How to Build a DIY Incubator for Eggs (Quail or Chicken)

DIY Glass Incubator

Have you ever tried quail eggs? According to studies, these tiny eggs are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Quail eggs contain more fat, protein, and vitamin B12 by weight than chicken eggs. But these eggs are harder to find and they are more expensive. We have been buying them from a family we know locally. At some point, I decided to build a DIY Incubator for Eggs so that we could have our own quails and quail eggs. It’s been a fun process; especially watching them hatch and have our kids experience the whole process.

The first incubator I built was from an old cooler box. I made a tiny window on top of the cooler to peek inside and check the temperature and humidity. When the chicks started to hatch, my kids would fight for their turn to look inside. They have never seen chicks hatch before so it was really exciting for them. Then I decided to upgrade and build a larger glass incubator. Now with the glass incubator, it’s way more exciting for kids to see everything from the start, how quails hatch to when they grow up.

I found a large aquarium on craigslist and used that for building the incubator. The aquarium I bought was too large, so I decided to separate it in half with a foam board and have one side as an incubator and the other as a brooder. Two hours after the chick hatch you could take them out from the incubator and place them in the brooder.

The brooder needs to have a heat lamp to keep the temperature close to 100 degrees for the first few days. Then the temperature could slowly be reduced as the chicks grow older. The brooder should also have chick feed and water. What’s interesting is that two hours after the chick hatch, these little creatures know exactly what to do. They know how to eat, drink and run around. There is no learning curve for them, they hit the ground running.

quail chick in hands

Choosing a type of quail to raise

There are many breeds of quail out there; Bobwhite quail, Coturnix, Button, California quail, and many more. One of the most popular breeds to raise in your backyard is Coturnix quail. It has a fantastic incubation period of only 18 days. It is a strong egg layer and often used for meat. Also, the easiest quail to raise and keep; they are ideal for beginners. Yet even with Coturnix quail, there are different types you can choose from: Golden Coturnix, Jumbo, Pharaoh, and few more.

Jumbo Coturnix is personally my favorite, because of their larger eggs and more meat. From the time the bird hatches to maturity it only takes about 7 weeks, then they are ready to be used for meat and hens will start laying eggs. If you would compare that to a chicken, it takes about 18-20 weeks for a chicken to mature and lay eggs. Coturnix quail would make about 210 eggs a year, and if you choose to use supplemental lighting, each can lay up to 300 eggs over the course of a year. Coturnix quail would be a great option when you are looking to raise quails in your backyard. Both meat and eggs have many health benefits, they are delicious and considered quite a delicacy.

quail chick next to eggs

Where to get fertile quail eggs

You can get the eggs through Craigslist locally, or get them shipped through different websites. I personally prefer locally, this way they should be fresher and handled less. If you have your own birds, a ratio of four females to one male should work best. This way the hens would not get plucked too much. And if the ratio is higher the eggs might have lower fertility. The eggs should be collected within 4 hours from when they were laid.

Never wash the eggs unless absolutely necessary. Then use only warmer water than the egg so the egg would sweat and release the dirt and bacteria. Coldwater on the other had would contract and pull in the dirt through the pores. Now, when you either buy the fertile eggs or if you have your own, let’s talk about hatching and different steps we need to take.

quail eggs in the nest

Storing quail eggs

If you need to store the hatching eggs they should always be placed with the pointed end pointing downwards. If it has been stored the other way it would be considered damaged. Also, they can be stored up to seven days, after that their hatchability starts to decline quite rapidly. They need to be in a cool area with the temperature ranging from 50F to 65F. And humidity should be kept between 60 to 70%. Turn the eggs leaning slightly on the opposite side at least 3 times a day.

Incubation period

It’s a good idea to run the incubator for at least a day before putting quail eggs in. This way you will have a steady temperature and humidity. Often, in the beginning, it fluctuates, which can negatively affect the hatchability percent. The temperature of the incubator should be kept between 99.5F and 101F, try to keep it at 99.75F until the last three days of incubation, and then decrease it to 99F. Also during the first 15 days humidity should be kept at 45%, then raise it up to around 60% until the eggs hatch.

Now that you have steady temperature and humidity, you can place the eggs inside. Don’t put the eggs directly under a fan; this can dry them out prematurely. Make sure each egg is placed pointy end pointing downwards. For the first 15 days turn each egg 3 times a day, leaning slightly to the opposite side. You would use the rotating device, but it’s a good idea to open the lid as well for a couple of minutes while you help to turn the eggs, this way eggs get fresh oxygen in as well. After the 15th day do not open the incubator, no matter how tempting it might be. From then on you don’t need to turn the eggs, just wait… and wait…

Hatching and Brooding Quail Chicks

When the chicks start to hatch, you can finish setting up their brooder. Keeping the temperature around 100F, using an Infra-red bulb. Crush some wild game feed over the bottom of the brooder. Line it with a piece of cardboard and any piece of fabric tucked under the board. This material will help them strengthen their legs before they would be ready to have wood shavings as their lining.

For water, since they are so small and to prevent them from drowning, it’s best to get a small jar lid with marbles, and some water inside. As chicks dry out, you can transfer one by one into the brooder. Even though it takes about 18 days to hatch, we have the incubator on for extra couple days, just in case. Then clean out the incubator and make their brooder larger, extending it throughout the whole “glass aquarium”. Lower the temperature by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered or 5 to 6 weeks old. Then they are ready to be transferred outside to their living area. Hatching quails is an exciting and fun experience for a whole family!

If you’re planning to hatch eggs, you also might be interested in DIY Chicken Coop plans on my website.


Incubator for Eggs PDF

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Incubator for Eggs 

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Dimensions

DIY Glass Incubator dimensions

Step 1 – Separate the Aquarium in Half with a Foam Board

Take a large glass aquarium (I used 18”x36” by 17” high aquarium) and separated it in half with a 2” thick foam board. Measure the exact inside dimensions of the aquarium and cut the foam with a knife. In the center top of the foam cut a V shape notch. This will be used for the wires to go through for the lights, thermostat, and the fan. Insert the foam inside the aquarium separating the two sides in half. Make sure there are no gaps between the foam and glass. If there are gaps, use tape to seal the gaps between glass and foam.

aquarium divided into two for incubator

Step 2 – Build a Raised Screen Mesh Floor

Now build a raised screen mesh floor inside the aquarium for the eggs to be placed on. Take 2×2 board and cut two pieces to 18″ in length and two pieces to 15″ in length. (Your dimensions might vary if you’re using different size aquarium). Attach the frame using 2″ wood screw. Make sure to pre-drill the holes for the screws so the wood will not crack.

frame for bottom of incubator

Step 3 – Wrap Screen Mesh Over the Frame

Once the frame is done, wrap window screen mesh over the frame. Cut the screen larger than the top of the frame by about 1 1/2″ on all four sides. Then stretch and wrap the mesh screen over the top frame and the sides. Use a staple gun to staple the screen on the side of the wood frame. When stapling to the side of the frame, alternate staples at different heights. If you put staples all in one row the wood might crack in half. Make sure the mesh screen is stretched tight and is not sagging.

mesh screen floor for DIY Glass Incubator
mesh screen for incubator
mesh screen floor for incubator

Step 4 – Attach 2×2 Blocks Under the Frame

Flip the screen floor face down and attach 2×2 bocks to raise the floor higher. Take 2×2 board and cut four pieces to 6″ in length. Pre-drill two holes in each block and attach these blocks to the frame with 2″ screws as shown in the picture. The screen floor needs to be raised because there will be a pan with water under the screen to have humidity inside the incubator.

mesh screen floor for DIY Glass Incubator

Step 5 – Build an Egg Rotation Device

During the incubation period, the eggs need to be rotated a few times a day. See picture below, this device works by pulling/pushing on the coat hanger wire and the eggs roll on the screen floor. To make this device, take 1/4″ plywood and cut two pieces to 10″ in length and two pieces to 9″ in length. Then drill 3/8″ holes about 1 1/2″ apart on both of the 10″ long pieces. Take a flat sheet of metal and using metal snips cut four 1/2″x2″ strips. Fold the metal strips in half with pliers to 90°. These metal angles will be attached at each corner of the egg rolling device to hold the frame together. Use small screws to assemble the frame as shown in the picture.

Now take 3/8″ wooden dowel rod and cut 6 pieces to 10″ in length and insert through the holes. The distance between the wooden rods are spaced for quail eggs. If you’re planning to use this incubator for chicken eggs then the rod spacing needs to be farther apart. Attach a coat hanger wire to the front of the frame. This coat hanger wire will be used to pull/push this frame to rotate the eggs that are placed between the round dowels.

DIY Glass Incubator egg turner
egg turner
egg roller for incubator

Step 6 – Build a Metal Panel for Light Bulbs and Fan

Next, use a light gauge (28GA) sheet metal to create a panel that supports the bulbs, fan, and a thermostat. You want to use light gauge metal so that you could easily cut and bend it to the desired shape. Using sheet metal snips, cut a piece of metal approximately 4” x 18”. Measure 2″ from one side and make a cut 1/2″ deep. Then using pliers fold ½” to 90° on both long sides of the metal to make it look like a U. The U shape metal makes the panel strong enough to hold the items that we need for this incubator. The 2″ part of the metal will be placed over the foam divider.

metal panel to attach electric items inside the incubator

Step 7 – Make Brackets for the Light Bulbs

Take a flat sheet metal piece and cut two 1” x 4” strips. Then fold ½” on both ends making a U shape bracket, see picture. Drill a 3/8″ hole in the center of the bracket for a 3/8″ bolt to go through. If you want this bracket to be stronger, you could make it 2″ wide instead of 1″.

Step 8 – Attach Light Bulb Brackets to the Metal Panel

Use a bolt and a nut to attach ceiling fan fixture socket with black and white wires to the bracket. Then connect the both of the brackets to the metal panel 8” apart using sheet metal screws. For this size of an incubator use two 75 watt bulbs. Using smaller size bulbs might not be enough to generate heat to reach the desired 100 degrees temperature for the eggs to hatch.

attaching light bulbs inside the incubator
light bulb attach to metal piece

Step 9 – Attach the Water Heater Thermostat to Metal Panel

Next, attach a water heater thermostat similar method as the light bulbs. Cut a 3”x4” metal piece and fold 1/2″ on both sides. Attach the thermostat as shown in the picture with metal screws. The thermostat keeps the incubator temperature at 100 degrees. If the temperature drops below 100 degrees it turns on the light bulbs to heat up the incubator. The front of the thermostat has a control knob that sets the temperature. This control needs to face the foam. You will need to poke a small hole through the foam so that you could use a flat screwdriver to regulate the temperature without opening the lid of an incubator. There should be about ½” distance between water heater thermostat and the foam so that you could reach it with the screwdriver and still have air movement.

installing a water heater thermostat inside the DIY Glass Incubator
thermostat wiring

Step 10 – Secure the Fan to Metal Panel

The last thing that needs to go on the metal panel is the fan. Make another sheet metal bracket and attach it to the fan. Then attach the bracket with the fan to the metal panel. Make sure the fan is blowing air in the direction of the thermostat. For this incubator size, I used a 12v, 3 1/2″ round fan from my old computer.

adding a fan inside the DIY Glass Incubator
wiring for incubator

Step 11 – Connect Wires Per Wiring Diagram

Now everything needs to be wired. Follow the wiring diagram as shown in the picture. I used an old Christmas extension cord that had an on/off switch and two outlets. I cut off the last outlet and wired it to the thermostat and light bulbs. On the wiring diagram, I specified which wire connects to the upper connection of the thermostat and which to the lower. To run the computer fan I used a 12v power supply and connected the black and red wires of the fan to the power supply. The white wire from the fan was not used.

wiring diagram for DIY Glass Incubator

Step 12-a – Place a Pan with Water on the Bottom of Incubator

After the wiring is complete now it’s time to put everything together. At the very bottom of the incubator, place the pan or container with water. Then place a sponge inside the pan. The sponge will absorb the water and increase the humidity. Since the fan will always be on during incubation, humidity will prevent the eggs from drying.

pan with water for DIY Glass Incubator
pan for incubator

Step 12-b – Place Mesh Screen Floor Over the Pan

Now place a mesh screen floor over the pan. Make sure there are no gaps between the raised floor and the glass. When the chicks hatch, you don’t what them to fall through the gaps and get stuck.

raised floor for DIY Glass Incubator

Step 12-c – Place the Egg Rolling Device on Screen Floor

Then place the egg rolling device on top of the screen. Pock a hole through the foam and attach the coat hanger wire to the frame. The wire will be sticking out through the foam. Try to pull/push on the wire to make sure the frame slides on the mesh screen easily.

egg turner device for incubator

Step 12-d – Lay the Metal Panel Over the Foam and Aquarium Frame

Next, place the metal panel on top of the foam and aquarium frame. Run the wires through the v-shape notch. Poke a small hole through the foam that will align with the thermostat control knob. You should be able to insert the flat screwdriver through the foam and set it to 100 degrees.

electrical items for incubator

Step 12-e – Attach Weatherstrip Tape Under the Lid

Before closing the lid, on top of the incubator, glue a 1/4″ adhesive weatherstrip tape on all four sides to prevent air leakage. Inside the incubator place an electronic thermometer that reads the temperature and humidity. Try to keep the thermometer as close as you can to the eggs for accurate readings.

foam tape to seal the lid of the incubator

Step 12-f – Cover the Lid of an Incubator

And finally, take a 1/4″ plywood and cut 18″x19″ piece and place it over the weatherstrip tape. Then place something heavy over the plywood to keep the pressure on the weatherstrip tape. Turn on the incubator and let it run for at least a day before placing eggs inside. You want to make sure the temperature consistently stays 100 degrees. If the temperature is too low or too high, adjust the knob on the thermostat to get to 100 degrees.  You are done!

DIY Glass Incubator
quail chick
Jumbo Coturnix Quails drinking water
Jumbo Coturnix Quails
Jumbo Coturnix Quails
Jumbo Coturnix Quails

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