If you’re familiar with hatching chicken eggs, you may want to continue your journey to trying to hatch your own duck eggs, too.
Hatching your own duck eggs is easy, particularly if you have experience incubating other kinds of poultry. However, that’s not to say that it’s totally without effort.
I like incubating duck eggs for several reasons. Not only is it a fun project that you can do with your kids, but it’s also a great way to save money.
While you will have to spend money on the initial purchase of the incubator, you’ll recoup those costs quickly when you realize that baby ducklings cost several dollars apiece.
Ready to get started? Here’s everything you need to know to incubate and hatch your own duck eggs at home.
Table of Contents
Chicken versus Duck Eggs Hatching
For the most part, hatching all kinds of poultry is more or less the same. However, there are a few differences between ducks and chickens that you’ll want to pay attention to.
First, duck eggs are, as you’ve probably noticed, much bigger. The shells are harder to crack too. One thing that’s interesting when it comes to the differences between chicken versus duck eggs is that the amount of time it takes for duck eggs to hatch can vary a bit by breed!
You may notice some differences in how your incubator turns eggs, too. For example, in the wild, ducks don’t simply roll their eggs back and forth.
They rotate them from the outside of the nest to the inside so that their mother’s heat is evenly distributed. You may need to adjust your turning or an automatic turner to adjust for this.
How to Incubate and Hatch Duck Eggs
Start With Clean Eggs of the Best Quality
Incubating your own duck eggs starts with collecting eggs! Ducks only lay one egg per day, at most, and usually, ducks won’t sit on their eggs until they have a dozen or so collected.
You will want to collect your duck eggs daily and store them in a cool room out of direct sunlight.
Make sure your eggs are clean – ideally, by providing your ducks with a clean nesting area. Add new bedding frequently to avoid a messy nesting area. That way, you won’t have to worry about washing your eggs (which often renders them useless for incubation).
Choose eggs that are the most uniform, preferably without any visible defects or any manure or mud on the surface.
Only use clean eggs – but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to wash your eggs! Instead, just carefully scrape away the mud or manure with a fingernail.
Pick the eggs with the best shells. Ideally, it should be wider at one end and narrower at the other. Reject those with calcium deposits.
Avoid using eggs that are cracked or overly large or small. These tend not to hatch well. Average is best in this case!
Not sure if your eggs are cracked? There’s an easy way to tell if your eggs will be good for hatching. Simply select the egg and hold it in your hand. With your other hand, use a candler to shine light through the egg to examine for hairline cracks.
Don’t already have ducks of your own? Don’t worry. You can always purchase fertile-hatching eggs. Just make sure you choose a local farm, reputable breeder, or hatchery.
Local egg sources are almost always best, as shipped eggs tend to have lower hatch rates than eggs that do not need to be shipped.
Store Eggs Properly
Rotate the eggs a few times a day until you’ve collected enough to load your incubator. Don’t worry – they’ll remain fertile for about a week after they were laid.
Get Your Incubator Ready Ahead of Time
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Set your incubator up and run it for a minimum of 24 hours before you put any eggs inside. YOu will want to make sure the temperature is holding steady at 99.5 degrees and that the humidity is hovering around 50-55%. Don’t load any eggs until you know things are situated properly!
When you set your incubator up, choose a location that is quiet and out of direct sunlight. That way, you won’t have to worry about it being bothered or bumped by curious pets and children.
Caring for Duckling Eggs: Days 1-7
Time to set your egg in the incubator! When you do this, candle each one once more to check for hairline cracks. You can use a regular flashlight or simply cup your hand around the beam. Get rid of any cracked eggs.
Some people swear by using beeswax to seal up minor cracks, but you may still have issues with bacteria entering the egg and killing the embryo.
You might notice a red ring inside the egg. This blood ring indicates that bacteria has gotten inside – you need to get rid of the egg. Don’t try to incubate it just to see what happens, as it could harm other eggs.
After loading your incubator as well as before, make sure you wash your hands. Eggshells can easily transmit bacteria to your hands – and vice versa. That shell is very porous!
When you load your duck eggs into the incubator, draw an X on each side with a pencil. That way, you’ll know when to turn the eggs.
If you are lucky enough to have an incubator with an automatic turner, you can skip this step. Load the eggs into the incubator with the pointy end facing down.
Turning your eggs is essential, particularly during the first week of incubation. The more you do it, the better! Commercial incubators and turners are nice because they will do it every hour for you.
If your incubator doesn’t come with a turner, you may be able to add one after the fact, which is beneficial if you aren’t home at all times during the day.
Caring for Duckling Eggs: Days 8-25
You may find it beneficial to cool and spray your eggs starting at about ten days.
Check the temperature of the eggs and cool them until the surface of the shell is about 86 degrees. To do this, remove the lid of the incubator and leave it off for 30 minutes.
Mist the eggs with lukewarm water, then replace the lid. This behavior mimics the act of the mother leaving to find something to eat.
You won’t want to spray and cool after day 25 – only do this from days 10-25. It will help change the membrane of the egg so less moisture is lost during incubation and can improve your hatchability.
Spraying the eggs will help maintain humidity. In fact, this mimics something ducks do in the wild – they’ll carry water back to the nest on their feathers.
Some water loss is normal during incubation. As your duckling develops, some water will be lost inside the egg as the air cell conversely increases.
As long as your duckling is developing normally, that air cell will be about one-third of your space inside the egg at 25 days of incubation. You can figure out whether the water loss is appropriate by candling your eggs (I’ll talk more about this later!) or by weighing the eggs.
That said, humidity is essential when you’re hatching your own duck eggs. You need to make sure the humidity is 55 to 60% to start and then 80% as you get to the last two or three days of incubation.
This can be tough to do, particularly in a non-commercial incubator, but you can achieve the proper humidity by filling trays often, putting a few wet sponges in the tray, or running a humidifier near the incubator.
Caring for Duckling Eggs: The Final Days
Two to three days before your eggs are due to hatch, increase humidity levels in your incubator to about 80% and drop the temperature to 98.5 degrees. Remove the egg turner and stop spraying them and turning them alike.
Continue to monitor temperature and humidity and do not open the incubator unless you absolutely have to (like adding water to your humidity tray).
When your ducklings get closer to hatching time, you’ll hear them peeping and clicking at each other! They are attempting to communicate with each other (and to mama) so they all come out around the same time.
Then they will start pipping. Pipping is the process of tapping and clicking through an egg. You may notice slight delays during and after pipping as the ducks turn in their shells and then use their feet to push through the cracks and escape.
Eventually, you’ll see your ducklings emerge from the eggs, looking like small, wet little fluffballs. They may not do too much at first while they get used to this new world!
As your ducklings are hatching, resist the urge to help them out of the egg. The only time you need to help is when they have made a visible hole and can’t get out because they are stuck in that spot – for 12 hours or more.
In fact, ducklings that cannot make it out of the shell are often at risk of growing more slowly and of being trampled by other ducklings. Sometimes, a duckling is born with a natural disadvantage and so by helping him out of the shell, you aren’t doing him many favors.
If you try to help the duckling out and blood appears, stop. Wait a few hours, then reevaluate.
Caring for Freshly Hatched Ducklings
After your ducklings have hatched, don’t pull them out of the incubator right away. Instead, let them stay in the incubator until all of the clutches have hatched. This will upset the conditions for the other ducklings inside the incubator.
Wait for all the ducklings to hatch and dry (it can take up to three days, so be patient!), and then you can move them to your brooder.
It only takes a few weeks to incubate and hatch your own duck eggs. However, this process can still be excruciating! If you are having a hard time sitting still, feel free to candle your eggs (but only occasionally so you don’t disrupt conditions in the incubator too much).
Candling is an old term that involves bringing – you guessed it! – a candle to an egg to see what’s inside. Today, we use a small flashlight to do this. You can use any old flashlight you already have or purchase a special candling light.
The room must be dark and you will need to hold your hand so that all light produced by the flashlight enters the eggs. You won’t likely see much in the first few weeks of candling, but by day 12 you might be able to see movement inside the egg.
Later in the incubation period, day 21 or so, you probably won’t be able to see anything at all as so much of the embryo fills the eggs.
Don’t candle too late in the game, though, or you risk disturbing your eggs.
You can also incubate your duck eggs naturally. To do this, you’ll need to place the eggs under a broody duck. Don’t worry if they aren’t her own – as long as she is broody, she’ll hatch other ducks’ eggs, too.
Muscovy ducks in particular are known for being very good sisters and will hatch up to 15 eggs at a time!
If you plan on hatching your eggs naturally, you will want to locate the nest box in a clean, dry area and bed it with plenty of clean, fresh bedding. Ensure the broody duck has plenty of water and feed available at all times.
The best tip I can give you when you’re incubating and hatching your own duck eggs? Be patient! Practice definitely makes perfect. Over time, you’ll get into a rhythm that works well for you – and you’ll be an incubating and hatching machine!
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep, and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor. Learn more about Rebekah here.