How To: Hatching Duck Eggs
Hatching duck eggs is a great project for those not interested in common breeds found at feed stores, the expense of having day-old ducklings shipped, or those looking to increase their flock size from their own stock. To start you’ll need some duck eggs. If you currently keep ducks, this can be relatively easy, but some thought should still go into this.
While this How-To applies to most ducks, Muscovies have a 35 day incubation period, therefore Muscovie hatchers shouldn’t use this guide.
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Sourcing Your Eggs
If you’re increasing your own flock you want to consider the purpose of the offspring. If you’re raising birds for pets or meat, then you should fine using your own eggs. If you’re breeding, you may want to think about sourcing eggs from another breeder if your stock hasn’t seen new blood in a few seasons. If you don’t currently keep ducks, then there are a few places on line that you can order from and have eggs shipped to you, or you can check your local Craigslist for someone selling fertile eggs.
If you’re using your own eggs, you may want to avoid using the first few eggs laid in the season. They tend to have lower fertility rates than those laid as little than a week later. Unfortunately, you can’t really check an egg for fertility with out breaking it, but if you’re not hatching the first week of eggs anyway you might as well eat them!
When you crack open an egg, look carefully at that yolk. If the egg was fertile, you’ll see a small white bullseye. You may need to turn the yolk over to find it, but be careful. If you break the yolk you’ll never be able to tell if it was fertilized.
Setting Your Eggs
Once you have some eggs that you are fairly confident are fertile, you’ll need to set them in your incubator. Make sure you set your incubator up away from windows and direct sunlight, and in a room where the temperature is relatively stable. Start up your incubator eat least 24 hours before you want to set your eggs. 99.5˚ F (37.5˚C) if you have a forced air incubator, 100-100.5˚F (38˚C) if you have a still air Incubator. Monitor this closely for that first day with a clinical thermometer and make sure it’s not fluctuating wildly. If the temperature is stable after 24 hours, then you can set your eggs.
I weigh my eggs regularly, usually when I candle. This helps be get an idea of whether or not I need to increase or decrease my humidity. This is optional, but is nice to have if you’re not sure if things are going correctly. If you’re going to weigh your eggs, take a starting weight measure now.
Duck eggs require higher humidity than chicken eggs, so you’ll need to increase the humidity in your incubator. Read your manual on this. Some incubators have a reservoir with instructions on how much to fill for different egg types, others… don’t. In cases where you have no instructions you may want to pick up a small hygrometer (look in the reptile section of your local pet store) and add a small cup of water to bring you to 45-55%.
With your humidity and temperature correct, you can add your eggs. Duck eggs are set in the nest on their sides, so turners that use a tray with eggs on a the point aren’t ideal. Disc turners usually don’t work because the eggs are too big, so they just need to be manually turned at least 3 times a day.
Mark Your Calendar
Duck eggs incubate for 28 days, so you’ll want to mark that on your calendar. I make sure to mark 28 and 29, since I usually have a pips on 28, and unzipping on 28 & 29 (more on what that means later.) You’ll also want to mark dates to candle your eggs to check for proper embryo development. I do this on days 7, 14, 21 and 25.
Days 1 – 7
Turn your eggs your normal 3 times a day. On day seven, Candle. You should see some veining, and a small red blob. If you don’t, put the egg back in the incubator, and candle again at day 10.
If you’re lucky and have decent vision in low light, you’ll be able to see the heartbeat.
If you’re weighing your eggs, do so and log your current weight. At week one, your batch should average 3-5% less than your start weight .
I’ll use one of my eggs as an example on how we figure this out:
Start Weight: 75g
Day 7 Weight: 72g
Difference/Start Weight: .04Multiply that by 100: 4
This egg has lost 4% of it’s weight since being set.
Do this for all the eggs. Then find your average percentage. Some individual eggs will be higher or lower, but that’s okay, as long as your average is within acceptable range. If you’re low, decrease your humidity. Too high? Up your humidity.
Weight loss is directly related to the evaporation of moisture inside the egg during incubation. If your humidity is too high, moisture can’t evaporate at the ideal rate. If it’s too low, you may see your egg weights dropping.
Turn your eggs your normal 3 times a day. Recandle those that you couldn’t ID development in on day 10 for any signs development. If there’s still nothing, hold out hope for just a few more days! On day fourteen, Candle. Anything that hasn’t shown any signs should be tossed at this point.
This is also the time to look for “quitters” or signs of an early death. These are eggs that have started to develop, but failed along the way. Personally, I have only had one of these, and it never showed the tell tale blood ring that signifies an early death. It just seemed to go from early development (red blob + veining) to looking like an undeveloped egg. Any eggs that stop developing should be tossed at this time.
I don’t have any good photos at this time, but here’s a video of an egg at day 14: Egg Development at 14 days
Keep turning your eggs 3 times a day. Candle on day 21 and look for signs of movement. The ducklings will take up a lot of the space inside the egg at this point, so look along the edge near the air cell for movement. If you’re weighing your eggs, your average weight loss should be 9-11%.
Candle your eggs to check for movement in all your eggs. Again, it’s going to be pretty hard to see it sometimes. I recommend turning your egg a few times while you’re candling so you can see it from all sides. Usually, the ducklings will shift around in the shell when you move it around. Using a pencil, trace the edge of the air cell. This is where you’ll want look for a pip in a few days.
Follow the directions on your incubator for raising the hatching humidity, or add a wet face cloth to the bottom of your incubator. You want your humidity at 65-75% for hatching.
Weighing your eggs? Your average should now be 13-15%.
If you have a dome style incubator like a Brinsea then I suggest you place the eggs with the air cells facing out. This way, you can better see pips!
You should have some internal pips at this point. This is when a duckling breaks into the air cell. At this point they are breathing and preparing to make their final escape. If you have a dome style incubator you can try to candle with out having to open the incubator. With any luck, you’ll see a bill and some movement within the air cell.
Hopefully everyone will have pipped internally (don’t worry if they haven’t as long as you still see movement in the egg.) You may have External pips by now. Look carefully at the surface of the egg. The duckling should be coming out of the ends with the air cell. Look for small raises along the surface around the air cell.
Hatch day! (Hopefully.)
In a perfect world, your ducklings would have pipped on day 27, then rested for a good long period of time before starting to unzip. That doesn’t always happen, so don’t worry if you have eggs that haven’t pipped, or have pipped but haven’t started to unzip. As long as there is movement, things are likely still okay.
Unzipping is the final stage before actually exiting the shell. The duckling will slowly crack more of the shell moving counter-clockwise from it’s pip. See my crude diagram below of the direction of unzip as viewed from the air cell end of the egg.
There will be times where you are tempted to assist. Try not to. Keep in mind that the timing of hatching is going to vary based on incubator temperature and egg size. Bigger eggs may not start to unzip until day 29. Incubators that were a little cooler (say, 98.5 instead of 99.5) will take a little longer as well.
If everything went well and all your eggs were similarly sized, you should have most of your batch hatch within a few hours of each other. My best was 5 hrs from first hatch to last. My worst: 72 hours, 1st to last.