The key to successful hatching is providing consistent heat to the egg. In case of an emergency, it might be necessary to give an egg heat without an incubator. There are five methods that can take orphaned eggs the 21 days from fertilization to hatch. Caring for an orphaned egg can be tedious and time-consuming, but the beautiful chick that arrives is well worth all the hard work.

Find a broody duck or hen. Brooding birds are birds that are incubating their own eggs. If you do not already have a brooding bird on your farm, you can purchase one from another farm, or a local farm animal distributor. Duckhealth.com recommends Muscovy ducks as the best setters for the incubation of duck eggs, as they can hatch up to 12 to 15 eggs. Duck eggs should incubate in 28-37 days, depending on the species.

Fertile embryos develop inside eggs warmed by adults. Hens will lay over 1 to 2 days, after which full-time incubation begins. Delayed incubation slows development, but doesn’t harm embryos. Any egg that is not incubated at all will not hatch.

Artificial Or Natural Incubation?

While artificial incubation is the most effective way to hatch duck eggs, it’s also expensive. There is a natural incubation method that is nearly as effective. For centuries before incubators were invented, ducks have been incubating their own young. By using a brooding bird to incubate the eggs, you can effectively incubate a small number of duck eggs until they hatch.

Place the eggs under the brooding bird at night. You may need to swap out eggs currently being incubated by the bird, if they are already setting to capacity. A brooding bird can only incubate as many eggs at it can cover.

Place food and water near the nest. The bird shouldn’t need to travel far for food, but the food shouldn’t be so close as the bird doesn’t need to leave the nest. Brooding birds require exercise, and will soil their nests if they aren’t required to leave them for food.

With the humidity under control, the next step is maintaining temperature of around 90 degrees.  Our incubator fan worked, but it produced no heat, so it merely served to increase temperature fluctuations and muck things up.  I unplugged it and maintained heat by boiling water and placing it in mason jars with tight lids.  I laid these down on opposite sides of the incubator and closed the lid.

Using the cooking thermometer, I continued to monitor the temperature. Earlier in the day when the room temperature was lower, I wrapped the incubator with blankets to help hold in heat, leaving the top air hole open. If replicating in a cooler, placing a straw out the hole and wrapping the rest in blankets will help, but you’ll be opening it every few hours so that will keep fresh air coming in.

To maintain the temperature we were aiming for, we filled one quart and one pint mason jar with boiling water and placed them in the incubator.  After the ducks began hatching, we covered these with rags to keep the ducklings from getting burned on the jars.

During the day, those jars needed to be refreshed with boiling water every 3-4 hours.  To do this, boil the water first, then quickly open the hatching box, pull out the jars, close the lid, refill and then replace.  Our temperature ranged from 93-102, because I was mistakenly thinking I needed to still aim for 100.  Because of the fluctuation, it might be good to aim for about 95 so that they aren’t getting too chilled when the water cools off.

Overnight we went about 7 hours between heating.  The lowest temperature we ended up with was 88 overnight during hatching.  Morning room temperature then was 62, so the styrofoam and blankets did a good job of insulating and keeping the hatching box warm.

From the first pip to the first hatch was about 36 hours, but we still had pips starting 48 hours after the first.  Based on this, I imagine mother raised ducks would have a higher hatch rate if we brought in the unhatched eggs when mom leaves the nest.  I’m writing this at 3 p.m. on 6/28.  The first cheeps were heard the evening of 6/24 and we discovered the first pips the morning of 6/25.  The 9th duckling hatched about half an hour ago.  Mom would surely have moved off the nest by now and left some unhatched.  Now that I know we can relatively easily hatch them without a working incubator, I’m much more likely to retrieve those unhatched eggs and try to hatch them.

Find a Substitute Mother

Step 1

Place an egg underneath or slightly near a hen inside the nest.

Step 2

The hen will instinctively roll eggs in her nest under her body.

Step 3

Eggs will receive heat naturally and then the hens adopt the hatchling.

Use a Towel

Step 1

Place a medium-sized towel in a cardboard shoe box.

Step 2

Set the egg in the middle of the towel. Fold the towel around the egg.

Step 3

Place a desk lamp with a 40-watt bulb next to the box. Plug in and turn the lamp on. Leave lamp on 12 to 16 hours daily.

Use a Heating Pad

Step 1

Place a heating pad on a heat-resistant surface.

Step 2

Turn the heating pad to the lowest setting

Step 3

Place the egg in the center of the heating pad.

Fill a Tube Sock with Rice

Step 1

Fill a tube sock with rice. Tie the end with a piece of string to hold rice in the sock.

Step 2

Place rice-filled sock in the microwave. Heat the sock on a medium setting for one minute.

Step 3

Set egg on a saucer. Wrap sock around egg. Repeat when sock cools to room temperature.

Use Disposable Hand Warmers

Step 1

Open the disposable hand warmer package and activate the hand warmer. Set the hand warmer on a saucer.

Step 2

Set the egg in the center of the hand warmer.

Step 3

Repeat with a second hand warmer set on top of the egg. Change hand warmers every 10 to 12 hours.

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