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. Currently incubating 2 duck eggs. One is at 21 days incubation and the other is at 11 days.. I candle them every day. Yesterday, the oldest one was kicking and moving quite a bit, today, there’s no movement and things appear darker in the shell.

    Should I be concerned?

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Klare

    I do hope that they hatch. I’d be very interested to hear how you get on.

  3. klare

    i had a call duck sitting on 12 eggs
    something disturbed her so she left the nest
    tryed allsorts but she would not sit
    eggs about 10 days from hatching
    so i put them in my airing cupbord
    been 7 days now 10 stil ok

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Nan

    This is good news!

    The Chicken Lady has also got two ducks sitting on a vast nest ATM.

    Hope all goes well with yours.

  5. Hallo
    Update on the Duck War
    Peace has broken out!
    Both my female Indian runners are now sitting happily side by side in the duck house, after I was able to filch a few eggs for the eggless one. It was only fair, after all, she had laid half of the eggs and wanted her share! Now we just have one lonely
    and confused drake, who without his wives to boss around has become obsessed with chasing pigeons to very little effect. Thanks once again for your help

  6. Thanks so much for your advice. It’s funny but I think my other female duck is just trying to get in on the act, so I thought about trying to settle her on some eggs, that’ll just leave one poor bewildered drake wandering around on his own. Thanks once again! Love this website.

  7. The Chicken Lady.

    If it is possible to move the other ducks away from the broody duck then I would, but I wouldn,t move them so far that she can,t hear them, or isn,t aware of them, because that might stress her.
    Also ducks can be quite aggressive with ducklings
    so she would need to be segregated before they hatch anyway. We have moved broody hens before but not ducks, we have two broody indian runner ducks at the moment, who are actually sitting on aggs on the same nest, they both have periods off the nest, never more than 10 minutes at a time, but they do come off about 4 or 5 times in one day.

  8. Thanks for that. We did stay well away once it had been discovered but the duck was spooked by it all. My son did not realise the duck was there and went to retrieve a ball that went nearby her nest. I can see the nest from my landing window so I’ll keep my fingers crossed she comes back.

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi CF

    There’s nothing that you can do. She probably will return when you are indoors. Keep well away from her nest. Fingers crossed.

    If she does return, don’t appear to notice her. After a while she will feel safe again.

  10. Hi, my son found a mallard nesting in our garden, but as it was startled it flew off and now she still hasn’t come back to nest. It has been 3 1/2 hours since she’s gone and I’m worried about the eggs. What shall I do?

Leave a Reply to topman Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

2,262,837 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

Copyright © 2006-2012 Cottage Smallholder      Our Privacy Policy      Advertise on Cottage Smallholder