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Chicken keeping has always been popular amongst homesteaders, but in recent years duck keeping has become increasingly popular. Much like with chickens, we can increase the size of our flocks by hatching some of our duck eggs. If you have tried breeding your ducks, but not had much success, you might be wondering ‘Why did my duck eggs not hatch?’.
There can be a number of reasons duck eggs do not hatch. The reasons can vary depending on whether or not the eggs are being incubated by the mother duck or artificially in an incubator, but essentially include;
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Hatching duck eggs is not as easy as some people make it out to be. There are countless reasons your hatch rate might be poor or non-existent. Before you go into panic mode, take a moment to try and establish why few or no eggs hatched.
Depending on the breed of duck, the eggs can take between 28 days and 35 days to hatch. Before deciding your eggs haven’t hatched, check how many days have passed and how long your particular breed takes to hatch.
I know in the past I have made the mistake of thinking my whole tray of eggs was a write-off only to remember at the last minute they were Muscovy ducks which can take up to 35 days! It was a close call.
Below I look at the main reasons your eggs might not be hatching.
Probably the most common reason duck eggs don’t hatch is that they were not fertile in the first place. Eggs that were not fertile will never hatch, no matter how well they are incubated.
Whilst female ducks (hens) can lay eggs even when no male (drake) is present, those eggs won’t be fertile and will not hatch. If you hope to hatch out your own ducklings, you will need a drake in your flock.
Many years ago I had a drake who just refused to service any of the female ducks in his flock. For whatever reason, he just didn’t have it in him.
If you want fertile eggs, you will need to make sure your drake is with your hens for at least a week, and ideally two weeks prior to collecting the eggs for incubation. Giving the drake a couple of weeks with the hens firstly makes sure he is settled in and ready to service the females and secondly ensures the eggs the hens are laying are fertilized.
How do you check if duck eggs are fertile?
There are two ways to see if your duck eggs are fertile. Both ways have their pros and cons.
The first way to check if a batch of duck eggs is likely to be fertile is to crack one of the eggs into a bowl. If that egg is fertile, there will be a distinctive white spot in the middle of the yolk. If that egg has a white spot, there is a good chance the other eggs will be fertile too. Obviously, don’t crack them all, as you can’t un-crack them!
The next way to check is to start the incubation process, then after 5 days, carefully remove the eggs one at a time and shine a bright light through them. I use this egg candler I picked up from Amazon. It works a treat, just make sure the room is as dark as possible first.
If the duck eggs are fertile, you will clearly see veins have begun to develop. If the egg is completely clear with no sign of veins developing, it probably wasn’t fertile in the first place.
Poor handling or Storage of eggs prior to incubating
In the wild, when ducks want to lay eggs, they will usually lay 5 to 7 eggs before the hen starts to sit on the eggs to incubate them. If she started sitting on the nest the day the first egg was laid, all her subsequent eggs would hatch on different days, rather than all in one go.
Because we know ducks in the wild do this, we know a duck egg doesn’t need to go into the incubator on the day it was laid, they can be stored for up to a week prior to incubating.
If you are planning to collect eggs from your ducks over a period of a week or so, it is important the eggs are stored correctly in the days leading up to incubating.
When collecting the eggs for incubating, handle them carefully. If they are dropped or shaken and the yolk breaks inside the egg, the baby duck will not form and the egg will be wasted. When I collect eggs for incubating, I always take an egg box with me. I remove the eggs from the nest and put them straight into the egg box.
If I know I am collecting a large batch of eggs for incubation, I use a set of egg storage drawers like the ones in the picture which I got from Amazon for about $20. The eggs should always be stored with the pointed end facing down and the large, rounded end facing up. The eggs should carefully be rotated once a day, just to stop the yolk from sticking to the lining of the shell.
If the eggs are stored for longer than 7 days prior to being placed into the incubator, the chances of them successfully hatching drops significantly.
Inexperienced Mother Duck
Female ducks instinctively know how to hatch eggs. The knowledge has been passed genetically from mother to daughter over thousands of generations.
With that said, there is still a certain amount for the mother duck to learn. First time mothers will often wander off the eggs and go to the pond or to forage for slugs.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal you can do to help a mother duck who isn’t experienced. You can’t keep picking her up and putting her back on the nest. If she keeps getting up and wandering around the eggs will become too cold and the embryos will stop developing.
Some ducks take to motherhood the first time, others might need two or three tries. If you notice your duck keeps getting up off the nest, consider removing the eggs from her and incubating them artificially.
Incorrect temperature or humidity in the incubator
When we artificially incubate our duck eggs, it is extremely import we set both the temperature and the relative humidity to the correct levels. With modern incubators that is fairly easy with their digital displays and auto water top-up systems.
When I first started incubating duck eggs we used a styrofoam box with a light bulb in it. The styrofoam box worked, but it was really unreliable and too almost constant monitoring.
These days I hatch out so many eggs it was worth investing in a computer-controlled incubator with all sorts of fancy features, but If you are just starting out, take a look at an incubator like this one from EZ.Simply.
To successfully hatch duck eggs using an incubator, ensure you set the temperature to 99.5°F (37.5°C) and the relative humidity to 55%. If the temperature is too high or too low the development of the embryo will either be sped up or slowed down. Either way, the hatch will be successful.Source: Cornell University of Veterinary Medicine
As well as having the correct temperature and humidity settings, eggs must be turned at least 4 times a day. Again, most modern incubators do this for you.
Eggs that are too old
Over the last few years, there has been a rise in the number of people who sell fertile eggs through sites like eBay and on social media platforms. Theoretically, I think this is great for the hobby as it means we all have access to breeds of duck we would not otherwise have been able to keep.
On a number of occasions, I have ordered fertile duck eggs to be sent through the post from all over the country, and my success in hatching them out has been mixed.
One of the major drawbacks of ordering eggs to be delivered from a seller you have never met before is there is no way to know the quality or age of those eggs. As mentioned above, eggs are at their best for incubating during the first 7 days, and once you hit 10 days old, the chances of the eggs successfully incubating drop dramatically.
When we consider it can take 2 or 3 days for eggs to travel through the postal system, this means they have to have been collected and posted within 4 days of being laid.
If your eggs didn’t hatch and they were bought from someone rather than laid by your own ducks, there is a very good chance the reason they didn’t hatch is that they were too old.
The very nature of how and where eggs are laid leaves them susceptible to bacterial infections. This risk is greatly increased when we incubate our eggs artificially.
Eggs incubators provide the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. The inside of the incubator is both warm and humid.
To ensure our eggs do not suffer from bacterial infections is extremely important to thoroughly clean the incubator between uses. Personally, I wash every internal component with a mild bleach solution.
IMPORTANT: Never clean the eggs themselves before incubating. Duck eggs have a natural coating that protects them. If you wash the eggs you remove that micro-thin layer. If your duck eggs are especially dirty, do not incubate them. Instead, consider replacing the bedding in your ducks’ nest box with fresh and wait for some more eggs to be laid.
How to improve duck egg hatch rate
There are some basic steps we can all take to improve the hatch rate of our duck eggs.
My final thoughts on ‘Why Did My Duck Eggs Not Hatch?’
Hatching duck eggs is fairly straightforward, providing we get all the basics right. Choosing eggs from a healthy duck that lives with a strong drake is the first step. keep their quarters clean and make sure you handle any eggs you collect with care. Keep your incubator clean at all times and make sure you set the temperature and humidity correctly.
Hopefully, with a small pinch of luck in the mix, you will end up with a successful hatch.