Australian Incubators & Brooders - Cheap Equipment Warning

Author: Aussie Chook Supplies  

In early October 2017, a horrible thing happened in outer Melbourne that has brought to light (again) the dangers of cheap poultry equipment being bought in Australia for hatching and brooding chickens. It is only 4 weeks into Spring and I have heard of one cheap Chinese imported incubator exploding inside a laundry (luckily no-one was hurt in that instance).

The second was a fire in a backyard coop using a ceramic-type heat bulb that was being used to keep a sick rooster warm. The best of intentions and the owner was using the equipment in the manner it was sold for, so there was no owner/user error involved.

Despite this, a fire broke out and spread quickly through the wooden coop. As you can see from the pics, a few more minutes and it could have spread along the fence to the main house. Luckily the neighbours called the Fire Brigade and the owners came home from a rare night out around the same time.

Fifteen beloved chickens perished, leaving behind three traumatised feathered survivors (one with minor burns) and two very traumatised Poultry Lovers.

I was also contacted by R. Wills in Victoria, who wanted to share her story about using a reptile heating pad as a brooder mat for her chicks.  She thought, like many, that adapting equipment you have at home is a viable alternative, but this has proven to be all too risky in many circumstances. She had done it before and thought nothing of doing it the following season… until it started smoking in the loungeroom (where she kept the fish tank with chicks). After she grabbed the chicks and stopped the fire, this is what she saw…

It doesn’t take much more to imagine what could have happened if it had flashed over (she had woodshavings over it) or had she not been home…

And yes to play devils advocate, some chicken keepers say that other substrate material is safer, or she shouldn’t have covered the mat with any bedding materials. That’s not the point. This isn’t made to be on 24 hours a day, for 7 days a week, for weeks or months on end.

P. L (who also describes a fire he had with a cheap incubator below) provided the image below and also doesn’t support the use of ceramic bulbs (with or without reflector hoods) for brooding or use as a heat source to keep chicks warm. ” (I now) only use the brooder platforms. Very reliable, no chick loss and no burnt heads . Used ceramic bulbs with nearly burning chicks and. Burnt heads , son nearly burn a hole in the floor . More bad news… The bulbs get that hot . I’ve got bad burns from . Even burnt concrete”

When I have raised the issue of using equipment for brooding chickens that is not purpose built, the first thing I always hear is “I have done it for x, and never had an issue.” This to me, is an accident waiting to happen and I always think (and sometimes say to the person) “It’s not an issue until it becomes an issue…” Desk lamps, beer warming pads, reptile heat mats and (I *hate* this one) upside down electric frying pans held up with bricks are not safe alternatives to a specific brooder heat pad.

Edited July 2018 –

K.C  has reported to Aussie Chook Supplies that she kept this Ebay incubator on a side table in her bedroom when the electrical cord sparked and she saw a small flame emerge. Thankfully she was home, saw the fire, blew out the flame and unplugged the unit. This only happened as recently as May-June 2018.

K.P. also experienced the same incubator exploding internally, having the machine smoke and stated if she wasn’t home to unplug it, it would have been a definite fire. It was her first incubator, and first incubation experience and a Christmas present she was gifted.

Another incubator fire on Christmas Day 2017, from a unit (pictured below) which is still currently available on Ebay.

Customer E. Kennedy reported to us that “It lasted 3 goes. Each time was not on for long… The first time was to test it, so for 2 hours at most.
The second time was to incubate eggs which only lasted 8-10 days as they weren’t fertile and the last time was when it blew up and I only had it on because an egg was kicked out of the nest, opened it up slightly and the chick was alive so covered her up and put her in the incubator. Was only on overnight and in the morning it blew up (possibly 8-9 hours).
I was sitting on my laptop directly in front of the incubator. But there was sparks, it blew up and I quickly unplugged the whole incubator…"

That would be enough to get your pulse racing and possibly put you off incubating forever!!!

And now to relay two stories of the dreaded ‘yellow lidded’ incubators. These cheap and nasty pieces of rubbish are a great cause of angst to those who have bought them. They come with no instructions in English (if any), have no warranty, are terrible at retaining heat (I have read of people using blankets covering the unit to maintain heat or remain in the sytrofoam that it is shipped in – completely unnecessary in a quality incubator and a fire risk with reduced air circulation) and even worse with controlling humidity. I hate to think how many of these are sitting in landfill but I have heard they make great nesting boxes?!?!

P. Langanke is a well known and respected breeder who was also lured into the promise of the cheap incubator, that should do as it is implied by being called an ‘incubator’. He is very outspoken in wanting these removed from the market all together but instead is very vocal in his experience and opinion of the cheap imported incubators.

He told us he purchased the above pictured incubator from Ebay and stated “Not a great product at all. Was an expensive experience . from the machine been totally unreliable .. this was the knock off from the janol 48 auto egg bator {yellow lid} Was on it’s 2nd hatch about day 10. when it caught fire . We had just come home luckily in time. to the house filled with smoke .. plastic electrical smell. power was turned off from mains .and fire put out.. lost the lot of eggs half way done.. and a large clean up bill.. all for a cheap product..”

I purchased it from Ebay, 3 years ago... (was) not reliable at all never holds temperature. get’s way too hot , never read right .. never on the point .. out buy 3 to 4 degrees . same with humidity .. never could raise above 55% . purchased a calibrator to find that out .. lose of many eggs as i got given a replacement for the one that caught fire. bad mistake .. was around 30`70 per cent hatch rate .. only if i was always checking with calibrator and changing via machine to adjust .. lost many breeds of chicks ducks and quail .. over $500 in brought in eggs .  Heart break and disappointment mostly.. one dozen of the eggs in the fire (I paid) $200 for the dozen. thinking why hatches never hatched or died halfway through .. and if we came home later just 5 minutes would of been no home. i now have brand name incubators. very reliable… that way certified safe and very reliable. In the long run is much cheaper and more pleasurable. Even new people can experience properly. And not hit and miss thinking that it’s them doing something wrong . Most don’t know . And should be aware.. they shouldn’t be sold .. nor called a Poultry incubator..”

I have also heard of someone who had their whole house burn down, due to a yellow lidded incubator catching fire. Unlike the stories above, noone was home to catch it in the early stages of the fire. They lost everything. Everything. And understandably, have withdrawn from the poultry community and don’t share their story publicly as a result of their (understandable) trauma. But this has been confirmed to me by a few people close to them and is well known in that geographical area.

Personally I suspect that fires and other stories of cheap equipment ‘near misses’ happen more often than we know, with only a fraction of poultry keepers active on Facebook to tell their stories and raise awareness.

Your house and property are the biggest financial investment you will make.
Your family is the biggest emotional investment… EVER.
It is not worth losing one or both, to save a few dollars on a incubator or brooder.

Also, will your insurance pay out, should something go wrong, once it is investigated and it is determined that a non-compliant electrical item was the cause? In my life experience, insurance agencies will spend hundreds/thousands to prove a fire started with a non-compliant electrical item than potentially pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace a house…

This was also brought to light for us personally when, in 2014, our only ceramic bulb and silver reflector shade brooder setup burst into flames during a sunny day. Thankfully my Husband was in the garage pottering with the chicks and cleaning brooders when it happened and he was able to put it out (full small fire estinguisher emptied). We were sitting on two newer sets that were for sale, and two others that were available for hire to school and private rentals (through School and Home Hatching Programs that we rented out as educational experiences). All five went in the bin shortly afterwards. We shudder to think what could have happened if he wasn’t in the room. It would have been bad, given the contents of the garage.
This equipment was not bought from Ebay but were bought from an online supplier who had a good reputation and we paid $90 for the set. I am now not a fan of using or recommending this family of products also, and certainly don’t sell them.

We have also found this study done in England by the North Somerset Trading Standards (their version of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Unsafe Imported Incubators. Links to the course investigation are in the article attached.

Advice from that investigation advise that you should be concerned if, when looking for an incubator –

  • Price.  A product that is selling significantly below the market average should set alarm bells ringing. Everyone loves a bargain, but no-one wants their fingers burnt -literally. Quality incubators require quality components, research and rigorous testing. All this is not cheap.
  • Don’t assume a CE mark on the product means it is safe. A CE mark can be applied to an unsafe product by a manufacturer as it is the importer into the EU that is responsible for electrical safety – although some may not be aware of this.
  • Look for a manufacturer’s address on the product or instructions. Alarm bells ring for Trading Standards when a manufacturer or importer can’t be traced from its product.
  • If the product is unbranded or is a brand that you don’t recognise then do an internet search for the manufacturer. If there is no English language website for the manufacturer with full contact information be suspicious. 
  • Product instructions should include warning of electrical safety hazards and recycling symbols – if these are absent, the language is imprecise and badly translated then the product doesn’t comply with EU regulations and may be dangerous.
  • Is the distributor/seller contactable by phone and do they give a full trading address? What is their returns policy? Reputable distributors will have this information readily available, if not, be suspicious.

From my family to yours, feathered and Human, please don’t buy imported equipment (incubators or brooders) that doesn’t meet Australian Standards. 

Please don’t let it happen to you…