When ducks lay eggs, they build a nest and sit on the eggs to incubate them. The heat from the mother’s body is necessary for the eggs to develop into chicks. If something happens to the mother duck, or she abandons the eggs, you will need to find other ways to incubate them.
If you want to hatch a duck egg, you must provide it with consistent heat. An incubator is the best way to do this, but it can be expensive. Artificial incubation is the easiest way to hatch orphaned duck eggs, but it is much more expensive than natural incubation.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can hatch a duck egg at home. However, these eggs will require much care and attention to hatch properly.
How Do Duck Eggs Hatch?
Duck hens usually lay around a dozen or more eggs—taking nearly a month to hatch. During this time, the duck engages in brooding, which means sitting on the eggs to provide heat. After laying eggs, ducks pluck from their belly to create a bare, warm spot called the “brood patch.”
This area develops a rich supply of blood vessels supplying the heat the eggs need. Duck hens alter the amount of heat the eggs receive by adjusting the position of the brood patch and moving the eggs around. Consistent and even heat distribution is essential for all eggs to hatch into healthy chicks.
Hatching A Duck Egg Without An Incubator
To hatch a duck egg without an incubator, you can use the following methods:
Find A Substitute Hen
If you live on a farm or have access to a nearby farm, you can find a brooding hen for your duck eggs. A brooding hen is incubating her eggs so she can also incubate the duck egg. If none of the birds on your farm are brooding currently, you can visit another farm or a local farm animal distributor. You can purchase the animal or leave your eggs at the farm to incubate until they hatch.
It isn’t necessary to look for a brooding duck since any bird will do. The eggs only need a warm, humid environment, so even chickens would be suitable. However, a duck hen would probably be better since she keeps more eggs under her. After finding a brooding bird, you can choose a nesting spot.
A safe, clean, and dark environment is best for incubating eggs. If the bird has already chosen a nesting spot, ensure the nest conditions are ideal. Food and water should be available close to the nest. However, a slight distance from the nest is ideal since brooding mothers will need some exercise to prevent soiling their nest.
Depending on the size of the brooding bird, you might need to incubate the eggs in turns. A mother can only incubate the number of eggs that she can cover. Bigger ducks such as Muscovy can incubate a dozen or more eggs at once.
According to Little Avalon Farms, you can use heating pads to hatch duck eggs. This process can be quite intensive, so be mindful of that. You will need a heating pad with an always-on function and some towels. The eggs need a warm, humid environment to hatch, so keep multiple towels aside. First, lay down your heating pad and ensure it stays on. Afterward, place a towel on top and keep the eggs together. Placing another towel on top of the eggs can ensure the heat doesn’t dissipate easily.
A humid environment is necessary for the eggs to develop. Soak a clean washcloth in hot water and wring it out till it is barely wet. After placing it on the eggs, place a towel over it; you can cover everything with a blanket to keep the heat inside. Since you will need to keep the temperature constant, a cooking thermometer is a great hack for this situation. Adjust the sensing rod in the center of the eggs to gauge the temperature.
You should also check the eggs for development and turn them over on each side to ensure even heat distribution. You will also need to moisten the washcloth multiple times throughout the day to maintain a warm, humid environment for the eggs. Ensure there are no mold/mildew issues, which could harm the eggs. This process is better if your duck eggs are a week or so shy of hatching. Maintaining moisture under a blanket can cause mold to develop if left for a long time.
You can also create an incubator with a few supplies. Styrofoam or plastic coolers are ideal for this. After you’ve got your cooler, you can begin to set up an incubation system with a few tools, such as:
- Plastic baking tray or ice cube tray
- Polyscreen mesh tray
- Digital indoor temperature and humidity monitor (you can also use a cooking thermometer)
- A light bulb or mason jars
After you have your supplies, you can easily set up your DIY incubator. First, place the tray at the bottom of your cooler. Ensure the tray covers the entire surface at the bottom. Rather than the quantity of water, the surface area covered is more important for maintaining a humid environment. After filling the tray with water, you can place a mesh tray on top to prevent excess moisture.
To ensure warmth, you have two options: a light bulb or mason jars filled with boiling water. You will need to screw in the light bulb at the top of the cooler and work out the wiring. If you want a simpler approach, mason jars filled with boiling water can work just as well. However, you will need to refill them with boiling water multiple times throughout the day to maintain the temperature. Place jars inside the cooler and wrap them with towels to prevent the chicks from suffering any burns.
After your DIY incubator is ready, you can place the thermometer inside to monitor the temperature. Place the eggs inside the cooler for incubation. Monitor the temperature to ensure the best environment for incubation.