs from Daisy and Danny about 2 weeks ago as we figured we needed more ducks over summer to keep the grass down, and because their eggs are just so amazing for baking. We had collected half a dozen or so when our friend Monica from Lowanna rang and asked if we had any broody chooks. After the last hatch, Specky took over the brood and Pecky stayed on the nest. Whitey the White White was also starting to spend alot of time on the nest too, so we said yep. A few days later we drove up the hill and she gave us shoebox with 23 naked neck eggs! We were absolutely over the moon! Then, as the icing on the cake, she caught me admiring her male turkey as he strutted around the yard, so she gave me a turkey egg from their nest also! So now, we have 23 chicken eggs under the 2 hens, and 7 duck eggs and 1 turkey egg in the incubator inside!
After the failure of our last 3 ducks eggs hatching, I decided I needed to finesse the incubator a bit. The last lot only died in the final few days, and I think I actually drowned them in my efforts to keep the humidity levels high enough. I had read you could spray the eggs with a water mister, but I think I continued spraying too long. After they had clearly died, you could see dark brown droplets on the inside of the egg. This time I decided I would do better. The first couple of days I had them in a small fish tank which I had lined with styrofoam, but the temperature was fluctuating wildly, so I decided to make a new one from scratch and take photos along the way incase anyone who reads this decides to have a go.
I began with a styrofoam broccoli box from the greengrocer.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240" caption="Styrofoam Broccoli Box"][/caption]
Alot of fruit and veg shops give them away, or at most they cost about $1. No great expense, but they seal well and have fantastic insulating properties (they will also keep champagne on ice for 3 days lol!!)
Next I cut out a hole in the side with a sharp knife. I find that a SHARP smooth blade knife (not serrated) cuts best with minimal mess. Serrated knives just send bits of styrofoam EVERYWHERE (ask me how I know!!). I tried to keep it as neat as possible as I would be replacing the square back in the hole later.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Cut a hole in the side"][/caption]
I'd love to tell you how big to cut the hole, but that depends on the size of your switch box, so you just have to eyeball it and dive on in! Next step is to cut off one corner from the piece you have removed to enable the power cord to pass through.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Cut off one corner"][/caption]
Next is the tricky part if you are not used to electrical wiring. If you are lucky like me, you might have a friend who knows what they are doing. With the promise of a home made wood fired pizza, my wonderful friend up the road was able to wire a dimmer switch to a lightbulb, and screw the lightbulb into a piece of wood. (Thanks Craig - you are the best!!)
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The Wiring"][/caption]
You could have the dimmer switch mounted, but he said that by putting it into a switch box (I think that's what he called it), I could move it into a larger incubator down the track if I needed to, or move the set up into a brooder box when they hatch. I also wanted to be able to turn the dimmer from outside the box if possible.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Dimmer Switch outside the box"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Light Bulb inside the box"][/caption]
Now you need to pass either the dimmer switch box or the light fitting through the hole you have just cut and replace the square "plug" with the cord coming through the cut off corner so the light is on the inside of the box and the switch is on the outside.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Replace the styrofoam "plug""][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="View from inside"][/caption]
Next part is the fan. If you have an old computer lying around, pull the fan out. It looks like this:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Computer Fan"][/caption]
If you don't have an old computer lying around, you can pick these up for a couple of dollars at a computer repair or electrical shop. This one is a 12V fan. It had a big double plastic plug on it, so I cut them off, stripped back the wire coating a bit and put on a pair of 5mm Tab Connecters. I went searching for a battery to run it off, but they don't sell them at the supermarket. I found one at Dick Smith Electronics though, and luckily enough, Matthew had a 12V battery charger in the garage. I put the fan inside the box, and passed the wires through the same hole as the light bulb's cord so that the battery could be on the outside of the unit -
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Fan wires and 12 V battery"][/caption]
2 reasons for this. One is, the less "bits and pieces" you have inside the box, the more eggs you can fit in, and secondly, I don't have to open the box to remove the battery when it needs charging.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="External Battery and Dimmer Switch"][/caption]
Okay, you are almost there. As I mentioned earlier, high humidity levels are required (around 80%). I've been able to achieve this by placing dishes of water inside the incubator. By placing a face washer and sponge in the water, it breaks the surface tension of the water and provides a greater surface area for it to evaporate from. At the moment, it is sitting on or extremely close to 81% quite consistently.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Water dishes for humidity"][/caption]
So how do I measure the humidity I hear you ask. A lot more easily than most I am guessing. From all the reading and research I have been doing, most people run a wet/dry bulb thermometer system. this requires to bulb thermometers, one with a wick, and then you have to cross reference the temperatures on a chart. Too hard! For a couple of dollars at your local electrical store (Dick Smith to the rescue again), you can pick up a small weather station like this:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="298" caption="Thermometer and Hygrometer"][/caption]
As you can see, this one has 2 temperature readings and a % Humidity reading. I place the unit at one end of the eggs, and the external temperature probe at the other end of the eggs, this way I can see the temperature all the way around. It also makes figuring out the humidity a whole lot easier as it is right there on the screen for you! Gotta love technology eh?
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Thermometer and Hygrometer in position"][/caption]
Some people set their incubators up with a window to take the readings through, but I figure I need to open it up regularly to turn the eggs and also to get some fresh air in, so I'm not really bothered with it being inside the unit. The blue matting on the floor of the incubator is non-slip matting from the $2 shop. It stops the eggs rolling around and keeps them in the position you put them in when you turn them, as they can try to go back to their previous position depending on how the air sac is sitting.
This next photo is to show you how I have aligned the light bulb for heat, water dishes for humidity, and fan for circulation.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The important bits"][/caption]
So now that all of this is done, you can put your eggs in and start incubating!!
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Pop the eggs in and start incubating!"][/caption]
Just quickly, try and get this set up before you get your eggs so you can run it for a day or 2 to get the temperature and humidity levels right. I record the readings each time I turn the eggs on a chart I made:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Record Sheet"][/caption]
This way I can monitor the readings and keep track of how many turns I am up to for the day - you need to turn them an odd number of times each day so they are not sitting on the same side for an extended period (ie through the night) as they can stick to the inside of the shell if this happens.
Well, that's about it for now. We are up to day 7, so check back in another 21 days and hopefully we will be pipping!!