Choosing an Incubator

Choosing an Incubator

Article Written by:

Lucinda B. Miller, Ph.D.

Extension Specialist, Companion & Small Animal Programs

Ohio State University Extension


Hatching chicks can be a rewarding experience, fun and educational for the entire family. Eggs used for hatching are fertilized eggs that hatch only if properly incubated. Fertilized eggs are obtained from reputable outside sources such as hatcheries or breeders, or they may come from your flock.

Shipped eggs have a lower chance of hatching than eggs picked up in person. The less time spent in transport, the better chance of them hatching. Collecting fresh eggs from your flock is the best way to have the highest hatch rate. If stored properly, you can save fertilized eggs until you get enough to set. Typically, hatching percentages continue to decrease the longer the eggs remain out of an incubator.

What Are Your Goals?

Determine your goals before selecting an incubator. There are many styles of incubators, from table top to floor models, ranging in size and price. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What species of fowl do you want to hatch?
  • How many eggs do you plan to set?
  • How many hatches do you want per year?
  • What features do you want an incubator to have?
  • What percent hatch rate do you expect? (A realistic hatch rate is 80-85% if all goes well.)

Purchase the style of incubator that suits your needs before collecting hatching eggs.


Factors to Consider

Less expensive incubators generally have fewer features. They might lack an egg turning device and not control temperature and humidity as well as a more expensive incubator. Egg turning, ventilation, temperature and humidity all affect the success of a hatch. When looking at incubators consider the following features:

(1) Egg Type and Capacity—Some smaller incubators handle only chicken eggs without the possibility for modifications. Larger models usually can accommodate any type of egg. Models for home use hold as few as 3 eggs and as many as 250.

(2) Turning—Turning hatching eggs is vital to their survival. Turning keeps the yolk centered within the egg white so it doesn’t stick to the shell membrane and cause the death of the developing embryo. Do you want an automatic turner or will someone be present to turn eggs at least three times a day, every day, until the last 72 hours before hatching? Some incubators come with rotating devices or tilting trays. An egg turner with racks that hold 42 chicken eggs and that move the eggs from side to side can be purchased for use in tabletop Styrofoam incubators. Racks sized for quail, duck, geese, and turkey eggs also can be purchased for certain types of egg turners.

(3) Airflow—A good airflow is very important for developing embryos, as they use up oxygen fairly quickly and simultaneously generate carbon dioxide. Good airflow is needed to continually replenish oxygen and remove the carbon dioxide. All incubators have vents to help circulate airflow. There are two types of incubators in relation to airflow: circulated air incubators and still-air incubators. Circulated air incubators, also known as forced air incubators, have built-in fans that continually circulate air to maintain sufficient oxygen and keep the temperature even. They are more expensive than still-air incubators but produce a better hatch rate. Still-air incubators, also known as gravity-flow incubators, do not have fans to circulate air, but instead rely on circulation that occurs naturally through vents.

(4) Temperature Control—The temperature inside an incubator is extremely important. Fluctuation in temperature or a difference of as little as one-fourth degree can decrease your hatching percentage or cause hatchlings to have health issues and poor survival rates. Incubators are either wafer controlled or electronically controlled. Many table top Styrofoam incubators have a wafer thermostat which you must adjust for a day or two to get the desired temperature inside the incubator. Wafer-controlled incubators allow for more fluctuation in temperature and can contribute to irregular hatches than do electronically-controlled incubators. Once the temperature in a wafer-controlled incubator is set you must be careful to avoid bumping the adjusting screw.

It is a lot easier to manage electronic temperature regulation. Temperatures for some electronically- controlled incubators are preset by the manufacturer for hatching chicken eggs. These can be adjusted for hatching other species of poultry. Others have a temperature-controlled thermometer that works on a relay switch.

Regardless of the type of temperature control in the incubator you purchase, run the incubator for 24-48 hours before adding eggs to make sure the temperature is adjusted correctly. Even with this precaution, minor adjustments may need to be made after adding eggs.

For circulated air incubators follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for temperature settings.

(5) Humidity Control—Developing embryos must have the correct amount of moisture throughout incubation, as does a hatchling to break out of its egg. All incubators should have water-holding devices. Some have troughs built into the bottom of the incubator. Others have containers that can be attached externally to automatically dispense water into the incubator. Some have removable trays, pans, or plastic liners with troughs. If not included with your incubator, purchase a wet-bulb thermometer (hygrometer) to measure humidity in wet-bulb degrees or a digital hygrometer to measure percent relative humidity. Follow the incubator manufacturer’s instructions.

(6) Ability to Observe—Certain brands or models of incubators offer transparent covers or large observation windows to make it easy to check the temperature and humidity and to watch the eggs throughout the incubation time and during the hatch. Opening an incubator because it has very small windows or no windows at all can reduce the hatching percentage. Therefore it is better to purchase an incubator with a larger observation area if you and your family want to observe.

(7) Cleaning Ease—Consider the ease of cleaning when looking at an incubator’s construction. You will need to clean and sanitize your incubator once all of the hatchlings are moved from the incubator to the brooder.

(8) Cost—How much money are you willing to spend to purchase the type of incubator that has the features you want and will best help you reach your incubation and hatching goals?
This list of incubator features, but not the discussion, is from Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks by Gail Damerow, ©2013, Storey Publishing, MA.

In Summary

Do your research before deciding on what type of incubator to purchase. Consider your incubation and hatching goals and review the various factors to consider. If possible, talk to others who have used the type of incubator you plan to purchase.


(1) Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks by Gail Damerow, ©2013, Storey Publishing, MA.

(2) Incubating and Hatching the American Way: The Complete Guide to Incubating and Hatching from Fowl to Ratites by Alexandra Douglas, ©2013, CreateSpace Publishing, SC.

(3) Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry by Glenn Drowns, ©2012, Storey Publishing, MA.


For a printable PDF of this article:

Choosing an Incubator


Veterinary Feed Directive

The Veterinary Feed Directive OTC changes go into effect on January 1st, 2017. This has the potential to impact the Poultry Industry.



Over the past several years, the FDA has taken important steps toward fundamental change in how medically important antibiotics can be legally used in feed or water for food-producing animals. Now, the agency is moving to eliminate the use of such drugs for production purposes (i.e., growth promotion and feed efficiency) and bring their remaining therapeutic uses in feed and water under the supervision of licensed veterinarians – changes that are critical to ensure these drugs are used judiciously and only when appropriate for specific animal health purposes. The Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) final rule is an important part of the agency’s overall strategy to ensure the judicious use of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals.

Click HERE to read the full FACT SHEET: Veterinary Feed Directive Final Rule and Next Steps from

CLICK HERE for a good FAQ link from Texas A and M University.

CLICK HERE for the full FDA PDF on the Veterinary Feed Directive Compliance Guide

NOTE: The coccidiostat Amprolium added to starter feed is not considered “medically important” and will not fall under VFD unless used in combination with a VFD drug (source:TAMU Agrilife Extension)

Raising Baby Chicks

Bringing Your Chicks Home

By: Sabrina Schirtzinger, Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension Educator, Knox County

Deciding to raise chickens is a considerable task; especially, if you this is your first time. Chicks require: housing, a heat source, water, feed, and a bedding source. This article will give you a few quick tips for getting starting raising chicks.

Upon arrival home chicks should be housed in a brooder. A brooder may be an enclosed box, small corner of the garage, or a cardboard guard keeping the chicks in a contained area. Brooders should be free from drafts, or other animals; whichever style you chose to build, the walls need to be 18 inches high. Brooding is approximately six weeks, during this time the brooders size will need to be adjusted to allow more space for the chicks. In 2 week intervals increase the brooder 1 square foot per bird.

For the first few weeks chicks need extra heat to grow stronger and improve feathering. Temperatures should between 90 -95 degree Fahrenheit for the first week, then decrease 5 degrees each week until the chicks gain feathers, or ambient temps are reached. Watching your chicks will alert you to adequate temperatures in the brooder. When your chicks are too cold they will be chirping loudly and huddled under the lamps. Simply lower the lamps until normal behavior is resumed. Normal behavior is described as birds exerting daily behaviors of sleeping, eating and drinking. If your chicks are too hot they will be further from the heat source. There should always be space for the chicks to be warm and cool in the brooder.

Begin feeding your chicks a starter feed with a crude protein of 20%. Use this feed for approximately 6 weeks, then switch to a grower/developer feed. When your chickens reach 18-20 weeks of age switch them to a layer feed with a 15 to 16% protein and 4% calcium. Eating is a socially activity to chickens. When selecting a feeder allow two inches of space for chicks within the first two weeks. After two weeks a beyond allow 4 inches of feeder space per chicken.

Your chicks will require clean, fresh water several times a day. Use the one or two gallon water jugs for the first few weeks, then you can increase the size as they grow larger.

Good bedding sources are ones that catch and absorb the manure; but also, keep the chicks from slipping on the ground. Lining the floor of your brooder with newspaper helps to make cleaning easier. Types of bedding are: pine shavings, straw, course ground cobs, or oat hulls. Producers should clean the brooders several times a week, and then add 2-3 inches of bedding back into the brooder.

Raising chicks can be a rewarding and learn process for your whole family. One that will give you several years of results; for more specific care instruction as your chicks grow older, contact your local extension office.

Case Study: Diarrhea in a laying hen.

A Hocking County resident contacted me recently as she had noticed a problem in her backyard layer flock.  This past summer she lost two hens and this winter she had another that was showing similar signs as the first two.   From her email:

This summer I lost two hens, and may be losing a third. All were/are Golden
Comets, around 4 years of age. (I keep my hens longer than some folks.)
Typically they become dis-interested in food and more interested in water;
feces are more watery and the feathers around the vent are messy and coated
with white; I can scatter grain on the ground and they look at it closely
but won’t take it – seems like they are just reacting to the movement; they
wander around looking at the ground and randomly peck at things but don’t
actually eat; they disengage from the flock; weight loss; often will fluff
all their feathers and huddle in one spot; otherwise appear healthy – no
nasal or eye discharge, eyes are bright, feathers look healthy.

I asked her to bring in a fecal sample.   I have a microscope as do many other Educators and have the ability to run fecal floatations in my office, as do all Veterinarians.


This sample did not look too bad.  That may or may not mean anything however.


I do not have a centrifuge.  I mixed the sample with Fecasol and let it sit for a good hour with a cover slide on top.  The bits on the slide are grass,  I need a better strainer method I guess.


The parasite egg that I identified was from Capillaria.  CLICK HERE for more information on this parasite.  This is not the exact egg, just a picture example. (source:UPenn Vet)

   This problem is treated by deworming.  I recommend worming the flock once or twice yearly.  Minding all withdrawls times.

It used to be that only Piperazine was labelled for this use.  It is only recently that Fenbendazole, a much more effective anthelmintic, has been approved for use.

Fenbendazole  <———- Click here for PDF of new labelling.

Save the date – Ask a Master Gardener plus Chicken Information booth at Tractor Supply

The Hocking County chapter of the Master Gardener Volunteers will be hosting an information booth at Tractor Supply in Logan on Saturday April 16th, weather permitting.   We will be available to answer questions about the basics of backyard poultry including nutrition and breed choices as well as talk spring flowers and vegetables.  More information will be added so keep an eye out.

Chicken, Garden, Flowers, Idyll, Fig


The 2016 Pullorum Testing School Schedule has been posted.

Attached is the schedule and registration information for the 2016 pullorum schools. Three schools are held throughout Ohio for people ages 18 and older interested in becoming pullorum testers, or if current testers’ certificates are due to expire

Clickable link for dates/registration/locations/times/requirements —–> 2016 Pullorum School Schedule_Registration

Bi-State Youth Poultry Clinic

This clinic will be held in Wooster at OARDC, Fisher Auditorium, Saturday, April 2. Registrations are to be postmarked by Monday, March 21. We will be offering Poultry QA training for youth as one of the sessions. Youth completing the training will receive a certificate to take back to their counties. This may count for their QA training if their county permits them to receive that training outside of the county. The flyer is posted on the Poultry Events and Resources pages at

Clickable link for map/overview/topics/registration ——> 2016 Bi State Youth Poultry Clinic

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in the Midwest for the second year in a row.

Dr. Mo El-Gazzar, Poultry Extension Veterinarian

On January 15, 2016, the USDA announced that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was found on a commercial turkey farm located in Dubois, Indiana. The case was confirmed on January 14.  Click link below for full PDF

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in the Mid West for the Second Year in a Row

If your birds are suspected of having influenza, they will be tested at ODA’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (ADDL).