When something is terribly wrong with your incubator

Herine Omenda, a farmer places eggs in an incubator at her Mixa farm in Rabuor village, Kisumu county. At Mixa Farm, chicken production is done in all stages with eggs incubated and chicks reared in the farm up to maturity for market. Currently she has hundreds of poultry in different stages. (Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard)

Mama Mulinge is one of the poultry farmers who is forever engaging and challenging me and is always ready to try out new business ventures.

She has now decided to try out her hand in incubating and hatching her own chicks. She bought a poultry incubator from one of the popular dealers around. The machine did not disappoint (at first) and she was able to attain 86 per cent hatchability the first time she used it.

Several consecutive hatches were above average until about two months ago when the percentage went south. She had used the machine for close to five months. It is at this point that she decided to seek advice. The incubator Ms Mulinge was using had a capacity of 528 eggs. On one occasion she got 168 chicks which represented 30 per cent hatchability.

The rest of the eggs did not hatch. She thought that something must have gone wrong — maybe the temperature, the humidity or maybe the turning mechanism did not take place at some point over the 21 days it takes for an egg to hatch.

The next time she set eggs she decided to monitor the machine closely. This time she only got 14 per cent hatch — 74 chicks to be precise. From these only 40 survived through the first week of life. Having closely monitored all the parameters, she felt the need to seek advice. She was ready to blame the source of her eggs for the low hatchability.

This is not out of the norm — the first suspect of low hatchability is usually the eggs, when such occurrences take place.

The case was however not the same with other farmers who had sourced eggs from the same batch as my client. It was therefore easy to rule out that the eggs were not the cause of Mulinge’s troubles. We therefore decided to inspect the incubator.

Do your research

Findings from our exploration — the temperature sensor was giving inaccurate readings that led to over-heating which meant most of the eggs were literally boiled inside the incubator.

The egg-turning mechanism that was supposed to be automatic every hour also had complications — turning was not happening as programmed and this definitely interfered with the developing embryo inside the egg.

With these findings, the only direction was to seek audience with the incubator vendor. She forwarded her concerns to the incubator company but she got a cold reception.

The vendor was quick to point out that the issues Mulinge had experienced were because of her negligence and poor handling of the machine.

The blame was squarely placed on her and for that reason the one year guarantee they had offered at purchase time was not applicable although she had owned the equipment for less than 6 months.

On that background today I will address rules to observe when purchasing an incubator.

The process of buying an incubator should be undertaken with similar caution taken as when buying a car. Thorough research, awareness and prudence should be exercised when shopping for a poultry incubator.

Cheap is expensive

This is the first rule of engagement. Price should not be the determinant factor. Most companies will advertise how affordable their incubators are to attract clients, but compromise on quality. Farmers should make sure that quality is priority when purchasing any kind of machinery including an incubator.

Talk to several people who have purchased the same equipment before and ask your vendor for contacts of people who have purchased from them in the past.

Gather information from people who own the same make of an incubator regarding its performance, hatchability, durability, service and common challenges. If satisfied with the feedback then one can go ahead and seal the deal. If the vendor is not willing to disclose contacts of the customers, that should act as a warning. Take off. Ask warranty and terms that apply.

Like most electronic equipment, an incubator should have a warranty — mostly one year. As a responsible farmer, make sure you read the information supplied and ask questions where it’s not clear.

It should be comprehensible and uncomplicated. Operational manual and training should also be provided.

The manual lays down steps on how to operate the incubator, guidelines on troubleshooting incase of mechanical problems, maintenance procedure and general care of the equipment.

Do not leave without proper training on “how to operate” the equipment.

Lack of knowledge on machine operation is a sure recipe for failure and disappointment. You should not feel embarrassed to ask questions and a good vendor should be willing and ready to answer all your concerns without getting irritated.

The journey to successful hatchability is half completed once you have acquired a sturdy and reliable incubator. The second bit is entirely on quality fertilised eggs. All the best.

The writer is a veterinarian surgeon and runs Nature Kuku, a farm in Naivasha that produces kuku kienyeji breed and trains small holder farmers.

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