I bought a Brinsea 190 cabinet incubator ($1,000.00) about three years ago to replace the small tabletop models I had used. I sold the tabletops models. From the start, I was less than impressed with the Brinsea cabinet model. I found early on that eggs incubated quite nicely in it, but didn’t hatch well. To solve that problem I bought a noisy, cheap tabletop incubator made in China to move the eggs into before hatch. Since we couldn’t even read the directions or settings, we dubbed it “The Chinabator.” I used it a few times but got tired of having multiple incubators, going so I went back to incubating and hatching in the Brinsea. When we moved here two years ago, I put the Brinsea in an unused bathroom in the basement where the temperature and humidity are pretty stable. There isn’t a window in there so it is easy to candle eggs in the bathroom. Should be the perfect set-up, right? Not so much.
Hatch rates have been poor, especially in shipped eggs, although that is expected. My difficulty hatching Isbar eggs from my flock was particularly frustrating, until I found out that the Isbars in the US were genetically fragile due to inbreeding. I reworked my plans and began hatching other rare breeds but still hatch rates were deplorable.
I had used a technique known as “dry hatch” where you leave the humidity alone for Days 1-18 then turn it up for the last three days. I found that I had a lot of eggs that were late quitters, meaning the chick died shortly before hatch. This can be the direct result of incubating at the improper humidity. It was time to make a change and evaluate exactly what was going on with the incubation and hatch. I did what any self-respecting chicken woman would do. I moved the incubator upstairs into the living room! That’s it on the right. Looks nice, doesn’t it?
The incubator consists of three shelves with hatching trays. The trays are rotated to slant from one side to the other every two hours in a noisy little procedure preceded by a loud beep. The thing on the top is an automatic humidity pump with a chamber that holds water. When the humidity inside the incubator cabinet drops below the % set, the pump motor turns on and a bit of water is pumped though the tubing onto a sponge inside the incubator, raising the humidity. When the humidity gets to the % set, the pump turns off, but it mostly goes all day and all night. We cheat when Big Brother or Judge Judy is on and pour a little water into the tray to shut the pump down so we can hear the TV. 🙂
We decided that with this hatch we were not using the dry hatch method, opting to set and monitor the humidity throughout the process. We started by setting the humidity for 44% and will increase it to 65% at Day 18.
Here’s a little video of the incubator in action. You’ll hear the humidity pump come on when the humidity drops below 43% and turn off when it gets to 44%. (The little thing on top that turns to squeeze the tubing is supposed to be tilted.) Then you’ll hear the beeping that signals when the shelves begin to turn to tilt the eggs every two hours. I sped the video up four times normal speed to avoid you going to sleep while the eggs rotate. It is a slow process but that protects the eggs. I still keep bits of paper towel or napkins between the eggs to keep them from hitting each other as they turn. The tilting of the eggs regularly from Day 1 through day 18 mimics how a mother hen turns the eggs. The purpose is to prevent the membrane from sticking to the shell, making it hard for the chick to move into position to hatch.
My eggs with torn paper napkins between them. “Bra” is my shorthand for Brabanter.
As part of this closely monitored hatch, we set 18 shipped Brabanter eggs. They were shipped in two separate boxes. The first box arrived with one side caved in and the other box went the wrong way in Florida and took an additional few days to get here. I knew this would be an issue with the number of chicks that hatched, but all eggs were unbroken so they were all set. The ones from the first box were set a day earlier than those in the second box.
By moving the incubator into our living room, we could closely watch what went on during the incubation and hatch. Before we set the eggs, Michael recalibrated the incubator according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In order to verify that the temperature reading was correct we added a Brinsea Spot Check thermometer with a probe near the top of the inside cabinet.
We also added a Cooper Thermometer with a hygrometer in the bottom to double-check both temperature and humidity readings in the incubator.
We found that the temperature on the Brinsea was inaccurate. When set for 99.5 degrees it actually was a couple of degrees cooler. We tweaked it for the first few days until all 3 thermometers read about the same. We found quite a bit of difference between the top shelf and the bottom shelf so we split the difference and have the eggs on the middle shelf. We have found the humidity to be just about spot on!
There are other ways to verify if the humidity is correct in the incubator. We decided to use both of those techniques as well. The first involves marking the size of the air sac at the top of the egg at Day’s 7, 14, and 18. This is done by using a pencil to draw the air cell on the outside of the egg when candling. This can be a bit difficult with colored or dark eggs. The air cells should get larger as the incubation progresses. These are my eggs with the first and Day 7 air cells drawn on.
Incubating eggs should also lose 11-13% of their weight over the course of incubation. If the humidity is set properly, they should lose weight steadily until they hatch. We weighed our eggs before setting and again at Day 7. They will be weighed again on Day 14 and again when they go into lockdown on Day 18. I have kept meticulous records of this hatch. Three of the nine eggs in the first box were clear so those would never hatch. Two were early quitters meaning they barely started forming veins before stopping. Another had a scrambled yolk due to shipping damage. Two of the eggs in the second box were clear.
Right now, ten days into the 21 day incubation, we have 11 viable eggs with only three losses that can be attributed to the incubation process. The purpose of this intense hatch was to find out if the Brinsea incubator is functioning properly. What I have found out so far is that it requires far more tinkering with and adding water to than I can manage with it in the basement. It may need to move permanently to spot in the house where I can keep tabs on it easier, but NOT in the living room!
Check back for updates as we get closer to hatch on September 16th and 17th!