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Duckling Love

A while back I wrote about how to hatch chicks, ducklings or quail. It sounded like so much fun that I just had to try it out myself.

I reserved the incubator ahead of time. Wagon Train has a waiting list, so I had to wait 4 or 5 weeks for my turn.  I picked up the incubator and the eggs on a Tuesday afternoon. The lady there explained everything to me and gave me a paper with instructions, including their phone number if I had any questions. That turned out to be good, because I did have questions when they were hatching, and the store was very nice about helping me. Between the incubator, the eggs, ducking food and wood shavings, the whole thing cost about $75. You also need a water container, and they sold food dishes, but my teacher friend told me that a jar lid would suffice for that.

I set up the incubator on the island in the kitchen. The eggs need to be turned over twice a day.  You can rent an automatic turner with the incubator, but I decided I could do it myself. I marked the eggs in pencil – A on one side for AM and P on the other side for PM. And started turning. Twice during the 4 weeks, I forgot, but the eggs turned out okay anyway.

Duck Eggs in an Incubator

Duck Eggs in an Incubator

Sometime during the first week, the whole thing started smelling bad, so I moved it to the garage. Moving it is a bad idea. There’s water in the incubator, and there are holes at the bottom so that any extra water is drained away. So when you move it, guess what happens?  But I got it moved to the garage where it remained for the duration. A day or two later one of the eggs turned black and cracked. Now the mystery of the bad smell was explained.  I threw that egg out and kept going.

After the first week, you’re supposed to dunk the eggs in warm water three days a week. That’s fine except that they’re slippery and I wasn’t careful. I dropped an egg on the garage floor and it cracked. Well, at least it was still pretty early in the game. Now I was down to 10 eggs.

On the 26th day, a Sunday, the action started. If you held one in your hand you could feel the duckling inside moving. Then we noticed a small bump on some of the eggs where the duckling was pecking away from inside. I was hoping they’d hatch on Sunday, since I had to go to work on Monday, but it takes these guys a while to break out.

Once they hatch, you’re supposed to leave them in the warm, humid incubator for 1-2 hours and then move them to the dry brooder with a heat lamp so they can dry off. I came home from work a couple times to check on them. First, they peck a hole and you can see the beak. Then they chirp and peck away, making the hole bigger. Then when they’ve got a big enough hole, they stretch out, the whole egg cracks and they make their escape. They’re wet and weak from their exhausting chore, and they fall out of the egg.  The first egg hatched at 1:00 PM on Monday.

A Newly Hatched Duckling

A Newly Hatched Duckling

Throughout Monday afternoon and evening, little ducks were toiling to break free.  As each one recovered a little from his ordeal, we moved them to the warm, dry plastic bin that was their new home. They pecked at each other to help dry and fluff up their feathers. Pretty soon a bunch of pathetic looking birds turned into fluffy yellow ducklings.

By the end of Monday night, there were 5 adorable ducklings, 3 eggs that had never twitched, and two that were still in the process of breaking out of their shells. One of those two hatched at 3 am Tuesday morning.

When it was time for me to go to work Tuesday morning, the last little duckling was still trying to get out. There was a hole big enough to see his face, and it had been that way for a while. So I made a small makeshift incubator out of plastic containers from my kitchen. I put two very small containers, the thermometer, and the egg into a bigger container. I filled the smaller containers with water and kept the lid loosely closed to raise the humidity. I put it on my desk next to a space heater and waited. The little duck inside the egg had made no progress by 2:00. It looked like he was exhausted.

I took him home and called Wagon Train. They told me that I could remove a very small piece of shell, the size of a pencil-top eraser, above his beak, each hour. So I started doing that. By 6:00 the hole was bigger, but only due to my efforts. The little duck just wasn’t making any progress, and time was running out.

By now Wagon Train was closed, so I called my favorite Kindergarten teacher. She told me that many times she has broken a bird out of its shell. Now there are two schools of thought on this. Some say that if a bird isn’t strong enough to break out on its own, then it wasn’t meant to be. There’s something wrong and he probably wouldn’t make it even if you did help. But I could see his little face and hear his pathetic chirps. I had to try.

The 7th duckling was very weak.

The 7th duckling was very weak.

I slowly broke away enough of the shell that he should be able to get out easily. He stretched out his little neck and fell out of his shell.  But the umbilical cord was still attached and he was dragging the remainder of his egg behind him.  He stumbled into the remainder of another shell and collapsed. After 2 hours in the incubator he didn’t appear to have regained any strength.  I moved him to a separate plastic bin from the other ducklings. The umbilical cord was still attached to his bellybutton and the sac to that, but the sac and the egg were only attached by a thread, so I clipped that with scissors and at least the egg shell was gone. Between his weakness and the sac still attached, he could only stumble and collapse. I managed to get him a little water, put the heat lamp on and hoped. When I went to bed, I didn’t think he’d last through the night.

When I got up, he was looking a little better. He took some food and water, but he wasn’t very steady on his feet. And although his feathers had dried out, he wasn’t fluffy and yellow like the others.

I called Wagon Train again to ask what to do about the umbilical cord, and found out that it should fall off on its own in a day or two. Wednesday afternoon he seemed much better. Four of the ducklings were away visiting a Kindergarten class, so I thought this would be a good time to put him in the larger bin with just two of his siblings. I watched to make sure that they wouldn’t peck at his belly button, but all three just started grooming each other. He seemed much happier to be with the other ducklings.  By the time the other four returned, I had no qualms about leaving Lucky alone with his siblings. Thursday morning the umbilical cord fell off and he looked and acted just like the others.

About Ducklings

Playing Outside

Playing Outside

There are two things that little baby ducklings love: each other and water. They sleep piled up under the heat lamp. Literally. If you leave one or two alone, they will complain loudly. It sounds like a very loud cricket – steady persistent chirps. When their buddies are back, they’re quiet and happy.

They also love water. Whatever water is in their cage, they will splash around in it. This is quite messy, especially since I’m trying to keep the wood shavings dry so the birds will stay warm. My favorite Kindergarten teacher even filled a tub with water and let them swim. At two days old, they could swim under water! I’ve read that in the wild the mother duck limits their water time because they don’t have enough oil to keep their feathers dry yet.

Kids can hold the ducklings.

Kids can hold the ducklings.

On Thursday morning my daughter took the ducklings for a walk outside. Yes, they will follow you and stay together. What a sight!

Although Wagon Train will let you return the ducks up to 4 weeks after they hatch, I’d had enough of changing out the shavings every day (sometimes twice a day). My boys had lost interest and my teenage daughter had end of the school year activities that would keep her out of the house most of Thursday and Friday.

Now the people at my office who had rooted for Lucky were asking about the ducklings.  I made a deal with one of my co-workers. He could take the ducklings home to his two little girls if he would return them to Wagon Train when they’d had enough. So seven little ducklings went to play with more children.

Duckings Sleeping

Duckings Sleeping

I went back to Wagon Train to return the incubator. They had an adorable little lamb in their shop. They also have ducks and chickens, which people buy as pets.  That’s why they want the ducklings back while they’re still young and cute.

All in all, it was a great experience. I did lose some sleep when things didn’t look good for Lucky. I’d rather an egg hatched or didn’t, but it was worth it.

If you are interested in hatching ducklings, chickens or quail, check out my earlier post.