The Cottage Smallholder

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Update on Mrs Boss and her ducklings: The final count is three

bantam with ducklings and guinea fowlWhen I opened the wall of the Emerald Castle this morning Mrs Boss was sitting as far from the nest as possible. The ducklings peeped out at me from beneath her wings. Bright eyed and curious.

The stench from the nest was rank. One egg was whole the other two were piped. This means that there was a small hole in the eggs. I don’t know whether Mrs Boss had pecked the eggs or they were made by a duckling struggling to get out. The smell indicated that the ducklings inside the eggs had been dead for some time.

I removed them and cleaned up the nest. It’s always sad when some don’t make it.

Mrs Boss had strolled into the castle grounds with her brood as the cleaning operation shifted into gear. So I lowered the portculis and gave the castle a good spring clean. Changed the hay in the nest and treated the space for mites. Cloud and Thunder watched this operation with interest. It was their castle last year, after all.

I had a chat with S this afternoon about the extended hatching periods of duckling eggs. When a fertilised egg is laid it is in suspended animation until the bird decides to sit. A duck might lay 10 to 15 eggs before settling on a nest. The egg laid on day one should develop simultaneously with the final egg laid on day fifteen. This is how a duck, hen or guinea fowl can sit on a large nest of eggs that all hatch at around the same time.

If you put your hand under a broody hen you will discover that it is a warm and softly luxurious spot. The temperature is around 37c. When an egg reaches a constant temperature of 37c-38c, cells start to divide. Once the process has started there is no going back. If an egg is allowed to get completely cold the embryo will stop developing.

“I put a batch of duck eggs in our incubator on the same day. The first duckling hatched on a Sunday and the last on the following Saturday. A whole week apart. Initially we thought that we’d been given a duff batch and we’d just have Jack but we decided to wait and see what happened. ” We watched their row of ducks crossing the garden to the back door. S pointed them out by name.
“Hatching duck eggs is different from hen eggs. The window can be much longer than you expect.”

Meanwhile Freddie, Tipex and Eric are keeping Mrs Boss busy back in the Emerald Castle. They are a joy to watch and already are developing their own personalities. Freddie is the most adventurous and the first to respond to Mrs Boss’s call. Tipex is fairly laid back, happy to sit and watch her siblings. Eric is inquisitive and likes to play with Freddie. His black legs and feet look like he’s wearing a pair of brand new Wellington boots.

Danny and I watched them playing in the castle grounds. I had put a water fountain outside the castle just in case they got thirsty. Mrs Boss checked it, drank a little water and then called her brood to drink. Freddie dipped his bill in the water and ran around the fountain, bill immersed. Eric was intrigued and tried it too.
“I do hope that they are not all drakes.”
“I reckon that Tipex is female. Her head looks a bit softer.”
We are complete novices on the duckling front so I looked up how to tell the gender of an Indian Runner duck on the internet. Apparently when they start quacking (at around six weeks) we will be able to tell the ducks from the drakes. The drakes have a softer quack. Until then we will have fun trying to work out which is which.

This project has given us so much pleasure already.
“Are we keeping the ducks?” Danny asked as we walked back to the cottage.
“No they will eventually go to live on the stud with The Chicken Lady and S.”

Runner Ducks need quite a bit of space. It wouldn’t be fair to keep them in an enclosed pen. I love watching the Indian Runner ducks on the stud. The small group is constantly on the move. They remind me of coach trippers, companionably exploring the paddocks and The Chicken Lady’s beautiful garden. This will be a wonderful place for our ducklings to live and range free.

It will be a wrench to let them go but until then we have plenty of time to enjoy seeing them grow up under the care and tutelage of the diminutive Mrs Boss. S suggested that we give them a paddling pool tomorrow. Weekly updates from now on.

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  1. Hi I am an avid duck person. I have backward ducks muscovys I really love them. But I have one female duck who has been sitting on a clutch for quite sometime. This am I noticed it really smelled bad. I let her out of the barn to go outside at her will this am. I figured she was not going to sit on them any more. But this evening after work I noticed she moved her eggs and her nest over about a foot and left the two smelly ones in the old nest. I removed the two and checked the next for dampness ect. Because the eggs were really cold and I have a light on over the ducks. Does she know if some of her eggs are ok or not or is she just sitting on unfertile eggs. I have one drake and 3 females. My older duck has succussfully raised 18, 3, 7 and 5 babies over several different years. She doesnt lay very many eggs andmore but she is my best pet. Daisy is her name. But this is a different duck. Should I leave her or take them away. muskovys take about 45 days to hatch. and it is pretty close to tat time within a few days. I am not sure what to do Linda

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Linda

      My advice would be to let her sit for 5 days over the ‘normal’ 45 day hatching period. Just to be sure.

  2. Shannon

    Was glad to stumble upon your website re: Ms Boss and her ducklings. Our (very) recent experience with our broody hen and runner duck eggs was similar except we ended up with only ONE live duckling. I take full responsibility as we were sent too many eggs (and had no incubator) and, since I couldn’t make myself dispose of any of the eggs (how to choose) I think we gave her too many to sit on and so most went bad eventually. Mom and baby (now three days old) seem content with each other, but since this will be the first ‘duck’ in our brood, I wonder if I need to find a companion duckling in the near future. I’m in Washington State and our county fairs will be upon us soon.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Gemma

    All in well with our ducklings (now a month old).
    It’s very similar to hatching chicks except that the ducks are besotted with water and poor old Mrs Boss always looks a bit damp!

    Good luck with yours.

  4. Congratulations on hatching the ducklings with your broody hen. I found your site as we’re thinking of doing the same thing – we have a broody hen who has just hatched some chicks so when she is back to full health we are hoping to hatch some call ducks with her. I will bookmark your site and pop back again.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pat

    Yes it’s a shame about the other three eggs but this type of duck grows very fast and I reckon that Mrs Boss will have enough on her plate with Freddie, Tipex and Eric.

    Hi Sally,

    Sometimes a piped egg does hatch. Looking forward to knowing their genders too!

    Hi Wendy

    The ducklings are a joy. Now getting heavily into water. Poor Mrs Boss looks damp most of the time!

    Fingers crossed on the Inca front!

    Great that you™re enjoying the blog!

  6. Wendy

    So pleased to hear all the news of Freddie, Eric and Tipex Boss! My husband’s desk is opposite mine and I regularly read your pages out loud to him. He sends his best wishes to the family. (Sad regrets about the unlucky three.) You have been working hard and we wish you loads of enjoyment with them. We are also following Inca’s currently interesting life!

  7. Sally

    I’m also looking forward to the updates (particularly on their genders). And, thanks for the explanation – it is a bad thing – and a sad one at that.

  8. Awwwwww Sorry about the other three eggs, but I think Mrs. Boss will have her hands(wings) full with these three. I can’t wait to watch them grow up through reading your blog about them. Thanks Fiona for sharing them.

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