I just went to check the duck eggs and saw that egg #1, which internally pipped yesterday and was rocking a bit this morning, has done an external pip! The shell has a tiny x-shaped crack with a raised middle, kind of like a pyramid. A second egg has pipped internally this morning. Nothing much is happening at the moment, which is normal, but waiting can be nerve-racking for a first-timer in hatching eggs!
Duck eggs can take up to 3 days to hatch and can be motionless for long periods in between hatching phases, which makes one wonder if everything is going as it should. So now we have to try to be patient and not open the incubator! I have initiated lock down at noon today. This means the incubator remains closed for the next 3 days or until all eggs are hatched – absolutely no opening allowed!
Two items I had ordered online finally arrived today. The first is a thermometer cum hygrometer with wired sensors. I placed the sensors into the incubator near to the eggs (the temperature sensor can be seen in the photo above), with the thin wires leading into the unit under the plastic cover. The cover is not so tightly fitted that the wires would be squished or damaged.
The other item is a heating plate for chicks that simulates the mother hen. This nifty device uses only a tenth the power of a equivalent heating lamp and is much safer and simpler to use than any other device I could find. It is the smallest size, but definitely large enough for 5 small ducklings. We have a large cardboard box, food and water bowls and old towels – a simple but complete brooder setup for the first few days until we figure out what we need next.
After that we went to the farm supply store and bought some duck starter feed. As we didn’t want to count our ducklings before they hatched, I did not want to buy the standard 25kg sack. The lady was nice and scooped out a 10kg portion for me into a plastic bag. It was already a huge bag. The starter feed is only meant for ducklings up to 4 weeks old. I am wondering if 5 ducklings can eat 10kg of feed in 4 weeks?
I’ve been asked by friends what we intend to do with the ducks once they hatch, if we were just going to set them free outside. I have to explain that we can’t just throw hatchlings outdoors to fend for themselves, since they don’t have a duck mother to warm or protect them. They’d be (1) immediately gobbled up by whatever predator is around – rats, weasels, raccoons, eagles, hawks, and even neighbour’s pet cats or dogs, or (2) die from exposure when the temperatures drop at night.
While being precocial and able to forage and swim from the time they hatch, baby ducks can’t regulate their own body temperature nor waterproof their downy feathers. They are also too small to be able to defend themselves from predators. They are practically defenseless till they learn to fly, which takes from 8 to 10 weeks after hatch. During this time, their mother has the burden of caring for them, and it is this burden that we are now committed to take over, since we are bringing them into the world.
Once they grow up and can fly, they won’t need our protection any longer. They can choose to return to the wild, or stay with us. We don’t know which it will be. It will be certainly an adventure and learning experience for us.
At the moment I am much more worried if they make it past the hatching phase at all. What comes after, is a problem for another day. Crossing my fingers now and waiting anxiously to see our first baby!