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Wrapping It Up

1/17/2014 11:10 AM

    I have finally finished the incubating and brooding the young ducklings. The ducks continued to grow well, except for one-- a runt. As the others’ growth was rapid, he barely grew at all. At first, the difference was barely noticable. However, as time passed the difference in size became more and more obvious until he was dwarfed compared to the others. Sadly, he did not prove strong enough to make it, and died.


    The duckling which had endured the difficult hatch was not doing well either. His head was scarred from struggling against the edge of the shell, and grew only tiny, thin patches of feathers-- most of his head was completely bald. After a few weeks, he also died.


    Another duckling slowly began to grow weaker and weaker, until he, too, died.


    The other ducklings had been very strong, and continued to grow rapidly. I wondered what caused the deaths of these ducklings, if there was something I could have done more. I realized that all three were late hatchers, they may have been inherantly weaker. All six ducklings had ample access to food and water, and I watched to make sure that all six were eating and drinking.


    A new theory was then presented to me. The dirt which I kept them in often became muddy in certain places, especially near where they got water. The mud could then get onto their faces, obstructing nasal passages. They usually did a pretty good job keeping their own faces clean, and when they didn’t I would help them a little. But even then, having any obstruction in their nasal passages could lead to infection. This may have weakened the health of the first two ducklings and been the cause of death in the third. I do not know for sure.


    As I raised these ducklings, I gained a lot of experience and learned quite a bit. Here are a few of the more important things.

 

  • First and foremost, next time, I will not use dirt in the brooder. The health effects it may have had on my young ducklings aside, it was messy and hard to keep nice. It was especially hard to keep their water clean. Also, equipment such as my thermometer and the other brooder supplies became very dirty. Store-bought bedding or straw would have been worth the investment.

  • Keep the Incubator in a convenient place, where you can check on it frequently, making sure the temperature and humidity are where you need them, and make sure the water trough is always full. I did this, and it helped keep the Incubator conditions constant

  • Realize that ducklings eat and drink a lot. The rate they go through feed and water is shocking. Make sure you always have plenty of extra food handy and check their watering area frequently to make sure it stays full. The food that comes with Incubator Warehouse’s brooder kit will not last as long as you think it will.

  • Check on the ducklings frequently. You will often find something that needs attending to.

  • Don’t fiddle around too much with the Incubator. It takes a day or two for the incubator to stop fluxuating after a change in termperature or humidity. So make the adjustment, let it sit for a while, and then try fine tuning it. Also, the temperature in the incubator does not have to be perfectly accurate.If you try to get it dead on, you will just frustrate yourself, and the temperature fluxuations will be a problem. Try to be as close as is reasonably possible.

  • A little temperature fluxuation in the incubator is ok. The important thing is that it returns to normal quickly. Having the temperature spike or drop by five degrees for ten or fifteen minutes is less damaging to the eggs than having the teperature spike or drop by three degrees for an hour.


Most importantly, remember that incubating eggs and raising the ducklings is a fun experience, and there are few things more satisfying than watching a duckling emerge for the first time from it’s shell, heathy and happy and peeping.

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Early Brooding

12/2/2013 10:35 AM

The second group moved to the brooder a couple days after the first. For a moment they were pecked at a bit, and huddled in the corner. However, after a few minutes they became braver and slowly came out and, by mimicing the older ducks, they learned to eat and drink. After about two days they were fully integrated with the other ducks and were overcoming the ‘two group’ idea.

      The ducklings grow very quickly. I have been shocked by how large they have become. As they grow so rapidly, they go through food and water very quickly. After about four days after the second group had been put in I was refilling the water 2 or 3 times a day. Before to long the water needed to be refilled every few hours. The food was being refilled every day. It didn’t take long for the small bag of food to run out. After some thought, I decided not to buy more-- I would make more.

      The food I make is a combination of several grains. Rye, wheat, dried corn, brown rice, and sometimes oats are all combined to make a feed that they love. The grains are ‘cracked’. This makes them smaller (almost exactly the size of the store-bought feed). It also weakens the grain a little to make it easier to eat and digest. I carefully watched the ducklings after administering this food, and they seemed as happy and healthy as ever, and grow just as quickly.

      The dirt I put in the bottom of the brooder is working well, but it makes the ducks a little bit muddy. They do a good job keeping theyselves clean by preening, but cannot get it all, especially that on their feet. When the second group was about ten days old, I wondered if I could somehow clean them. I researched it, and found a variety of opinions. The majority said putting them in water was alright, as long as they were thouroughly dried immediately afterward. It is good for them if you do this, because it helps their oil glands develop. I splashed a little water on them, to make sure their feathers could repel water (If they get soaked through it is almost impossible to dry them well enough). Then I took them inside and placed them in a plastic bin filled with about an inch and a half of water. I left a place for them to climb onto if they wanted to get out of the water. After a moment’s hesitation, they began to play in the water, and cleaned themselves. I dried them carefully with a soft towel, then returned them to the brooder. They seem to still be doing well.

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Ducklings in the Brooder

11/18/2013 2:34 PM

I moved my chicks to the brooder in two separate groups, instead of as one unit. This was because of how spread out the hatches were. I wondered why this happened, and how spread out the hatches are supposed to be. I found out that they should all hatch within 36 hours of each other. Mine hatched between the morning of day 27 and the morning of day 30 . . . roughly 72 hours apart! I can find no indication of why they hatching time varied some much. It cannot be due to species variation, because they did not hatch in any order based on breed.

I did find that many people stop turning the eggs two to three days before the hatch, as opposed to me waiting until one day before. I don’t know if this had any significant impact on the hatching time or survival rate. Because of the varied hatch times, I began to think of them as two somewhat separate groups. Each group consists of three eggs, Group One being the early and on time hatchers, Group Two being those a day or two late. They seem to think of themselves in groups also, but each still interacts among the other group enough that I believe in a short amount of time they will be over this group mentality and be more like one unit.

I moved the early-hatching duckling to the brooder first, alone, because I was worried he was spending too long in the incubator. It did not like this at all. It stood in one spot and peeped loudly until I put it back in with the others. Later, I tried to put it in again, this time with one more for company. I got the same result.

Curiously, when I put just two ducks in, only the oldest one seemed upset. I think this may be because the first duck to hatch has a sort of ‘special role’ in assisting the others. While all the ducklings helped each other hatch, this one did much more to help than any of the others. The duck with the instinctive responsibility to those who hatched around the same time as him wanted to continue to watch out for them. I found nothing in my research to confirm this theory.

Finally, when I put the entirety of 'Group One' in the brooder together, they seemed content. Making sure they get the right experience when they first enter the brooder is crucial. They need to realize and begin to take advantage of food and water within a few hours. After a while, they still had not started to eat or drink. I realized that I would have to intervene.

I tried to introduce them to their food, which is a special duckling food that came with the brooder kit I received from Incubator Warehouse. They avoided it. After a while, I began to worry. How could I get them to eat? After several unsuccessful tries, including, among other ideas, hand-feeding and placing them in a small area with nothing but a little food, I found a way. I cut a piece of plastic into a square dish, roughly three by four inches in size. I placed food in one end and held the other out to them. After a few minutes, one of them tentatively approached and pecked at it. Soon the others followed, and before long they could eat without problem.

Feeder/Waterer Kit

Getting them to drink water was much easier. You place ‘watering stones’ in the water and they peck at them. In the process they naturally get water in their beak and learn to drink it. However, they would not come close enough to my watering dish to see the stones! I went for the same tactic as had worked with the food. I put the water in the dish with two of the shiny, translucent rocks. Now, not only were the stones visible but magnified through the water and the clear sides of the dish.

They rushed over to it. I then realized one issue with my idea. Because the dish was plastic, and therefore clear, they tried to peck from the sides and bottom, where they could not possibly get water from! I thought they would get over this quickly and realized to drink from the top, but they did not. I slowly brought the dish over to the waterer, baiting them along to it, and emptied the stones in there. All but one began to peck from above, now, getting their drink and learning something crucial. The other insisted on pecking the red dish itself, rather than the water or stones. With encouragement from the others, after several minutes he realized his mistake.

My biggest source of worry for the ducklings was temperature. I have them in my garage, and I knew it could get cold in there. For several days (before they hatched) I had monitored the temperature, especially at night. The critical things I discovered were that as long as the door leading outside stays shut and the ground is well covered, it doesn’t fluctuate too much, so a properly set heating lamp will be enough for them to stay warm, day and night. I spent several days trying to get the lamp to just the right place. I also make sure the garage door is always shut and locked. This not only keeps out the chill but the predators. There are cats in the neighborhood, as well as other animals that could hurt it. I don’t know if mice or voles can hurt them, but I plan on getting and placing a few mouse traps near the brooder, just to be sure. According to what I read, predators are often the biggest threat to ducklings.

I was nervous the first night and rushed downstairs to the garage to check on them first thing in the morning. I found them cuddled together, relaxing, seemingly content. They were a far enough from the heat lamp that I did not worry that they had gotten too cold in the night. They seemed healthy and when I came in they got up and moved around. They were doing just fine. I did extensive research to try and place, for sure, what breed each duckling is. I am pretty sure I have positively identified one as being an Indian Runner, but I will need to wait and observe the other two, to see what changes time will bring.

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Hatching Day!

11/13/2013 9:41 PM

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.

 

'Pipping' Duck Egg

 

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.

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Right Before the Hatch

11/12/2013 8:20 PM

Today I set up my brooder, and prepared the eggs to hatch. The brooder kit I got is quite ingenious.Two rolls of plastic can be unrolled and taped together to make the walls. PVC pipe forms a tripod, from which an ultra-violet heat bulb hangs.

I set it up in my garage. I live in northern Utah, where winters can get pretty drastic and very unstable. So at first I worried whether or not the temperature would drop so much at night that even the heating lamp would not be enough to keep them warm. So I monitored it for a few days. I determined that while the heat does, in fact, go down, it is not too severe as long as you keep the garage door closed. Most of the cold that does get in tends to come from the cement floor, so I decided to layer the floor thickly with padding, which brings us to my next question.

What would I use to cover the floor? The most important thing about whatever covers the floor is it’s ability to absorb water. Things like wood shavings, or other pet beddings, which are commonly used, are not readily available to me, so I tried to think of some alternatives. I thought about newspaper, but ruled it out because it would no be able to absorb much water, and would soak quickly. I settled on dirt. We have a sandy, highly absorbent dirt that I think will work well. I layered this two to three inches thick. A made it slightly thicker than normally necessary because it will help keep out cold from the ground and also absorb water more easily.

I learned that ducks are quite messy. A major reason is that their food is very dry. After they eat a little, they rinse it in water by splashing their beaks in the water source. This causes a lot of splashing, and the area around their waterer can get soaked easily, which is dangerous to the ducks because they can catch a ‘chill’, just like humans.

I set up the feeder and waterer. The feeder is the large red tray I described in an earlier post. The waterer is a plastic bottle that screws onto a red dish. The dish lets water enter it from the bottle whenever it runs low. In the bottom of the dish you put colored stones. This confused me at first. Why do you need those in a watering dish? I wondered. As it turns out, you do this because baby ducklings do not recognize water for what it is by instinct, it is something they have to learn. They see the shiny stones and curiously peck at them. As they peck, they unintentionally get water in their beaks. They swallow it, and before long learn how to drink water.

 

Watering Stones in the Waterer

 

Preparing the eggs to hatch also was fun, although it was much simpler than setting up the brooder. I turned the temperature down a couple degrees and made the humidity rise significantly (to 80% from about %50). This was easy, as all I had to do was remove the eggs for a minute to fill a secondary trough already set in the bottom of the incubator.

 

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Candling, Part Two

11/12/2013 8:18 PM

I candled my eggs again today, exactly sixteen days after I started the incubation process. The results were great.

Of the twenty-two eggs I had recieved, nineteen had been fertilized. As far as I could tell, all had survived to the first time I candled. As I candled them again, my excitement rose with each egg. I went through, one by one, examining them closely. The first was dead, I could tell, and this was dissapointing.

The second, (which happened to be the one that seemed to be developing best when I first candled) was doing well. The embroyo filled most of the egg, and veins were clearly visible. Some movement was also obvious. All but three of my eggs were similar cases, full egg, visible veins and movement. Some of my eggs, though, were so full that little was visible, though some still was. These were mostly larger eggs.

Of all the breeds I have, the eggs I believe to be Indian Runner ducks seem to be doing the best. The three I mentioned before were dead. I try to candle my eggs very infrequently. The oil on your skin is damaging to them, and while it is ok to candle daily, I choose not to because I think the chances of survival go down, very slightly, when you touch them. I also wash my hands very thoroughly before I handle the eggs, and try to touch them as little as possible. I also dislike having the lid off the incubator for an extended period of time.

One reason I think the eggs have been so successful so far is my automatic turner. This will turn them to just the right angle and keep them turning very slowly but consistantly and constantly.

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

A Few Questions

11/6/2013 6:11 PM

As my eggs have incubated over the past couple of weeks, a few questions have arisen.

First, as I previously mentioned, the temperature spiked after I placed the eggs in the incubator. I researched the question, but the best answer I found was a vague article mentioning  that it may be due to chick development, particularly around days 12-14. The temperature spiked after I put the eggs in, but slowly decreased back towards normal, this was mildly frustrating for a while, as it required frequent adjustments or the temperature would get way to low. The last few days, the heat has began to rise back up. (Right on schedule, according to the information I found.) I think this may be because the chicks inside the eggs put off heat of their own, which adds to the heat you are already applying.

Another issue I had been wondering about was smell. This did not turn out to be major problem most of the time. However, when an egg dies, if it is not found soon enough, it will smell. Trust me.

I also wondered how often water would need to be added to the incubator to prevent lowered humidity levels. Every 48 hours or so is frequent enough. You might be able to get by for a little longer, but it’s best not to push your luck. I keep the red vent plugs out, and this probably makes it so I have to add water more frequently than someone who kept them in.

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Candling

11/4/2013 6:32 PM

Today I candled my eggs for the first time. It is a little over a week into the incubation process.

First I washed my hands. I had read that this was important but wondered why. Upon looking it up, I found out that eggs are covered in tiny pores, which are vital to help the egg ‘breath’. The oils in your skin can quite easily clog these pores. After my hands were carefully cleaned, I went into a dark closet with each egg and candled them.

The candler is a small gray cylinder with several LED light bulbs, which illuminate more clearly than regular light. This is because the light is ‘cooler’ (This refers to the color of the light, not the actual heat output.) To candle, you go somewhere dark and set each egg, in turn, on top of the candler. You wrap your fingers around the point where the egg meets the light, in order to eliminate excess light. As the light shines through, the whole interior of the egg lights up. It is a very cool experience the first time you see it. You look into the egg and examine it’s contents.

At first I wondered what you look for. I found out that it is veins in the egg. Movement is also a very good sign. They move because the light irritates them, but just because they don’t move doesn’t mean they are not alive. Three of my eggs were infertile, one from each breed except Indian Runner. Many of the eggs showed a good deal of movement and development. One in particular, a Rouen, is doing especially well. It is beginning to show distinct development of head and feet, and moves a lot. The damaged duck egg I have seems to also be doing all right. I knew how to tell a fertile from an infertile egg, but I wondered about how to tell when an egg died. According to what I found, the key feature is still veins. Also, a red or orange color as opposed to a more yellow one is a very good sign. Movement, of course, is always a good indication. I plan on candling them again in a few days to see more results.

                            Fertilized Egg as Visible During Candling                                Unfertilized Egg as Visible During Candling

                              Fertilized Egg (seen when candled)                                  Unfertilized Egg (seen when candled)

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Eggs in the Mail

10/31/2013 10:10 AM

After my Incubator was stable and ready to go, I ordered eggs. I got a variety pack with 4 types. The Khaki Campbell Duck, a extremely efficient egg laying breed, with as many as 320 eggs a year, the Indian Runner Duck, a very unusual duck that can not fly but runs or walks (hence the name), the Peking Duck, which has been bred in China for centuries specifically to eat, and is the main component in a National Dish of China, and the Rouen Duck, a very large duck that originated in France.

The order said it would send eighteen eggs plus what else they could send. This, apparently, is the way they usually place orders. They send a given number, but because eggs are very perishable, any unsold eggs have to be sent somewhere, so they just send them to people who have placed other orders. I had wondered how they would ship eggs. The company they came from was in Florida, so would they make it all the way? The box they came in was heavily lined in foam, bubble wrap, and packaging paper. Each individual egg was wrapped in more bubble wrap. I received twenty-two eggs total. I believe four to be Indian Runner Ducks, four to be Pekin, nine to be Khaki Campbell, and five to be Rouen.

One egg, one of my Khaki Campbells, came with a small crack in the shell. I put it in anyway, because when the egg was first inventoried by the company, it was marked with pen. I am interested to see how it turns out. (Even if it dies, I won’t be too frustrated, Remember, this is an extra ‘bonus’ egg they sent.) I put the eggs in the Incubator, separated based upon what breed of duck egg they are. A few hours after this, I noticed the IncuTherm™ thermometer read a temperature that was much too high. It was fluxuating between 102 and 103 degrees. I quickly turned it down, and after a few adjustments, everything seems to be going well, with a pretty stable temperature. The humidity also dropped, but only by a few points.

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson

Getting my Supplies

10/29/2013 5:09 PM

As I waited for the Incubator to arrive, another question dawned on me. ‘How long do I need to keep them in the brooder after they hatch?’ The answer is not a matter of overall time, but temperature. You start with the temerature near the temperature of the incubator (99.5 Degrees) and decrease it by 5-10 degrees each week. If, during the process, the ducklings huddle under the lamp, make it warmer. If they are staying away from the lamp and pant, the heat is too high. A table found at http://www.duckhealth.com/housmngt.html shows optimum temperatures at specific times.

After finding the answer to my question about brooding, I waited for the incubater and brooder to arrive. The shipment came in a large box. I opened it and had several questions as I went through the supplies. The first thing that stood out to me was a large red trough with twenty-eight holes in its lid. Each hole is roughly the size of a small chicken egg, and the lid angles up in the middle. I thought, ‘What in the world am I supposed to do with this?’ After reading the instructions about the feeding and watering kit, I discovered that it was a trough for them to eat from. The overall shape and size of the trough prevents them from tipping it, and spilling their food.

Feeding trough w/ waterer and feed

I also learned that, conveniently, you do not need to regulate how much they eat, they can do it themselves. I set up the incubater and fan kit and got it running. This was not to hard and the instructions were pretty clear. The next few days were kind of difficult as I could not get the incubater stable at an ideal temperature. I kept turning the heat up and down, but couldn’t get it. The humidity was also to high. I eventually figured out that if you just let it be, it will find a spot pretty close to a good temperature after a few days. Then just make the minor adjustments needed. Also, I pulled out the vent plugs, which solved the humidity problem and helped a lot with keeping the temperature stable. I had previously tried putting plastic over part of the water tray, which helped some, but didn't do as much as opening the red plugs, which worked wonders. I haven’t yet set up the brooder.

Ventilation Plugs on Top of Incubator

Comments | Posted in Learnings of a First Timer By Michael Peterson
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