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.

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  1. linda taylor

    I have been incubating some runner duck eggs for the last 19 days in an incubator.
    I have a hen that is going broody. Would it work if I transfer the eggs to the hen?

    • Fiona Nevile

      I’m not sure about this. It probably would work. Let us know how you get on!

  2. thank you for the helpfull reading i have learned a lot today. cu soon. topman

  3. just got 2 eggs out from my lady 2 baby mozkovy ducklings. she has 2 to go shes a great mammy hen.

  4. Incubating chicks master

    Wow congratualations on incubating duck eggs.
    I’m focused more on backyard chicken care, and never even thought of duck raising.

    I’m may try it out somtime..

    For those people that are just starting out with chicken care you can get an informative 10 Lesson minicourse found here:

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hello LIla

    Muscovy ducks sit for at least 35 days. So I’d give her at least five extra days. Yes if she is going to hatch eggs she should ideally have been given a seperate space from the begining. All (including the male) should be excluded from her compound.

    If she does hatch out eggs the male duck needs to be excluded for at least 8-12 weeks. He could damage and kill the ducklings by mistake.

  6. I have a Muscovy duck that laid 18 eggs. Now there are only 9 left. Either the other ducks roll them out of the nest or another animal is taking them. She has been sitting on them for about 35 days and nothing has happened. I leave food and water for her so that she doesn’t have to leave the nest. The male duck still goes into her nest & sits on top of her holding down her head. Do you thing the eggs will still hatch? Should I clean the nest or clean the eggs? Should I put a small picket fence around the nest so the other ducks can’t get to the eggs? This is my first experience & I’m not sure what’s the best thing to do for them to hatch.
    Thank you, Lila

  7. Really interesting reading this thread… I have three bantams sitting on one duck egg each – about day 24 for the first egg, and day 26 and 27 for the second two. I didn’t think to separate the first broody bantam did I so of course they have all gone to ‘play’ at mum and no more bantam eggs!!! Question – do I remove the ducklings as they hatch and put them under a heat lamp separately… or leave them with the bantams? Will the cockerel bother the ducklings? Help? Thanks for all the titbits of advice so far… inadvertently given of course.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Shicks

      The cockerel needs to be kept well away from the ducklings and the bantams. The bantams will mother the ducklings so there is no need to put the ducklings under a heat lamp. When the ducklings are about a third of their adult size they can be introduced to the rest of the flock. I have not had three broodies together so can’t adbise on what to expect.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Heidi

    I always move a broody hen to a quite, separate place (we don’t have ducks here just raised a few this year for some friends). If the eggs do hatch out, the ducklings need to be safely away from the rest of the flock, they are delicate and could easily be damaged by ducks stampeding for food. The adoptive mother will be tired at the end of the day and an enclosed space insures that she will have peace and quiet when needed.

    I don’t know whether it’s too early in the year to raise ducklings but suspect that a separate house (or a cordoned off area), with a heat lamp would do the trick. In England ducks tend to mate and lay in the spring and summer months.

    I’m no expert but would love to hear how you get on.

  9. I have two khaki campbells and one Cayuga all females. The Cayuga is broody and seems as though willing to brood out a set of eggs, but of course these are not fertile. Thinking of getting some fertile eggs now if I can find some (I live in Western Washington) and encourage her to hatch out some ducklings. If so, I have a few questions…

    Will the other ducks continue to lay in another nest if I make one for them? Or will they go off laying? Should I create another house for them? or? Until now all ducks i’ve had seem to lay in one big nest, or just lay out in the open.

    I can add lights if needed to help warm the duck house. Would February be just too early to have a brood of ducklings? (we could still get snow, but just for a day, new growth happens about this time) I’d like to get an early start for egg production this year. Any experience with this?

    thanks, happy to find this website, lots of information here.

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Blaire

    There’s nothing that you can do. She may return to the nest – keep a careful eye on her but avoid the nest if possible. If she has been sitting and left the nest for over half an hour or more the eggs will have gone cold and won’t be viable.

    Maybe in the spring she’ll have another go. This often seems to happen to young ducks – they have a sort of practice run.

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