So for something new, I’m actually going to do another incubator review! Jeff gives me hass that there are more recipes on this blog than incubators. So todays topic: the cute little 16 egg semi-auto Cova Tutto incubator. Anyone who talks to me about incubators rapidly discovers my favourite of our range is the Italian Cova Tuttos. For me their big selling point is the ability to deal with any egg size. We have many customers who may start with ‘a few chickens’… who then find themselves the owners of some of bantams, a duck and eventually a couple geese – which they couldn’t say no to :)
The current model of the 16 egg Cova Tutto semi-auto incubator is a newer version of the one that hatched my rooster Bruce in our sons classroom. The Italians have smartly, now included 3 smaller globes (max 25W) rather than the one 60W globe of old. This gives advantage that if one globe does unexpectedly blow the other two keep temperature.
It also now has a very handy egg turning setup which allows it to fit into the Semi auto or Handle turn category. This allows all the eggs to turned in one motion rather than having to turn each egg individually.
This is a still air machine, there is no fan. It comes with a thermometer and complete instructions along with our hints & tips sheet. The water can be without lifting the lid via the external water pan. To be completely happy with the machine I ran it here at the shop and discovered that in our 24C room the incubator ran up to temperature in under 10mins – I usually suggest putting the incubator on a least 30 mins before putting eggs in it.
In fact with a new machine, if time allows, running it for a day or so to ‘get happy’ with how it works and reassure yourself that you it is working correctly can be useful it you are as pedantic as me :)
It’s been awhile since I’ve written and I have also hatched another lot of chickens – officially my own first ever batch, not for school, not testing anything, just for myself. I want a few girls to keep the two remaining 11yr old hens at home company. So I got to do everything my way :) and I did alot of what Jeff tells our customers not to. I fussed, I checked the eggs too often. I put my hydrometer in to check the incubator (only twice!) and I learnt heaps. Having the eggs at home, on my kitchen bench from the first week onwards meant that I could study all the problems along the way. The air con made the incubator use heaps of water – I was topping it up twice a day – you are warned!
So what did I learn? After opening the incubator door (to top up water or check on the eggs) the internal temperature decreases several degrees – this is fine! Mother hens get up to feed, drink and poo. So if you put your hydrometer in the incubator, initially the humidity appears to go up – it’s more humid in the incubator than outside (usually!) and you’ve also let alot of warm air out so the whole ‘closed’ incubator system has been disrupted. As the temperature climbs back to the pre set temp, the humidity seems to climb too…but if you wait, you will find it hits a peak than starts to decrease again, as the heat stabilizes and the air flow in the machine returns to normal. It can take longer than 10 minutes for the ‘normal’ humidity to re-establish itself which is why just popping a hydrometer in the incubator and taking a reading and then panicking about it is not particularly helpful.
For example on the 5th Nov 2015 when I added water and put my Aqua Pro hydro/thermometer; the humidity peaked a few minutes after it went in at 80% but 5 or so minutes later is had gone down to 60%. This isn’t the first time I’ve observed this. While the IM 12 digital auto turn incubators temperature reading said 37.5C within 10min after I had openned the incubator and added water, the Aqua Pro took considerably longer to get there and it did eventually, but it had to climb from 21.3C in the kitchen up to the 37.5C inside the machine. Interestingly as the temp on the Aqua Pro increased (with time) the humidity eventually stabilized to 53%… comfortably in the range it should be for the first 18 days of incubating.
Had I not taken the time to allow the system to stabilize I would not have realized that it was my adjustment/disruption of the system that was effecting the results. The moral of the story – if you want to use external measuring devices inside the incubator, leave them in there long enough to get a true reading 20/30 mins not 5 seconds!
Side note to the story, regardless of my fussing we hatched all 9 eggs – technically. In reality 8 of them got themselves out and are thriving and my 9th egg/chicken ‘Caesar’ who had an assisted birth is still alive (26th Nov). Also worthy of note is that the after I left the hydrometer in for its 30mins, the readings were a perfect 37.5C and 53% humidity. So Jeff scores the final point – when he told me I didn’t need to use external measuring device!
Just noticed I’ve been alittle slack with posting… but as mentioned last post it is incubation season and if you have been to shop you’ll probably have been told how busy it has been :) As a result of an increase in incubator sales, I find myself giving my humidity talk.. alot! So I will attempt to write my ‘lecture’ on humidity here – please ask questions/comment if I miss something out.
We usually recommend for chook eggs you have around 50-55% humidity for the first 18 days and bump that up to 70-75% for the last 3 days of hatching. Everything you read will have slightly different percentages – how else would you sell soooooo many books on incubation? The exact number doesn’t concern me… as proved with the school chickens, you can still hatch under less than ideal conditions. My father-in-law told me when I started at the shop – if you know what you are doing, you can hatch chook eggs in a fry pan – it’s just abit easier in an incubator :) Mother hens do not have hydrometers! In most incubators this means that to start with you fill up a water dish – the manufacturer has done all the calculations for you and then for the last 3 days you fill up the second water dish -or in IM machines, close the vents down to one third.
Humidity is all about surface area of water – it doesn’t matter if the water dish is 5 mm deep or 10 inches deep. If you measuring humidity and want to decrease it, decrease the surface area – cling wrap or foil works well, naturally then to increase humidity increase surface area – sponges are a great way to do this. Other suggestions include using containers like ice cubes trays which allow you more precisely control the surface area of water.
In normal circumstances you will need to check and top up the water about every second or third day. If you find yourself constantly filling up the water dish, consider putting a dish of water outside the incubator to boost the humidity of the air going into it – if the air going in is very dry it will use more water. It also goes without saying that the water you use to top up your incubator should be ‘blood temp’ – just like a babies bath, so the incubator doesn’t have to warm it up.
I realized the other day that I’ve now written several posts on a poultry equipment blog and haven’t yet mentioned an incubator! Anyone who has been in the shop quickly realizes that Jeff is the poultry expert and the one with the experience…my incubation experience is limited to the school chickens and one batch Jeff’s dad Chris did here at the shop. While I grew up on a farm with some chooks.. my mothers hens largely took care of themselves and if they did decide to reproduce, did so in the natural way. Sometimes we’d find them sitting on eggs and move them into the spare run, sometimes they would re-appear with some chickens and occasionally we’d find some feathers and broken egg shells.
However I have studied hard to learn all I can about incubators and the machine I’m most familiar with is this one, the Cova Tutto 162 egg machine. I got the job of ‘playing’ with it a few years ago when we first brought the digital Cova Tuttos in from Italy. It is very easy to set up, and what impressed me most (I’ll confess a slight basis – I like the Cova Tutto incubators) was how it managed to keep constant temperate and humidity in the main part of our shop on a day with a 30% humidity variation and 10 degree temperate change.
Like all the Cova Tutto machines above the 24 egg, the trays are adjustable for any sized egg (one of their best selling points in my opinion!) so if you want to do quails or geese you don’t need to worry about getting different sized egg trays. Each tray, there are 3 in the 162 egg machine, has its own auto turn motor – and yes these motors can handle the bigger eggs. As well as digital temperature control, the incubator gives you a reminder beep to top up the water trays. It is fan forced and has been quite popular for customers wanting to do a larger number of eggs at a time or a regular weekly hatching.