I think at this point you guys are probably sick of hearing about how much I love incubating, hatching, and raising our own chickens. But I just can’t stop talking about it. Hatching your own chicken eggs is like Christmas every day…at least for us crazy people, anyway.
But hatching your own eggs is difficult (some may say impossible) without a good incubator. While many people rely on broody hens to do the work for them, in my opinion, if you want to get to a larger scale, you really need to invest in a high-quality egg incubator.
The best incubator, of course, is nature – a broody hen will be the cheapest and most efficacious incubator you can find. However, in many cases (like ours), using a hen is simply not possible. Our climate is too cold and our resources too scant to rely on nature taking its course in the chicken coop – plus, in our four years of raising chickens they have not once become broody. Call it bad luck or call it living in the Great White North – but either way, hatching chicken eggs the natural way is not an option for us.
An incubator takes a lot of the guesswork and estimation out of hatching eggs, and allows you to produce large quantities of chickens or other poultry as often as you want to incubate – say, every 21 days or so? Plus, it provides a great educational experience for children in a classroom or home setting. They can learn all about the circle of life and get to play with super adorable baby chicks.
Using an incubator has several other benefits as well. You can save money and help preserve the integrity of your genetics. Purchasing a good incubator will allow you to hatch your own birds, permitting you to maintain a closed flock to prevent disease and to save money. Once the initial purchase of your incubator has happened, you won’t need to pay a cent for new birds – minus the cost of feeding your existing flock and electricity, that is.
While you can purchase incubators for incredibly inexpensive prices, keep in mind that the cheaper the incubator, the more work there is that you will likely have to do. Purchasing a lower-end incubator will require you to be constantly checking the humidity and temperature (several times a day, in fact), and turning the eggs as well. This can be a challenge if, like most of us, you work a full-time job or are incubating eggs in a classroom.
Your basic incubator will be inexpensive and easy to use, containing a heating element and in some rare cases, a fan. It will have water channels and platforms upon which to rest the eggs. However, the higher end incubators (and by higher end, we mean just a bit more in cost – you don’t have to spend a fortune) will also have automatic turners, temperature gauges, and more.
When you are looking at incubators, you will see a few different options. The most basic kind of incubator is a still air incubator. This kind of incubator contains no element that circulates warm air, which can lead to warm or cool spots. This variation in temperature can cause difficulty in hatching, because many still air incubators have temperature fluctuations of up to five degrees. Now, if you go back and reread my article about hatching chicken eggs, you’ll remember that this big of a swing is a definite no-no.
A circulated air incubator is the next step up from a still air incubator. It allows warm air to circulate about the box so that the heat is more adequately distributed. Also known as forced air incubators, these machines contain small fans to keep the temperature a bit more consistent.
The final step is the automatic incubator. These tend to be on the costlier side of the spectrum, but they take so much guesswork out of incubating that the price tends to be worth it. These advanced models keep temperature and humidity steady, and regulate everything for you.
Besides that, you will also want to consider the size of your incubator. Generally, you can find incubators as small as a six-egg capacity and as large as 96. While you don’t need to go all out if you only plan on incubating a few eggs here and there, make sure you have your farm’s goal’s in mind when you are purchasing. It might be worth your time to purchase a larger incubator if you can afford to do so.
Also factor in whether you want to have added features included in your incubator. For example, are you okay with turning your eggs manually several times a day, or do you want one that includes a turner? Does it contain a high-quality hygrometer and thermometer? What about an egg candler? While some incubators ship with these extras, not all do – so do your research.
We are currently in the process of upgrading our incubator – while we have had the Hovabator for several years and hatched eggs with great success, we are now considering upgrading to a higher-capacity incubator so that we can get a larger hatch. In conducting my research, I am reviewing the top eight chicken egg incubators you can find – but keep in mind that these can also be used for other types of poultry like ducks, quail, and guineas.
This is a higher capacity incubator that is still relatively affordable. It can hold 56 eggs and has an automatic turning function, along with digital temperature control. In my opinion, the digital temperature control has its pros and cons. It’s definitely easier to view and tinker with, but as with anything computerized, you have to worry about glitches or unreliability if there’s an error in the reading.
What’s neat about this product is that the digital read-out tells you more than just the temperature – it also tells you the humidity, egg turning frequency and time (usually every two hours), and hatching day. It’s made out of plastic, which is easy to clean and use.
Another affordable plastic incubator, this one comes in two size options: 48 or 56. Like the Ancient 56, it has a digital screen that provides information about temperature, humidity, hatching day, and eg turning time. It also turns your eggs every two hours and comes with a built-in fan. What’s nice about this incubator is that it is environmentally friendly and conserves energy, requiring only 80W of power. You can use this incubator for chicken, turkey, goose, duck, and other fowl with good results.
This is a smaller capacity incubator that is ideal for classroom and home use. It has a digital temperature control and removable, adjustable egg trays. It has an air circulation system that helps increase your hatching success. It’s a tiny incubator, fitting easily on a tabletop, so while it doesn’t hatch a ton of eggs all at once, it is much easier to fit into a small space. It’s also one of the quietest options on the list, and includes an automatic turner and temperature control monitoring system.
This is a good entry-level incubator and is ideal for small hatch sizes or people who are experimenting with hatching chicken eggs for the first time. It only hatches up to twelve eggs at a time, but again, is a good tabletop option for beginners. It’s easy to clean and easy to use, made out of durable PC+ABS material.
Brinsea is a very well-respected name in the chicken incubating field, and this incubator is one of the highest quality products you can purchase. Keep in mind that you’ll also pay a pretty penny, as it’s one of the most expensive. That being said, it is definitely worth every cent. This incubator offers fully automatic control of humidity and is made out of hygienic ABS plastic that is easy to clean and maintain. It can hold up to 56 chicken eggs and has programmable automatic egg turning features.
If you’re looking for a more foolproof system, this product is definitely the way to go. It provides optimum hatching conditions and has automatic controls – all you need to do is program it with the temperature and humidity you need. Everything is fully calibrated and the company offers a three-year warranty.
I’ve recommended this product to other chicken producers so many times that I probably start raving about it in my sleep. I already mentioned that this was the product that got us started – our intro to “rolling our own,” as my husband likes to joke. This incubator includes everything you need to start incubating, all for a great value. It’s large and can accommodate 42 chicken eggs per hatch.
It comes with a patented IncuTurn Automatic Egg Turner, which lightly rolls the eggs six times per day. It has a universal egg tray that can be used for different types of eggs – while we have only ever hatched chicken eggs, you can also use it for quail and goose eggs.
Once you have your incubator, you’re ready to go! But not so fast. Make sure you get your incubator calibrated and check out my list of everything you need to know and to avoid in order to successfully incubate eggs. Once your eggs are loaded in the machine, waiting is the name of the game.
When you’re looking for the best incubator for your home, farm, or classroom, remember that you should always buy the best incubator you can afford. I highly recommend the HovaBator for beginners – it got us started off on the right track, and while we have outgrown it somewhat, it still continues to produce large hatches season after season.
While it might seem like a luxury, having an incubator that really gets the job done can make the difference between a lackluster, disappointing hatch, and one that is enjoyable and bountiful.
What other top chicken egg incubators have I missed? Make sure you let me know your opinion – as well as your experiences with any of these products! – in the comments, and please make sure to follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm).
I'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.