Domestic Waterfowl Club.

Breeding ; Incubation


To develop and hatch, eggs require the following to be controlled.
Warmth - to encourage the embryos to develop at a natural rate, the eggs of different species requiring different optimum temperatures.
Humidity - to control the normal weight loss of the egg that must happen during incubation for hatching and to prevent egg shell membranes becoming too dry for hatching. Different humidity levels are needed to be provided at certain stages of incubation, with a very high humidity at the time of hatching.If hatching in a barn often incubators can run dry as the climate alters. . . try to find out
Ventilation - to ensure a good supply of oxygen and, importantly remove the carbon dioxide produced so that it does not poison the developing ducklings. An appropriate air flow also encourages evaporation of water for the essential weight loss of the egg.
Turning - at regular intervals, to prevent the egg membranes from sticking to the inside of the shell and to ensure the eggs warmevenly. Egg turning also increases the oxygen intake of the embryo and encourages correct development.
In natural situations, all these requirements would, of course, be provided by the broody duck or hen. In an artificial environment, they must be provided by the incubator. Keeping the correct conditions around the eggs is a 24-hour job and errors could result in death of the developing birds.
There are various designs of egg incubators available commercially and small, normally still-air, models are the cheapest/ easiest. 'Homemade' incubators may not provide adequate regulation of all the critical conditions and may therefore reduce the success of hatching waterfowl but will work very well on the less fussy chickens . Commercial hatcheries usually hatch around 80% of (fertile) hen's eggs.
Turning the eggs needs to be carried out at least twice a day,including at weekends. Because of this, an automatic egg-turning facility for the incubator is a very high priority.
BASIC TYPES As might be expected, commercial egg incubators are available to suit everyone ; amateur and professional users. There are two main types of incubators: the still-air variety which relies on convection for ventilation and forced-air models which tend to be larger and more expensive with correspondingly more to adjust/ go wrong for the beginner .. . . or cheat and splash out on an automatic computer controlled one such as Mainho and be lazy
Before deciding which incubator to buy, you should consider thefollowing points.
.....................Is its construction likely to be durable ? Can you clean it easily ?
.....................Is the incubator electrically safe ? Many have fans that collect feather dust and to clean MUST be disconected from the electrics as they give a good belt if touched. Small portable hoovers work  and a softish brush to clean the fan helps
.................... . How easy is it to see the incubating eggs ?
......................Ensure that a thermometer will be sufficiently sensitive and accurate over the range 35 - 45 °C, it is important to use one that has been made for use with an incubator ( garden thermometers etc. are often inaccurate). All the incubator manufacturers and suppliers also list various types of thermometer,specifically produced for such work. Wet- and dry-bulb thermometers are often recommended, as these also measure humidity. However, such readings are often inaccurate and difficult for total beginners. Also digital ones are now cheaper and much more useful being less likely to break and easy and idiot proof to read
........................Does the incubator have the facility to turn the eggs automatically ? The eggs must be turned regularly and although you can do this manually during the day, it is helpful if eggs are also turned at night and essential at weekends.
......................Does the incubator have an appropriate egg capacity ? Some models are very large while others are almost too small. In deciding which incubator is most suitable for your needs, it is important not to underestimate the capacity which will be needed . Larger is normally cheaper ! Also look for incubators that cope with both Call Duck eggs and Goose eggs.......many can cope only with smaller/ medium eggs. Small and visual = cheap but useless designed for a few batches of up to 6 buy the biggest as then you do not need to upgrade and more saleable later

How much can be afforded ? It could be a big mistake simply to buy the cheapest incubator. A good strategy is to choose the incubator that meets your needs and then see if your budget can stretch a little, if necessary. I have not included the more expensive incubators (though some suggested models are still quite costly). I can supply a list of telephone numbers etc. if wished.
Of interest is an inexpensive incubator manufactured by ECoSTAT whichis widely available This circular design incubator is made from expanded polystyrene and, is ok but basic similar models are made by'Therbo' incubators which are also made from expanded polystyrene, 'Ovo-lux', 'Hova-Bator' and 'Matador Special' . These often need protecting from small children who enjoy prodding weapons into polystyrene boxes. The Hova Bator Window is also cellophane stuck in and flimsy ..but still works well.
When ordering your incubator, it is wise to purchase an additional incubator thermometer in case of breakage ( or go digital). You may also need items for candling eggs, brooding and feeding ducklings etc.and you may want to order some of these from the same source. This will help avoid small-order delivery charges. Also candling lamps are useful as presi asks

 Incubators: There are "still air" and "fan forced" models, eachwith a different set of operating instructions. Always follow the directions carefully for your particular incubator. Most incubators canbe fitted with an egg turning device to save the operator from the task of manually turning the eggs by hand several times a day. First decide what type of incubator best meets your needs. Incubators are included in many poultry supply catalogues. There will be descriptions of their capacities and the mode of their operation (still air or fan forced).
....kit Incubators and kits to make your own Ideal as a childs first try at inexpensive incubating . Foolproof but not hamster proof!.
Maino ... good all rounder excellent on geese but needs a special tray.. I run water free

Whichever model of incubator you have available, it is vital to referto the manufacturers instructions supplied with it. (replacements are available for almost all but the Hannaford Paraffin models! ) These have been written to give the best results with that particular model and some aspects may not be applicable when using other incubators. For this reason, it is not easy to provide detailed guidance which will be appropriate for working with all types of incubator. These notes,therefore, are a general guide only.
Using an Incubator
Place the incubator on a level surface in a position which is not proneto vast fluctuations in temperature and humidity, i.e., out of draughts, direct sunlight and away from central-heating radiators (Sheds and barns good ....bedrooms bad unless you like the perfume of an exploded rotten egg !). Be warned that in winter, rooms become verycold at night once the heating is off. If the temperature drop is too great, it is quite likely that the incubator will be unable to maintaina steady temperature. It is therefore best to avoid incubating eggs during the coldest months if temperature regulation is likely to be aproblem. Mechanical damage to the developing embryos caused by bumping the incubator may cause severe damage to delicate membranes and organs,and so the movement of an incubator is not recommended. NEVER put the incubator on carpet as the fibrous surface prevents air passage. If indoubt about airways put on two 2 x 2 wooden bars to allow a good air change.
1. The first task is to clean and disinfect the incubator, as appropriate. The incubator should be set up at least 48 hours before eggs are introduced to enable the correct temperature and humidity to be established and to check on the normal functioning of the thermostat.
2. The correct temperature for the incubation of a duckling's egg is 37.5 °C at the centre of the egg. Follow the manufacturer's instructions about setting the temperature. In some still-air incubators, there is quite a large temperature fluctuation inside.
With some models in which the thermometer is situated at the top where the air is warmer, the recommended temperature setting may appear to be too high. However, such a setting allows for the cooler, correct,incubation temperature lower down.
In most incubators, the thermometer should be positioned where the top of the eggs will be. Manufacturers' recommended temperature settings could therefore lie anywhere between 38 °C and 39.5 °C(100.5-103 °F). In normal incubator operation, temperatures may fluctuate slightly but they should not be allowed to pass outside this range. As the eggs develop, the embryos will give off some heat and this may require you to alter the thermostat setting slightly to decrease the temperature.
3. Once the correct temperature setting for the type of eggs to be incubated has been achieved, it is wise to tape over the temperature control to dissuade 'tweaking' the knob ! ( Yoghurt pots for small children work well ..tape over all the adjusting knobs). If possible, position the incubator so that the temperature control is hidden against a wall. Consider plugging the incubator into an audible alarm unit; this will indicate if there is a power failure for any reason.Even with such a device, it is a good idea to affix a 'PLEASE LEAVE ON' sign to the mains plug and so avoid accidental switching off by others.These may be available locally as freezer alarm plugs or can be purchased from egg incubator suppliers including Brinsea Products;etc Incubators, It is also sensible to keep a temperature record card, logging readings every morning and evening. This is an easy way of checking that the incubator is functioning correctly and the card could also be used for a record of egg turning, if this is being done by hand.or buy auto !
4. A suitable humidity must be maintained to prevent the eggs drying out too quickly or losing sufficient water. All incubators have one or more water containers, trays or troughs which should be kept topped up with water to maintain an appropriate humidity, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Use hand-hot (39 °C) water to prevent the temperature in the incubator dropping too dramatically when refilled. In hard water areas boiled or distilled water means that wicks etc. last longer . Do not move the incubator while containing water. In some incubators, a piece of cloth may be needed to act as a'wick'.
5. Too much humidity at the wrong time is just as bad for a developing egg as too dry an atmosphere: an egg must lose a certain amount of water during incubation if the duckling is to emerge satisfactorily.
6. Some incubators are supplied with a wet- and dry-bulb thermometer.The wet bulb is for obtaining readings of humidity. It is very difficult to obtain accurate readings with such a device and not recommended that they are used by beginners. It is often better to check humidity by assessing the effects on the egg,, rather than to obtain actual measurements.
7. Relatively accurate electronic instruments for measuring humidity(called hygrometers) are now available but the most useful of these werequite expensive ( see ebay) . Manufacturers supply units which will control the humidity in certain of their incubators.
8. The eggs must have a suitable flow of air to supply enough oxygenfor the embryos to develop and to remove the carbon dioxide produced. The ventilation will, however, also affect both the humidity and the temperature; a high ventilation rate will carry more moist, warm air out of the incubator.
9. Care should be taken to set the ventilation control according to themanufacturer's instructions. These may advise particular settings for different room temperatures. For example, in a cool room (below 16°C), a minimum level of ventilation should be sufficient; with room temperatures >16 °C, more ventilation should normally be provided. On some incubators, a flap covering ventilation holes may need to be moved; in others, the number of holes that are left open mayneed to be altered.
10. Frequent checks should be made to ensure that nothing is preventing adequate ventilation. If using a vintage  incubator with an insulated quilt cover that fits over the observation dome, ensure that the quilt does not block the top ventilation hole. A rolled up tube of paper inserted through the holes in the cover and quilt is a good idea. Old vintage iron clads make superb brooders ... use one tray a paper covered/ droppings tray under neath etc
Incubating Eggs
1. First, allow the fertile eggs to warm up to room temperature for at least l0 hours before placing them into the incubator. Cool eggs may lower the temperature of the incubator or be stressed if they are warmed up too quickly. If transported a long way stand blunt end up overnight to settle.
In Curfew  and old incubators, whenever eggs are to be placed into an egg tray, it is important to line the tray first with a piece of loose-weave material such as / or a dishcloth. (Hessian should beprovided with new incubators; spares are available from Curfew Incubators.) Since the tray has a metal mesh, this can become very hot,so it is essential that all the eggs are on the cloth inside the tray (and also are not touching the vertical sides of the tray, if these are also made of metal). The material must not be moistened with water.
2. If all goes to plan, the ducklings should hatch after 28 (35 Muscovy) days, so do not set the eggs on a Monday or they will hatch out at the weekend.
3. Turning helps to prevent the developing membranes from sticking tothe inside of the shell. Eggs may be turned by hand, because the incubator has no automatic turn facility . Manual turning of eggs needs to be carried out at least twice, preferably three times and, ideally, five times a day for miniature breeds as the mums are naturally fidgety, including at weekends.
4. For incubators other than the Brinsea 'Octagon' types, as the eggs are added to the incubator, mark each one lightly with an 'X' in pencil on one side and 'O' on the opposite side. Also write the date if different batches of eggs will be added to the incubator later..... not around the waist of the egg as the duckling normally hatches here.
5. With most incubators, the eggs are turned through l 80° aroundtheir long axis, not end to end. At each turn, move the eggs so that the 'X' and 'O' marks are alternately visible. Turning is best achieved by rolling each egg, using the finger tips, into an adjacent space. If the incubator is very crowded, it may be necessary to remove some eggs at one end so the other eggs can be rolled into the space made available. The removed eggs are then placed in the space created after rolling. Hands should be warm to prevent chilling the eggs (especially for those spring hatching)
With 'Octagon' incubators, eggs can be turned without opening the incubator by tipping the entire unit from 45° on one side to 45° on the other side. However, do not worry about opening the incubator for a short time to turn eggs. Although the temperature will temporarily drop, the developing ducklings will not be harmed; afterall, a broody hen does not sit on the eggs all the time !
Some authorities claim that eggs should sometimes be turned clockwise and then counter-clock wise. If eggs in a manual-turn incubator are turned an odd number of times each day, they will not repeatedly spend each long, night time period in the same orientation.
6. By the 24 th day, the eggs no longer need to be turned.
7. Follow the guidance offered by the incubator manufacturer. Various authorities quote a wide range of suitable humidities but it is difficult to produce an exact humidity in the incubator and to measure it accurately. Ensure,,that the water tray never dries out completely and do not have a very humid atmosphere together with poor ventilation.If the eggs are in an egg tray on a dish cloth or piece of Hessian, do not add water to the material to make it damp. Also do not spray the eggs daily with a mist of water, although this has been recommended by some authorities. Ducks and Geese swim eggs don't.
8. Humidity levels should be varied during incubation but it isdifficult to give precise advice. As a rule, during the first half of the incubation period, the humidity should be at a low to medium level;the second half requires a medium level of humidity. Some authorities recommend a dryer atmosphere around day 27 to help the duckling break into the air space. As soon as the eggs become 'pipped', with the duckling starting to break out of the shell, the humidity should be raised to a higher level for hatching. It is essential that the eggs lose 12-15% of their weight over the incubation period. Humidity that is too high or too low will cause too little or too much weight to be lost. Water loss can be monitored by measuring loss (by weighing the eggs) or by observing the size of the air space - using a technique called 'candling' . Measuring the loss of weight is probably the better technique to use but is more troublesome to carry out and requires a reasonably accurate balance. Candling requires some skill but is more easily learnt..
By removing a batch of eggs and weighing them at regular intervals, the loss in weight can be monitored and adjustments to humidity made. (It is better to measure the weight of several eggs and calculate the average loss per egg because the balance probably available is unlikely to be sufficiently accurate for small weights.) Ensure that the eggs are not excessively chilled when they are being weighed; measurements should be carried out quickly. A cloth in he scales helps prevent damage.

 This involves holding the egg in front of a bright light in a darkened room so that the light shines through the shell. A simple way to do this is to cut a 4 cm hole in a piece of card and hold this over the bright light with the egg in front of the hole. The small cheap halogen table lamps are brilliant for the denser goose eggs.. to make even more deluxe put a piece of plywood with a hole over the lamp to view through ... careful they get hot !
At early stages, the embryo will be seen as a dark spot, perhaps also showing the blood vessels radiating outwards(looks like a red spider!). A completely clear egg is infertile. As the egg develops, the air space at the broad end becomes larger as moisture evaporates from the egg. As the embryo becomes larger, little light will pass through the egg except to show the air space.
If it becomes apparent that the air space is too small or too large for the stage of development reached, there will have been, respectively, too little or too much evaporation of water from the egg. If the airspace is too small, ventilation should be increased (and/or humidity decreased). If the air space is too large, the ventilation is too high and should be reduced (and/or humidity increased).
*Candling should be performed as quickly as possible to avoid excessive chilling of the eggs. If candling reveals that eggs are infertile or the ducklings have died, the eggs should be removed from the incubator.


Towards the end of the incubation period, after day 24, the eggs no longer need to be turned as the ducklings have largely completed their external development and the animal is manoeuvring itself into the correct position to make the break in the egg shell (the process called'pipping' ...when they draw oxygen in to their lungs for the first time) If sitting the goose or duck will actually talk to the hathing eggs to imprint her voice on them aso a good guide to iminemt hatch time. Ensure that ventilation is adequate, as there is a real risk that the ducklings can be suffocated by a build up of carbon dioxide at this time.... on a Brinsea worth putting on a wire rack or wooden frame to increase airflow and NEVER put the incubator on carpet
1. Ideally, the air in the incubator should be drier on day 24, to helpthe ducklings break through the egg membranes into the air space. As soon as eggs are pipped, however, a high humidity is needed to stop exposed membranes from drying out, becoming tough and leathery and preventing normal hatching. In many situations, however, all eggs willnot pip at the same time and so it will be impossible to provide the best conditions for both pipping and hatching. This is when a second incubator, used as a hatcher, is ideal; eggs are transferred in batches as they become pipped. Without a separate hatcher, wait until about a third of the eggs have pipped and then increase humidity. At this stage, do not keep opening the incubator to check on progress as this will allow the moist air to escape which takes some time to build up again.

2. The ducklings hatch. On day 28, though there is often some variationin development rate, the ducklings should begin to hatch. There can be a period of many hours between the first hole being made in the shelland final emergence. Only intervene if it appears that a duckling has become stuck for a period of 24 hours or more. Then it may be helpful to enlarge very carefully the hole with forceps or scissors. Keep the points of the instruments parallel to the shell and not inserted inwards or the duckling may be skewered.. . . thie results in death for one and nausea for the owner
Hatching can take a long time in some species; duck and turkey eggs for example can take between 36 hours and 3 days. If these species are being kept, it is important not to become impatient and help the birds along !
3. When the duckling emerges it will be wet, often blood stained andvery weak as in pic above . It will need at least 12 hours to dry out and it will be some time before it can stand without falling over. It should be left in the incubator or hatcher for this period and then removed to a brooder. There may be insufficient oxygen in an incubator for many ducklings to breathe and an incubator is an unsuitable enclosure in which to feed and water the young animals( and to clean up after them).
4. The yolk sac attached to the developing embryo inside the egg and is normally absorbed during the final days of incubation. Occasionally a duckling may hatch with its yolk sac hanging out. Its survival is endangered and the bird should be isolated. The yolk sac may naturally be re-absorbed but this takes time and the duckling must be kept in clean conditions to prevent infection. If, given time, re-absorption does not happen or the duckling is obviously in distress, it should be humanely destroyed as should any ducklings with other deformities or evident illness; . Any animal which is isolated and later returned to the brooder may be attacked by other birds more likely with calls oddly. It works best if the animal is reintroduced at a time when food is given to all the ducklings so that attention is diverted away from the newcomer.
5. A feature of the development of the duckling is the formation of an external pouch and membranes called the allantois. Waste materials are deposited in this structure. The remains of the allantois and its wastes are sometimes seen still attached to the rear end of the hatched duckling. The remains will dry up and drop off.
6. Even with eggs set on the same day, there can be a lot of variationin the time they take to hatch and so it is important to wait at least 72 hours before discarding unhatched eggs. The remains from hatched eggs should be removed from the incubator as soon as possible and these, together with unhatched eggs, should be disposed off hygienically . The incubator should then be cleaned out and disinfected ( Milton is easily available if nothing better is around, baby wipes are useful too!)

Using a Brooder
An incubator should not be used to house ducklings, once they have hatched, rested and their feathers dried out. A brooder needs to be bought or constructed to house the ducklings and keep them warm;because of their small size, ducklings have a relatively large surface area from which to lose heat. A brooder is simply a form of enclosure with an overhead heat source. . . . box, cage , old fish tank something you can clean
The brooder must be sited away from draughts and placed on a largesheet of paper, preferably not newspaper.( food sacks are good) Some people suggest that the floor of the brooder should then be covered with a layer of good-quality wood shavings (not sawdust), available from pet shops or, more economically, in large bales from specialist suppliers (see Yellow Pages under "Sawdust and Shavings"). This, however, is not essential and does add to the mess that must routinely be cleared up.
Ducklings suffer from cramp if kept on a cold surface. Ideally theyshould be reared off the floor, on a wooden surface. Wherever the brooder is placed, it is wise to protect the surface by covering it with polythene or newspaper. as all waterfowl are incontinent..... and smelly
It may be necessary to cover the brooder with wire netting at some stage to prevent the birds climbing out (Muscovies appear to be relatives of apes when small). Many brooders use ordinary lamp bulbs, operating at reduced voltage, to provide a source of heat.
Heating : A cheaper modern alternative is the small tubular heaters designed fro spare rooms, posher  ones for greenhouses  etc running at low wattage. I have used these for a few years they need the 'feet' on the tube and will be climbed over and pooped on  ( remove when dry!)

1. Some means will be needed to suspend the lamp over the brooder. If using the Torne Valley lamp kit, the reflector should be suspended using the chain provided and not dangled by the flex to prevent electrical fires. The red infra red bulb is for loads of babies  so often best changed for an ordinary 60 watt NOT an eco bulb which is cold they need warmth rather than illumination.
An alternative, possibly cheaper, source of heat is to use an 'anglepoise' lamp. This is not designed to be used with higher wattage bulbs, so it is necessary to remove the lampshade or cover and insertat least a 60 W bulb. Check that this produces a sufficiently high temperature in the brooder, and if necessary use more than one lamp.
2. A thermometer to check the temperature in the brooder will berequired; a simple room thermometer can be used for this. In the early days after hatching the ducklings must be kept very warm at about 35°C (95 °F). As they increase in size, the temperature can be reduced by about 3 °C (5 °F) each week. ducklings will need tobe given some warmth in a brooder for about 6 weeks until they have acquired their adult plumage on their chests and their wings begin toedge with feather quills .
3. Experiment with the height of the lamp above the brooder to obtainthe correct temperature before adding the ducklings. The lamp should not normally be lowered so that it is within the walls of the brooder as cooking may occur. When the ducklings are installed, watch their behaviour and adjust the height of the lamp if necessary. It is normal for the ducklings to avoid the central spot immediately below the lamp but, if they move to the periphery of the enclosure and possibly alsoshow some distress with open beaks and panting, it is evidently too hot. Huddling together tightly is a sign that ducklings are too cold.
***These Tables enable you to calculate the relative humidity of yourincubator at given temperatures . The wet bulb if you haven't one is a thermometer with wick or other cloth strapped around it with one end ina water supply to keep the end damp

Most Waterfowl hatch at around 48 relative humidity but this also takes into account where the incubator is kept and your area i.e.. if in a cool shed with a reasonable background humidity try the bottom end of the scale to see how the eggs progress. If indoors in a dry room thetop etc.

related links