PLEASE NOTE: Although this article is primarily about Lyons Turn-X incubators, much of the information and food for thought contained in it can apply to any incubator. And even though it is as much of an infomercial as an article, I feel that I can only help the bird breeding community by sharing my experiences with, and pointing out the low cost benefits of, what is one of the most plentiful units in use today. It shows that a Pinto can get you there even though its not as comfortable as a Lincoln Town Car. And remember, even the most expensive cars still have breakdowns.
Why do I call it the Mighty Turn-X Incubator? Well, it kind of goes back to being a Pipe Organ Technician for the last twenty-five or so years and working on Wurlitzer theater pipe organs. These organs were called "The Mighty Wurlitzers". The reasons that they acquired this name would probably be that their actions were very fast and reliable, and their tonal qualities were versatile and always in great demand in the theaters to accompany silent movies and provide a concert during intermission. They were not the most or least expensive organs, but for the money, they did a wonderful job. I thought "The Mighty" would apply to the little Lyons Turn-X for similar reasons. It is not the least expensive incubator available and is definitely not the most expensive unit on the market. It is reliable; it does do a good job when properly set up, and is very versatile. When a Wurlitzer Organ was set up properly and played by the right individuals, it did a fantastic job. The little Lyons Turn-X Incubator may or may not do a fantastic job. But it does do a very adequate job. And, as long as it will incubate and hatch eggs and make a good brooder or brooder top, what more do you want?
The Turn-X has the four components that I feel are necessary to maintain high hatchability for your eggs. It has a fan to circulate the air within the dome, an effective easy to adjust humidity control, an egg turner that will roll the eggs around 180 degrees, and a very accurate temperature sensing thermostat for the heat source. I will elaborate on these components in the next four paragraphs.
The motor driven fan circulates the air within the dome past the heater coil and the humidity source. I feel a circulating fan is necessary so the incubator will regain its temperature and humidity very quickly after the dome has been opened and closed. Still air incubators dont recover quickly after they have been opened to take out or check an egg or add water etc. This means that your eggs are going to be cooled occasionally and the humidity will be poorly maintained. If your incubator has low humidity and a slow temperature recovery, your eggs will loose their moisture faster than they should and be at a lower than ideal temperature at times. Both of these conditions will cause reduced hatchability of your eggs. The second benefit of having a fan is that the temperature will be more uniform throughout the egg chamber. The moving air will help reduce the perceived severity of the hotter and colder areas of the incubator. I say "perceived severity" because all incubators seem to have areas in them where thermometers will show more or usually less than the ideal temperature. I believe these anomalies are caused because the air currents in the incubators are very seldom uniform in velocity, and the velocity of the air past a thermometer bulb will affect its reading. While the round TX dome probably has a more uniform airflow than a square unit, I doubt that the temperature in most popular incubators really varies enough from air flow problems to be detrimental to the incubation process. I can see, however, that problematic uneven airflow could exist in an incubator or brooder with a poorly placed warm air outlet and/or makeup air inlet, or if the warm air was poorly diffused.
The humidity system is very simple. It consists of a compartmented base and a "neck pointed down" water bottle that is adjusted by raising or lowering a large plastic nut on its neck. The height of the bottle's mouth determines the depth of water in the base. Each compartment in the base has a higher gate than the previous one next to it. When you raise the water level in the base, you increase the number of compartments that will fill with water. The more compartments you fill, the more water surface area you have in the base. The more surface area you have, the more humidity you will achieve in the dome. Very simple but very effective.
To my knowledge, the Turn-X egg turning feature is unique in the industry. It rolls the eggs across a screen by pushing them with a rotating circular spoked turning ring once each hour. The eggs are turned in a manner similar to the way a hen would roll them. Most incubators have egg-turning trays that frequently do not attain sufficient egg rotation to maintain the hatchability of psittacine eggs. This is not so with a Turn-X turner. The throw on the turner's arm can easily be adjusted so that most eggs will roll about 180 degrees during a turning cycle. Even if you have to mix macaw and Painted conure eggs in the same ring, the placement of the eggs in the ring and the amount of turning arm throw can be adjusted so that both size eggs will turn a little more or less than the desired 180 degrees. Goose and turkey eggs are too large for the amount of throw available from the turning arm on the turner and have to be turned by hand at least once a day. The only better egg turning method I have seen, other than a hen, is the twin rod system. Two rubber or plastic covered rods with variable spacing are linked together with belts, chains, or gears and rotated with an electric motor controlled by a timer. The timer governs the amount of egg rotation and the spacing is adjusted to the size of the eggs. A turning system of this design with quality components does the job very nicely, but is very expensive. Also, large and small eggs cannot both be placed on the same rods at the same time.
The temperature control uses a solid state switch controlled by a zero crossing integrated circuit trigger and a temperature-sensing resistor. This means that the heater coil switch is turned on when the AC voltage is near zero to increase switch life and reduce noise. Not the newest design by any sense of the imagination, but it has proven to be nearly bullet proof by operating for many years with few if any failures per unit. It is capable of maintaining temperature within a few tenths of a degree. It has a surge suppressor and an over temperature safety backup switch on the printed circuit board. That way, if the heat switch should lock on, the mechanical safety will turn it off to prevent over heating and damage to the dome.
The above four components are essential to a successful incubator. All other features on incubators fall into the bells and whistles category. One of the most useful additions would be a battery backup that would supply 120 volts AC. Unfortunately these units are very expansive and their backup time limited, but they should be available from computer stores. You can figure backup time for a Turn-X using an average power draw of 50 watts.
THERMOMETERS - DIGITAL AND MECHANICAL
Digital thermometers with remote probes are nice to have and can be added to any incubator for $15 to $30 from Radio Shack. I like the units with a very large display that you can read at a glance when walking by. Units with both temperature and humidity are also available and are very handy for setting up your incubator initially. But they must be placed in the incubator to obtain readings during setup and then removed, as they usually dont have remote sensors. Also, any of the digital units should be checked against a standard or at least another unit before using them for setup. I always have a 6-inch analog mercury (or spirit) thermometer, like those included with the Turn-X 7, available to use as a standard or to verify that the temperature in my incubator really has changed when the cheap digital thermometer says it has. In other words, dont trust battery operated thermometers because so many things can go wrong with them. Instead, use them as easily noticed warning devices that dont require nose to the dome squinting at a thin column in a glass tube with tiny marks on it.
BACKUP TEMPERATURE CONTROLS
Temperature controls can fail three ways. Open - the heater is never turned on. Shorted - the heater is on all the time. Loss of regulation - the control does not maintain either the proper or a constant temperature. Redundant temperature control units are probably the most common thing you would like to add and are also one of the most difficult features to have operate successfully. This feature should not be confused with the safety unit in the Lyons incubators, which opens the heater power circuit somewhere between 105 and 120 degrees and is intended to prevent damage to the dome. It will not prevent over heating of the eggs. The backup control unit desired is one that will take over when the primary unit fails and protect the eggs until they can be moved to another incubator. Over temperature safeties frequently turn out to be a mechanical wafer diaphragm and switch assembly, put in series with main control and set to a higher temperature. If one of these units has to take over control for very long, hatchability of the eggs would probably suffer. They have to be set somewhat higher to keep them from interfering with the main control and their temperature fluctuation can be several degrees. If you put a second solid state control in series with the main control and set it a few tenths of a degree higher than the main, it would serve as an over temperature safety. But if either control failed open (see above), the heat would not be maintained because the controls are in series. If you put a second control in parallel with the main control and set it a few tenths of a degree lower than the main, it would serve as a low temperature backup. But if either control failed shorted (see above), the incubator would overheat because the controls are in parallel. When you consider that these extra controls cost $50 to $100 each, make it more complicated to adjust the temperature, and still can not eliminate failures of the temperature control system, it becomes clear that these are not good options. A high and low temperature warning alarm system would be a good alternative to have and some are now available from Radio Shack that are very reasonable. These alarms are not very loud but with a little ingenuity, an attention attracting alarm could be triggered by the Radio Shack device.
The little Turn-X incubators are probably the least expensive units on the market that have all the essential ingredients to be successful and the most versatile. They are small in size and can be setup in many places where you cant put a larger unit. You can have several of them and put eggs from different areas or clutches in different incubators for a moderate price. Everything is visible inside the clear dome so you can watch the eggs turn or hatch. The TX units are easily converted into hatchers or brooders and can be used as a very accurate heat source for your home made brooder or hospital unit.
Using the extender portion of my $10 hatcher/brooder accessory, you can convert this little unit (without the egg turning motor) into a hatcher. You only have to put the extender between the base and the dome and lower the temperature from 99 to 98 degrees. Also, the water bottle must be raised to add more water area in the base to bring the dome humidity up from 45% to about 75%. Aside from providing more ideal conditions for piping eggs, moving your piping eggs to a hatcher will mean the rest of the eggs in the incubator are not constantly subjected to changes in temperature and humidity every time the progress of the babies is checked.
Use the dome and both the extender and bottom portions of my $10 hatcher/brooder accessory to make a nice little brooder for the first couple of weeks of a baby's life. Add water for humidity in a reclaimed one pound butter tub with holes punched in the lid. The holes should be sized to allow the humidity (evaporated water) to get out and prevent babies from falling in. The babies can be put in individual tubs or turned loose on bedding in the brooder.
ACCURATE HEAT PROVIDER
Another use for the TX dome is as a heat source for home made brooders. Simply cut a hole in the top of your home made brooder slightly larger than the diameter of the dome (not the flange). Place the dome in the hole (It should rest on the flange). Set your temperature and away you go. Note: Square or rectangular brooders with sliding or trap doors will not have uniform temperatures through out. Use this to your advantage. Place your newest babies under the dome (on a pedestal if need be), and the older babies nearer the perimeter of the brooder. If building brooders isnt your cup of tea, I have several very nice Lyons ICUs available.
WHY TURN-X NOT BRAND-X AS A HEAT SOURCE
Most incubators are full of tilting trays, sliding or rotating grids, or some other apparatus that would impair the easy use of the heat source in a foreign environment. With the little Turn-X dome, you simply unhook the turning arm push/pull rod, take the dome off the base, and set it on whatever you want to heat.
I NEVER SAID THE TURN-X WAS PERFECT
Of course, like anything else there are some down sides to this unit, but they can be overcome. After using Turn-X units for over 25 years, the operational problems and the solutions I found for them are as follows:
TX-6 COMPARED TO TX-7
Now we come down to the nitty-gritty. What is available and what do all these things cost? There are two models of Turn-X incubators; one is the TX-6, the other is the TX-7. The TX-6 has a single turn potentiometer control for setting the thermostat temperature. The TX-7 has a ten-turn control, which means it turns completely around ten times for the same amount of temperature change as the TX-6 has in its single turn control. The other difference in the units is the thermometers. The TX-6 comes with 3" spirit thermometers on a card. The TX-7 comes with much more accurate 6" mercury thermometers.
WHY TX-7 INSTEAD OF TX-6
Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I obtained our first incubators. The only units we found locally were TX-6 units, then made by Marsh Farms, which we are still using. Lyon Electric Company bought the rights to Marsh products shortly after that and still produces them. I found that after a reasonable length of time in service, the single turn potentiometer (control) in the TX-6 units eventually became undependable and would not maintain temperature settings because of wear from being set in about the same position most of the time. I replaced these controls with ten turn potentiometers like the TX-7 units have and I found them much easier to adjust and probably less likely to be knocked out of adjustment by a brush of the hand against the control. I then decided that the extra $$ difference for the ten turn control unit and the much more accurate thermometers is well worth the money and I no longer keep TX-6 units in stock. I will obtain TX-6s or any other Lyons product I dont normally stock, upon request.
WHAT DO THEY COST IN 2005 DOLLARS
NOTE: I use the factory price list for Lyons products, but the service and modification charges are The Bird Barn's and probably will not change for a few years. The factory prices shown usually increase every year but this year they have not so far, but they still may change later in the year.
The TX-6 unit is $195. The TX-7 unit is $239. The turner for either unit is $141 when purchased with the incubator or $142 when purchased separately. This gives you a total of $380 for an unmodified TX-7. If you want the modifications, I charge $40 to set up and modify the new unit to my specifications. This includes balancing the fan and motor armature, topping off the oil wicks, renewing the Teflon tape, modifying the bottle & nut, reforming the turning ring & screen, and mounting the motor in rubber isolators and reversing its rotation. (I believe more efficient airflow is achieved by reversing the fan so it will draw the air up through the hole in the heater baffle plate and push it past the heater coil in a soft ring around the outside of the dome. It also avoids forcing excessive air down through the hole onto the eggs possibly drying out a piping egg.) Also a diaphram is added to block excess hot air from blowing into the motor compartment and isolators are added under the motor cover which is modified to have increased air flow to help cool the fan motor for longer service life. This brings the total of a modified unit to $279 without turner or $420 with turner.
EGG TURNING RINGS
The pheasant ring for the unit runs $19.00 and holds 27 eggs as we discussed before. The quail ring will hold up to 48 cockatiel, lovebird, and small amazon eggs and is $23.50. I recommend ordering the unit with a 72 combination ring (which is the most expensive ring $26.00 ), and then adding one additional ring. The combination ring will hold eggs from cockatiel, lovebird, or small amazon size, down to finch egg size. Buying the unit with the combination ring and adding the pheasant or quail ring, depending on the size birds you raise, will give the most flexibility at the lowest price since the dome costs the same regardless of which ring you get with it. Chicken and goose size turning rings are also available.
SO YOU GOT A MODIFIED TURN-X... THEN WHAT
The units I set up are nearly ready to go. All you need to do is put water in your bottle, set your humidity level, set your temperature, test it a few days and put your eggs in. If you bought the automatic turner (I recommend this too, it turns the eggs every hour 24 hours a day), you will have to thread two hooks into the turner and set the base on them. You may have to adjust the throw of the turning arm depending on your egg size.
SERVICING AND UPDATING
If you have used Turn-X incubators that are ready for service, I will service the unit for $30 plus parts or give you a service and motor conversion/balancing package (the same as for new units) for $55. Be sure to send the turning ring assembly and screen along with the dome if you feel adjustment is needed. Also, always send the humidity bottom so I can replace the Teflon tape in the groove the dome rides in which prevents plastic to plastic binding and the resulting damage your eggs. Include your bottle and nut only the first time you send your unit in for service and I will modify both to insure a smooth water flow into the humidity bottom. Old incubators with good plastic parts can usually be updated to the latest standards for a lot less than the cost of a new unit. Always clean the humidity bottom and the user accessible portions of the dome between clutches of eggs and before you send them to me for service so I wont have to charge you for cleaning those areas. I always clean the internal areas of the dome during servicing. But all the dome parts and bottom can be sterilized with either a heat process or by dipping, depending on the parts, for an additional $10 if you have reason to think it is necessary.
TIPS FOR TURN-X OWNERS
Please address all questions and send units for service to:
THE BIRD BARN
4137 N. Colonial Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97217
Call - (503) 288-1928 - - - E-mail - TBB@thebirdbarn.biz
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