Incubators have been around since ancient Egypt. Beginning with mud ovens that are still in use today to our more modern countertop models, incubating eggs has been around for thousands of years.
The American incubator was first patented in 1844, and the first electric incubator came in 1922. All came with the purpose of hatching more birds out and doing so safely. With natural brooding, the mother hen isn’t controlled. She may abandon her chicks or even eat her eggs.
She may also abandon her eggs before they hatch or is easily accessible to predators.
When beginning with incubating, many factors will come into play. Humidity, temperature, rotating eggs and the time of incubation for different species can be overwhelming when first starting out. Each of the incubators that I will be going over are all fairly easy to use and come with directions.
Please remember to always follow the recommended guidelines that come with your incubator. Depending on what you are hatching, there are different humidities and temperatures that you will be following. It can range from incubator to incubator, and outside humidity and temperature can affect your hatching.
It’s best practice to keep your incubator in a temperature-controlled environment.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have bypassed the smaller incubators and saved some money. I do understand that some people can hatch only five to 10 eggs at a time. But to me hatching was very addictive. My current incubator is a GQF cabinet incubator, which I love fully and can easily fit upwards of 200-plus eggs, depending on what I am hatching.
I’ll cover that particular incubator later in the article.
This incubator from GQF Manufacturing Co. is the least expensive of the incubators I’ll be covering. It’s a very basic incubator, but you can get add-ons that are made to fit it and make your hatching experience easier.
The very basic model starts at about $55. This price reflects a manual incubator, meaning that you’ll have to manage the temperature and humidity, and you’ll have to hand-turn your eggs. Marking eggs will be very helpful in that process.
It’s also a still-air incubator so the air in the incubator can become stagnant. Hot spots may also be an issue within still air for which you’ll need to monitor. Humidity will need to be carefully monitored also, and over time, you’ll learn how and what methods help with humidity.
This incubator can fit up to 42 chicken eggs. You can purchase an automatic egg turner that will fit perfectly, and if you would like to upgrade to a circulated-air incubator, you can also purchase a fan kit that easily attaches to the original model.
There are also some Hova-Bator kits that include all of this in the initial purchase. This incubator can handle button-quail eggs up to emu eggs. Find out more at www.gqfmfg.com.
Nurture Right 360°
I haven’t used the Nurture Right 360° Egg Incubator, but my friend and business partner, Brittani Walker, swears by. She prefers this incubator, whereas I am more fond of my GQF model.
Cost-wise, this incubator is pretty efficient, starting at about $150 dollars depending on your area. This is the only incubator Harris Farms offers, so other models don’t exist.
The Nurture Right can hold up to 22 eggs and has an auto turner, an auto shutoff for egg turning three days before hatch and an LCD display from which you can monitor the temperature and humidity. This incubator also includes a built-in egg candler, which is a very useful tool right where and when you need it.
This model includes an external watering port so you can add water easily to raise the humidity. It doesn’t have alarms to alert but does offer a 360-degree view, and it can handle pheasants, quail, chicken, duck and turkey eggs. Larger eggs have to be turned by hand.
IncuView™ All-In-One Automatic Egg Incubator
This fully automatic incubator starts at about $195. It has a large see-through lid and can hold up to 27 chicken eggs and accommodate any eggs, any size, up to goose.
This incubator has a fully clear dome much like the Nurture Right, but while the Nurture Right is round, this incubator is square. It has a fully automatic egg turner and thermostat. The thermostat comes preset at 99.5 degrees F. It also has a built-in humidity reader and has a hatch timer.
This incubator is also a fan-operated incubator, and the fan is included with the initial setup. This incubator looks easy to clean out, but to add water to adjust your humidity, you’ll need to open the lid. There isn’t an external port available. This incubator also doesn’t have any alarming systems if the temperature or humidity gets out of whack.
It does include a lot of the functions of more expensive incubators at a cheaper price.
This tabletop incubator ranges in size. I personally used one of these during my first years of incubating and absolutely adored it. They do run kind of expensive, averaging from $250 to more than $600. It’s a fully automated system once you close the lid. All you have to do is add water for humidity reasons, set it and forget it. I always had great hatch rates with this brand.
The smallest size holds 20 chicken eggs; the largest tabletop, 50. This incubator can also incubate button quail, quail, duck, pheasant and larger eggs such as turkey and geese but they’ll have to be turned by hand.
A few helpful benefits of this incubator include an external watering hole, a window lid and a computer-pairing option that allows you to track your incubation data in real time. It also has a counter and alarms available depending on which model you choose.
Cleanup on this incubator is very easy as well. You don’t have to scrub out the trays. Wiping it out with a damp rag does just fine, and there aren’t many hard areas to clean on it.
Brinsea Mini II
This tabletop incubator can fit comfortably in just about any setting depending on which model you get. There is a very small model that holds seven eggs and other models that can go up to cabinet-size.
A few of my poultry peeps swear by this incubator. Much like the Rcom, the mini Brinseas also have alarms to alert you if the temperature or humidity gets out of normal ranges. This incubator also has a clear lid, an external watering entry and a hatch-day countdown time with automatic egg turner turn-off at day 18.
Temperature settings are set at 99.5 degrees F, but it’s adjustable. This incubator is very low maintenance and perfect for beginners. It’s also very small so you can fit it comfortably in many different places.
Brinsea’s bigger models still have many of the same features that the mini does. These incubators start at about $200 and range up depending on model and size. This incubator can accommodate about 12 quail or pheasant eggs or seven chicken or ducks eggs.
GQF 1502 Sportsman
This model starts off at $750 and goes up. The reason I have included this here is because it’s easy to use and can hatch up to 360 chicken eggs and more than 1,000 quail eggs. If you’re beginning to hatch but plan on hatching large quantities, this incubator will be perfect for you.
I personally attest to GQF’s customer service being amazing. They go above and beyond for their customers. The space is amazing, but it’s a large incubator. You’ll need a large area to keep it.
It comes with a fully automatic turner, an LCD gauge for temperature and humidity, and a hatching tray. What I love most about this incubator is that you can stage many different cycles of hatches and you don’t have to wait until a hatch is finished to throw another one in.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have gone straight to this incubator from the beginning (as I hinted at earlier, hatching is addictive, be forewarned). This incubator has removable trays that clean very easily and you can buy a bucket system to make even less work for yourself. There is a window that you can look through or you can opt for a clear door.
The price on this incubator is well worth it, but compared to the smaller incubators, it can be difficult to clean—especially if you are smaller. Getting the back corners can be hard.
Another great thing I love about this incubator is that it can hatch whatever egg you want. It doesn’t matter the kind or size. I have hatched as small as button quail all the way up to emu-sized eggs.
Ova Easy by Brinsea
This cabinet model offered by Brinsea holds up to 96 chicken eggs. This model is smaller than most cabinet incubators but still holds many eggs. With a starting price of $1,099, it’s the most expensive on our list.
The Ova Easy has alarms to alert if the temperature gets too low and an automatic egg turning system. This incubator can fit all sorts of sizes of eggs very easily up to goose and turkey. This incubator also has an LCD screen that shows humidity and temperature.
It’s very easy to use, but a separate humidity kit will have to be purchased. It also has a one-push shelf-leveling button. This brings your egg shelves upright from turning so that you can easily set your eggs.
Regardless of which egg incubator you choose, always follow the recommended guidelines and settings. They’ll vary from each brand. Whatever your plans are for hatching, these incubators are the best and will cover all of those needs.
Good luck and happy hatching!
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Chickens magazine.