Incubating duck eggs in an incubator is a bit more complicated than hatching chicken eggs the same way. Most incubators are designed to be used for both types of eggs. But, although it is fairly commonplace on homesteads, attempting to hatch both chicken and duck eggs at the same time is often problematic.
While some duck breeds both lay and sit their eggs well, many do not. The Pekin breed, for example, are excellent layers but lousy sitters. To keep flock numbers up when raising this popular duck breed or one of the others that grow bored of sitting eggs quickly, learning how to properly incubate duck eggs is crucial.
On the plus side, ducks almost always lay their eggs between dusk and dawn. Collecting eggs within this time frame daily will help ensure that no fertilized egg will be left exposed to the cold or potential trampling for a day – or longer if the hen drops eggs all over the place and not just in a nesting box.
Duck Egg Incubating Basics
Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, especially if you are raising an exceptionally large breed like the Jumbo Pekin. The number of duck eggs you anticipate hatching at any one time or on a regular basis should be taken into consideration. Incubators with individual egg holders will most often house duck eggs firmly, but skipping an opening in between each egg may very well be necessary to prevent the eggs from rubbing against each other and knocking to the point of cracking or falling.
An incubator with open trays that consist of firm walls but not individual egg openings typically have adjustable dividers that can accommodate small to large poultry bird eggs. Remember, the estimated number of eggs incubators can hold are almost exclusively based upon chicken and not duck eggs. My first small incubator was billed as being able to hold nine eggs. It did hold nine chicken eggs but would only hold six duck eggs even with taking the dividers out of the tray.
Duck Egg Incubation Time
The incubation time for duck eggs can vary by breed, but on average it takes 28 days to hatch most breeds. The Muscovy breed is one notable exception. It can take duck eggs from this breed close to 35 days to hatch.
Unless there are visible signs of rotting or a nasty smell coming from duck eggs I allow them up to 38 days to hatch before removing them from the incubator and pitching them.
When Does Duck Egg Incubation Begin?
The incubation period starts just as soon as the duck hen lays the egg. Collecting eggs on a daily basis is vital to the hatching process. Waiting for a hen that sometimes sits her eggs for a while to give up and only then try to save the eggs will greatly decrease your chances of producing a duckling.
The viability of the fertilized duck eggs decreases each hour that it is not being sat upon or warming inside of an incubator. A duck egg that is three days old and has been exposed to cold and damp weather could still hatch successfully, but the odds are not in its favor. Some folks have had sporadic luck when attempting to incubate fertilized duck eggs that are between one week and 10 days old – providing they were not laid during winter months.
Incubators With Automatic Turning Arms
Using an incubator with an automatic turning arm is a major time saver when hatching chicken eggs. When it comes to hatching duck eggs in an incubator with an automatic turning, the response from keepers is often mixed.
An automatic turning arm prevents a keeper from opening the incubator machine multiple times every day. Because duck eggs are far more susceptible to even the slightest of humidity change than chickens, an automatic turning arm increases the chances of having a highly successful hatching, in my experience.
Some duck keepers worry that incubators with automatic turning arms cause duck eggs to be placed far too close to the machine’s heating element. A fluctuation of temperature of only a few degrees can cause substantial issues during the hatching process.
No matter which type of incubator you choose, I highly recommend marking each duck egg with an “X” so you can keep track of how it shifts or turns throughout the day. For best potential hatching results the duck eggs should shift position a minimum of four times per day.
Duck Egg Humidity Levels
Getting the humidity levels right inside of the incubator and keeping them stable is a crucial part of the hatching process. Ideally, the humidity level when hatching duck eggs should only fluctuate between 55 to 65 percent. Purchasing an incubator with an included wet bulb thermometer will greatly help in the monitoring of humidity levels. With a wet bulb thermometer you should be trying to achieve a reading of 85 to 88 degrees to have both the proper heat and humidity levels inside of the incubator.
I have found that a wet bulb thermometer reading of 92 to 94 degrees or a relative humidity level of 75 percent is higher advantageous when incubating duck eggs from hens that are older – age six to nine years. Eggs laid by senior hens are often more porous than those laid by younger or middle aged duck hens.
The enhanced humidity level needed for a duck egg to hatch also places it at a higher risk for bacterial bloom. I choose not to clean my duck eggs before placing them in the incubator so the natural protection against bacteria growth on the egg shell helps harden it against such a nasty smelling and disastrous fate.
During the final three days of incubation it can be wise to increase the humidity level inside of the incubator to 65 percent. This is a personal preference based upon past successful duck hatching experience.
Duck Egg Hatching Temperature Recommendations
The internal temperature of the incubator should be illuminated on the external display screen. It is best to warm the incubator up to 98 degrees before placing the duck eggs inside.
If you are not using a wet bulb thermometer, strive to keep the standard temperature reading to between 99.3 and 99.6 degrees. During the last 10 days to two weeks of the hatching process the growing ducklings inside of the eggs will cause an increase in incubator heat. Be aware of this natural increase and prepared to adjust the temperature down as it becomes necessary.
Duck Embryo Development
Water loss occurs inside of the duck egg as the duckling embryo grows and takes up more space. The air cell inside of the egg shell will increase as the water cell decreases. When a duckling embryo is progressing normally the air cell should grow to fill one third of the egg shells interior space by incubation day 25.
Before placing the duck eggs in the incubator take note of how much an individual egg roughly weighs. A duckling embryo that is growing in a healthy manner will feel and weigh close to 15 percent lighter as it nears the hatching date.
How To Incubate Duck Eggs
Step 1. Put the incubator on a level and hardy surface. The space should not be close to a heat source or in an area exposed to exterior doors and drafts.
Step 2. Warm up the incubator prior to placing duck eggs inside by heating it to 98 degrees for an hour.
Step 3. Place the duck eggs inside the incubator, narrow and pointed side down.
Step 4. Pour water into the incubator well or designated area at the amount recommended in the machine directions.
Step 5. If your incubator does not come with an automatic turning arm, turn the duck eggs four times per day at regular intervals. The eggs should be rotated at an angle and side to side and not turned so the pointed and narrow end ever fully leaves the downward position.
Step 6. Review both temperature and humidity levels several times per day so you are quickly alerted to any fluctuations that require adjustments. The incubator directions booklet should help you decipher the amount of water needed to cause a specific increase in humidity levels.
Step 7. During the last five days of hatching end the four times per day rotation to allow the ducklings to become accustomed to a single position as they prepare to make a pip hole to break the egg. This is my recommendation because it works well for me but other keepers may follow a different rotation ending process.
When the duckling makes a pip hole in the shell the air bubble that has been growing inside will be pierced. After this happens the ducklings may need between 12 to 48 hours to crack enough of the egg to make its exit. DO NOT help the ducklings until after the 48 hours have passed unless you are 100 percent sure it is showing signs of distress and not just the natural bouts of exhaustion that are destined to occur. Attempting to help the newly hatched duckling could actually harm the young bird.
Ducklings are larger than chicks and have webbed feet that can get caught and torn in the rotating eggs trays. Because of these bodily differences it is not wise to allow a duckling to linger in the incubator for a day before moving it to an awaiting and warmed brooder. The duckling’s body fuzz should become dry in roughly 60 minutes. Once this has occurred I recommend removing it from the incubator and placing in a brooder.
Always clean and disinfect each part of the incubator and allow it to air dry completely before storing it away for future use.
The successful hatching rates on ducklings is commonly lower than that of chicks. A first time duck egg hatching averages about a 50 percent success rate. Do not be discouraged or conclude you necessarily did something wrong. Raising ducks and hatching their eggs takes experience. Even experienced duck egg incubating keepers often only have a 75 percent success rate. Duck eggs are quite simply, finicky and unhatched eggs are merely something to expect each time you place eggs in an incubator.