The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Duck egg incubation by Mrs Boss: preparation

duck eggs for Mrs BossIt’s that time of year again. Mrs Boss is going broody. When I go down to collect the eggs from the nesting box, she is keeping them warm for me. She is at the early stages of broodiness so she can still easily be shifted off the nest and scuttles downstairs to eat and drink. She will join the rest of the flock to forage for seed but within twenty minutes or so she is snaking back up the ramp in the hen house that leads to the dormitory upstairs.

In past summers she has spent weeks going in and out of jail. An anti broody coop is a really effective and inexpensive way of controlling broodiness in chickens. Generally two or three days in the clanger shifts them out of this state. Mrs Boss can take a week to get back to a non broody state. If you want eggs, broodiness is to be avoided.

This sad, diminutive hen came into her own when she fostered Farming Friends’ guinea fowl eggs last summer. We discovered that she was a wonderful mother and for the first time ever she looked happy and seemed to be content. She raised four strong guinea fowl and had a ball. In fact she even became an international movie star.

We are delighted to announce that Mrs Boss will be fostering Indian Runner ducks for The chicken Lady this summer. I collected the eggs this evening.
“When they hatch out you can almost see them growing.” Husband S was washing the eggs he had collected this afternoon. “How many do you think she can accommodate.”

When a hen goes broody she flattens her body on the nest for maximum incubation. These Indian Runner duck eggs are large. I tried to work out the answer. We need to go for the maximum as often some of the eggs are rejected by the hen after a few days.
“Why don’t we try four or five?”
“We always set an odd number of eggs under a broody hen. It seems to work well.”
In the end, he passed me the eggs, in an old egg box.
“There’s six there. See how you go.”

I have two or three days grace before introducing Mrs Boss to these eggs. It will be an early start for me. The broody apartment needs to be repaired and thoroughly spring cleaned. There is no point setting a hen on eggs if the environment isn’t clean and safe from predators.

At this stage no one can tell if the eggs are fertile. We can candle them in a couple of weeks to see if the embryos are developing. Each egg is a tiny miracle. If it is fertilised it will stay in a state of suspended animation until it is incubated. That’s how a hen can raise a brood that all develop at the same time. She will lay an egg a day until she decides that she has enough eggs. Then she will settle on her nest if you are lucky.

Once these eggs reach a temperature of 37? to 38 ?c. degrees, cells start to develop and the great Grand National egg development race begins. Different fowl have different incubation periods. Duck eggs take 28 days to mature, chicken egg gestation is a mere 21 days. Bantam hens take even less time, often hatching at 18 days. So mixing eggs from different fowl in the same nest is a no no. Once a hen sits, provide her with food and water that she can access from the nest. Once she is broody she will not leave her nest when she is peckish and can starve to death protecting her eggs.

I always visit the pen twice a day if I have a broody hen (with or without eggs) and gently lift her off her nest so she can relieve herself and feed. This provides a good opportunity to check the eggs and clean any fouled eggs in the nest. A clean damp cloth is handy here. Your hen is doing her best but sometimes needs a helping hand to keep her eggs clean.

Once the eggs hatch, the mother has to tend her chicks so any eggs that need a few more days are often rejected. Generally there is a two day window to accommodate first and last hatching.

As I write, the duck eggs are sitting beside me on the table and Mrs Boss is poised on the starting blocks, snug in the nesting box.

It’s a moment to be savoured. Bursting with hope and promise.

  Leave a reply


  1. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    Hi Fiona –

    sorry, been so busy I haven’t had a chance to write my own Blog forages, let alone catch up with anyone else.

    Errr…do you mean Indian Runner ducks, or is this a new breed…?!

    Runners are fantastic, like hock bottles on legs. We have two ducks & a drake, they never cease making me smile as they pitter-patter around the place. And as you say, the eggs are delicious – perfect for cakes! I feel a baking session coming on….

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara

    I know that Mrs Boss will be a good mother for the ducklings. Looking forward to a summer of high jinks with the ducklings!

  3. farmingfriends

    Good luck Mrs Boss – farmingfriends and the guinea fowl know you can do it. I look forward to seeing the ducks when they hatch.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Hank

    Yes they do. The yolks are very large. The eggs taste much richer than a chicken™s egg. A duck egg omelette or frittata is sublime.

  5. Do duck eggs taste any different from chicken eggs?

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Magic Cochin

    It could be why it is called a clutch. Or enough to fill a hand, possibly?

    It’s so warm and downy, a broody hen’s breast.

    Hi Slyvie

    Just going out to repair the castle, between showers! The mice have done enormous damage over the winter.

    Hi Pat

    It’s exciting isn’t it. I just hope that the eggs are fertile.

    Hi Caroline

    I am no expert but I don’t think that would work. The broody hen would want to care for the ducklings and might abandon the other eggs. An overlap of a day or so would probably be OK but I think a gap of a week would be unwise.

    When the keets hatched it was over a two day period. One egg out of the six didn’t hatch and was rejected by Mrs Boss after a couple of days. Now I wish that I had looked inside the egg to find out why it didn™t hatch.

    N.B. Update.

    S tells me that even if you stage manage the eggs to hatch on the same day a combination of ducklings and chicks wouldn’t work. Ducks grow rapidly and would dwarf and overpower the chicks. Never mix eggs in a nest for this reason.

  7. Caroline

    More of a question than a comment. My neighbour would like us to hatch a couple of duck eggs under our broody hen. I hadn’t thought about the difference in incubation periods. Would it be possible to set the duck eggs first and add hen’s eggs a week later? Or would she reject them? Hen is Buff Orpington, ducks are Indian runners.

  8. Ohhhhhhhhh I am soooooooo looking forward to reading about Mrs. Boss’s new brood!!!! Can’t wait!!!! Best of luck!!

  9. Good luck!

  10. magic cochin

    Oh I’m getting excited too! Aren’t broody hens amazing – spreading themselves out like warm fluffy cushions. I love how the shuffle and clutch your hand if you feel underneath them . . . I wonder if that is why a nest of eggs is called a clutch?


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