The Cottage Smallholder

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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.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Nan

    I will talk to my duck expert this evening and get back to you.

  2. Help! Duck wars! I’ve been keeping Indian Runners for about six years and for the first time one my female ducks has gone broody and has been sitting on her clutch for five days. The problem is that she is now being harassed by the other female. The broody duck has made her nest in the duck house where the other two get shut away at night. I am loathe to move the broody into other accommodation in case this disrupts her broodiness.
    Should I separate them or leave them to sort themselves out? I’d be so grateful for advice, it’s either you or call in the UN !

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Heather

    I am no expert but I can share my experience of bantams. We do own a broody long termer, Mrs Boss.

    There are things that you can do to encourage the broody state for your bantam. Move her somewhere quiet. Not the nesting box as if she sat there for a few weeks all your chickens would go off lay.

    The place that you move her to needn’t be expensive accommodation. It could be a three sided cardboard box. Give her food and water that she can access from the nest. Set her on any eggs and when your eggs arrive replace them. If she is broody she will sit ˜on air™ for months.

    Now you have to think about a safe environment for the eggs and adoptive mum. An ark is perfect (but pricey off the shelf. If you are handy it might be easy to run one up). The main things to remember is to set your broody house on fine wire mesh and have a door that shuts tight at night. Developing eggs attract rats and it would be so disappointing to lose them.

    I™d love to hear how you get on.

  4. Heather

    How long will a bantam hen stay broody? We have one that is wanting to stay on the nest and we’ve just ordered some call duck eggs. I’d kind of like to have her hatch them vs. putting them in the incubator but I won’t get them until next week.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jo

    I must check out your articles – sound like great reading!

  6. Fiona Nevile

    hi Jude,

    What a quandary but I’m pretty sure you will do no harm to the duck eggs by watering your precious Acer. Ducks are often wet when they return to the nest, it’s whether you can water the tree without upsetting the expectant mum.

  7. Jude Scollard

    We have a mother duck with about 10 eggs nesting in a tub in our garden. Unfortunately, the tub also houses an Acer tree. As Mum hasn’t left the nest recently, we haven’t dared to water the tub, but wonder how we can do so for the tree to flourish? We watch and hope she will go off for a while, as she did for the first couple of days, but now seems not to go at all. Is it possible we could quietly and gently pour in a little water away from the eggs and not disturb her? Help?

  8. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    Well I’m not too sure about useful (!!) –

    I write a regular (bimonthly) article for the magazine; rather than being ‘how to’-type stuff, it’s more of a series of lifestyle articles charting our adventures from when we arrived here. And there have certainly been plenty of those….!

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jo

    Ooops. Not a new breed, just got the name wrong! Thanks for pointing out the mistake.

    Thanks for the tip about washing the eggs too. They were clean when they arrived from S.

    How exciting to have an article in Smallholder Magazine – sounds like a really useful one too.

  10. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    BTW –

    just a tip: with duck eggs, because the shells are so porous, it’s recommended to gently clean off any dirt with wire wool rather than washing the eggs prior to setting them – as you risk pushing any contaminates inside the shell.

    My forthcoming article for ‘Smallholder’ magazine’s Welsh Special deals with artificially incubating goose eggs & raising said offspring – a fascinating experiment & a fantastic resultant Christmas Dinner!

    There’s a fascinating twist to hatching goose eggs, & that’s to watch the unhatched chick ‘swim’ whilst still in the egg; it’s an extraordinary sight to see the egg propelled around a bowl of tepid water by its occupant.

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