How to Hatch Ducklings

Ducks gobble bugs from the garden and provide eggs for the table. Learn about raising these beautiful, useful backyard companions.
Similar Topics:

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lisa Steele / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Photo By: Photo by Lee Shilling Edwards / Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

Duck Eggs Daily

Lisa Steele had already written her first book, Fresh Eggs Daily, about keeping chickens, when she brought home two ducklings from a local feed store. Puddles and Bob soon inspired her next book about small-flock poultry-keeping, Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Ducks...Naturally (St. Lynn's Press). The book is a guide to raising ducks for flavorful eggs and companionship.

Candling Eggs

Steele says ducks add a lot of personality and enjoyment to the hobby farm she shares with her husband, dogs, chickens and other four-legged friends. If you'd like to start your own flock, you can use fertile eggs from your own or a friend's ducks, or order from companies like Metzer Farms. Use a flashlight or commercial candler to "candle" the eggs, or check them for hairline cracks. Seal minor cracks with softened beeswax to protect the embryos, and discard eggs with bigger cracks.

Marking the Eggs

Fertile eggs should be stored, pointy ends down, at a 45 degree angle, around 60 degrees F. until you're ready to put them into the incubator. First, turn the incubator on and let it come up to temperature while the eggs sit at room temperature for several hours. This warms them up a bit and lets the yolks settle. Use a pencil to mark one side of the eggs with an X or a number, so you can keep track of turning the eggs. (Some incubators will turn them automatically.)

Duck Eggs in Incubator

Duck eggs need to incubate for 28 days at a temperature of 99.3 to 99.6 degrees F., Steele says. She recommends following the instruction manual for your incubator. You'll need to monitor the humidity closely, and weigh and turn the eggs. For more details, see Duck Eggs Daily, Brinsea and/or Metzer Farms.

Day 28, Hatching Ducklings

By day 28, if everything is going well, you'll see small cracks or holes in the eggshells. Steele says the eggs may start rocking, and their tiny occupants might even peep back if you quack to them! Don't try to help the hatching process unless it's been more than 12 hours since the first crack or hole appeared and the duckling isn't making progress getting out. Again, see Duck Eggs Daily for more information, so you don't do more harm than good.

A Duckling Emerges

The entire hatching process can take 48 hours or more. Let nature take its course, Steele advises,unless the duckling is almost out but appears to be wrapped in the shell membrane. If the duckling is caught in a dried membrane, lightly mist the membrane with warm water and/or carefully break off any remaining pieces of the shell. But stop right away if you see any bleeding, and leave the duckling alone for a few more hours.

Duckling and Shell

After they've dried off, your ducklings could use a little energy. Get them off to a good start with a few sips of sugar water (3 tablespoons of sugar in a quart of water). Then move them to a heated brooder, Steele says. 

Raising Ducklings

Hatching eggs is easier if you have a mother duck who'll sit on the eggs, keep the ducklings warm when they hatch, and show them how to eat and drink. Sometimes, Steele says, a broody chicken will sit on the eggs until they hatch.

Playpen for Ducklings

 If you have to use an incubator, you'll need to move your babies to a heated brooder for the first few weeks of their lives. It should be well-ventilated, but free from drafts. Keep it covered or behind a closed door to prevent family pets or children from entering. Steele recommends brooding the ducklings in the tub of a spare bathroom; a puppy play pen, like the one shown here; or a big dog crate or cage with cardboard or plastic wrapped around the bottom half to block drafts and deter escapees. Don't use wire mesh caging, she says, as it's drafty and hurts the ducklings' feet.

Duckling Napping

Your brooder should be roomy; you need at least one square foot of space for every three ducklings at hatch. From one to two weeks of age, give them a square foot of space for every 2 ducklings. Increase to at least one square foot apiece until they're 3 weeks old. After that, if the weather permits, they're usually ready to spend warm, sunny days outside in a safe enclosure, and return to the brooder to sleep. Steele adds clumps of grass and dirt to the brooder, so the ducklings can search for worms and bugs. The dirt also gives them the grit they need to digest any grass they eat.

Ducklings

Be sure to keep the brooder clean, and change any wet litter often to avoid mildew and bacteria problems. You'll need a heat lamp for the first few weeks of the ducklings' lives. You'll also need to adjust the temperature in the brooder as they grow. See your brooder manual or Duck Eggs Daily for details.

Handling Ducklings

Steele says you should spend quality time with your ducklings. Feed them treats by hand and talk to them, so they'll imprint on you (recognize you as someone they can trust). The more time you spend, the friendlier they'll be when they're adults.

Keeping Ducks

Your job isn't done when your ducklings hatch. Read about their needs for water, food, nutritional supplements, shelter, swimming, treats and more. But don't let that intimidate you! Explore the different breeds, and you'll find ducks that are great for brooding, laying eggs or controlling yard and garden pests, and others that are simply fun and rewarding to keep as pets.  

Lisa Steele

For more details about keeping small flocks of ducks or chicken, follow author Lisa Steele's award-winning blog at Fresh Eggs Daily.