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. hello,
    i have call ducks and i found one of them has a hidden nest. She has layed around 12 eggs, but she is a small thing and i dont think she can sit on all of them. She has been sitting on them for 3 days now but, im afraid she has stopped. i dont know if i scared her off or what. im afraid that the eggs have been in the cold too long and would have died. i dont know what to do! please help!

    Much appreciated!

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Cathy

    Duck eggs can take a minimum of 28 to hatch, often a few days more.

    Mrs Boss has been known to sit on a clutch of china eggs for a month so it’s difficult to say whether your duck is sitting on fertile eggs or not.

    You can touch the eggs without harming them. You could candle the eggs. This means shining a torch through the egg to see what’s inside. There is a helpful site here with instructions but at this stage I personally would leave the duck sitting. If they are not fertile she will eventually give up as the eggs will go bad. Broodiness in fowl is hormonal. You can help by giving her space.

    I’d be interested to hear what happens eventually.

  3. I live near a lake and we found a Florida duck nesting in a mound of high grass. There are alot of eggs and she has been sitting on them…it seems like a month or more. My question is this: Will she still lay on these eggs if they are dead? She seems sooo dedicated and it is breaking our hearts to think of her dedication to her babies…how can we tell they still have life in them? Is it wise to touch them when she goes out for a quick swim in the lake or to feed herself…she is never gone long. Can we touch them and put them back without harming them?
    We just want to help…It seems so long that she has been sitting on her nest. And if we do touch them, how can we tell if there is life in them?

    Thanks so much!!

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Mark

    It’s possible to move a duck and eggs but where would you move them to?

    A friend of mine found a duck on a nesting her empty swimming pool, she rang the RSPCA and they took them away. You could try that as they’d know exactly how to move the duck and eggs.

  5. Help! I live on the 4th floor of a building and a duck has laid 7 eggs on my porch garden this morning. How do I get rid of her and them? If they hatch up here, the ducklings are stuck on my small porch. Can I relocate the nest to the ground? I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t want a duck family living on my porch for the summer.

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Kim

    The bantam eggs should hatch within the limit of bantam egg hatching. Often they take an extra 2-3 days (sometimes even longer) to hatch. If she is still sitting a week after 19 days seriously consider that you may have a dud batch.

    Mrs Boss was sitting on duck eggs (incubation period 28 days) the first hatched on day 30 and the last on day 32.

    Fingers crossed tat you get some chicks. Love to hear how you get on!

  7. Hello,
    We have a broody chicken sitting on bantam eggs. She is on day 19 and no sign of hatching yet – I guess she would sense if anything was wrong. She seems serene enough. If a chicken sits on Bantam eggs is the incubation duration that of a Bantam or a chicken ir 19 or 21 days? This is our first. If anyone has any advice I owuld be very grateful to receive it. She’s a lovely little Hen and deserves a baby from this.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lori

    This is interesting as I have no experience in the artificial incubation field. Mrs Boss is our living incubator!

    I’d be really interested to hearhow this turns out for you and would be grateful for any updates.

  9. I’m on day 27 with a mallard egg left in my garden. I’ve been candling it most days. 2 eggs were left and only one has developed. It’s been fun to watch . Mine is at the stage where I believe the yolk is being absorbed into the chick. I also don’t see movement anymore – and you can tell there isn’t anything for it to float in anymore and the blood veins are gone. I’ve set it up in it’s brooder, and hopefully it will hatch this weekend. Just used a heating pad since I found it , and turned it a few times a day. In its new brooder setup the heating pad is on the bottom under some towels and I have a lamp setup for above heat.

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Gina

    I’m sorry but I can’t answer your question. I have no experience of incubating eggs (Mrs Boss is our incubator!).

    There is a handy site with information about candling eggs here

    Perhaps someone else out there can help?

    I’d be interested to hear what happens.

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