Chicken hatchery: Innovative farmer invents large-capacity kerosene egg incubator

    | November 15, 2010

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    Notes to broadcaster

    Poultry farming is a profitable business in Kenya because of the large demand for eggs and chicken meat, especially in urban areas. Many small-scale farmers have ventured into this business. But they face challenges such as high feed costs, and poor and fluctuating feed quality. These eventually lead to a decline in production.

    To supplement their income, poultry farmers can keep layers and sell eggs, or sell chicks that are a day old or older. George Mbatha, a farmer in eastern Kenya, has come up with an innovation that poultry farmers can use to hatch as many as 600 chickens in twenty-one days.

    Mr. Mbatha makes kerosene-heated egg incubators that can be used by farmers who do not have access to electricity. He gets excited when he talks about his incubators because he knows the huge benefits it gives to a poultry farmer, having been born and raised by a small-scale poultry farmer himself.

    At the end of the script, Mr. Mbatha mentions that his egg incubator costs $500-700 US dollars. He also mentions that farmers can build an incubator themselves. While we do not give you instructions to build Mr. Mbatha’s incubator, the resources at the end of the script do provide step-by-step instructions on how to build a kerosene-fuelled incubator. You may want to consider airing a program that provides these instructions as a follow-up to programs based on this script.

    This script is based on actual interviews. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.

    Signature tune up and under

    Host: Imagine … a kerosene-fuelled egg incubator that can hatch up to 600 eggs in twenty-one days! It’s true! And that is what we are going to learn about today.

    Signature tune up and out under

    Host: Hello and welcome to the program Farmer to Farmer. I am your host, Winnie Onyimbo. In today’s program, we learn about an egg incubator that can hatch up to 600 eggs. This invention was developed by a farmer named George Mbatha. Mr. Mbatha has a farm in Kitengela in eastern Kenya, and is also with me in the studio today. George has sold this incubator to a few chicken farmers. One of them is Fredrick Kiarie, a retired teacher. I visited Mr. Kiarie’s farm in Nakuru to find out how the incubator is serving him.

    Chicken sounds. Fade and hold under conversation.

    Fred: When I retired, I decided to go into farming. So I talked to someone who has the know-how to build this incubator. He came to visit me and we made one. We started with a hundred eggs. So far, the first hatchlings are doing very well. They have all survived for 21 days. I sell the chicks when they are one day old, and make money for domestic use and also to buy food for my cows.

    Fade chicken sounds

    Host: Quite a happy farmer there. As I mentioned, George Mbatha, the developer of this incubator, is with us in the studio today. First of all George, where did you get this idea?

    George: I grew up on a farm. I used to help my mother to rear and sell chickens. That is how we got money for school fees and other basic items. And this is where my interest in chickens began.

    Later on, I moved to Kitui in the eastern part of Kenya where it is hot and dry and there is no electricity. I saw how women took care of their families by rearing chickens. But they had only one or two layers, which they would sell when there was a need in the house. So I asked myself: what could help them get the most from their chickens? And that’s when the kerosene incubator invention began.

    Host: Why is this particular incubator so useful, when there are many incubators in the country?

    George: Yes there are, but they are very expensive and they use electricity, which is not available in many rural homes in Kenya. Other home-made kerosene incubators can only hatch a maximum of 70 eggs. Chickens can lay only about 12 eggs in twenty-one days.

    But this kerosene incubator is big. It’s two metres long by two metres wide, with more than ten shelves. The space on the shelves is big enough to hold and hatch between one hundred and six hundred eggs. You can decide how many eggs you want to hatch. You can go up to 600 if you do it right. That is the best part about this incubator. You can choose if you want more or less eggs.

    Host: How has this business helped you?

    George: I have been building home-made incubators for the past three years. At first, farmers were skeptical. It took me about seven months to sell my first incubator. Now, there is a growing interest from small-scale farmers locally, and even in neighbouring Tanzania. In that country, many eggs are produced, but there is little market for them.

    When I was in Kitui, I was employed, but I was not getting enough money. Now I am farming and supplementing my income by making these incubators. I am able to take care of my family and still have enough to save. I have even built my own house and I am working to expand my business even more.

    Host: Do you have other plans with the incubator or other inventions?

    George: Yes, I want to introduce biodiesel for the incubator because kerosene is getting more expensive. What gets me excited about this incubator is that I can help a farmer, and especially women farmers. Because in Kenya, it is the women who keep the chickens. And unfortunately, they are forced to sell their chickens when there is need in the house.  So I am not satisfied with just making my money … I want to make other farmers productive and happy.

    Host: If you are listening to us, you are probably wondering how this incubator works and what it looks like. George, briefly give us a description of this incubator.

    George: This is an incubator that you can use in your backyard. It is not complicated. The outside looks like a wooden cupboard. It uses kerosene as fuel to keep the eggs warm. Inside, it has shelves or holding trays where you put your eggs.

    The incubator must be kept at a precise temperature and humidity in order to get the maximum number of hatchlings. The temperature in the incubator must remain at 37 degrees Centigrade always, and the humidity must remain at 50 percent. The incubator comes with a thermometer and a hygrometer which a farmer can use to monitor the temperature and humidity. The incubator is also padded with blankets on the inside. That helps keep it warm.

    Host: If the temperature and humidity are either too high or too low, what should a farmer do?

    George: The kerosene lamps attached at the foot of the incubator are to keep it warm. If it gets too warm, a farmer can reduce the flame or switch off one of the lamps. He can place flat eating plates with water inside the incubator to help maintain the humidity. The amount of water can be reduced if there is too much humidity. You can add water to the plates if the humidity is too low.

    Host: Anyone can learn how to use this incubator; it is not difficult. If you follow George’s directions when hatching your eggs, there should be at least 600 chickens in each hatch. You can then either sell them when they are a day old or when they are older, as farmer Fredrick Kiarie explains.

    Chicken sounds. Fade and hold under conversation.

    Fred: I can make a lot of money by hatching and selling chicks. This covers my expenses, and of course I am left with some profit. With that money, I can buy food for my cows. Also, the cows can give me money with which I can buy more eggs. I am also growing some vegetables. The chicks eat them, the chickens lay eggs, and life continues.

    Fade chicken sounds

    Host: Back to you George. To get the best results, are there any tips on how to treat your eggs?

    George: To get the best results, you have to ensure that your eggs are clean. You can do this by wiping them with warm water. It is also best if they are less than four days old. After putting the eggs in the holding tray, you have to turn them every four hours, day and night for 17 days.  Hatching begins on the 18th to 21st day.

    Host: So the turning should stop before the hatching period?

    George: That’s correct.

    Host: And finally, what is the cost of the incubator?

    George: The incubator costs about 500 to 700 US dollars to buy, depending on the size one wants. But you can also build it yourself.

    Host: Thank you, George, for coming into the studio today. (Pause) And thank you for listening.

    Signature tune up and under host

    Today we learned about a home-made kerosene incubator that can hatch up to 600 eggs. We learned about it from George Mbatha, the farmer who developed this incubator. We also heard from Fredrick Kiarie. He is one of the farmers who is successfully using this incubator and using the profits to cover his basic needs and increase the productivity of his farm.

    Thank you, George, for sharing this information with us. Until next week, this is your host for the Farmer to Farmer show, Winnie Onyimbo.

    Signature tune up, hold for five seconds, then fade out.


    Contributed by: Winnie Onyimbo, Trans World Radio, Kenya.

    Reviewed by: Neil Noble, Practical Answers Coordinator, Practical Action.

    Information sources


    • George Mbatha, farmer in Kitengela, Kajiado district, Rift Valley Province in Kenya, September 22, 2010.
    • Fredrick Kiarie, farmer in Nakuru, Rift Valley Province in Kenya, September 18, 2010

    Agromisa Foundation, 2004. Agrodok 34: Hatching eggs by hens or in an incubator.

    This document provides many details about incubators, including instructions on how farmers can build incubators themselves.

    Lehmans, undated. Using Lehman’s Kerosene Incubators. More useful information from a US-based manufacturer of kerosene-fuelled incubators.

    Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)