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Homemade Incubator Trays

i David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Some chickens have natural mothering instincts, and others won't give the parenting thing a shot. If your hens aren't the mothering type, or if you don't have chickens but want to give hatching eggs a try, you don't have to purchase an incubator. You can build one with simple materials from the hardware store. One vital piece of the incubator is the tray, but making trays is a cinch.

You Pick the Size

The size of your incubator tray or trays will depend on the size of your incubator and that, in turn, will depend on how many eggs you intend on hatching. The incubator and trays must accommodate twice the number of eggs you'll have. This is because you'll have to move the eggs to different areas of the tray when you turn them to make up for temperature variations in different areas of the incubator. Your trays should be small enough to slide out easily, so make sure they're decidedly smaller than the incubator's interior.

Elaborate Materials Not Required

Commercially made incubator trays provide each egg with its own individual cradle. It's OK, however, for eggs to touch each other during the incubation process, so you won't need such material for making your incubator trays. One half-inch hardware cloth will serve the purpose adequately. Be sure to get a pair of tin snips so you can cut the mesh to the appropriate size.

To Frame or Not to Frame

Making your tray with a wooden frame can give it a finished look, and the width of the wood will hold the wire mesh and the eggs up off the floor of the incubator. But you don't have to build a frame if you don't have the materials or the time. Just cut the hardware cloth 5 1/2 inches longer and wider than the interior of the incubator, then use tin snips to cut a 3-inch-square section out of each of the four corners of the piece. Bend 3 inches of the mesh down along all four sides to create legs that will support the tray and the eggs.

Cleaning Homemade Trays

Keep some cheesecloth on hand. You'll lay it over your homemade tray, underneath the eggs, on the 17th or 18th day of incubation. This will make cleaning your trays easier, because it will catch the shells as the chicks hatch. It will also provide a barrier between your chicks and the wire mesh. If you'll be hatching one clutch of chicks after another, it's wise to make more than one incubator tray for each incubator you have. That will allow you to have an extra tray on hand to use while you're disinfecting the one you just finished using. Use an appropriate disinfecting product to reduce the chances of disease and infection. Disinfectants are available at poultry supply stores. Some are biodegradable and effective against bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts.