If you have already tried incubating chicken eggs, you know how addicting it can be. Have you tried incubating duck eggs? And can you incubate duck eggs with chicken eggs, conserving space while only focusing on one hatch time?
In all the literature I have studied regarding how to hatch chicken eggs vs. duck eggs, I have never read anything that advised NOT doing it. The same procedures used for incubating chicken eggs can also be used for incubating duck eggs … with a few adjustments.
Incubators are usually constructed specifically for hatching chicken eggs of a standard size, though pullet or Bantam eggs may need a smaller insert if you are using an automatic egg turner. If you only have the most basic of incubators, in which eggs are set on a wire screen and turned manually, this isn’t an issue. But if you are using a larger incubator with turners, you may need to purchase separate sizes for duck eggs vs. chicken eggs so the eggs do not jostle when moved. Too much jostling can create hairline fractures or cause abnormal development of chicks/ducks.
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How long does it take for chicken eggs to hatch? Twenty-one days, give or take a couple of days if temperatures are off. Incubating guinea eggs takes 28 days — the same amount of time it takes to incubate standard duck eggs — though some experienced guinea fowl owners say it takes 25-26 days with a well-calibrated incubator. Muscovy eggs take 35 days. Geese can take 28-35 days, depending on whether they are a lighter or a larger breed.
But chicken egg incubation time can coincide with the window for incubating duck eggs if you do a little math.
Temperature and Humidity
The document “Muscovy Duck Care Practices” from U.C. Davis states, “For still-air incubators the temperature within the incubator should be maintained at approximately 102oF (39oC) with 60 to 65% relative humidity. The thermometer should be placed at average egg height. Water pans should be filled just prior to use and water replaced every 3 to 4 days throughout the incubation period. The eggs should be placed horizontally and turned 180 degrees on the long axis, 3 or more times per day (an odd number). In forced-air incubators a dry bulb temperature of 99.5oF (37.5oC) and a wet bulb temperature of 88oF (31.5oC; equivalent to 65% relative humidity) are recommended.”
In general, temperature and humidity needs are so similar for incubating duck eggs and chicken eggs that it’s not a concern. A document from Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension lists the incubation temperature for duck, chicken, goose, and guinea fowl eggs as 99.5°F and the hatching temperature as 98.5°F for duck, chicken, and goose with 99°F listed for guinea fowl. Muscovy ducks require the same temperature as standard domestic ducks descended from Mallards.
Humidity can vary. The same document lists humidity for incubation as:
- Chicken: 58%
- Duck (including Muscovy): 58-62%
- Goose: 62%
- Guinea Fowl: 54-58%
And for hatching as:
- Chicken: 66-75%
- Duck (including Muscovy): 66-75%
- Goose: 66-75%
- Guinea Fowl: 66-75%
Whether you’re incubating duck eggs or hatching chicken eggs, these same guidelines apply:
- Store fertile eggs at 55-65°F, pointed side down.
- Set eggs within seven days of lay, if possible, and no more than 10 days after lay.
- Select clean eggs. Do not wash or wipe eggs, as this can remove the bloom that defends against bacteria.
- Select “normal” eggs, not double-yolkers, odd shapes, or eggs that appear too large or too small. Often these will hatch but the chick/duckling may be weak or improperly developed. Discard cracked eggs.
- Sanitize the incubator before starting, since 99°F is an optimal temperature for any existing bacteria to grow.
- Set the incubator in a safe area away from kids and pets, direct sunlight, and drafts.
- Start the incubator two days before you intend to set the eggs, to ensure it holds the correct temperature and humidity.
- Warm eggs at room temperature before setting in the incubator so condensation does not develop.
- Be sure to turn eggs three times a day until lockdown, whether they are duck, chicken, goose, or guinea fowl.
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The most important time window, when incubating duck eggs or chicken eggs, is the lockdown phase. Often, a separate “hatcher” is used for this lockdown period, which doesn’t turn the eggs but maintains a higher level of humidity.
“Lockdown” is when opening the incubator can result in a humidity drop, which can dry membranes as chicks or ducks try to escape. Eggs do not need to be turned during the final two to three days before hatch; they just need to be monitored for temperature and humidity. Schedule your incubation times so lockdown coincides, allowing three days in which ducklings and chicks can hatch undisturbed.
When incubating duck eggs with chicken, goose guinea fowl, etc., get out your calendar. Mark your planned incubation dates based on the species which takes longest (such as Muscovy). Then count backward from hatch date, 21-28 days depending on species, and set your other eggs on that date.
If I was going to hatch Muscovy, Welsh Harlequin duck (or any other breed descended from Mallards), and chicken eggs together, starting March 1st, I would:
- Sanitize my incubator then start it on February 26th to be sure it works right.
- Set the Muscovy eggs on March 1st.
- Mark “lockdown” on my calendar as April 2nd.
- Mark “hatch” as April 4th-6th
- Set the other duck eggs on March 8th, candling the Muscovy eggs at the same time and discarding any that have not developed veins.
- Set the chicken eggs on March 15th, candling the duck eggs at the same time and discarding any that have not developed correctly.
- Turn all eggs three times per day, ensuring that the small ends point downward.
- Candle eggs weekly, discarding any that have not developed correctly.
- Observe hatch, ensuring that the incubator is not disturbed, and removing all chicks/ducklings within 24 hours after they have dried.
Incubating Duck Eggs Under a Broody Chicken
This is probably the easiest method of incubating duck eggs, since you don’t have to worry about time or humidity. I have hatched duck eggs under a Silkie hen, a standard-sized hen, and even under my heritage turkey. The ducklings hatched and thrived under the care of their foster mothers. If you have fertile duck eggs and an available broody, give it a go! Your hen won’t mind the extra seven days of incubation and will almost always be great mothers … up to the point where they panic when their web-footed babies jump into the water. However, if you are intent on incubating duck eggs with chicken eggs under your broody, slide the chicken eggs under your hen seven days after setting the duck eggs, so your broody doesn’t jump off the next to care for chicks before the ducklings can emerge.
Have you incubated duck eggs with chicken eggs? Tell us your experiences!
“Hatching Duck Eggs” by William F. Dean, Ph.D., and Tirath S. Sandhu, DVM, Ph.D. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: https://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/sects/duck/hatching.cfm
“Muscovy Duck Care Practices” by California Poultry Workgroup and University of California — Cooperative Extension http://animalsciencey.ucdavis.edu/avian/muscovy1001.htm
“Incubating and Hatching Eggs” by Gregory S. Archer and A. Lee Cartwright, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension https://aglifesciences.tamu.edu/posc/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2012/08/EPS-001-Incubating-and-Hatching-Eggs1.pdf