If you’ve ever tried incubating chicken eggs, you know how addictive it can be. Have you tried hatching duck eggs? And can you incubate duck eggs with chicken eggs, conserving space and focusing only on one time to hatch?
In all of the literature I’ve studied on how to hatch chicken eggs versus duck eggs, I’ve never read anything advising against it. The same procedures used to incubate chicken eggs can also be used to incubate duck eggs…with some modifications.
Incubators are usually created specifically for hatching standard-sized chicken eggs, although bubble eggs or bantam eggs may need a smaller insert if you use an automatic egg turner. If you only have the simplest incubators, where the eggs are placed on a wire screen and operated manually, this is not a problem. But if you’re using a larger incubator with a turner, you may need to purchase separate sizes of duck eggs versus chicken eggs so the eggs don’t crowd when transported. Too much scrambling can cause hairline fractures or cause abnormal growth of chicks/ducks.
How long does it take for chicken eggs to hatch? Twenty one days, give or take two if temperatures are off. It takes 28 days for guinea fowl eggs to hatch – about the same amount of time as it takes for standard duck eggs to incubate – although some experienced guinea fowl owners say it takes 25 to 26 days with a well-calibrated incubator. It takes 35 days for muscovy eggs to hatch. Geese can take anywhere from 28 to 35 days, depending on whether they are a lighter or older breed.
But the incubation time for chicken eggs can coincide with the incubation window for duck eggs if you do a little math.
temperature and humidity
The California Poultry Working Group and the University of California Cooperative Extension recommend the following:
Maintain the temperature inside the incubator around 102 degrees Fahrenheit, with 60% to 65% relative humidity. Place the thermometer at a medium height of the egg. Fill tubs with water just before use, and replace water every 3 to 4 days throughout the incubation period. Lay the eggs horizontally and turn them 180 degrees on the long axis, three or more times per day (odd number).
Forced air incubators
Maintain a dry-bulb temperature of 99.5°C, a wet-bulb temperature of 88°C, with a relative humidity of 65%.
In general, the temperature and humidity needs are very similar for incubating duck eggs and chicken eggs, which isn’t a concern. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension lists the incubation temperature for duck, chicken, goose, and guinea fowl eggs as 99.5 degrees and the hatching temperature as 98.5 degrees for duck, chicken, and goose eggs, with 99 degrees listed for guinea fowl eggs. Muscovy duck eggs require the same temperature as standard domestic duck eggs descended from Mallards.
Humidity can vary. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recommends the following incubation humidity levels for various eggs:
- chicken: 58%
- Ducks (including Muscovy): 58% to 62%
- Goose: 62%
- Guinea fowl: 54% to 58%
For hatching, it recommends the following:
- Chicken: 66 to 75%
- Ducks (including Muscovy): 66% to 75%
- Goose: 66% to 75%
- Guinea fowl: 66% to 75%
Basics of hatching eggs
Whether you’re incubating duck eggs or hatching chicken eggs, the same guidelines apply:
- Store fertilized eggs at 55-65°F, pointed side down.
- Lay within seven days of spawning, if possible, and no more than 10 days after spawning.
- Choose clean eggs. Do not wash or wipe the eggs, as this can remove the flora that defends against bacteria.
- Select “normal” eggs, not double yolks, odd shapes, or eggs that look too big or too small. These will often hatch but the chick/duckling may be weak or improperly developed. Discard broken eggs.
- Sterilize the incubator before starting, as 99 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for the growth of any bacteria present.
- Place the incubator in a safe location away from children, pets, direct sunlight, and drafts.
- Start the incubator two days before you intend to lay the eggs, to ensure that it maintains the correct temperature and humidity.
- Warm the eggs to room temperature before placing them in the incubator so that they do not condense.
- Be sure to turn the eggs three times a day to seal, whether it is duck, chicken, goose or guinea fowl.
The most important window of time, when hatching duck eggs or chicken eggs, is the closing phase. Often, a separate “hatcher” is used for this closing period, which does not turn the eggs but maintains a higher level of humidity.
The “locking” that occurs when the brooder is opened can lead to low humidity, which can dry out the membranes when chicks or ducks try to escape. The eggs do not need to be turned during the last two or three days before hatching; They just need to be monitored for temperature and humidity. Schedule your incubation times so that the closing coincides, allowing for three days in which the ducklings and chicks can hatch undisturbed.
When incubating duck eggs with chickens, guinea fowls, etc., get out of your calendar. Determine planned incubation dates based on which species take longer (such as Muscovy). Then go back from the hatching date, 21-28 days depending on the species, and set your other eggs on that date.
If I were to hatch Muscovy Duck, Welsh Harlequin (or any other breed descended from Mallards), and chicken eggs together, starting March 1StI would like:
- Clear out my incubator and then go live on Feb 26thy to make sure it is working properly.
- Muscovy eggs are laid on March 1St.
- Mark Lockdown on my calendar as April 2ndAbbreviation II.
- Select “slot” on April 4thy-6y
- Lay the other duck’s eggs on March 8thywaxing the muscovy eggs at the same time and getting rid of any veins that have not developed.
- Lay the chicken’s eggs on March 15thywaxing the duck eggs at the same time and discarding any eggs that have not developed properly.
- Turn all the eggs three times a day, making sure that the small ends are pointing down.
- Candle her eggs weekly, and discard any eggs that haven’t developed properly.
- Monitor the hatch, make sure the brooder is not disturbed, and remove all chicks/ducklings within 24 hours after they dry out.
Hatching duck eggs under a brooder chicken
This is probably the easiest way to incubate duck eggs, as you don’t have to worry about time or humidity. I’ve hatched duck eggs under a silkie hen, a regular-sized hen, and even under my turkey leggings. Ducklings hatch and grow under the care of their adoptive mothers. If you have fertilized duck eggs and have an incubator available, give it a try! Your chickens won’t mind the extra seven days of incubation and will always be great moms… right up to the point where they panic when their web-footed babies jump into the water. However, if you are intent on hatching duck eggs with chicken eggs under the brooder, place the chicken eggs under your hen seven days after the duck eggs are laid, so that the brood doesn’t jump from next to tend to the chicks before the ducklings can emerge.
Do you incubate duck eggs with chicken eggs? Tell us about your experiences!
“Hatching duck eggs” William F. Dean, PhD, and Tirat S. Sandhu, MD, PhD. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: https://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/sects/duck/hatching.cfm
“Duck Welfare Practices in Muscovy” by the California Poultry Working Group and UCSD Cooperative Extension http://animalsciencey.ucdavis.edu/avian/muscovy1001.htm
“Hatching and Hatching of Eggs,” by Gregory S. Archer and A. Lee Cartwright, Agrilife Texas A&M Supplement https://aglifesciences.tamu.edu/posc/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2012/08/EPS-001-hatch-hatching-hatching-eggs-1.pdf