Friday, July 15, 2016

Michelle Styles: Ducklings at Dawn

Back in mid May, a fox managed to have one of our female ducks as a midnight snack. She was sitting on a clutch of 10 eggs. As we had lost several ducks to Mr. Fox and female ducks were getting scarce on the ground, my husband forcefully argued for an incubator.
Duck eggs in the incubator
I agreed to try and see if we could raise ducks that way. The incubator shop duly sent the kit within 24 hours. The kit included – an incubator, a candling device, a brooder for after, a small feeder and water container and a pen. In meantime, I put the eggs in the airing cupboard and began turning them. I also added 2 more ducks that I had collected. I did not really have much hope. At best I thought we might get one or two ducklings.
My cat taking an interest in the moving eggs
The incubator a RomCom 10 was easy to set up and I turned the eggs 3 x times a day 180 degrees each time. I had put x and o’s on the eggs so I knew which way was which. I marked on the calendar when they were due to hatch. I also kept the water filled up. I did not bother with candling the eggs to see if they were viable. My youngest son who is studying zoology at university was convinced that I was just cooking the eggs and I would end up with splattered rotten egg on the inside of the incubator.
Newly hatched duckling
Right on schedule on June 21st,  we began to hear chirping. I opened the vent of the RomCom and checked all 12 eggs seemed to be chirping. On 22 June, one duckling made a small hole in its shell. It can take up to 48 hours for a duckling to break through. It actually takes a lot of effort and the ducklings need to do it themselves. They need to finish eating all the yolk and detach themselves. If they don’t completely detach, they get a hernia and die soon after hatching.
Ducklings a few days old
Nothing happened for the rest of the day. On the morning of the 23rd, the eggs were all still there but moving about. I went and did my exercises but hurried back. One shell had developed a huge crack down its side. First one duckling (a yellow one) emerged. It is important to keep the incubator closed at this point so the humidity doesn’t go down. Ducklings emerge wet from the shell.  If the eggshell is too brittle, the chicks can’t push their way out. After the first two, things went quickly but it became apparent the ducklings were getting too crowded. I quickly set up the brooder and the pen in the basement, along with some water and chick crumbs for feed.  Once the brooder was warm, I transferred the hatched ducklings to their new home and put them under the brooder to dry.  I left the rest of the eggs to hatch. They all hatched but one duckling died very quickly after birth. It had developed a hernia and so obviously had not detached properly from the yolk. It also could have been too weak.
Ducklings on top of brooder at about a week
The rest have survived. The brooder remained in the pen for 2 weeks and I lifted it up as the ducklings grew.  After the first day, I introduced bathing and swimming – at first in a paint roller tray and then in our large roasting pan. The first time they encountered water, the ducklings did not like it at all. The second time, however, they realised that they were in fact ducks and loved it.
Ducklings swimming
So I have 11 ducklings in the basement. They will go out to the netted pen when they are 4 weeks old and then when they are about 8 weeks, they will become free range like our other ducks. This is to protect them from predators such as crows and sparrow-hawks which we get in the garden.
They are very cute but rapidly reaching the awkward feathers coming in stage. They appear to be less frighten of people than my other ducks.

In other news:

I sold my latest Viking to Harlequin Historical – Sold to the Viking Warrior will be out in February 2017.

When not looking after ducklings, Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romances for Harlequin Historical. Her latest Summer of the Viking was published in June 2015. You can learn more about Michelle and her books on 


Mary Preston said...

We have hatched chicks out at pre-school, but never ducklings. The children always love it. It is amazing.

Michelle Styles said...

It is amazing to watch. Ducklings are fun. They are slightly easier in that they do not require the brooder for as long.

dstoutholcomb said...

similar to the situation my dad has with his guinea hens