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2812 FM 987
Kaufman, TX 75142

Setting Up Your Incubator

by Jane Smith

First, check that your incubator is complete, and that you have all the parts that you need. Then, clean everything thoroughly with a good sanitant to make sure that it is all clean. Leave it to dry thoroughly (more incubators are damaged through starting when still wet from disinfecting than anything else!). Then once it is all dry, you are ready to set up your incubator.

The first, most important thing is that you must follow the instructions that came with your incubator. If you don't have them, contact the manufacturer or check out their website. However, the manufacturers' instructions only give you the briefest of advice - how to put your incubator together and what temperatures different types of eggs require - so we've written this general guide to fill in a few gaps and help make things easier. Most people get a Styrofoam or polystyrene incubator when they first start hatching, so we've written this general guide to help with that type in mind.

1) Choose your location carefully. Once your incubator is set up, you really shouldn't move it unless you have no choice. Choose a room that has a relatively stable temperature throughout the entire day. You know your own home best; but the common places are basements, closets, spare rooms, and bathrooms that don't have a shower or bath. If the bathroom does have a shower or bath, it should not be used during incubation. Warm air and steam can cause temperature and humidity fluctuations which could badly affect the growing keets. Do NOT place the incubator in direct sunlight or near a heat source such as an oven or heating vent. Make sure the incubator is not near drafts such as an AC vent, or a door or window that is often left open to the outside. A porch that does not have a way of controlling the room temperature is a bad choice. Incubators usually do better if placed on a table, rather than the floor, as this will lift them above most drafts and help damp down any vibrations. It is essential that air must be able to circulate through all the incubator's air holes to allow proper ventilation. Is it a high traffic area? If so, how likely is the incubator to get bumped? Do keep in mind the unpredictability of pets and children! Will you be able to see into the incubator easily for checking temperature and humidity? Could the power cord(s) be a trip-hazard, or could they be pulled out without you realizing until it is too late?

2) In order to maintain the correct humidity for the developing keets, it is sometimes necessary to add water to your incubator. Most Styrofoam incubators come with a clear plastic liner to help make them easier to clean after hatching. It is well worth getting one of these if you can. If you have one, remember to insert it before adding water to the incubator! The water you add should be warm, and it goes directly into the base of the incubator. If you have a close look at it you will see that the base is divided into sections: some of these have air holes in them, and so won't contain any water. Fill the largest section in the base (that doesn't have holes!) until it is just below overflowing. This can be difficult to judge. Clear water doesn't show up well against clear plastic, and so it can help to add a drop or two of food coloring to the water before you pour it in, so that you can view the level of it more accurately. Using a turkey baster to add water to the incubator can help to control spillage.

3) Now you are ready to place the wire mesh floor into the base of the incubator. Be very sure the wire doesn't have any damaged, bent or sharp places that could trap or injure newly hatched keets. Pay special attention to the edges of the wire. If there are any bent edges, try to carefully bend them back into place. If this doesn't work, you can bind the edges with cloth tape.

4) If you are using a turner, it's time to place it inside the incubator. Check again to make sure all the parts of the turner are in their proper place and that none are missing. If the turner is placed in the right way round, it should slide easily into place. If it doesn't seem to quite fit, or has to be forced, try turning it ninety degrees. Even though Styrofoam incubators and their turners look square, they are not. They only fit together one way. If the turner is touching something, you run the risk of it not functioning properly or damaging your incubator.

5) The thermometer has to be adjusted carefully, particularly if you are using a still-air incubator. Its position depends on whether or not you are using a turner and whether or not your thermometer is digital. Without a turner, your eggs will lie on their sides in the bottom of the incubator. Because of the way eggs behave, their smaller, pointed end will lie closer to the floor and their larger, rounded end will stick up a bit. In most turners, your eggs will be held vertically, with their smaller pointed end downwards and their rounded end upwards. Your thermometer needs to be positioned carefully so that it is on a level with the top (that is, the highest part) of the eggs. Most incubators come with a clip to hold the thermometer at the correct height. Also make sure you can read the thermometer easily through the incubator windows. A digital thermometer will need to have the sensor even with the topmost part of the eggs. With both types of thermometers, make sure neither come in direct contact with metal, as this will affect the readings.

6) A hygrometer measures the humidity within your incubator. Its position depends on whether you are using a wet/dry bulb thermometer or a hygrometer that measures relative humidity. A wet/dry bulb thermometer will need to have its wick in the water and be placed where it does not get in the way of the turner (if you're using one). For a hygrometer, placement near a central area of the incubator is best but don't put it too close to the heating element as that can affect the readings.

7) Placing the lid is not complicated at all, but there are a few simple things you need to check to make sure that your thermometer and hygrometer readings are not compromised. Make sure everything is lined up properly and there are no unnecessary open spaces. For example, there is a small indentation in the edge of the incubator for the turner cord, which makes sure that the lid can sit flat and keep the warmth in the incubator. Every time you open the incubator, be sure that you put the lid firmly into place again. It is easy to accidentally leave it slightly ajar. Some incubators have windows that can be popped out for easy cleaning. That's a nice benefit, but it also leaves the chance of them not being firmly seated. Make sure your vent plugs (commonly made of red plastic, and positioned on the lid of the incubator) are also securely in place.

8) Plug in your power cords. Make sure no one can trip over the cords, as this can disconnect them or make your incubator and its precious contents fly across the room. If you have pets, you may want to tape the plugs to the wall socket, and be sure to tuck away any excess length of cord.

9) You should begin setting up a day or two ahead of time to be sure your temperature is calibrated correctly. Some temperature controls are so sensitive that even a tiny turn of the dial will cause a full one or two degree difference. Adjustments can take time and patience, and the following is written with that in mind. Check your incubator instruction book for advice on how to set the temperature, as well as what setting is recommended. In most cases, the temperature for hatching guinea eggs should be set at 99.5 degrees F (37.5 degrees C) for circulated or forced-air models (with fan) and 102 degrees F (38.88 degrees C) for still air (without fan) models. It is better to start low and working up to the correct temperature. Keep making slight adjustments until your incubator holds the proper temperature. More than half a degree off in either direction can cause your hatch to happen early or late and can result in deformities in the keets that you hatch. A large difference in either direction, even for a short period of time, will lower your hatch rate and possibly even kill most of your embryos. Guinea eggs are very hardy and can make it through some very rough incubation occurrences, but it is still wise to do your very best to keep the temperature as stable as possible.

10) Maintaining the correct humidity is essential. The development of your embryos is dependent upon the egg losing the proper amount of weight during incubation by water loss through its shell, typically a total of 13% of the egg's starting weight by the time the keets pip internally. Incorrect humidity levels can cause many different types of hatching problems and can even kill the embryo before the hatch begins. If your humidity is too high, it can cause the keet to be over-large and to drown at the start of hatch; if your humidity is too low, then the keet will be too small and as the eggs begin to hatch, the internal membranes of the egg will dry out, effectively shrink-wrapping the keet, trapping it in the egg. All humidity changes can have an effect on temperature, so do keep on eye on your thermometer. If you have to raise or lower the humidity, you have a few options. To raise humidity, you can add more water to the compartments in the bottom of the incubator, but be careful with this, as it can easily increase the humidity too much. You could run a humidifier in the same room as your incubator, but if you cannot close the room off or if the room is large, the humidifier might not make enough of a difference. A good alternative is to place a couple of clean, wet sponges in the incubator, or use cut-down plastic cups underneath the wire mesh, in the lower areas that do not hold water (it's far easier to put these in empty, then fill them with your turkey-baster). Just make sure that you don't place your cups over the ventilation holes, and check their water levels often as their small volumes empty comparatively quickly. Humidity can also be lowered in several ways. The first step is to decrease the amount of water in the water trays: if more than one compartment in the base of the incubator contains water, then empty the smaller section. If you have added sponges or cups, remove them one at a time to see if that brings the humidity down. Opening the air vent(s) in the top of the incubator (remember those red plastic plugs?) will bring the humidity down too. The room you have your incubator in could be too humid, and propping its door open could help. If you have a humidifier running in the same room as the incubator, move it to another room. A dehumidifier can also help. And if none of those things help, then you might have to relocate your incubator. Even though this is generally a bad idea, you may not have a choice. Try to relocate your incubator in an area with better air circulation and more stable temperatures. And be very careful not to jostle the eggs or spill too much water out of the base of the incubator.

11) You can measure the humidity within the incubator, but this is only really effective in a forced-air incubator, as the humidity varies considerably throughout the interior of a still-air incubator. There are two ways you can do this: with an automatic hygrometer or with a wet/dry bulb thermometer. A basic hygrometer looks like a clock-face, with a dial that shows the percentage of moisture in the air. A wet/dry bulb thermometer consists of two adjacent thermometers, one with a wick on its base to keep it wet. The thermometer with the wet bulb will show a lower temperature than the one with the dry bulb, due to the cooling effects of evaporation. So, if a lot of water is evaporating from the wick, you will get a lower temperature on the wet-bulb thermometer than on the dry one; and if only a little water is evaporating from the wick, you will have a higher reading on the wet-bulb thermometer (although it will still show a lower reading than the dry-bulb thermometer). If the inside of your incubator has a low humidity, then lots of water will evaporate from the wick. If the humidity is high, then only a little water will be able to evaporate from it. So, the lower the reading on the wet bulb thermometer, the lower the incubator's humidity; and similarly, the higher the reading on the wet bulb thermometer, the higher the humidity in the incubator. By monitoring the difference between the two thermometers you can calculate the relative humidity inside your incubator (see the following tables for details). Whatever method you use, you should aim to run your incubator at about 55-60% humidity from setting until internal pip, and then crank it up pretty high for hatching, to help the keets hatch more easily.

Relative Humidity Calculation
when Dry Bulb Temp is 99.5F (37.5C)

Wet Bulb Temp F

Wet Bulb Temp C

Relative Humidity














































Relative Humidity Calculation
using Four Dry Bulb F Temps

Incubator Dry Bulb Temp

Wet Bulb Readings F





























Relative Humidity







Relative Humidity Calculation
using Three Dry Bulb C Temps

Incubator Dry Bulb Temp

Wet Bulb Readings C






















Relative Humidity







12) It is very useful to keep an incubation diary. It's not essential, but it is very useful in keeping track of events while incubating and provides valuable information for future hatches - especially if you end up with a poor hatch. You'll be able to pinpoint what went wrong and how to avoid the same mistakes. It is not uncommon to have a low hatch rate the very first time you try to incubate. It can also be very helpful if you are turning your eggs by hand. Use it to record everything: write down the date and time you set your eggs, the quantities set, dates and times of turning, candling outcomes, humidity adjustments, temperature issues, and humidity, and keep notes on the dates you are supposed to stop turning, open another vent plug, and raise the humidity again. Make notes of the date (or dates) of pipping and the individual hatch.

Once your incubator is set up properly, you can move onto setting your eggs - which involves all sorts of things, including letting your eggs settle and get to room temperature and cleaning and sanitizing your eggs.

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