Incubating and Hatching Ducks and Geese


General Information          Raising Ducks and Geese



Incubating and Hatching


Having been practiced in Egypt and other Eastern countries for centuries. Generally speaking, the simpler the machinery, the greater is the relative success. Intricate and expensive incubators are not usually desirable, because of the absolute necessity of constant attention to numberless details.

The incubation and hatching of eggs, be it chicken, duck, or goose is not difficult and can be quite rewarding. Next decide if you are letting the mother set, or going the incubator route. If you are going to use an incubator, it is important you use one that is accurate. Incubators are made to handle anywhere from 2-50,000 eggs. Smaller sized Styrofoam incubators can be purchased from most feed stores.

You will have two decisions to make when you purchase: 1) Do you want a fan? The fan will evenly distribute the heat over the eggs. If you purchase the smaller incubators it is not needed, but nice. 2) Do you want an automatic turner? Unless you want to turn eggs every four hours, this is a nice item to have. The Styrofoam incubators work great. and are fairly inexpensive. We use them at times. You can probably get the incubator, turner, and fan for under $100. Once you obtain an incubator, it is important you follow all directions supplied with the incubator. These are usually fairly simple.



You need to candle the eggs to find out what is going on. If the eggs are fertile or not. You can also check

how the embryos are growing.


Eggs that are not fertilized ("yolkers"), or have embryos that have quit growing ("quitters"), need to be taken

out of your incubator. These eggs rot if left in an incubator! They will make your incubator and room smell.


We take the eggs we think might be over due and candle them. A hooded light socket with a flood light in it, and

a piece of cardboard with a small hole (about 1" x 1”) in the center. We use a flood light with a piece of light

cardboard (cereal box will do)


We have the floodlight (Like an outside floodlight, I think it's 150w) in a portable socket with a shade.  I lay the cardboard over the light and hold the eggs to it. Place the cardboard over the light and hold the eggs to the
light. If the eggs are over 10 days old and clear. They are most likely unfertile. At 7 days you should start getting blood vessels.


An egg that is close to hatching will have an uneven air pocket and you might see a dark object sticking in it

(a beak). Also you can hold the egg to your ear, you can hear the ducking cheeping and / or a pecking noise.

It is real faint. Once you get a pecked (the shells open) egg it can take 24 hrs or more before they hatch.

Don't help the duckling hatch unless it appears it's going nowhere fast. They take awhile to hatch.


For candling, the brighter the light, the better. The light will not hurt the embryo, however do not leave it in the

light for a long period of time, as the heat may. Be careful that the light is not hot enough to start the cardboard

on fire.

Following are the conditions recommended for incubation and hatching:

                             Incubation     Hatching         Muscovy          Goose

                              Day 1-25      Day 26-28         35 Days      30 - 34 Days

Temperature               99.5           98.5

Humidity                       86              94

Turns/day                    3-7            0                          0                     0

If your incubator does not have a fan, measure the temperature half way up the side of the egg. Without a fan, the warm air rises and you will get a false reading if you place your thermometer on top of the eggs.

The humidity reading is by wet bulb. You can make your own wet bulb by placing the end of a short, hollow shoestring over the end of a thermometer. Place the other end in a container of water and put it all in the incubator. As the water evaporates from the cloth, the thermometer is cooled. If the air is very dry, much water evaporates from the cloth, cooling the thermometer. If the air is very humid, less evaporates which cools the thermometer less and a higher temperature is recorded. You can adjust the humidity by increasing the amount of water in the incubator or reducing ventilation.

Turning is most critical the first week of incubation. The more often you do it, the better. Commercial incubators do it every hour. If you do not have an automatic turner, it is important you turn the eggs an odd number of times each day. This is important so you do not leave the eggs in the same position each night which is the longest period of time they go without turning each day. Just draw a line on the eggs. When you turn the eggs, the line should either be on the top or the bottom of the egg. Most eggs are incubated on their sides in small incubators. If they are raised at all, it is important that the large end with the air sac be up. 

Do not leave the eggs in a turner during hatching. The egg does not need turning. The young bird may become caught in the turner, being crippled, if not killed, by the action of it turning. Move the eggs to the brooder, if all eggs are pipped (To break through the shell in hatching, the bird cracks the side of the shell for an air source. This begins the hatching process. This is a small crack, and is called "pipped") You can remove the turner. The incubator now becomes a brooder. Remove the birds after hatching, so they are not burnt by the heat elements.

Sometimes it is recommended to spray waterfowl eggs daily. This can be done with a small amount of room temperature water. You can then leave the top of the incubator off for several minutes after watering. At times this can be of benefit. If you do it, start at day 7 and do not spray after day 25. The actual consequences of spraying is interesting. It changes the membrane of the egg so a greater percentage of moisture is lost during incubation. Ideally a duck egg looses about 13% of its weight between the time it is laid and day 25 of incubation. Loosing significantly more or less than this reduces hatchability.

The length of incubation time varies. For Mallards it is about 26.5-27 days. For Runners it is 28.5 days. For Muscovy it is about 35 days. All others are about 28 days. Geese 30 to 34 days. If your eggs are old or the incubator is cool, incubation takes longer. If it is too warm, incubation will be completed sooner.

Eggs can be held for a week before incubation without a problem. The ideal holding temperature is about 60 degrees. A refrigerator is too cold. Development of the embryo only starts when the egg is re-warmed to the correct temperature.

Sometimes a duck makes a nest but fills it too full of eggs before she starts to set. Until she starts setting you want to have the freshest eggs in her nest. As the eggs are laid, mark the date they are laid on each egg. If the nest gets full, take the oldest egg out whenever she lays another egg. Using this method you know she will have the freshest eggs once she starts setting.

Many people want to help the ducklings hatch. It is best to allow them to do the hatching themselves. The only time you want to help them is when they make a hole and then cannot progress because they get stuck in that spot. If an actual hole is made and you can see the duckling, but no progress is made for 12 hours, you can gingerly help the duckling.
During hours of darkness, you usually will not see an progress. I find that when the shell is pipped, and there is little progress during that day. I usually have a duckling the next morning.  

As soon as the hatching begins, all broken eggs must be removed, and the nest / incubator looked at every few hours for this purpose, otherwise to opened shells are likely to fit themselves on to other eggs, and thus preventing the chicks from freeing themselves. When a chick is unable to free itself, it is usually because it is weak. The reason probably being that the egg was not fresh. In such cases, do not break the shell, but put the egg in a bowl of warm water for a minute or two, being careful not to let any water enter the egg, if the shell is at all chipped. For what it is worth I have never had to do this. And consider it last resort. If water gets inside the egg, it is likely the duckling / gosling will drown.

If blood appears where you break pieces of the shell off, stop and wait several hours. If the duckling gets stuck after it has started to break a circle around the egg, it can usually be helped without a problem. But if they are progressing on their own, do not help them. Keep in mind that occasionally ducklings hatch during darkness. That is why I'm currently writing this at 2:37 am. Typing for a bit, go check eggs. (Muscovy, their so cute, (don't tell the guys I said that.))

It is my observation that a bird who has been helped during the actual hatching process, is usually weaker. It appears that this process of breaking out of the shell, builds strength in the bird. I believe that is why it takes awhile to hatch. The bird comes out when it is strong enough to survive. But that is only my opinion made through observation.

It is important that the incubator not get too warm or too cold as it will affect the eggs. Several hours of too high a temperature is more dangerous than several hours of too cool a temperature. If your electricity goes out or you must move your incubator, do not worry but watch that it does not become too warm. If the temperature starts to rise, open the lid to allow more ventilation.

Brooding Ducks and Geese

There are many reasons for keeping ducks and geese. Not only are they beautiful, but they will entertain you with their antics. The ducks will eat slugs and snails, and the geese will control your overgrown grass.

Small group of ducklings can be brooded by broody chicken hens and most breeds of ducks other than Pekin and Runner. If the ducklings aren't hatched by the broody female, place them under her at night so that she will more readily accept them. We even have turkey hens that have accepted ducklings. Duckling can be brooded artificially in about the same way as baby chicks. Due to their rapid growth, duckling will need heat a shorter period of time, and floor space requirements will increase more rapidly, as will geese.

Starting the baby ducklings and goslings is not difficult. Start with clean quarters. The environment should rodent free. For smaller numbers all you need is a large cardboard box, some shavings or straw, a heat lamp, a feeder and a waterier. Any small building or garage or barn corner can be used as a brooding area for small numbers of birds. The brooding area should be dry, reasonably well lighted and ventilated, and free from drafts. Cover the floor with about 4 inches of absorbent litter material, such as wood shavings, chopped straw, or peat moss. Litter dampness is more of a problem with ducks than with chicks. Good litter management will require removal of wet spots and frequent addition of clean, dry litter. Be sure litter is free of mold.

After they're hatched, move them to a brooder. A low water trough such as for sheep works. We also use a large birdcage inside the house. (We enjoy having babies) moving them to a large rabbit hutch type cage when they either get a few weeks old and put on size, or really start stinking up the place. Put a heat source at one end, even indoors. A light bulb hanging from a hooded socket is can be used. The brightness of the bulb doesn't seem to bother them. Give them an area to escape the heat. For food we use chick starter. Make sure the water is not something chicks can fall into. If you have ducklings mixed with the chicks the water won't last long anyway. We keep the water about 1/4" deep to start. Here, you can use jar tops. You can also pick up a waterier. They work well, having a bottle in the middle so babies they won't fall in and drown.

When raising Muscovy ducklings, keep in mind that they are very good climbers. Make sure that they will not burn themselves in the heat source should they climb the sides. Or, escape over the top if using an open brooder.

Infrared heat lamps are a convenient source of heat for brooding small numbers of birds.  The most commonly used brooder is the 4 bulb, 250 watt (heat bulb) brooder lamp. These lamps are adequate for 300 chicks. For the backyard farmer, who wants to brood a small amount of birds, this is to big. Use one 250-watt lamp for 30 ducklings. For a few birds, We use a 50-watt Reflector bulb. NEVER use ordinary light bulbs for brooding. They are meant to produce light and do not have the heating qualities of the heat lamp. Heat lamps are coated with silver to reflect or shoot the heat to the birds. It is this reflection of heat the babies need for survival. Heat lamps provide radiant heat to the birds under them. Since the air isn't heated, room temperature measurement isn't so important. When using hover-type brooders, brood only half as many ducklings as the rated chick capacity. Because ducklings are larger than chicks in size, it may be necessary to raise the hover 3 to 4 inches, higher yet for goslings. Have the temperature at the edge of the hover 85 to 90 degrees F when the ducklings arrive. Reduce it 5 to 10 degrees per week.

With newly hatched birds, I keep the temperature at 98 degrees F,  Measuring under the center of the light, at duckling level. Raising or lowering the light to adjust. I do this because at first, should they become to hot, the ducklings are not strong enough to move to a cooler spot. I keep it at this temperature for the first 10 days. decreasing the temperature 5 degrees each week thereafter providing the outside temperature permits. The ideal temperature for 6 week old bird is 70 degrees F.

You can, if you want, confine the birds to the heated area with a
corrugated paper chick guard for the first 3 to 4 days. Watch the actions of the birds as a clue to their comfort. You will be able to tell on sight if the duckling are warm enough. If they are too hot, they will move away from the heat. If too cold they may pile up and be noisy. The birds will be moving around, eating and drinking if they are comfortable. High temperatures may result in slower feathering and growth. When decreasing the temperature consider the behavior of your ducklings at all times. 

As they grow, they will need more space and less heat. Observe the birds - if they stay away from the heat, turn it off - if they get their pen messy rapidly, they need more bedding and more space. Supplementary heat may be needed for 5 to 6 weeks in cold weather; in summer, only 2 to 3 weeks. By five or six weeks they can probably be outside all the time, except in extremely cold, wet weather. Make sure it's good weather before you put them outside. In some areas attention to predator control may be necessary when the ducklings and/or goslings are turned out.

General Information

If you find a wild duck nest on your property and don't see the mother on the eggs, don't necessarily worry. Ducks lay an egg every day or two until they have a full clutch (usually 8 to 15); only then will the mother start to sit on them. It takes the eggs 28 days to hatch from when she starts sitting all the time. When they hatch, she will soon lead them to a nearby body of water. The father takes no part in caring for the eggs or young.

Young mothers-to-be tend to lay all over the place. They soon get the idea to nest build. Also, the only ways I have found to get them to stop laying is to (1) let them sit on a clutch of eggs. (2) time, weather, season.

Another question commonly asked is about sexing them. This is pretty easy for all the Mallard-derived ducks (all the domestic duck except Muscovy); there are two main clues. First is that, by about 10 weeks of age, the voice of the female is a loud quack, while that of the male is soft and whispery. Second, later on the males develop a curled feather (the drake feather) on top of the tail. In Muscovy, by three months or so, the males are nearly twice as large as the females. I've found that in younger Muscovy, the feet of the males are often relatively larger. I don't know if you should count on this, but I do.

Although most domestic ducks are descended from mallards, most of them have been bred so that their bodies are too heavy and wings to small to support flying. Of the mallard-derived breeds, only Calls and some of the other bantam ducks can fly. Muscovy also can fly well, especially the females. 


The following are tips and or tests used before the 1900's. My source is "Pratts Poultry Pointers, Copyright 1895. I often use methods and cures that I have found in old farming books. Many from 1800's.

Water Test

On the nineteenth day, the water test may be applied. Put the eggs one by one in a bucket about two thirds full of water heated to about 105 degrees (F), or as they say as hot as the hand will comfortably bear. Spoiled eggs will sink, and should be thrown away. Live eggs will float, and in a little while will "bob" up and down, as if the chicks were trying to jump out of the water. The advantages of this test are not only that it enables you to make room in the nest / incubator by taking away the dead eggs, but it softens the shells of the live ones, and makes it easier for the chicks to pick their way out. It is not essential, however, if you have selected fresh eggs and kept them from getting too dry.

Provide 2 to 4 inches of suitable litter, cane pulp, shavings, straw and other types of litter may be used. Litter must always be kept dry. Avoid slick surfaces such as newspaper, which can cause serious leg problems.

Chicks must have fresh feed and clean water at all times. Feed a good quality medicated starter feed for the first 6 to 8 weeks then change to a chick grower feed. It is a good idea to scatter fine cracked corn or fine grit on top of the feed for the first 2 to 3 days. This will assure a better start for the chicks digestive system. We recommend two 1 gallon water fountains and two 24 inch feeders for each 100 chicks. Use larger feeders and fountains as chicks get older.

FREE CHICKEN WORMER . Ask any southern old timer how to worm chickens & they will likely advise you to forget all those fancy store bought things. None seem to work any better than the readily found POLK BERRY. Simply cut a few stalks of the POLK bush & hang them upside down in the chicken house or run. The chickens will not only be wormed by the berries but will also get exercise by having to jump to reach them. 


Raising Ducks and Geese

(Helpful information to provide the best home)

Many people dream of having a swimming pond for their ducks and geese. There are several things to consider, however, before starting to dig your pond.

The first thing to consider is how you will clean your pond. If it is a large farm pond it should be periodically flushed, especially if you have more than 20-30 birds/acre. This can be done from well water or naturally flowing water. We use a Windmill to pump well water into the pond. The maximum number of ducks is 100 per acre of water. Excessive numbers of ducks rapidly pollute the water and the edges are quickly destroyed from their dabbling. I have lined some of the edges of our pond with sections of stacked logs. These are held in place with 2"x 2" stakes driven into the ground, and back filled.

Smaller ponds are best if they are cement lined with a drain in the bottom. It is also wise to have an overflow pipe so if the pond becomes too full, the excess water goes out the overflow pipe and does not spill over the edge of your pond. Gravel or sand should be spread around the edge of the pond so less mud and mess is produced there. For our pond, we used 3" soft plastic pipe. I like the soft plastic as it dents instead of cracks. And does not get brittle with age. The pipe runs underground, spilling into to a ditch that we dug down the center of a pasture for winter runoff. The ditch was dug with our loader tractor. Taper the edges to keep the livestock from falling over a bank. 

I would like to mention at this point. When you dig a ditch (or pond) such as we have. Take a picture, with landmarks, of the field before you put in the ditch. This way when county comes along and wants to give you grief about what your doing to their creek....  Later, when county returns claiming their map shows it is a creek. But, will not show you the map. And then months later when they return, now willing to show you a map. But, not the date the map was made. You can prove that it is a ditch we dug, and just a stupid pond we made for our ducks Clark County.

Ducks and geese will eat almost any plant, especially if it is the only vegetation around. The following plants seem to be the most indestructible and hardy if planted in a waterfowl pen:

In their pen: ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), silverweed (Potentilla anserina),camomile species (Matricaria), large leafed butterbur (Petasites).

On pond edge: day lilies (Hemercallis), yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus), tall perennial grass euialia (miscanthus).

For nests: stinging nettle, butterur and smartweed

Protection from wind and sun: Low growing conifers, Chinese Juniper, Dwarf Pine

Very few medications are approved by the USDA for use with waterfowl. This is because, relative to the chicken and turkey industries, the waterfowl industry is very small and the drug companies could not justify the money they would have to spend to obtain approval by the USDA. The drugs approved for ducks are chlortetracycline (Aureomycin), neomycin (Neomix), novobiocin (Albon, Albac, Albamix) and ormetoprim-sulfadimethoxine (Rofenaid). There are no drugs approved for geese.

Remember that waterfowl consume more water per pound of body weight than chickens or turkeys. So you need to dilute the recommend dosages for chickens or turkeys or you might overmedicate. Overmedicating or mixing incompatible drugs may have serious consequences so be very careful with your medicating.

The egg production of ducks varies tremendously due to genetics and management. The genetics depends on the breed chosen and the selection the breeder has used. The management factors that most affect egg production are 1) Good quality of feed. 2) Proper quantity of feed. For maximum production a duck must have limited feed from 3 weeks of age until they are laying well - no more than .33 pounds of feed/ duck/day for the larger strains. Otherwise they become overweight with egg production, fertility and hatchability suffering. Once they are laying well they can have as much as they want to eat. 3) Proper lighting. An increasing day length (January - June) brings sexually mature ducks into egg production and a decreasing day length (July-December) slows or stops their egg production. To prevent this from happening, natural light needs to be supplemented with artificial light in the morning and evening so the laying duck has 17 total hours of light a day. This increase in light can be made at 20-23 weeks of age (larger ducks require more time to mature sexually). If you provide your ducks with a stress free environment and follow the above three points you should be well on your way to a high egg producing flock of ducks.


Angel Wing In Ducks And Geese

Angel wing, also known as slipped wing, crooked wing or drooped wing, is a condition of ducks and geese where the last joint of the wing is twisted and the wing feathers point out, and do not lay smooth against the body.

It is more common in geese and typically in either the left wing or both wings, only rarely in the right wing only. Males develop it more than females. The birds that develop the problem are perfectly healthy, they are just not as nice looking.

The cause of angel wing is thought to be a nutritional problem due to excess feed. You see, waterfowl that normally mature in the Arctic environment do not show any angel wing because of their naturally fast growth. It does appear, however, in those species that come from a more temperate environment where they grow slower under natural feeding conditions. But by feeding them unlimited, high protein, high energy feed, they grow unnaturally fast and their wing weight seems to outgrow the strength of the wing to support it.

The only wild waterfowl populations known to be affected are those fed by man. In Sweden, ten different park populations of Canada geese produced angel wing. The following year one flock was not fed any artificial feed and there were no angel wing goslings produced.

We suggest not to feed high protein, high energy feed (such as turkey feed), provide plenty of room for exercise, keep in small groups, provide plenty of grass or green feed and keep the pen dark at night if possible so less eating occurs. If you do notice a twisted wing, however, you can form a sling to hold the wing in place to allow proper development.

(So, is this like a long page or what?)



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