At last my eggs neared the hatching day, which is day 28 after incubation starts.
I had the humidity up and the temperature down, and I was ready to take them off the rotating tray and put them directly onto the incubator mesh. Before I could, however, one of them hatched! The egg shell sat empty in it's place, and the chick, which looked healthy and strong, if a little unsteady on it's feet, was in the corner.
I immediately removed the other eggs from the tray. The next two eggs followed suit, hatching quickly and easily without any concerns or issues. They, however, hatched on the day they were supposed to, instead of a day early like the first one did. I wonder if this duckling will do as well, but so far it seems to be doing great. It quickly showed good signs, including a lot of movement and preening itself. The other two were similar.
The young chicks work together a lot. They preen and peck at each other. I was curious about why they peck so much at each other, so I looked it up. I found out that it is a way of helping one another.When very young, (a day old or less) they have many major developments to make, similar to humans. Foremost among these is learning to walk and have bodily control. This is very hard for them, and when they fall, they are liable to become discouraged and give up. The pecking is encouragement. They all do this to each other, and it greatly improves their development. Whenever a chick is the only one to make it through the hatch their chance of survival drops drastically.
The fourth chick had some problems. One of it's feet and the tip of his beak was visible through a hole in the shell not too long after the others hatched. For several hours it remained in the same position. It would often peep or try to kick it's leg, but it made no progress. I began to worry. I did some research about 'assisted hatching'. All chicks have air pockets in the top their shells. I learned that when they first begin hatching, they 'pip', or poke a small hole on the shell, near the base of the air sac. Then they peck a circle in the shell, at the line where the air sac ends. This chick had not done this. He was trying to break out through the middle of the side of the shell, rather than a point near the top. He also was seemed to be twisted into a very abnormal position, based upon what I could see.
The other ducklings, which had been extremely watchful of it and tried to help it a lot, were seeming to begin to give up, as they helped it less and less and didn't give it as much attention. I started to pull off small pieces of his shell. After some was off, I let him sit for a couple more hours. Still, he made no progress, though he kicked frequently and the other chicks pecked encouragingly. I decided to help a little more. Most of what I read about assisted hatching was related to the removal of membrane from a hatching duckling. Using tweezers, the membrane is pulled away until it starts to bleed, which means blood vessels are still in that part of the membrane. Then you let it sit for 4 to 6 hours, and try again if it still needs help. This particular one didn't seem to be too stuck in the membrane, though. It was unable to break through the shell itself, although it tried with what seemed to be increasing desperation.
The membrane was still an issue, but the less important one. I did notice that the membrane that was there was becoming dry. I wetted it, but it didn't do as much good as I had hoped. It soon became apparent that this duckling was not getting out without major help. I was very reluctant to do this, because I wanted it to be as strong as possible, and any help early on will weaken it. But it had spent enough time trapped in the shell that I worried about it dying in there, which is a very big possibility. As bits and pieces of shell came off, another issue revealed itself. A significant amount of yolk was still in the bottom of the shell. As much of the yolk as possible is supposed to be absorbed into the abdominal cavity of the duckling. I decided to let it be for a while, absorbing what it would. I continued to wet it again and again.The down feathers on it's head are matted and torn from rubbing against the sharp edges of the shell. I hope this will heal with time.
During this time another egg 'pipped'. It seemed to be doing well. About ten hours later, after a little more help from the tweezers (especially around the face), and wetting it plenty of times, it finally emerged from the shell. A portion of the egg, stuck to it, trailed for a while, but as it moved it came off. The other three ducklings continued to preen it. Soon it was doing well, if not quite as good as the others had been.
The other that had pipped during the commotion with the other duckling was doing well, and it hatched slowly but without issue. The two were soon up and doing well. They moved around quite a bit and began to grow stronger. Another egg also pipped, then hatched without any problems.
I checked the other eggs, ten total. I checked by candling and by smell. (You can definitely tell a dead egg from a live egg by smell. It is very strong and very distinct.) Unfortunately, all of these eggs were dead. I do not know for sure why these eggs all died. All ten were checked and doing well only a few days before. Some had not been not moving much, but often a healthy egg will not move much.
They may have simply been late hatchers, and when I increased the temperature and humidity it would have been to early for them. Another theory I have is probably a little more likely. When I helped the other duckling hatch, the lid was often off the incubator. This exposure may have been enough to kill them. Fluctuating temperatures and humidity during incubation may have further weakened the embryos. So when all is said and done, I have six thriving ducklings.