Hatching Duck Eggs: When Fertile Eggs Don’t Hatch

Adventures in Raising Ducklings Begins With Hatching Eggs!

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I recently ventured into hatching duck eggs, an area that I had previously avoided ever since we started keeping ducks. Not only am I allowing Margarita, our broody duck to sit on fertile eggs, I am actually encouraging it. She is one of those mama wannabe ducks that just can’t do anything else once the broody bug hits. So we anxiously awaited the hatching of the fertile eggs.

How Do You Know Eggs Are Fertile?

There was no worry that the eggs were not fertile. We have plenty of drakes and they do their job. And candling showed that most had development going on inside. A couple eggs were not and were discarded to the pig bucket. I missed one and it exploded in the nest and boy did that stink. I had to clean up the mess, get new straw and build up the nest similar to the way Margarita had it.  She was not impressed with the job I did and let me know it.

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I worried that she might not go back on the nest but she rebuilt it her way and settled back on. The trick with candling and doing any cleaning in the duck house is to do it while she is briefly off the nest getting a quick bath and eating a few bites. Broody ducks really don’t like much company while they warm the eggs. For candling, I use a small, bright LED flashlight in a dark corner of the duck house. While holding the egg carefully, in the darkest area you have, shine the light from the widest area of the egg, directly into the egg. If the embryo is developing, you will first see a web of blood vessels forming. Later in egg development, the egg will be mostly filled with a dark mass, the growing duckling or chick. An air pocket will be evident at the largest end of the egg.

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Keeping the Broody Hen Healthy

Another thing to consider with a broody duck or chicken hen is that they might start to lose their condition while setting on the eggs. Most will reluctantly go out for a quick stretch and snack but some are adamant that they don’t need to leave the nest. Luckily, Margarita had the good sense to use her time wisely and I always saw her taking a bath, grooming, and eating when she left the nest. Her condition is still good. One thing we did to help her along was to put a food and water dish near the nest. Since we know what to feed chickens and ducks as they’re brooding, I often bring her some tasty treats like mealworms, dark leafy greens, or watermelon.

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Missing Some Eggs? Predator Problem

The problem that arose for us was that eggs were going missing. About halfway through her brooding time, eggs were missing from the nest. I searched all over. Carefully looked under the nest straw in case an egg had worked its way through the nest to the floor. I started to keep track of how often this was happening and it seemed to be a pattern of every three days.

So here’s when it gets weird. I suspected a snake was the culprit so we tried to seal up any cracks in the doorways. I started to leave decoy eggs for the thief. The varmint seemed to know which were the fake or decoy eggs and still eggs were going missing. The suspect also seemed to know which eggs were further along on the development. It was crazy. All the original fertile eggs were gone and Margarita was still settled on the nest. I added eggs to the nest. I even added chicken eggs. Those are fertile eggs too because we do have roosters and at this point, it was me versus the snake. I was going to have some baby poultry out of this deal one way or another! I was taking this personally!

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What’s Happening Now?

At this point, we are still waiting for the five remaining eggs. If the snake still finds a way in and continues to steal eggs, I will give up. Margarita would have sat for almost two months and I need to encourage her to move on. We have some interest from two other hens now. I will be saving some eggs for one of them and adding a nest to a different part of the duck house.

What Might Keep Fertilized Eggs From Hatching

  • Predators stealing eggs. If you’re raising ducks in your backyard, snakes, raccoons, opossums, dogs, and rats would all enjoy a tasty egg meal.
  • Embryo death possibly from bacteria entering the egg.
  • Eggs were old and not good quality before the hen sat on the nest.
  • Broody hen is not consistent with her sitting on the nest.
  • The eggs were not fertile.  Even if you have a drake, some of the eggs will not be fertile.

Do you have experience hatching duck eggs? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments below.

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Comments
  • 7eggs hatched and mommy duck took ducklings to the lake. What do I do with the eggs left in the nest?

    Reply
  • I have 3 pens for my different breeds of ducks. My cayugas, mallards and Appleyards have nests. My Appleyard won’t set. My mallards and Cayugas do but their eggs will not hatch. I’ve candled them and there are a lot of viable eggs but they die. My ducks remove the bad eggs from their nests and poke holes in them. My mallard has sat for a month and every other day there was an egg 4 feet from the nest with a hole in it. Now she is down to the 2 Appleyard eggs she took in. I don’t understand why none of the eggs are hatching. Even my Cayuga is breaking her own eggs. Some she’ll move and some she’ll put a hole in and leave it in the nest.

    Reply

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