This is the first year I have ever tried to incubate my own chicks. I’ve had a broody hen here and there, a random chick or two to hatch and a near-hatch with a Muscovy duck (which unfortunately fell prey to something that also got into its eggs-very sad), but we’ve never truly successfully hatched anything out that would give me that feeling of being self-sustaining from our own breeding stock and growing the farm and feed resource.
What prompted me to really give egg incubation a try and to commit to it as a real self-sustaining line of livestock poultry is our Pekin ducks. We raised 11 to adulthood last year, 8 of which went into the freezer and a pair of females and a drake that we held over as future breed stock. These are birds that I purchased as day-old ducklings from Metzer Farms in California which were shipped here to me in Massachusetts. I have to say Metzer’s was excellent stock and everything from ordering to arrival and beyond went smoothly. I highly recommend them as a duck, goose, or game bird resource, most especially if you want a small to moderate number of birds (for smaller orders, they are one of the most affordable). In addition, the Metzer site is a top-notch resource for raising fowl and I have referred back to them when I’ve had questions or curiosities time and again throughout the year.
To get back to the tale, though, I got serious about incubating and hatching because it turns out that Pekin ducks are good breeders and layers, but are not good “setters”. That simply means they are a good resource for me and our little homestead for fertile eggs, but the birds have lost their natural instinct to set on the nest and incubate the eggs themselves. One of the girls has something of a mothering instinct, but she just can’t quite seem to commit 100%. It soon became clear that if I wanted my birds to lay the foundation for this year’s meat duck flock I would have to take more of a hand in the process.
As an aside, I did also have one other option and that was to utilize a bird that did have broody tendencies and slip the eggs into her nest. This could actually be either a chicken or a broody duck. My hen house is not well set up for this, my broodiest hen had passed from old age and although I do have a female Muscovy left that goes quite broody when the time is right, the time is only right for her a couple of times a year. I have had an abundance of good duck eggs all winter and now heading into early spring (when the fertility situation should improve), and this was a waste waiting for the Muscovy to go broody. Perhaps when it warms if she begins building a nest I’ll let her pull some duty, too, but it was clear that as far as reliability and hatch yield went, incubation is really the way for me to go.
We have been raising and processing meat birds and ducks for several years now (ducks just the last two). This new adventure into incubating and hatching is just one more way to build our ability to be self-sustaining and to economize our homegrown food source. The meat birds I always buy as chicks because of the stock that they are, but with the ducks, at least, I can build a breeding stock that can sustain us (more on the economics, etc. of that another time).
So as not to belabor this post too long, I’ll save for another day the discussion of my incubating setup and process and other related topics of (hopefully) interest. For today my point was just to share with you that I have had our first successful hatch! It’s been a very fun, interesting, and I can admit it–exciting process that I have also shared with the kids, and we’re all learning lots and having a great time with it.
A Layer Flock Is Born
The first of my home-hatched flock actually isn’t even ducklings, funny enough. I do have 3 duck eggs in the incubator which are due to hatch, if all continues to go well, next Monday. When I set those ducks, though, I also nabbed up some chicken eggs because I do have a couple roosters in with the layers to keep the peace and I knew there were some fertile eggs in the mix. Chicks have a shorter gestation period (21 days) than ducklings, so they came first. I ended up with seven that went into “lockdown” with a hatch due date of Monday (Feb 11). So far we have had five hatch successfully and two that pass the “float” test for viability, but which I am playing a game of wait-and-see with because they are yet to pip (almost 24 hours after expected hatch) and don’t seem to be doing too much. It’s still a pretty fair outcome considering how early in the year we are and the diminished activity of poultry in terms of breeding and laying this time of year.
So as it turns out we should be on our way to producing not only our own meat duck flock, but our next generation of layers as well (although no doubt we’ll have a number of roosters in this set that will be a meat resource, too).
That’s our bit of news for the day and I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures! More on the specifics of the process in future posts, and please do ask any questions that I might be able to help you with to get you started in incubating your next flock!
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