We are incubating 7 duck eggs! The children are so excited to watch the process.
Today we held a light up to the eggs so that the children could see the veins beginning to form. The children were ecstatic to watch the process.
If your incubator doesnt have a fan, measure the temperature half way up the side of the eggs but not touching them. Without a fan, the warm air rises and you will get a false reading if you place your thermometer on top of the eggs.
If your egg incubator is big enough there are some ways to measure humidity. One way to make your own wet bulb thermometer is to place the end of a short, hollow shoestring over the end of a thermometer. Place the other end in a container of water and put it all in the incubator. As the water evaporates from the cloth, the thermometer is cooled. If the air is very dry, much water evaporates from the cloth, cooling the thermometer. If the air is very humid, less evaporates which cools the thermometer less and a higher temperature is recorded. You can adjust the humidity by increasing the amount of water in the incubator or reducing ventilation.
Reading relative humidity is one of the more difficult things to do in a small incubator. Duck eggs require a little more humidity than chicken eggs do. Most small egg incubators (those that hold less than 40 eggs) have a well or two that holds water and generally dont have an easy way to measure humidity. Try to follow the instructions included with the incubator as close as possible.
Turning Your Eggs
Turning your eggs is critical during the first week of incubation. Commercial egg incubators turn eggs every hour. If your incubator does not have an automatic egg turner, then a good tip is to turn your eggs an odd number of times each day. This is important so you dont leave the eggs laying on the same side each night which is the longest period of time they go each day without turning. Draw a small pencil line on one side of each egg. Then when you turn them, it will be easy to see that you switched them from one side to the other. In small incubators, most eggs are turned on their sides. Try to set the eggs so that the large end of the egg with the air sac is higher than the small end.
Misting Your Eggs
Some breeders suggest that you spray waterfowl eggs daily. This can be done with a small amount of slightly warmed water. You can then leave the incubator open for a minute or so afterwards. Sometimes this can be of benefit. If you do it, start at day 7 and do not spray after day 25. The actual consequences of spraying are interesting. It changes the membrane of the egg so a greater percentage of moisture is lost during incubation. Ideally, a duck egg looses about 13% of its weight between the time it is laid and day 25 of incubation. Loosing significantly more or less than this reduces hatchability.
Should You Help Your Hatchlings?
Many people want to help their ducklings hatch. It is best to allow them to do the hatching themselves. The only time you want to help them is when they make a hole and then cannot progress because they are stuck in that spot. If an actual hole is made, and you can see the duckling, but no progress is made for 12 hours, you can gingerly help the duckling. If blood appears where you break pieces off the shell, stop and wait several hours. If the duckling gets stuck after it has started to break a circle around the egg, it can usually be helped without a problem. But if they are progressing on their own, let them be.
Incubator Temperature and Variances
It is important that the incubator not get too warm or too cold, as it will affect the eggs. Several hours of too high temperature is more dangerous than several hours of too cool a temperature. If your electricity goes out or you must move your incubator, do not worry, but do watch that it does not become too cold. Find somewhere to get it turned back on again and monitor the temperature closely until you are sure you are back at a steady incubation temperature.
The length of incubation time varies. For Mallards, it is about 26.5 to 27 days. For Runners, it is about 28.5 days. All others are about 28 days. If your eggs are old or the incubator is cool, incubation can take longer. If it is too warm, incubation will be completed sooner. Muscovy eggs take around 35 days to incubate. They are sort of the odd lot of the duck family.
More On Candling
Eggs can be candled after about seven days of incubation. The advantage of candling is that you can remove infertile or rotten, infected eggs. Eggs are candled in a dark room by shining a flashlight or other bright light into the egg. You should look for veins going from the interior of the egg to the air sac. If you see no clear, distinct blood veins, the chances are that the embryo never developed or died early on. So that you can know what an infertile egg looks like when it is candled, also candle a regular infertile egg that has not been incubated at all. You can see the darker, orange shadow of the yolk. If you are not sure if the embryo is alive or not, return it to the incubator. The only eggs you do not want to return are the infected eggs. They are normally dark and blotchy inside and may also appear darker through the shell in normal lighting. If they are returned, the bacteria may continue to grow and you risk the possibility of them exploding in your incubator. You also risk infecting other eggs.
If the embryo dies within the first several days, often there is a ring or a streak of blood through the egg. Most embryo deaths occur the first or last several days of incubation. It is during these periods that the most critical development occurs.
Waterfowl eggs have a greater tendency to rot and cause problems for two reasons. The first is that ducks are not as clean in their nests and the eggs are often soiled. Waterfowl also take longer to develop, allowing another week for bacteria to grow.
All of our eggs are washed immediately after collection to reduce the bacterial load on the shell surface. We use a quaternary ammonia compound that has a residual bacteriastat. It is important to keep your incubator clean and wash it out after each group of egg hatches. You want each set of eggs to be in a clean, disinfected environment as the temperature and humidity in an incubator are ideal for the growth of bacteria.
Holding Eggs Before The Incubation Period
Eggs can be held for about a week before incubation without a problem. The ideal holding temperature is about 60 degrees. A refrigerator is too cold. Development of the embryo only begins when the egg is warmed to the correct temperature.
Caring for Your Ducklings After They Hatch
Keep them warm and to feed them as follows… Small ducks need warmth (they can’t supply it themselves). You need to buy or make a “brooder” for their warmth and protection.
To make one yourself, get a big box and hang a light bulb in there that is close enough to give off some heat but not so close that the little guy can get burnt. Don’t let him touch it. The box should be big enough so that the little guy can move closer to the heat when he is warm and move away from the heat when he is too hot. He’ll find his own comfort level. Always be careful about placing lights and electrical wires safe and secure to prevent fires.
The best “bedding” is an old bath towel. Don’t use hay or straw. It just sticks to them and is harder to clean. Don’t use newspaper either as they tend to be unable to get their footing and sometimes this causes “splayed legs” (Good footing when they are small helps their legs to develop more properly).
Since ducklings hatched in captivity are separated from their natural mom, they should not be placed in water for too long at all and especially without constant supervision. Instinctually they love playing in the water, but since their oil glands are not able to produce enough oil to keep them afloat they’ll drown easily. In nature baby ducklings get their water resistant oils from their moms until they are five or six weeks old and their own oil glands begin to function. The bottom line is that baby ducks love to swim but without mom around are vulnerable to drowning and chills. They don’t need to swim to survive at all.
At the same time, baby ducklings do need lots of water with their food as they must have water to swallow. Due to the issues in the previous paragraph, you must devise a way for them to drink lots of water without diving into their drinking water. They can drown in that too. The best method I’ve ever seen is to cut a small hole in the side of a plastic milk carton that is big enough for them to put their head into but make the hole too small for them to jump through it. Then fill it with water just up to that hole. You’ll have to change the water often as they will dirty it up daily (with food). You may have to teach them how to find the water in the beginning by pushing their heads in their a few times but once they figure it out, they will go back and forth between their food and water constantly. Once they start eating it seems like they never stop.