The mysteries of incubation

Posted on: January 22nd, 2016 by
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I have been attempting to get to the point where my chickens would produce their own offspring so I might stop buying fryers for the last three years.  To that end, I have both encouraged the few hens I have that have gone broody and chose to sit eggs and I purchased an incubator to hatch some of my eggs myself.  Sadly, I have not proven to be a very effective momma hen; usually less than 30% of my eggs hatch.  Not to be discouraged, I have continued to read and attempt to hatch eggs I have been reasonably certain were fertilized.  I even went so far as to set a few chicken eggs under a broody turkey hen which, sadly, did not work (turkeys have higher body temperatures and longer sitting times).

Spring 2015 I chose to change my focus from chickens to our ducks.  We had 2 mature ducks, a male Pekin named Curly and a Rouen hen named Mia.  Each was bought from Tractor Supply, at different times, with the intention for them to be feeders.  Oddly, Curly was kept because he mated with a pekin female we had, and she began to regularly lay eggs.  I found I really liked the eggs, especially for baking, so I chose to keep them as a pair.  I got 3 Rouens to be my feeders, and moved on.  Sadly, the neighbor’s dog killed my Pekin hen, and I was without eggs or my pretty white hen.

We let Curly keep wandering, and the ducks, more than the chickens, truly range freely.  As we began to cull the ducks, Mia and Curly made a pair of it.  That November (terrible timing on her part) Mia hatched 7 eggs she had been hiding from me.  Unfortunately only one made it to maturity, because of her poor timing.  Vastly impressed with my odd couple, I fell in love with my little mutt ducks.

Mia stopped laying over the coldest winter months, but was back to nesting by Valentine’s Day.  Unfortunately, she got in the habit of laying eggs in various spots and seeming to lose the nest.  Since I saw the pair mating regularly, I decided to dust off the incubator and try my luck, again.

I read about differences in duck incubation as compared to that of chickens, set up my log of temperatures, and prepared to hatch just 4 eggs.  My first results were not impressive-only 1 egg hatched.  Not to be discouraged I tried again with 10 lovely eggs.  Happily, 7 of the 10 hatched, though I did assist a couple of them.  Much encouraged, Mia also hatched 5 ducklings.  We were awash in little ducks!

As a new spring is right around the corner I have been planning yet another hatching season.  With last year’s duck success I hope to give chicken eggs in the incubator another try.  I finally have some turkey toms and have selected a couple of breeding sets to see if I can get replacement poults, too.  It’s amazing how difficult it is to reach sustainable replacement…  Hoping for the best!

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