Well, since we definitely had success with our first ever hatch, here is the detailed tutorial for anyone out there who wants to experience a live chicken hatch. I attribute the low hatch to the freak, out of the blue, snow we had on the first day of spring. The temperature in the house fluctuated crazily that weekend and it was hard to regulate the temperature in the incubator.
Here are the supplies you will need:
1 Styrofoam cooler with lid (I got mine at Wal-mart next to the ice bins for $1.88)
1 light socket with cord (I took apart a brooder heat lamp that I already had. If you don't already have one, get a brooder heat lamp at a farm supply store that has a removable reflective shield. They are about $10. That way you can use it later when they hatch.)
1 dimmer switch for table tamps (about $7 at Lowes)
8 X 11 piece of glass or Plexiglas (go the the Dollar Store and buy a $1 document picture frame and take out the glass)
Thermometer/hygrometer (I used a small digital "weather station" which measured the temperature and humidity, but you can use any thermometer/hygrometer)
Small bowl of water
40 watt light bulb (.97 for 4 at Wal-mart)
small plastic fan (optional-I could not find one so we didn't use one. If you can find one, it would help the temperature to stay regulated)
I spent a total of $11 because I already had most of this stuff. Please note that in the above picture I started out with a 15 watt bulb. However, I couldn't get it hot enough in the incubator, so I had to switch to the 40 watt bulb. (And please ignore the dirty dishes in the background. I can only do one thing at a time and right now I'm building an incubator, thank you.)
Okay, let's get started.
Step 1 is to take your heat lamp apart, put socket on top of the cooler lid, and trace the outline so you can cut a hole that it will fit through perfectly.
After you have it traced, carefully cut it out with your utility or X-acto knife.
If you did it right, your light socket should fit snugly into the hole you've just cut out. Let the cord run out the top and make sure you can reach the on/off switch from the outside.
The next step is to open your $1 picture frame and take the paper out. I cut about a 1/2 inch off of each side of the paper and used it to trace my hole. You hole needs to be smaller than the glass so you have room to glue it on.
Hold the glass up to the hole after you've traced the rectangle to make sure you will have enough room to glue it on.
You could also use duck tape to attach the glass, but duck tape is ugly. If you don't mind ugly, then feel free! It'd probably be easier.
When you're happy with the rectangle, start cutting.
Your hole should look like this. This will give small children plenty of window to observe what's going on in the incubator without having to open it and alter the temperature.
Now, it's time to glue the window on. Take the glass (or plastic) out of the picture frame and glue it on the outside of the hole.
Now, prop it up so it's level and go for a walk or something. It takes a while to dry completely.
You may have to wipe the glue that drips on the inside a few times, if you used way too much glue. (Not that I did that or anything, just sayin')
When it's all dry, you're ready to test it out. Add the dimmer switch to the light socket and plug it in. The dimmer switch will be invaluable in helping you regulate the temperature. Check the temperature several times a day and adjust accordingly. Put the thermometer and a small bowl of water inside the cooler. I started with a coffee cup to save space, but ended up with a long narrow plastic butter container because the humidity wasn't high enough. You also need to punch a few holes in each side of the cooler for ventilation.
Don't put your eggs in yet though!! You need to run it for a few days so you can get the temperature and humidity where it needs to be and steady. Make sure the temp is as close to 99.5 degrees as you can. You want 50% humidity for day 1-18, then 70-80% for the last few days. If your humidity is too low, add another container of water. The more surface area your water has, the higher the humidity will be.
When you're happy with the temperature and humidity, add your eggs and watch the magic!
They'll need to be turned 3 times a day. We drew a big X with a pencil on one side of each egg to make sure they all got turned. Always turn an odd number of times so the eggs aren't facing the same way every night while your sleeping. Stop turning the eggs on day 18. The last 3 days, don't touch them and try not to open the incubator unless you need to add water.
If you do everything right, maybe you will end up with one of these!
P.S. In case anyone is wondering, grocery store eggs will not work. You will have to find a source for fertile eggs.