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In general, hatching duck eggs is a little trickier than hatching chicken eggs using an incubator. Ducklings require a slightly higher humidity level during the hatching process than chickens. Here is an overview of the incubator setup that you may want to consider when setting and hatching duck eggs.
Step 1: Incubator Setup
It is important to set up your incubator at least 24 hours before setting the duck eggs into your incubator. This allows the incubator’s temperature and humidity levels to stabilize to give you the best chance of hatching your duck eggs.
Place your incubator in a room that maintains a constant temperature, is free from drafts, and away from windows and direct sunlight. Also, make sure that your incubator is located where children and pets will not bump or disturb it.
Step 2: Incubator Parameters
It takes 28 days on average for duck eggs to hatch. The temperature and humidity requirements for hatching ducks are as follows:
- The temperature should be set at 99.5 for the entire 28 day incubating and hatching period.
- Relative humidity should be set at 55% (84.5 degrees if using a wet-bulb thermometer) for the first 25 days of incubation. Then as the ducklings prepare to hatch, the humidity should be increased to 65-70% (88-90 wet-bulb). Then once the ducklings begin to pip in the final 24 hours, humidity can be allowed to increase even more to 80% (92 wet-bulb).
The correct humidity levels during incubating and hatching are much more important for waterfowl than they are for chickens. Without enough humidity, ducklings tend to become “shrink-wrapped” when the shell membranes dry up and contract around the duckling, restricting its movement within the shell. If this happens, the duckling becomes stuck inside the shell and will likely perish.
Step 3: Set the Eggs
If your duck hatching eggs have been shipped in the mail, allow at least 24 hours rest to let the yolks settle and for the eggs to reach room temperature. Setting cold eggs in a warm and humid incubator will cause the eggs to crack and the embryos will die. If you are not ready to begin the incubation period on the day that your eggs arrive, you may “hold” your shipped eggs for up to 10 days from the ship date.
Before you handle hatching eggs, always wash your hands thoroughly to prevent bacteria from entering through the porous eggshell. Place the eggs into a cardboard egg carton with the pointed end down and set in a quiet spot in the same room as the incubator. If you are holding the eggs for longer than 24 hours before beginning incubation, prop one end of the carton up a few inches. Rotate which end is propped up approximately every 12 hours. This helps prevent the embryo from sticking to the shell membrane.
When you are ready to set the eggs into the incubator, mark an X on one side of the shell using a soft pencil, and an O on the other end. During the incubation period, you will rotate the eggs. Marking the shell helps you visualize that they have been turned properly and frequently. Even if you have an automatic turner in your incubator, marking helps you ensure that the turner is working properly.
Step 4: Incubating, Days 1-25
During the first 25 days of incubating, you will need to hand turn the eggs at least once every 8 hours if not using an automatic turner. Many people who hatch duck eggs report better hatch rates when turning the eggs by hand.
During this period, you will also monitor the temperature and humidity. Add water to the humidity reservoir as needed to maintain the necessary humidity level.
At around day 10, you may want to candle the eggs to check for a developing embryo. The embryo should appear as a tiny “spider” with veins radiating from the dark spot. Any eggs that appear clear with no developing embryo should be removed from the incubator.
Step 5: Lockdown, Days 26-28
On day 26 of the incubation period, you should stop turning the eggs by hand or turn off and remove eggs from the automatic turner. The ducklings are nearly fully developed and they will position themselves inside the egg to prepare for hatching. You also want to increase the humidity to around 65-70%. The day before the hatch you should prepare their brooder.
Step 6: Hatch Day
Hatching takes a lot of energy and it will be a slow process usually taking a full 24 hours or longer for all ducklings to complete the hatch. Ducklings tend to take much longer than chicks do to completely hatch. Do not open the incubator during the hatching stage. High humidity is very important to maintain for ducklings trying to hatch. If you open the incubator, the humidity is immediately lost and not quickly regained.
Step 7: Clean Up
After all ducklings have hatched and are moved into the brooder, make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect the incubator and all parts following the manufacturer's directions. A 1:10 bleach/water solution is ideal for sanitizing.