Thursday, February 25, 2016


So excited! It's hatching time again!  My ducks finally started the lay, and they are laying faster than I can sell all the eggs. I only have a small flock of 8 hens and 1 drake. He's been a busy boy. And  I've been wanting to grow my flock some. I've also had some folks interested in purchasing ducklings, so, I got to set up the incubator!!

Now, being an engineer, you know I track everything. Right now, I have several batches of duck eggs setting.  And since my ducks decided in the cold of winter, the preferred sleeping in the barn stalls with the sheep over sleeping in their duck house, they've been laying in the stalls. They are not brooding on them, kind of hard to do when a sheep might step on you. I'd love them to hatch their own, maybe that will happen in the spring, when the weather warms up.

Let's look at some past data. In 2012, I tried my hand at hatching. I think this is the year we hatched Paddles!
This was Paddles!

That year, my fertility rate on duck eggs was 87%, and hatch rate was 23%
In 2013, my fertility rate was 72% and hatch rate was 22%

Yikes. Wait till you see the chicken data, so much better.

So what does that data mean? Fertility rate shows, out of all the eggs I put in the incubator, which ones show signs of being fertile? Not a bad performance!

The hatch rate is a percentage of the eggs that are fertile, which ones hatch. So low. There are a lot of reasons a fertile egg might not hatch. Anything from biological reasons, like bad DNA, to hatching conditions. If the incubator gets too cold, or humidity is too high or low. In many cases, I may never know. But there is something different about ducks that makes them much much harder to hatch.

Right now, I have a batch of 16 duck eggs and only 1 was not fertile! They still have 2 weeks to go. There is another batch of 20 that I have not candled yet. It takes 4 full weeks for most duck eggs to hatch (Muscovy's are a non-mallard type duck, they take 35 days!)

Just another picture of some ducks I have hatched!

So we are so excited to have some ducks. I know the hatch rate will be lower. The other issue I have is that I have a really kick butt incubator at home. By big incubator can fit 288 chicken eggs! I have a mid size incubator that can fit 40 eggs, and my tiny 3-egg incubator just died this year, so I can't use it anymore.  My batch of 16 is in the mid-size incubator, hoping I can control humidity better for the duck eggs in there.

The issue with having one giant incubator, and trying to hatch chickens, ducks AND turkeys, is that I can only have one humidity level and temp set for all the types of eggs in there. The other issue is that humidity needs to be changed for different phases of hatching. During the incubation phase, humidity usually should be around 45% - 55%. Once it comes time for hatching - those 3-5 days where the chick is working to crack through the egg, humidity should be set to 55%-65%.

When I have eggs incubating and hatching all in the same machine, I can't hike up the humidity for the hatchers, as I risk the development of those that are still incubating. Yes, yes, I want a separate hatching unit, and am hoping that selling chicks and ducklings this year might show how that would be useful. So until then, I try to keep the humidity as close to 55% as possible, to be beneficial to both those in the development stage, and those in the emerging stage!

Until then, I am hoping to use my medium incubator as the hatching try for the ducklings moving forward, so I can control their humidity. Humidity is super important. If the humidity is too low during hatching, the babies can actually kind of dry up and the shells can stick to them, they struggle to get the shell off, and that struggle can cause death. If the humidity is too high, fluid in the shell doesn't dry up properly, and they can drown, if their beak is not in an air cell.

Ducklings swimming in the bath

So I am hoping for decent success this year. And I am hoping to share the joy of ducklings with others. Look at those silly birds! We like to let them practice swimming when they are still small. Believe me, my daughter loves taking baths with the little ducks!

Now on to the chickens. Their laying is picking up, too, and again, laying faster than we can sell them. So I started to hatch some of them, too. I currently have 57 eggs in the incubator, most of them Rhode Island Reds. Here are some past stats:

2012: fertility rate 77%,  hatch rate 48%
2013: fertility rate 98%, hatch rate 50%
2015: fertility rate 78%, hatch rate 63%

Looks like I had a rough start in my early years. I've learned a lot about maintaining humidity. And in some cases, we have had power failures and humidity loss. I think one year, I moved my incubator into an upstairs room, where the temperature swings during the day, with sunlight exposure were extreme. When the incubator is in the basement, with much more constant temperatures and humidity in ambient conditions, it helps the incubator stay in control.  Also, I may have hatched too early in late winter, or too late into the fall. The BEST fertility time for eggs is Spring.

Think about it from a biological standpoint. A prey animal like this needs to have their babies during a time when their offspring stands the BEST chance of survival. The roos and drakes get the desire to breed in early spring. The hens allow this to happen in early spring. They want to have babies in spring - when it's warm enough to keep them alive through those first few weeks. And it gives them all summer to learn skills to care for themselves, before winter hits and life gets harder.  So fertility starts to drop after summer, and hatching is much less successful.

Last year, I only hatched during the spring.  The other reason I stop hatching chickens in the late spring is that once my turkeys start to lay, I hatch ALL of their eggs.  If I have no real estate left in the incubator, I can only fit in turkey eggs.  I also have the farmer's market as a venue to sell eggs, and don't have the surplus I have in the spring.

Rhode Island Red chicks

Last year, I decided to sell some chicks. It worked out really well. So I am going to do it again. Mostly Rhode Island Reds and a few Speckled Sussex. I am trying to grow my Speckled flock, so I need to keep some of those. And I can always use some fresh stock in my RIR flock as well.

This is a turkey poult!

So the incubator is in full swing. I still have a couple of weeks before they start to hatch. Between now and then, I need to set up my small brooders in the house. Makes a bit of a mess, but I like to keep the birds I hatch inside for at least 3 days before they go to the outside brooder. That's another thing we need to set up!  Ducklings stay in a little bit longer, mostly because of how cute they are!!

We've had a really fun winter with a lot of lambs. Now it's time for baby birds!

If you are at all interested in adding to your flocks, or starting one up, we'll have babies available for sale in March!

Baby Chicks
Just hatched:  $3/each
1 week old:  $4/each
2 weeks old: $5/each
3 weeks old: $6/each

Just hatched: $5/each
1 week old:  $6/each
2 weeks old: $7/each
3 weeks old: $8/each