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Over the last 20 years or so I have kept and bred countless breeds of ducks. I think ducks are possibly my favorite bird. They have real character, and in my experience, they can become more like pets than just livestock.
One of the best parts of keeping ducks is breeding them. Generally, mother ducks are very good and sitting on their eggs and then raising the subsequent ducklings. Occasionally however a mother duck may refuse to sit on her nest.
In this article, I look at the reasons why and suggest how we can encourage a mother duck to sit on her eggs.
Why are my ducks not sitting on their eggs?
Whether or not a duck sits on her eggs is controlled by the duck’s hormones. The female duck’s hormones will tell her when to go broody (sit on the eggs). Some breeds of ducks tend to go broody more readily than others.
Many breeds of duck will lay 200 to 300 eggs per year. The female duck does not need a male present to lay eggs, but she does need a male for those eggs to be fertile and eventually hatch.
For a duck to want to sit on a nest of eggs, her hormones have to instruct her to. Many commercial breeds of ducks have been bred purely for egg production rather than for their maternal instincts, and so some breeds of duck are less likely to go broody than others.
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Can you make a duck go broody?
Making a duck go broody is actually a fairly simple process, although it does require a little effort from the duck keeper.
To make a duck go broody, the first thing you need to do is select a quiet, ideally dark place to put the duck’s new nest. I will typically use the corner of my barn or one of the empty stables. Somewhere, where the duck won’t be disturbed too often, is ideal.
Next, take a crate or animal carrier and lay a thick bed of shavings on the bottom. I tend to make the layer of shavings around the edges of the crate deeper, and the middle of the crate shallower, creating a nest shape.
Once you have your ‘nest’, you can place 6 to 10 fertilized eggs in the middle. These can be from one breed, or you can mix and match, just ensure the eggs are fertile. You don’t want your duck sitting on unfertilized eggs, as they will get pretty rancid and stinky after 28 days under a warm duck.
Once the nest is ready, place the duck into the animal carrier. Make sure she has access to food and water.
The mother duck will have no choice but to sit on the eggs. It will take a few days before her broodiness kicks in, but once it does, the top of the animal carrier can be removed.
Whilst the duck is in the crate, remember to allow her out 2 or 3 times each day to poop and stretch her legs. For the first couple of days, you will need to catch her to put her back in the crate, but once she goes broody, she will return to sit on the eggs of her own accord.
How do you know when the duck has gone broody?
There are a few sure-fire signs that let you know your duck has gone broody. After a few days have passed, if your mother duck is showing these signs, you can be confident in taking the top off her pet carrier and leaving her to sit on the eggs unassisted.
Sign number one is, that as you approach the nest, the mother duck will puff herself up in an attempt to make herself look bigger than she is.
She may well also open her mouth in a threatening manner as if to suggest she is prepared to bite you if you come too close.
Another good sign your duck has gone broody is she may actually try to bite you if you go to pet her on the head. Even the most placid of ducks can be surprisingly aggressive when she is broody.
A third sign to look out for is your mother duck’s desire to get back on the nest if you take her off it. Whilst she will need to leave her eggs two or three times a day to poop and drink some water, a broody mother duck will be back on the nest within a few minutes. She won’t want to leave her eggs for long.
How Long do Duck eggs take to hatch?
Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch from the day the mother duck starts sitting on them. Typically, all the eggs in the nest will hatch within 24 hours of each other.
Once the ducklings have hatched they will usually stay in the nest and under the mother duck for 12 to 24 hours before they start to venture from the nest into the immediate vicinity of the nest.
The ducklings will remain under the mother duck’s careful watch for 7 to 9 weeks before they fledge and go out into the world alone.
It can be incredibly frustrating to want to breed your ducks, yet the mother hen refuses to sit on her eggs.
In my experience, if this happens, the best way forward is to encourage the duck to become broody by confining her on her eggs in a suitable crate or animal carrier.
It usually only takes a few days for her to become broody, after which she will usually be happy to sit on her eggs for the duration of the incubation.
If you found this article useful, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Why are my ducks laying soft-shelled eggs?’
FEEDING DUCKS FOR EGG PRODUCTION IN SMALL FLOCKS extension.org
The Life of a Duckling rspb.org.uk