Don’t have a broody duck or chicken handy, but want to hatch some eggs? Home made incubators are not only cost effective but are very fun and easy to make.
Materials you will need:
- Styrofoam cooler (around $10 or less at Walmart)
- A 15 watt bulb (we’ve tried 25 and found 15 to be more stable)
- Thermometer – the old fashion ones are more accurate than the digital ones. For this reason, I use one mercury thermometer (for accuracy) and one digital thermometer because it can also tell humidity. We want to keep between 99 – 101 degrees F, which is good for a still air incubator. The humidity level should be between 35-45% for the first 25 days, 75% thereafter (and especially for hatching)
- An exacto knife or pair of super sharp scissors
- 1 small sheet of Plexiglass or leftover glass from a picture frame ($10 or less)
- A hot glue gun or some duct tape
- A small glass cup/jar
We made things easy for ourselves by buying the type of lamp which comes with a metal and plastic lining, which would help radiate the heat outwards and act as a barrier to keep the ducklings from burning themselves when they hatch out. As an alternative, you could use some fine chicken wire mesh to cover the outside of a light bulb.
With this type of lamp , you only need to cut a small hole in the back for the plug and not a gigantic one to fit an entire lightbulb. However, holes are no problem because you’re going to need to allow for some air flow, so don’t worry if you did have to cut one!
The hardest thing to maintain with a home made incubator is a constant temperature inside. However, once you’ve found it, it’s pretty easy to maintain. The key is to put the incubator in a part of your house where the air temperature is very constant/stable and not subject to drafts or too much sunlight during the day. Placing the incubator at least 10 feet or so from an AC vent and 5 feet from any windows works pretty well for me.
Cut a square hole in the top of the incubator with your exacto knife for the Plexiglass. This will allow you to easily check the temperature / see what’s going on. Plexi glass is easier to work with than glass because it’s lightweight and easy to cut. You can stick it on with duct tape or a hot glue gun.
Fill the glass jar with water and place it inside the incubator. This will help maintain humidity inside while the air gets very hot. Duck eggs require between 50-70% humidity for most of the hatch cycle and around 80% the last few days before hatching. Don’t worry if you can’t get the humdity up high enough with the glass jar. I’ve found that wetting my hands every time before I turn an egg (you should be turning them 180 degrees 3-4 times per day) makes the egg shells soft enough for the duckling to hatch out. This will mimic the mother duck who gets up twice a day to go for a bath and then sets back down on her eggs.
If you’re using a 15 watt bulb, you will most likely be able to leave the lid completely closed which will keep the temperature much more stable. If it’s too cool, you can cover the outside of the plexiglass with a towel or tin foil to reflect the light back in. That should raise it by 2 degrees. If it gets too hot (ie. 25 watt bulb), you will want to leave the lid slightly open to regulate the temperature and air flow. We’ve also found that covering the lightbulb with tinfoil helps keep the temperature inside more stable. It’s best to leave the thermometer on top of the eggs, because still air incubators are subject to temperature layering (hot air rises!) so you want to find out the temperature exactly at egg level.
The best part about hatching your own eggs is watching them develop! Holding them over the light reveals whether or not your eggs are fertile. Here you see what it looks like on Day 1, which is not any more distinguishable than unfertilized egg. Day 4 will show us something much more exciting – bloodvessels and a circular dark colored ring!
Around the 5th day you’ll definitely be able to see which eggs are developing and which aren’t. Bad eggs should be thrown out before they smell foul and get the other eggs sick (eggs can breathe!). Bad eggs might have a dark spot that looks like a fingernail clipping. You can tell it’s a failed embryo because there’s no surrounding blood vessels connecting it to the yolk.
Unfortunately someone who was helping me turn the eggs accidentally dropped one. Usually it’s possible to repair small cracks with some tape, but if the crack is too large the embryo will easily succumb to bacterial poisoning and exposure to dry air. I gave him/her a proper sky burial.. RIP little ducky..
A good breeder drake is one who mounts several times a day, is very large and has a big meaty chest. Unfortunately these ducks are usually the most aggressive and may attack people. We have 2 females and only one shy tiny male. We started with 10 eggs because we knew that a large number of them would be infertile. At day 10, I discovered 2 more infertile eggs. This means my drake is successful only 50% of the time.
Over the course of incubation, you should be able to see the air sacs inside your duck eggs expand – this is a result of evaporation. Duck eggs lose weight over the process of incubation – this is necessary for hatching. Hopefully your eggs will have lost just the right amount of water. The duck will pierce the egg sac during internal pipping (around day 26) and you will hear their voice for the first time. Approximately ONE day after internal pipping, your duck will external pip, ie create a small hole through the shell. If your duck has not externally pipped within 24 hours of an internal pip, you should poke gently through the shell and the membrane with a needle and provide him with a hole big enough to breathe through. I almost lost one of my ducklings because the membrane of his egg was abnormally thick and rubbery and he could not break himself out even though the entire shell was cracked through. More on incubation and hatching .
For some reason, none of my Welsh Harlequin and Cayuga mixes were able to hatch..they all failed around day 17. :'( They sure were beautiful… I have a feeling it has to do with my Welshie’s egg shells, they were all extremely thin – the opposite of my Runner’s eggs which were thick and tough. Duck eggs that are thicker retain more moisture and protect against bacteria and viruses more effectively.
1 day old, all fluffed up!
full grown, Runner duck and Cayuga mixes end up looking like Cayugas with slightly better posture