Table of Contents
Mink Hollow Farm Hatching Handbook
Everything You've Wanted to Know [2008 Edition]
For details about ordering, pick-up and returns please see the Hatch Dates page.
Mink Hollow Waterfowl Farm specializes in uncommon but especially useful breeds of ducks and geese. Our goal is to develop and improve both the production and exhibition qualities of a few breeds of waterfowl by careful selection of only our finest birds for breeding purposes.
We provide 'Hatching Packages' to local schools wishing to give their students the opportunity to see one of Nature's many miracles first hand. We feel it is a valuable experience to be able to watch the hatching process and to get to know these wonderful little creatures for a short time. We will provide your school with all the information and supplies you should require (except the equipment). As we are continually updating and modifying our 'Hatching Package' we would very much appreciate you taking the time to fill out our questionnaire once your project is complete. Any and all feed-back (including criticism) is most welcome. Our goal is to develop individual packages geared to each level from pre-school and ECS to the junior and senior high level so your input is important to us.
Our hatching package normally includes the following:
- Reference materials and activities (Now Available On-Line!)
- 3 ready-to-hatch eggs OR 12 freshly laid eggs
- Approximately 2 Kg. of duck starter
- vitamin supplement for the drinking water
- 2 fresh eggs to examine
- feather samples
- blown out (empty) eggs to examine [font red](as available)[/font]
- Egg Marketing Board literature [font red](as available)[/font]
Additional copies of any literature produced by the Egg Marketing Board are available through the Alberta Egg Producers Board. I'm told it is possible to get sufficient copies to give to all your students.
- Ready To Hatch Eggs:
For younger students, we would recommend getting eggs which are almost ready to hatch, rather than starting with freshly laid eggs. 28 days is a long time for most children to wait, and you are assured of a higher success rate if the eggs are almost ready when you get them. We normally hatch duck eggs every week from the end of March through the end of June, and are happy to provide either freshly laid eggs or ready-to-hatch eggs. We don't currently deliver, so eggs must be picked up here at the farm. Make sure you have what you need to transport them safely. Enclosed with this document is a 'checklist' that will tell you what you need. Freshly laid eggs can be picked up at any time (as long as the birds are laying!), and ready to-hatch eggs can be picked up on any Sunday of a hatching week. When you come to the farm we can show you the parents of your eggs and depending on the time, we will also show you a hatch in progress as well as any babies we have available. Unfortunately, we are not set up for class tours but you are welcome to bring a camera and take any photos you wish. Most children enjoy being able to see where the ducklings have come from as well as pictures of what they will look like as adults.
Our eggs are usually set to hatch on a Wednesday, and the ready-to-hatch eggs are guaranteed to be alive when you get them. We usually try to provide at least one egg that has already pipped (begun to break through the shell), with the others at slightly different stages. They should all hatch within two or three days. Since it is impossible to predict exactly when the eggs will hatch, having one that is already pipped makes it very likely that the children will be able to watch it hatch the very same day. We recommend that ready-to-hatch eggs are picked up before school on Sunday so you will have the entire week to watch the process and get the babies settled before the next weekend.
If you decide to start with freshly laid eggs, the process will be slightly more involved. The eggs are candled before you get them and you will be given only well-shaped, strong shelled eggs with no cracks or other visible internal abnormalities. Our fertility rate is high (approx. 95%), but we cannot guarantee that the eggs are fertile as there is no way to tell without looking at the germinal disk attached to the yolk under a microscope. Under OPTIMUM conditions, one can expect to hatch approximately 65 to 75 percent of all eggs set. However, it is possible for a hatch to fail entirely especially if only a few eggs are set. If this should happen, we will do our best to provide you with ready-to-hatch replacements, or just hatched ducklings so the students won't be too disappointed. Having a hatch fail can be discouraging, but it is in itself a valuable lesson too.
Please be sure to read all of the enclosed information carefully. As I'm sure you know, the better you understand the incubation and hatching process yourself, the better equipped you will be to answer students' questions. Also, if something should go wrong you will be better able to deal with it. Living things have a habit of surprising us!
We would prefer to have the babies back when you are “finished” with them. For children who wish to keep some ducklings as pets, they must have the consent of their parents and (of course) adequate facilities. Please have their parents contact us if they are interested. Ducks are very sociable creatures and should always have the company of at least one other duck so please don't let them go to other homes individually. The care of any animal is a serious commitment and a healthy duck can live as long as 20 years! It is very important to us that these animals be properly cared for and as these are DOMESTIC ducks which cannot fly, THEY CANNOT BE RELEASED INTO THE WILD. Ducks can make wonderful pets… we have even known of a number of people who have successfully kept ducks as pets in the city. The pamphlet entitled 'Ducks as Pets' should provide enough information to get started. The ducklings you have hatched are NOT to be given away as breeding stock. This is our business, and we cannot give breeding stock away.
- BEFORE YOU BEGIN
As this project deals with living animals, it is of utmost importance that you are properly prepared to look after both the eggs and the babies that come out of them. It does not require a great deal of effort, but some attention to detail at the start will help ensure that this project is a success to the end.
You will need the following:
- INCUBATOR (see next section)
- BROODER (see later)
- box or cage at least 2 sq. ft. in size
- absorbent bedding (not saw-dust or cat litter)
- a source of heat (a desk lamp works fine)
- FOOD and WATER CONTAINERS (described later)
- UNMEDICATED DUCK-STARTER (which we will provide)
- THE INCUBATOR
To help ensure that this project is a success, there are a few things you should do to prepare before getting your eggs.
Set up the incubator AT LEAST two (2) days before putting in the eggs. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for set-up and correct temperature. Generally, the correct temperature setting for ducks will be 37.3 degrees Celsius (99.2 F) for the first fourteen days, then 37.2 degrees (99 F) until three days before hatching, and 36.9 degrees (98.5 F) for the hatch. The incubator should be set up and turned on far enough in advance to allow it to settle and the temperature to stabilize before the eggs are put in. It is often necessary to adjust the incubator frequently until the correct temperature is attained. NOTE: The temperatures listed above are for FORCED AIR incubators ONLY. Still-air incubators must be 1-2 degrees Celsius higher. MAKE SURE YOU READ AND FOLLOW THE MANUFACTURER'S INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE INCUBATOR YOU HAVE. A difference of 1 or 2 degrees will harm and can kill the developing embryos. Although ducklings are more tolerant of errors in temperature setting at hatch time than at any other time, the hatch will go more smoothly if the temperature is kept at the correct setting for hatching in your particular incubator. All incubators should have a place to hold water as sufficient humidity (especially at hatch time) is crucial to the survival of the babies. Make sure you keep the reservoir well filled with WARM water and that it NEVER be allowed to dry out. The drying will cause the temperature to rise and could possibly kill the ducklings.
- ADJUSTING THE TEMPERATURE
Most manufactured incubators have a thermostat and a heating element, often mounted inside the lid. The thermostat is set using the small up-side down 'L' shaped adjusting screw which is often secured with a wing nut of some sort. To set the temperature, fill the water receptacles with warm water, put the lid on the incubator and plug it in. There should be a small (red) light that comes on whenever the heater is on (like the oven light on your stove). Loosen the wing nut part way and turn the adjusting screw counter-clockwise several turns. The indicator light should now be on. As the incubator heats up, check the thermometer every 5-10 minutes until it reaches about 98 degrees (F). Then check it more often as the temperature continues to rise and once it gets to 99 degrees (F), stay with it. Watch the thermometer (WHICH HAS BEEN PLACED WHERE THE EGGS ARE GOING TO BE) and once it reads 99.5 (F), turn the adjusting screw clockwise (lower) just until the indicator light clicks off. Stop turning when the light clicks off and leave the incubator sit for about 30 minutes, then check the temperature again. If it's still correct (99.5 F), you're done. Tighten the wing nut until just snug and you're ready for your eggs. If the temperature is wrong, adjust the screw higher or lower as appropriate by no more than 1/4 turn each time, leaving 15-20 minutes between each adjustment to allow the incubator to stabilize.
- MAKING YOUR OWN INCUBATOR
If you do not have access to an incubator, it is possible to 'build' one using an aquarium and a desk lamp. The aquarium must be box-shaped (no fish-bowls), and not too large - the 5gallon kind are great. In order for this to work, you must have an accurate thermometer (we sometimes have incubator thermometers available). Note: “fever” thermometers will not work. Household thermometers will work in a pinch. Our advice is to buy 3 - the two that agree are likely to be right. You must also be prepared to spend extra time experimenting with the placement of the heat source (the desk lamp) in order to get the correct temperature.
To set up this incubator, place the aquarium someplace where it WILL NOT BE DISTURBED. It should be accessible to the students but once set up, NEITHER THE AQUARIUM NOR THE LAMP CAN BE MOVED. Place a folded, damp (not wet), warm towel in the bottom of the aquarium and then adjust the desk lamp so it shines directly into the aquarium through the open top. It might also be a good idea to place a small rack (like from a toaster-oven) on top of the towel so the eggs don't sit directly on the damp towel. Make sure the rack is absolutely clean before using it.
Now comes the fiddly part. The thermometer's bulb must be in the same location as the eggs to get an accurate reading and the best way to accomplish this is to suspend it from strings attached to the top of the aquarium. Laying the thermometer on the towel will not give an accurate reading, nor will laying the thermometer on top of the eggs. If you can spare them, the best way to set the temperature in this incubator is with 2-3 real eggs (chicken eggs from the grocery store are fine); the second best is with egg-sized rocks. You need to place something in the incubator for it to heat up. It will take 12-24 hours for it to heat the objects inside (especially if they started out cold), and for the thermometer to give an accurate reading. Do not make these adjustments using live (fertile) eggs because the temperature fluctuations that occur while adjusting will almost certainly kill the embryo inside. THE GOAL IS TO KEEP THE TEMPERATURE ROUND THE EGGS AT 37.5 degrees Celsius (100 F). NOTE: A dimmer switch on the lamp may simplify the set-up. BE CAREFUL!!! There may be a difference of 3-5 degrees from one part of the incubator to another so make SURE the thermometer is as close to the eggs as possible.
Once the objects are heated, it becomes a matter of changing the distance between the heat source (the light bulb) and the 'eggs' until the correct temperature is attained. If the thermometer says it's too hot you must make the heat source less effective (intense) by moving it away; if it's too cold then bring it closer. Each time you make an adjustment, it will take at least 20 minutes for the temperature to stabilize again, so this will take some patience. Once the correct temperature has been reached and it is stable (the temperature does not change between, let's say, half-hourly readings), it might be wise to somehow mark the lamp setting and placement so if it accidentally gets bumped, you will at least be able to move it close to the correct position quickly. If it does get bumped, you will have to set up the lamp position in the same way as before but if you have live eggs you cannot afford to make too many mistakes. If you have difficulty getting the incubator warm enough, you can help increase the temperature by partially covering the aquarium, or by using a higher-wattage bulb (with-in safety standards). If it's still too cold, line three sides of the incubator with tin foil (keeping the front clear for viewing). If you have trouble keeping it from getting too hot, use a lower-wattage bulb. Believe it or not, the 'Globe-Type' Incubators use a 7-watt night-light bulb, and they have a very definite tendency to overheat!
FOR ALL INCUBATORS: Once the temperature is stable, there are only a few other things to watch out for. Make sure that the towel (or other water receptacle) is kept damp AT ALL TIMES. The temperature will rise if the humidity drops, and this will adversely affect the hatchlings. When you add water, sprinkle it on (don't pour it), and make sure the water is as close as reasonably possible to the current incubator temperature.
One other thing to watch out for comes as a result of the ducklings hatching. As they struggle to get out, they will generate a certain amount of heat all by themselves. This will affect the overall incubator temperature (in all incubators), so be careful of over-heating as the hatch progresses.
- THE BROODER
If you are getting ready-to-hatch eggs you should also have the 'brooder' set up and ready before you get your eggs. If you are starting with freshly laid eggs you will of course have more time for this. Newly hatched ducklings do not require fancy facilities. They need a draft-free box or cage lined with dry, absorbent litter and a source of heat. The heat source can be as simple as a desk lamp hung over one corner. We usually use a 60 or 100 watt bulb and find it works just fine. The ducklings should have the option of sitting safely under the lamp when they want to be warm or moving away from the heat if they get too warm. Their behaviour will indicate to you when they are comfortable. Ducklings which are too cold will huddle under the lamp and peep rather pathetically, and if they are too hot they will try and get away from the heat and be in obvious distress. Happy ducklings are active and noisy in between naps and like to pile up together for sleep time. Even during naps they frequently shuffle and shift as the ones on the bottom of the pile try to get on top. Sleeping ducklings are completely relaxed and lie every which way. They do not adopt the traditional 'head under one wing' position until they are much older so do not be alarmed when you see them lying all twisted together.
The bedding in the bottom of the box or cage should be absorbent and provide sufficient footing so they do not slip. Newspaper tends to be quite slippery so if you use it, put a layer or two of paper towel on top. Ducklings can be very messy and although newspaper and paper towel work fine, they have to be changed more often than you would probably like. An alternative is to line the bottom with newspaper for absorbency and put a layer of straw or other bedding on top. Almost anything will do for bedding as long as it's small enough not to impede their movements and too large to be eaten. They have great difficulty navigating over un-cut straw unless you flatten it down, and their curious nature will prompt them to try and eat anything they can get into their mouths. Kitty litter is NOT recommended and wood chips are OK only if large enough that they cannot be eaten (NO cedar please - it's toxic). Grass clippings are wonderful so long as the lawn they came from was not sprayed with ANY herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. In this case you may even want to cut some of the grass small enough so the ducklings CAN eat them, for all ('chemical-free') greens are very good for them.
The babies are born with sufficient reserves of nutrients that they do not need to eat or drink for approximately 2-3 days after hatching. Once they are dry and have recovered from the ordeal of hatching though, they should have food and water available at all times. The food dish can be made of almost anything and should be low enough to reach easily. They WILL climb into and over it so it should not tip easily. The waterer must be designed so they cannot climb into it for they will get wet and chilled. They will also make a big mess of the entire cage. Waterers are available at the LILYDALE (CO-OP) HATCHERY and most livestock feed and equipment stores for about $5.00 but it is not difficult to improvise your own. You will need a medium sized jar, a flat-bottomed dish not much larger than the opening of the jar (the lid from a large peanut butter jar works great), and two small pieces of doweling (pencils work just fine). The doweling should be short enough to fit inside the dish rather than across the rim. Fill the jar with luke-warm water (never cold), balance the two pieces of doweling across the mouth of the jar and place the inverted dish on top of that. Then hang on to the dish and the jar together and quickly turn the whole thing upside down. The doweling provides enough space for some water to run into the dish which will be automatically replaced as the ducklings drink it. There should be enough space around the edge of the dish for the ducklings to dunk their bills (and possibly heads) in the water without being able to actually climb in. We also have watering bases that can be screwed onto jars available for sale. Sorry, but we cannot loan them (we have had too many that were not returned).
If you have the space you can give them access to swimming water using a CLEAN paint roller tray. Be prepared for lots of splashing! If you have enough room to place a roller tray right inside the brooder, I would still recommend it be removed at night and replaced with a more modest water receptacle at night - for the ducklings' safety.
THE INCUBATION PROCESS
Duck eggs take approximately 28 days to incubate. If you are setting fresh eggs, put them in the incubator 28 days before you want them to hatch. HINT: Late hatches are more common than early ones so if you set them to hatch on a Tuesday, the children will have the best chance of witnessing the hatch, even if a bit late. Once laid, there are really only 4 things that the eggs need to develop properly. All must be provided in exactly the right amounts or the hatch will suffer and may fail entirely.
- MOVEMENT (TURNING)
The ideal temperature depends on the type of incubator used. PLEASE READ THE MANUFACTURER'S INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY. The eggs are more tolerant of temperature fluctuations towards the end of their incubation period but temperatures that are either too high or too low can cause the embryo to suffer and possibly die. Eggs must be turned and candled, and taking them out of the incubator for candling will not hurt them. Remember that the natural mother will leave the nest to eat and drink as well; just make sure your eggs are not left out for long periods and allowed to cool. Check the incubator whenever it is opened to make sure the temperature returns to normal fairly quickly after being closed again. When the eggs are removed for candling, it is a good idea to take all the eggs out at once and keep the incubator closed while you are candling the eggs so it will still be warm when you return them.
Once out of the incubator, the eggs will be fine for 2-3 minutes before they need to go back, so feel free to let the children listen to them. Once the duckling has broken into the air cell you will be able to hear it knocking on the shell and peeping occasionally even before it has made the first crack in the shell. They are not very loud so you must hold the egg up to your ear. Hearing-impaired students will very likely be able to feel the egg jiggle in their hands if they are patient (as can anyone else so long as they are patient enough to hold still for a few minutes). Once the hatch is underway, it should be safe enough to remove the eggs for a few minutes every hour or so to check on them 'up close'. Just make sure the incubator stays warm so the eggs will warm up again quickly once returned. Back to Top
In our climate it is difficult to maintain sufficient humidity. Make sure the water reservoirs in the incubator are always full. The water should be clean and as close to the incubator temperature as possible. Cold water will cause the incubator to cool down while it warms the water up. The eggs can be sprayed with warm water daily for the first two weeks, and the last 2-3 days but this is not absolutely necessary. The humidity should be as high as possible once the eggs start to hatch but do not spray an egg that has pipped. The membranes inside the egg must remain supple enough to be torn by the struggling duckling and if sprayed will become rubbery (they cannot tear if they are rubbery).
The developing embryos get oxygen and release carbon dioxide by osmosis through the shell. A network of blood vessels attached to the inside of the shell carries these gases to and from the duckling via the umbilical cord (yes, birds DO have belly-buttons!). This network of blood vessels serves much the same function as the placenta does in mammals but is much more limited. The egg is laid with all the nutrients it will require and most of the waste products remain inside the shell. The waste is often noticeable as a greenish (slightly 'gooey') substance left in the shell after hatching (in a healthy duckling it will not smell foul). Insufficient air circulation is seldom a problem in small incubators because there are no tight seals, and because the incubator will be opened regularly to turn the eggs.
A setting duck instinctively shuffles and shifts her position on average about once every 20-35 minutes, thereby rolling the eggs around. As the eggs under a duck are seldom uniformly warm, she will shift the cooler eggs from the outside of the clutch towards the inside and the warmer ones towards the outside. Eggs in an incubator should be turned AT LEAST twice a day. The eggs are usually marked (in pencil) with an 'X' on one side and an 'O' on the other so it is easy to keep track of which eggs have been turned. They should be turned 180 degrees each time so the side that was on top becomes the bottom and vice-versa. If possible the eggs should be turned an odd number of times each day (like 3) so that the sides alternate being 'up' during the night. Insufficient or inconsistent turning in the early stages may cause the yolk to stick to the shell which often results in the death of the embryo. Improper turning in the later stages may result in ducklings being born with deformed feet and legs (they seem to need the exercise). If you are setting freshly laid eggs, do not set cold eggs directly in the incubator. Allow them to warm up at least to room temperature overnight before putting them in the incubator. It may even help to let them warm up further in sunlight for an hour or so just before setting them. The eggs should not be turned for the first 24 hours after being set in the incubator and you can stop turning them once they pip. Most sources say it is not necessary to turn the eggs for the last 1-2 days before hatching, but we have found that continuing to turn the eggs until they have actually pipped (or until you know they have broken into the air sac) results in a higher percentage of healthy ducklings.
If you are getting ready-to-hatch eggs, they should be put in the incubator as soon as possible, and should be turned regularly until they have pipped or until you can hear them 'knocking'.
- CANDLING EGGS
Eggs are candled by placing them up against a light source so you can see inside. It should be done in a darkened room and requires no special equipment. A flashlight can be turned into a 'candler' simply by cupping your hand around the beam so your thumb meets your fingers and an egg-shaped opening somewhat smaller than the egg is made. Place the egg on the circle made by your thumb and fore-finger so the light from the flashlight shines through the egg with you looking at the other side. It will not be possible to see much detail, but you will be able to determine if the egg is developing normally.
The eggs should be candled at 7 days' incubation, then again at 14 and 21 days. By four days, the heart will be partially formed and if you are patient you will be able to see it beating. At seven days, the eyes are visible as relatively large black dots, and the embryo will be in almost constant movement. At 14 days you should be able to make out a rough outline of the embryo and by 21 days the entire egg will be nearly blacked out. After this time you will gain more information by looking at the two ends of the egg, where you should be able to see occasional movement. Any eggs found to be dead or infertile should be removed from the incubator. Clear (infertile) eggs are fairly easy to spot at 7 days and should be discarded at that time.
Early dead embryos can also be detected at 7 days and will be seen as mostly clear with the exception of a red ring on or around the yolk. If you suspect an egg of having died but are not sure, leave it in the incubator for a few more days and then check it again. Do not leave 'dead' eggs in the incubator too long, though. If they are allowed to remain in the incubator, they will rot and have even been known to explode on occasion. We had a goose egg explode in our incubator once and we had to shut down the incubator, hose it down, disinfect it and leave it outside to air out for two weeks before the smell was gone! The resultant mess is nearly impossible to clean up and has very possibly the worst smell you will ever experience. Rotting eggs can also spread infection to the remaining healthy eggs.
- Incubation Problems Chart
- BUILDING YOUR OWN CANDLER
It is possible to build your own candler without any fancy equipment. The one we use at the farm is home-made and serves our needs well. You will need the following materials:
* block of wood 8“ x 8” x 2“ (you can put several thinner pieces together for this) * 1 lb. metal coffee can (or any other can of the right size) * plain light socket fixture * power cord (with plug) * a 60-watt light bulb * 2 angle brackets (to fasten the can onto the wood) * a few screws * a small, soft cloth ( about 9” x 9“ - like a dish rag )
To put it together:
- Drill or cut a hole through the center of the wood for the power cord. The light will be attached to one side of the wood and the cord will go through the hole to come out the other.
- Wire the power cord onto the light fixture. If the hole you made through the wood is small, string the cord through the hole before attaching it to the light fixture (otherwise you may not be able to fit the plug through the hole).
- Securely fasten the light fixture onto the wood with screws.
- Screw a light bulb into the socket and plug it in to make sure it works.
- Cut a hole in the center of the bottom of the can that's about 1” across. This can will fit over top of the light with the open end down and the end with the hole at the top. The angle brackets will be used to fasten the can onto the wood so you need to make small holes at opposite sides of the open end (now the bottom) so you can screw the angle brackets onto the can.
- Once the brackets are screwed onto the can, place the can over the light and fasten it onto the wood by screwing the other 'arm' of the angle brackets onto the wood. If you plug it in now the light should shine through the small hole you made in what is now the top of the candler.
- Since the top of the can is hard, we need to make a soft cushion to lay the eggs on so they won't be damaged. To make the cushion, roll the cloth into a sausage and interleave the two ends to form the cloth into a dough-nut shape. The hole in the middle of the cloth dough-nut should be just a little bigger than the hole in the top of the candler.
- Now place the cloth on the top of the candler and your candler is finished! To use it, simply plug it in and place the egg you want to examine on the cushion. The light will shine through the hole and into the egg.
- If you want to get fancy, you can splice a switch into the cord so you can leave it plugged in and still turn it on and off.
CAUTION: The light generates a fair bit of heat, so the can will get quite warm. Be careful when you touch it. Also, don't leave the eggs on the candler too long because they might over-heat as well. Leaving the eggs for a minute or two will cause no harm but don't go away and do something else while an egg is on the candler. And, of course never leave the candler unattended when it is on.
- THE HATCHING PROCESS
For those of you with experience hatching chicken eggs, please note that ducks typically take longer to hatch than chicks do.
Approximately 3 days before the eggs are due to hatch, the air cell enlarges dramatically. At this time the gaseous exchange through the shell begins to become insufficient to support the rapidly growing embryo and the duckling prepares to hatch. Its movements become more marked, and it begins to ingest the remainder of the yolk into its abdomen through the umbilical cord. It is at this time also that the allantoic circulatory system that has been supporting it throughout its development begins to break down. As the level of carbon dioxide in the duckling's blood increases, it's muscles begin to twitch and jerk and when one jerk of the baby's head is sufficient for the duckling to break through the inner membrane with its egg-tooth into the air cell, the duckling takes its first breath. At this time the pulmonary circulatory system begins to function and the allantoic system shuts down. This process is not instantaneous and the blood from the allantoic system takes 24-48 hours to drain into the duckling and completely shut down. Now breathing into the aircell causes the level of carbon dioxide in the air cell to increase, which again raises the CO2 level in the blood, causing the duckling's neck muscles to twitch and flex, which eventually (often about 24 hours after breaking into the air cell) result in the duckling hitting the shell with its bill with enough force to cause the shell to crack.
This 'pip' is the first small break in the shell. At this time, most ducklings will rest again for up to 24 hours while the remainder of the yolk is ingested and the last bits of the allantoic circulatory system shut down. The duckling should not be rushed at this time because breaking the shell before all of the blood has drained from the inside of the shell will cause the duckling to loose blood, and if severe enough, it could bleed to death. As long as it keeps peeping occasionally (often but not constantly) all is probably well.
The final stage, once the duckling is finally ready to emerge often takes only a few hours. The duckling will begin to peep loudly and almost constantly, turning in its shell, cracking it in a circle along the way. When enough of the shell is broken, the duckling will give a great heave and fall out. It will be wet and exhausted but probably very noisy. In fact most ducklings begin to peep as soon as they break into the air cell, and never really stop. If you hold the egg up to your ear once the duckling has broken through the air cell, you will be able to hear it tapping on the shell and peeping occasionally. In fact a duckling that is too quiet often indicates that there is something wrong with it (and that it may not survive).
Once the duckling is clearly free of the shell, you may remove the shell from the incubator but leave the duckling in the incubator until it is fairly dry. This may take 4-8 hours so if the duckling hatches late in the afternoon or evening it is best to leave it in the incubator overnight. It will not hurt the duckling to stay in the incubator but always make sure that it will be safe, and that it cannot knock the lid off of the incubator.
- HELP OUTS:
If your duckling has been struggling to get out for 36-48 hours (from when first pipped) without success, you may wish to help it along. To do this, hold the egg in your hand over a towel and using your CLEAN fingers or tweezers, carefully peel away enough shell just to look inside. A hole about 2 cm. across should be sufficient. If at any time while you are doing this you notice bleeding from the shell membrane STOP what you are doing and put the egg back in the incubator for 2-4 more hours before trying again (bleeding from the shell membrane indicates that the allantoic circulatory system has not completely shut down yet and getting the duckling out too soon will almost certainly result in death). Once you have peeled away enough of the shell to look inside try to discover why the duckling is stuck. THE GOAL IS TO HELP THE DUCKLING JUST ENOUGH SO HE CAN STILL FINISH THE JOB HIMSELF.
The most common cause for healthy ducklings getting stuck is incorrect humidity (usually too low but sometimes also too high) at hatch time. This will cause the membranes to stick to the duckling or the excess fluid inside being so sticky that the baby becomes trapped. If this appears to be the case, use the CLEAN tweezers to carefully pull away the membrane or sticky 'goo' and free the little guy. In order to get himself out, the duckling needs to be able to push his bill against the shell which allows him to turn around and if that is no longer possible, he will be unable to get out by himself. When you are removing shell, try to make sure you leave enough shell covering his bill so he will still have something to push against. If his bill is not covered, he may injure his bill while trying to push by rubbing it against the open edge of the shell. If the little guy is obviously working hard to free himself, all you may have to do is finish cracking the shell as he would do without actually removing it. The best approach to helping him out is to try and do only a little at a time, and then give him a chance to finish the job himself. In other words, help him a bit then put him back in the incubator and watch him for 15-20 minutes to see if he can do the rest. If not, then help him a little further and watch him again.
PLEASE NOTE: Once some of the shell has been removed the inner membranes will dry out quickly (especially in forced-air incubators) and as the membranes dry they will contract, which often often traps the duckling even further. As a result, starting to help him out will often mean you must to continue helping him, bit by bit, until he is completely free of the shell. If you start to help a duckling out, make sure you can be there to help him finish the job if necessary. Once he is out of the shell, if he is very sticky or has bits of membrane stuck to its down it is possible to clean him off in warm water. The membranes and 'goo' will soften in warm water and can then be gently pulled away. The duckling will probably be very tired so make sure you always keep his head above the water so there is no danger of him getting any into his lungs. Once he's been cleaned off, hold him in a warm dry towel to dry him off a bit and then either place him back in the incubator or directly under the brooder lamp to rest and finish drying. Other than being physically stuck, most ducklings that are unable to get out are in this predicament because of some internal weakness. If he is unusually quiet compared to the others it is safe to assume there is something else wrong with the little guy (in other words, please be prepared for the possibility of him not surviving). Back to Top
- EGGS THAT DON'T HATCH:
Occasionally an egg will make it all the way to hatching time and then for some reason will die just before getting out. If all the other eggs have hatched and you are fairly certain that one has died (you can candle it and look for movement to be sure), you may wish to open and examine it. If you are not keen on trying this (we find that often the children are keen but the teacher isn't), then perhaps one of the other classes in your school would like the opportunity to examine the embryo. It is extremely rare to be able to see an obvious cause of death when an egg is opened. The hatching process is very difficult and only the strongest succeed. If you are willing to discuss it with your children, this can provide a good springboard for discussions about mortality in a fairly matter of fact manner (which is generally considered the best approach for young children anyways).
- NEW DUCKLINGS
Newly hatched ducklings DO NOT look all dry and fluffy like the one on the 'Duracell' commercial. They are wet, and scrawny-looking and unable to walk. It takes about 6-12 hours for them to dry and gain their 'land-legs'. Ducklings hatched late in the day are better left in the incubator over night. They do not take very long to recover from their ordeal, and within 6-12 hours will be racing around and eager to discover all the world has to offer.
The first 24 hours are a very important time for the ducklings as this is when they learn to recognize their mother. This process is known as 'imprinting' and although this instinct is much stronger in geese than in ducks, ducklings will readily imprint on humans and with regular gentle handling become very tame. They will follow you whenever they can so if you 'take them for a walk' make sure you move slowly enough for them to keep up (and be very careful not to step on them).
They can be allowed SUPERVISED access to swimming water as soon as they are steady on their legs, and it is delightful to watch them dive and play. Make sure the water is not too cold and don't allow them to get too wet or they may become chilled. A large dog dish or small tub is plenty at the start (we often use our bathroom sink!). Be sure to return them to the brooder when they begin to look wet or tired. Once back in their brooder, they will spend an hour or more preening and fixing their fluffy down before settling down for a nap.
You will have been given a supply of 'Duck Starter' feed to which they should have access at all times. They must not have food without water though because they need the water to wash down the food and could choke without it. The duck food is by no means the only thing they can eat. They can be offered almost any kind of fruit or vegetable. They don't like citrus fruit much, and should not have onions, but they particularly like anything green. Fresh food must be chopped finely enough to be swallowed whole as they have no teeth for chewing. Try floating chopped lettuce or dandelion leaves in a dish of water and watching them 'catch' them. They particularly like lettuce, sprouts of all kinds, dandelion leaves, and cooked noodles (without sauce, please). Some children have caught small insects and worms for the ducklings and both the children and the ducklings seem to enjoy this immensely. The children delight in the antics of the ducklings and should be encouraged to help care for them. IMPORTANT: NEVER FEED MEDICATED FEED TO DUCKS. Most Chick and Turkey Starters are medicated.
- IF YOU RUN OUT OF FEED:
If you run out of feed, we can provide you with more which you can pick up here at the farm during regular pick-up or drop off times, or you can buy your own. Unfortunately, duck feed is only sold in 25 Kilogram bags, and although a big bag will last a very long time, it is not recommended that you save it from year to year (it looses its food value). Ideally you should purchase DUCK STARTER, which can be bought a feed store such as the UFA. Many feed stores no longer carry DUCK STARTER so if you can't get that you can also use CHICK STARTER (so long as it is UNMEDICATED). Make sure to arrange for more food SEVERAL DAYS BEFORE YOU ACTUALLY RUN OUT. A sudden change in diet can be very bad for ducklings.
If you find yourself completely out of feed, the following items can be used to make an emergency ration: oatmeal (uncooked), cream of wheat (uncooked), 'SunnyBoy Cereal' (uncooked), Red River Cereal (uncooked), cracked wheat, barley or other grain, chopped greens, grated fruits and vegetables, bugs. DO NOT FEED WHOLE GRAINS OF ANY KIND, DRY BREAD, WILD BIRD SEEDS, OR ANY KIND OF CAGED BIRD (budgie, canary, etc.) FEED. They can also eat fresh greens as long as they haven't been sprayed with anything (not even fertilizer). Please be sure to get the correct feed for your babies as soon as possible!
Most classes name their ducklings. Feel free to be creative! We love hearing what the children come up with. If possible, plan to keep the ducklings in the class for one or two weeks after hatching. They are truly wonderful to have around, if a bit messy. It will also give the children an opportunity to learn about taking care of an animal and an idea about the kind of work involved in raising them. Ducklings grow quickly, and by two weeks old will be three or four times their original size. They will probably have outgrown their home, and it will become harder and harder to keep them clean. Most classes take turns among the children for cleaning the cage, but quite often by two weeks the 'fun' of cleaning has worn off. When you are ready to return them, please let us know. We are confident that the children will get a great deal out of the experience, and that it will be one they remember for many years to come.
- WEEKEND CARE:
The ducklings can not be left in the school during the weekend unless someone will be able to check on them at LEAST twice each day. One possibility is for a staff member to take them home on the weekend and the other possibility is to allow a student to take them home Make sure the parents understand the responsibility and are prepared for it. While ducklings are amazingly tough, THEY ARE NOT INDESTRUCTIBLE, and parents must be warned NEVER to leave the ducklings alone with small children or other pets. We strongly recommend that ducklings NOT go to households that have dogs or cats! We have had a number of tragedies that could have been avoided if there had been better supervision.
- RETURNING THE DUCKLINGS:
We are very happy to have the ducklings back when you are finished with them. Please refer to the Hatch Dates page for details on when we will accept returns, and please make sure we know you are coming. We cannot ensure the safety of your babies if you leave them anonymously on our doorstep. If we cannot be here to meet you we may be able to make other arrangements, but we must know in advance. We have in the past had a number of boxes with ducklings left at our farm while no-one was home and had great difficulty finding out who left them. One box was even left in the sun with no water for the ducklings! The ducklings survived, but it was very stressful for all concerned! For reasons of disease control, any ducklings left anonymously must be immediately destroyed.
- ONE FINAL NOTE:
Survivability of ducklings is extremely high and if they can get through the hatching process, are nearly indestructible (given reasonable care). It does happen occasionally though that a duckling will die while trying to hatch or may be born with a congenital defect and die shortly after hatching. This is a sad thing (even still for us), but can be turned into a valuable experience too, if handled with some sensitivity and understanding. We feel this should not be hidden from the children if it should occur. Most children have the ability to accept this experience quite matter of factly, but it is one you should be aware of and prepared for.
On rare occasions, a duckling will be born with deformities of the legs and/or feet, rendering it unable to walk, but otherwise quite normal and healthy. Sometimes these babies will straighten out sufficiently within the first day or two to allow them to lead quite normal lives. If they are still unable to walk after one or two days, their condition is unlikely to change, and they should be humanely destroyed. Although this is a rather grizzly subject, you may either decide to do this yourself, or bring them back to us at your earliest convenience. If you opt to do this yourself, you may tell the children that it must be done and explain why, but please do not let them watch. If you do plan to do this yourself, please phone us first. Raising ducks is our business, and although we do enjoy duck meat, dispatching the animals is for us still the most unpleasant task we have to face. We do, however have some experience in this and INSIST it be done humanely and with the respect that all living things deserve. It is of utmost importance to us that the ducks NEVER be allowed to suffer under ANY circumstances, no matter what age. We like our animals very much and care for them well. Please do the same.