Incubation, hatching and raising waterfowl

  • How do I tell if the eggs are fertile?

    It is virtually impossible to tell if an egg is fertile prior to incubation. Once incubation has begun, eggs can be tested by candling. This involves shining a bright light into the blunt end of the egg. If the eggs are fertile, small red veins will be visible after a week or so. By 8 days, there is a network similar to a spider web. If this is not visible, the egg is infertile and should be discarded. An infertile egg can go rotten and jeopardise an entire batch.

    The fresher the eggs the better. Eggs after the first week start to deteriorate. If you can set eggs weekly that is best, if eggs are older than 14 days the results will often be very disappointing. In a nest, the duck or hen turns the eggs and they store better, so with mum’s help nest eggs often hatch after 3 weeks.

    Hatching and raising waterfowl

    If you do not wish to hatch waterfowl using a broody hen or duck , or if you want the more ‘hands on’ technique you can hatch the eggs in an incubator.

    Incubators are readily available. Many produce stores have them, or there are speciality shops Australia-wide which  will mail order them to you. Incubators come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, some holding a handful of eggs, others holding 1000s. It is always a personal preference as to what brand you use. Often the larger incubators can be as cheap to run as the smaller ones.

    The basic principle of all incubators is the same. To keep the air temperature around the eggs constant to allow easy hatching. There are two types of incubators: (1) still air – the air does not circulate, it is heated by the element and kept at that temperature; and (2) Fan Forced which circulate the air constantly around the eggs. Fan forced tend to be more reliable compared to the still airs in most situations.

    Incubators need a constant humidity. Most incubators on the market now have a wet bulb thermometer which measures the humidity in the incubator. Others don’t – for the ones that don’t spraying the eggs twice a day with warm water is usually sufficient.

    Eggs need to be turned a minimum of two or three times a day. Often this means physically turning them – put a cross on one side of the egg with a pencil so you know which side to turn. Alternatively you can purchase incubators with an automatic turning system.

    Hen eggs take 18-21 days to hatch. Some breeds hatch faster than others so do not throw the eggs away because 5 hatched on the 20th day. Some people wait to 25 days.

    Mallard derived ducks (anything except for muscovies) take 28-30 days.

    Muscovies take 34-37 days.

    Geese take 30 days to hatch.

    Once hatched, the young birds should be allowed to either dry in the incubator or placed in a clean brooder box. A brooder box is designed to provide ample heat for the young birds until they feather.

    Brooder boxes need to be large enough to accommodate your birds until around 5 weeks of age.

    A brooder box can be made of cardboard or wood. Basically, have a box fully unclosed with room to have two lamp fittings running. Place for the first week two 40 watt incandescent globes, then you can graduate down to a 40 and a 25 watt for the second to fourth weeks and then two 25 watt incandescent globes from 4 weeks to six weeks. Depending on the time of year, some birds may need longer in the brooder boxes, especially if you are in a cold winter snap.

    The basic principles of raising chickens apply to raising them in brooders.

    You need to feed and water your young birds at least twice a day, and clean their litter when dirty.

    Between 5 and 7 weeks of age, it is usually possible to graduate birds from the brooder box. They  should then go to a clean pen with lots of shavings. For the first week or two, they are given a upended cardboard box with doorways cut in the side. The birds can then huddle inside if it is cold and their body heat is trapped by the box. Often chickens will need some assistance with getting inside for the first few nights.

    Once outside, they can be let out to free range at 8-10 weeks of age. Bear in mind they will get into everything. At about 15 weeks of age you can introduce them to the older birds. At this age, they are old enough to fend for themselves, but keep and eye out for them, and make sure they are not suffering too much. -If they are, remove them and try again in a week or two.

    Between 18 and 25 weeks the eggs will start coming. At this age they are Point of Lay. The eggs will be small at first and will increase in size with age.