Types of incubators
An incubator imitates a hen by providing an environment for eggs to hatch into chicks. It keeps the eggs uniformly moist and warm, for a period of about 21 days. Different sources of heat can be used to warm the eggs, the most common being electricity, solar energy or fuel such as charcoal, paraffin or gas. Various types of incubators have likewise emerged on the basis of these sources of heat.
Manual egg incubators
If you don’t have access to electricity then the best option is a manual incubator. This provides an easy and affordable way to incubate eggs. A manual incubator can use charcoal, kerosene or gas to heat and retain eggs in the hatching chamber where the eggs are placed. Eggs are turned manually; temperatures and humidity regulation is also manual. Different capacities are available ranging from 50 up to 300 eggs and the cost range from Kshs. 10,000 to 20,000.
However there has been complains on the output of these kind of incubators. The average hatching rate as reported by farmers range between 50 and 60% with good management. However the use of thermometer to regulate temperature and placing water next to the eggs to regulate humidity has improved performance for most farmers.
Electrical egg incubators
This kind of incubators requires a constant power supply if the eggs are to be hatched. Any breakdown in the power supply as is usually frequent in Kenya causes the eggs to lose their hatching value and must be destroyed.
The incubators can be manual, automatic or semi-automatic. Those that are automatic come complete with a hatching tray, thermostat to control accurate incubation temperature and hygrometer to control humidity during egg hatching. The egg tray has an egg turning system for turning eggs automatically. An air circulation system ensures that air is circulated evenly in the incubator and that eggs hatch at the same time. Others are connected to computers, internet, cell phone-based alarms and remote-control functions for easy monitoring and control of activities while on the move.
The incubators are available in capacities ranging from about 60 eggs to 1200 eggs with costs currently ranging from Kshs. 15,000 to 140,000.
Solar egg incubators
The solar incubator uses solar energy to hatch eggs. They are meant for use where electricity is not reliable. A solar panel connected to a battery system with charge controller assures 24-hour power supply. A combination exists where you can use a solar system when there is power failure. Heat is controlled automatically in the entire unit by use of a thermostat to ensure no damage is done to the eggs due to over heating. Fans are installed for fresh air circulation. Humidity is usually controlled manually by placing water container inside the base. The eggs are also turned manually.
One advantage with this is that when the system is not in use, the device can be used to provide power for lighting. Unlike electrical incubators the eggs need not have to be disinfected before placing them inside and after every hatching the entire device can be washed and cleaned.
The incubators are available in capacities ranging from 100 to 1,2000 eggs. Prices range from Kshs 15,000 to 100,000.
Things to consider when selecting an incubator
Source of heat
Obviously the first is to know the source of heat available to you. In the rural areas where electricity is lacking a manual incubator that uses charcoal or kerosene or the solar incubator are the obvious choices depending on your account balance. On the other hand if you have electric power then you can take advantage of the advanced features of the electrical incubators. But of late there has been concern that many farmers are abandoning the electrical incubators due to frequent power outages and the high costs of electricity. A system that combines solar and electric incubator is a good back up where there are electric problems.
If you are going to entirely depend on solar power, ensure that the solar panel provides twice the power that can maintain the battery when it is at full charge. Compare models, take your time and seek advice.
If you are in business then the size of the market is important because it will determine the off-take of chicks and therefore the size of the incubator. Select an incubator that you can adequately supply with eggs. It will be useless to have a large incubator when you can only supply a few chicks. If you produce eggs for hatching, the egg production should match a weekly setting plan.
After sale service
When you purchase an incubator, it will come with an instruction manual where every step of the incubation process is explained and therefore guarantee successful hatching. And as part of after sales service, manufacturers provide various kind of support. Some of them guide and provide information or training on the incubation procedure and business advice that you need in order to make your hatchery a success. Look for other available services that they offer to farmers.
Look for those that carry at least a two-year warranty on all the spare parts, especially if it is an electrical or solar incubator.