Everyone loves the cute webbed feet and fluffy butts of ducklings. After-all, what's not to love about these cuties?
Have you ever thought about incubating your own duck eggs to hatch out ducklings? The benefits of hatching your own is you can maintain a closed flock and know exactly where the ducks came from and how they were raised. Maintaining a closed flock helps cut down on any disease risk to your current flock.
Items You Will Need
Incubator- We personally use the Nurture Right 360 and have had excellent results. It has an automatic egg turner and an easy to read, digital display of the temperature and the humidity as well as a built in egg candler.
Duck Eggs - You want to select eggs that are neither too large nor too small in size. The more uniformity there is, the better chance of a successful hatch.
28 Days - Days it takes from the time you set duck eggs until they hatch (exception is Muscovy eggs, they take 35 days)
Set up your incubator 24 hours BEFORE you plan to set your eggs. The incubator needs time to stabilize the temperature as well as the humidity. Set up the incubator away from windows and drafty locations. You want an area that stays pretty stable in temperature and humidity and is out of the way to avoid accidentally knocking it over or disturbing it. Avoid bathrooms and kitchens as the humidity changes will be hard to control. We've found a closet works well for us.
Temperature and Humidity
Set the temperature for 99.5 degrees and aim for 30% humidity or less. We do a dry hatch procedure and have found we have much better success than with a traditional wetter incubation. Here in Florida we usually have to open all of the vents on our incubator and not add any water in order to achieve the lower humidity level. It can be a real struggle in the summer time!
Once 24 hours have passed and the temperature and humidity level seem stable, we are almost ready to add our eggs! Before doing that though, we need to ensure our egg turner is working. On the Nurture Wise incubator we use, you simply push two buttons and the turner will turn. This procedure will vary by incubator. Consult your owners manual, but do be certain the turner is working. Preparing the eggs involves washing any dirty eggs with WARM water. You want the water to be warmer than the eggs (think 102 degrees or so). Don't scrub the eggs, just rinse and dry. This ensures there is no additional bacteria present on the eggs during incubation. We want to keep everything as clean as possible.
I like to number each egg before placing into the incubator so I can easily keep track of which egg is which. I also mark one side of the egg with a O and the opposite side with an X in pencil so I can be sure the egg turner is turning the eggs.
Place the eggs into the incubator with the skinnier end pointing inwards. If you don't have enough eggs to fill the incubator, be sure to balance the load so the weight is distributed evenly. This will make it easier for the egg turner to turn the eggs appropriately.
Once the eggs are loaded, test the egg turner again and watch the eggs to make sure they are all able to turn freely. Place the lid on end be sure it's on completely.
Each day I check the temperature and humidity to be sure they are staying within range. Humidity I aim for 20-30% and temp of 99.5. I also make sure the eggs have been turned and will usually test the egg turner on a daily basis. You don't want the eggs to not get turned!
Candling The Eggs
Candling is looking at the interior of the egg with a bright light. It's sort of like a duckling ultrasound! Several times throughout incubation, I will candle the eggs to ensure the ducklings are developing. The first candling is usually done at 5-7 days. When candling, you want to do it quickly and carefully. If you have the incubator mentioned above, simply turn on the light in a dark room and place the egg big side down on the candler. At this point you should be able to see veins forming and a tiny embryo. If there are no veins forming, that egg is not fertile and it should be removed from the incubator.
The next candling I usually perform at day 14 and again at days 21 and 25. Any eggs that don't appear to be continuing to develop I will usually give a little longer at the 14 day and 21 day mark as long as the egg doesn't smell. If there is any evidence the egg is rotting, remove it immediately from the incubator as a rotten egg can explode and contaminate the rest of your eggs!
Green arrow pointing to embryo blue arrow pointing Stages of development of a duck egg
to edge of the air cell. (This is a chicken egg)
Lock Down Procedure
On Day 25 once you have candled your eggs for the final time, you will REMOVE the egg turner, place a washcloth or paper towel under the eggs and add water to increase the humidity in the incubator. You are aiming for a humidity of around 75+%. The temperature will stay the same at 99.5. After all of this is completed, do NOT open the incubator again until after all the eggs have hatched.
The first stage of hatching involves the duckling "pipping" the inside of the egg and accessing the air cell within. This is hard to see as you shouldn't be handling the eggs at all at this time. If you are able to see inside of the eggs, you will see the duckling's bill as a shadow in the air cell. The duckling can stay like this for a day or so.
The next stage of hatching is the external pip. This will look like a little pushed out area about the size of a pencil eraser on the shell. Hatching is close at this point, but could take 24-36 hours before the duckling fully emerges. Resist the urge to help. During this time the duckling is absorbing the yolk into its abdomen and the blood vessels in the shell are closing off. The duckling is not stuck, he's just resting. Hatching is hard work and takes time.
After the external pip is made, the duckling will begin to unzip the shell in a turning motion and once that is complete, the duckling will kick the shell off. The humidity in the incubator will tend to spike right after a duckling hatches as they will be wet. Not to worry as once the duckling dries, the humidity will come down. If you start to see water accumulating on the incubator walls, you can crack the incubator open for a few moments to allow the humidity to decrease.