It was with great excitement that we received a box of hatching duck eggs through the post, nearly six weeks ago. We have often talked about keeping ducks over the years, but prior to moving to the Orkney Islands, we lived in built up areas, where poultry and fowl were restricted.
We purchased a small incubator (The Brinsea Mini II Eco), which is supposed to be suitable for up to 8 eggs. I think it would be possible to fit 8 eggs in, but I wouldn’t like to see it come hatching time!
Fortunately, we only had six eggs and our kids had a rota to turn them three times a day for nearly four weeks. We watched the temperature and humidity, scared of making any little mistakes. The constant whirring of the incubators fan, made sure that we were always reminded that we had ducklings, quietly growing in the corner of our living room.
Three days before hatch day, we put the incubator into lockdown. This is the point when the eggs become particularly sensitive to any change in temperature or humidity and opening the incubator can dry out the membrane. We increased the humidity, as we didn’t want any problems with hatching.
The next day three of the eggs pipped. It was so exciting to be able to hear the ducklings and see the eggs moving from time to time.
We had our suspicions that two of the eggs had not developed, as they were a noticeably different colour and since increasing the humidity, a rather nasty smell had started to waft out of the incubator. I realise now, that I should have candled the eggs before going into lockdown, but we were worried about damaging them, by handling them too much.
It was over twenty-four hours later, before the first duckling zipped it’s egg and saw it’s first glimpse of the world. A beautiful yellow duckling, we knew that this one was half German Pekin. All of our eggs were from Cherry Vale mothers, but they had a mix of two fathers, with the other being an Indian Runner.
Sure enough, duckling number two was brown and yellow – so now we had one of each.
By this time a fourth egg had pipped, but as we approached the 48 hour mark since no.3 had pipped, I became anxious that it was having difficulties. No.3 had pipped at the small end of the egg and I was aware that this could be a problem. I had read a lot about the importance of leaving ducks to hatch by themselves, unless absolutely necessary. It was getting really stressful, so I checked in with The Highland Homestead, who had supplied our eggs, to get some advice. I was just preparing to step in, when I saw that no.3 was finally making a push for freedom and a few minutes later, Clover arrived.
I was just going to relax a little and wait for no.4 to arrive some time the next day, when I noticed that the hatched ducklings were having some real difficulties, with the tiny space inside the incubator.
Our first to hatch, Tonka, was having to sit on top of Flax, who had become trapped in a very awkward position, between the remnants of shell. We watched anxiously as poor Flax lay with Tonka sat on her head!
Eventually, they managed to rearrange themselves, but a short time later, Tonka, became stuck between the thermometer and the roof of the incubator. Tonka was clearly in distress at this point, so I made the decision to move Tonka and Flax to the brooder, leaving Clover to dry out some more in the incubator.
I knew that this would put no.4 at risk, but there didn’t seem to be any other choice.
The three that were hatched seemed to be doing really well, with more space and all fluffed up nicely. The following day, no.4 started to break free, but it only got a little section of egg loose. I could see that the membrane was yellow and knew that opening the incubator to free Tonka, had dried out our last ducklings membrane, trapping it in it’s egg.
I moved the now fully dry Clover to the brooder and prepared to help no.4.
It was a really tense few minutes, as I carefully removed small pieces of shell, watching for any signs of bleeding or blood vessels. It was quite incredible to uncover little Sorrel’s eye and see her looking at me, as I removed enough shell for her to free her head. At that point, she was able to wriggle out of her shell and I quickly popped her back in the incubator to dry.
It was such a relief to see her doing really well and moving about.
As soon as she was dry, she joined the others and now that there didn’t seem to be any risk of harm, I removed the last two eggs and candled them to check for ducklings. I was very relieved to find there were none and that hatching was complete, with four happy, healthy ducklings snuggled up together.
A week and a half later and they are very much a part of the family. All of our kids adore them, from our 3yr old, all the way up to our 19yr old. They are growing at an astonishing rate and everyday we have to change things around to suit their new size and ability.
It has been a really rewarding experience for us all and we look forward to seeing them in their proper feathers, roaming around our garden.