My thoughts on the Little Giant incubator:
The incubator was very easy to set up but is not something I would consider a quality product; not surprising given the cost for the unit. It is made of Styrofoam which makes it extremely light but fragile.
The incubator was set up following the instructions which are actually written pretty well. After the initial adjustment period to ensure the incubator was maintaining the correct temperature, the eggs were placed inside. The temperature and moisture levels were checked every day to make sure the unit was working correctly. The eggs were turned manually 3 times a day up until 3 days prior to hatch and 21 days later….nothing. The eggs were left in the incubator for a few extra days with no success. Opening the eggs after they were deemed unhatchable revealed partial chick formation.
An automatic egg turner was purchased to ensure the eggs were getting turned enough to eliminate the embryo sticking to the side of the egg and a new batch of eggs was set. Temperature and moisture were monitored daily. 21 days later…nothing. Again, breaking the eggs open revealed partially formed chicks.
The next spring the first attempt at hatching eggs resulted in just one hatching but it quickly died. The chick had misshapen feet which could be genetics or low incubator temperature (see common incubator problems) . A second batch also resulted in one egg hatching, again resulting in a dead chick and deformed feet. To eliminate the likelihood the deformed feet were genetic, the rooster was retired and a new one used to fertilize the eggs. This left the temperature as the most likely suspect if the next hatch was not successful.
Research revealed that still air incubation temperatures should be set to 101° to 103° instead of the suggested 99.5°. The reason for the higher temperature is because the still air incubator has temperature layering because the air is not being moved by a fan.
Research also revealed that supplemental moisture may be needed to raise the humidity level during the last 3 days of incubation.
The incubator was set to 101° and the eggs set in the egg turner. The eggs were candled on day 14 which resulted in a total of 8 viable eggs. The turner was removed 3 days prior to hatch and a moist sponge set inside the incubator to help keep the humidity up. On day 21, hatch day, nothing. The eggs were left for a few days to see if any chicks hatched late. Three days later, 3 chicks hatched. The fifth day another chick partially hatched and was helped out of the egg. The late hatches made me suspect the temperature in the incubator was still low so another thermometer was purchased.
Comparing the new thermometer with the one supplied with the Little Giant incubator revealed it was 4° low. This 4° difference resulted in my 101° setting to be closer to 98° which explains the late hatch.
More changes coming:
A forced hot air fan kit has been purchased to see if the hatch rate can be improved even more.
Glass beads (or gems) have also been purchased to be placed in the bottom of the incubator to help maintain a more constant temperature in the incubator.
Why worry about the fan and beads if I have been successful and it looks like I figured out the problem was the supplied thermometer? Good question. Here is a quote from Little Giant themselves:
Did you know that at any given time the temperature in your Little Giant Still Air incubator (9200) can vary by up to 5 degrees from the top and bottom and from the center to the corners? In addition, you get variation from the thermostat cycling the heating unit on and off. This temperature variation has a significant impact on your hatch rates. Heat naturally rises, so you need to circulate the hot air from the hot spots to the cool spots for a much more uniform and consistent temperature and better hatch results. The more consistent air temperature also ensures that your thermostat is cycling on and off at the appropriate times, not just when the air around the thermostat heats or cools.
With a lot of work, frustration and money, I have been able to hatch a few chicks using the Little Giant model 9200 incubator and with the glass beads and forced hot air fan, the hatch rate should be much better. However, if I had started with a better unit to begin with I suspect my success would have come much sooner. To minimize problems from the start, I should have purchased the Little Giant Deluxe Egg Incubator Combo Kit which comes with the egg turner, forced air fan kit, digital thermometer/hygrometer (which measures temperature and humidity) and an IncuBright Egg Candler.
An alternative to the Giant incubators (as well as Miller, and Farm Innovators brands) are the Brinsea incubators. I have no personal experience with them but the reviews look favorable.
Purchase the better unit from the beginning and verify the thermometer is accurate BEFORE you begin incubating of your eggs. The fan is a must for consistent temps so be sure your unit has one.
After the upgrades mentioned, the hatch rates went up significantly. Two batches of eggs resulted in a 85% and 95% success rate, much higher than I expected.
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