Duck Egg Incubation
Duck eggs should be collected daily. The eggs are usually laid early in the morning so getting up early to collect them is important because the longer they are left, the more chances there are of the eggs becoming dirty or damaged. Good husbandry is important - If you have a clean house for the ducks to lay in, there's a good chance the eggs will be clean and free of mud or muck. If possible, avoid washing eggs since they do have a natural coating that prevents bacteria from getting through the porous shell.
Eggs can be stored in a cool place for up to a week without effecting fertility too much. You must store the duck eggs pointed end down and turn the eggs over 3-4 times per day. This is to stop the membrane from sticking to the inside of the shell, as it will if left in one position for too long. Of course, if you are ready to hatch then you can go ahead and prepare your incubator for duck egg incubation.
It is necessary to run the incubator for at least 24 hours before putting your eggs in. This ensures everything has stabilized. Once you have set your incubator correctly and added your eggs, DO NOT MAKE ANY MORE ADJUSTMENTS! It is important that you let the eggs come up to temperature and stabilize which will take quite a few hours. The more eggs there are, the longer this takes. I usually leave mine for another 24 hours to stabilize before checking the temperature settings again. It is important to note that we want to closely mimic the natural incubation environment, so some temperature fluctuation is normal and perfectly acceptable.
One of the most important elements of duck egg incubation is proper humidity. Most incubators have a small container in which to add water to and this needs topping up usually every second or third day. Ventilation is equally important since the shells are porous and need to breathe. The humidity should be raised during the last few days of incubation according to the recommendations for the breed. This is normally achieved by adding water to a second reservoir although getting the humidity high enough can sometimes be difficult to achieve. I sometimes add some sheets of kitchen roll folded into a long strip, dangle one end into the water reservoir and let the other hang out. This acts like a wick and provides more surface area for the water to evaporate from and helps me to get the humidity high enough.
It is important to turn duck eggs, mimicking the actions of the mother. You have the option to either purchase an duck egg turner or to use a hand turning method. Just remember, you have sole responsibility of these eggs, so if you are not able to turn the duck eggs multiple times a day, I would advise investing in an automatic egg turner. If you do have to turn them yourself then it is wise to put a ‘X' on one side of the eggs in soft pencil so that you know which way up your eggs are. This helps if you forget which ones you have turned. You should turn your eggs an odd number of times each day so that they are on the opposite side for each ‘long night'. I would recommend a minimum of 3 turns per day. It is a good idea to move the position of your eggs around inside a still air incubator from time to time as you can get slightly different conditions in different parts of the incubator. Stop turning the eggs a few days before the hatch (there are different recommendations for different breeds but generally this is 2 or 3 days before the hatch) at the same time as you increase the humidity in the duck egg incubator.
Be patient... It is best not to disturb your eggs during the first few days as this is the most delicate stage of their growth. After 6 or 7 days you should be ready to ‘candle' your eggs. Candling is important because it helps you identify which duck eggs are viable. This can help you remove eggs that have the potential to explode or spread bacteria to other eggs.
After the appropriate amount of time has passed for your duck egg breed, generally about 28 days, your ducklings will begin to hatch. Again, be patient! Your eggs should hatch within 24 hours of one another. The difference in time between them can be caused by the differences in storage time and having slightly different incubation conditions in different parts of the incubator. It is important not to open your incubator as you will affect the humidity that has built up inside. The early birds that have hatched should stay inside the incubator as they need to dry out fully for several hours before they are moved to your brooder. Opening the duck egg incubator early will lower the humidity and make it more difficult for the remaining ducklings to hatch. Ducklings do not need to eat or drink during the first 24 hours as they have had a sufficient amount of nutrition from their egg yolk .Once the first few hatchlings have dried out and the hatch is well under way (I often leave mine overnight), you can move them out of your incubator to your brooder. You are now ready to raise them but don't forget to clean and sterilize your incubator after the hatch before too much of the mess gets dried on!