Mother Duck Versus Incubator

Artificial Incubation vs. Natural Incubation

Advantages of Artificial Incubation

An incubator is handy to have around in case of an emergency, such as if the mother dies or suddenly abandons her eggs. (Read my post, Never Say Never: Emergency Hatch, for an example of this.) If you are raising a breed such as Runners, which will rarely set on their eggs, an incubator is necessary to hatch eggs, unless you also raise a breed that does set, such as Muscovies. Incubators can also hold far more eggs than a broody mother; some can hold thousands of eggs. Most breeds of ducks can sit on a clutch of only about 8-14, although Muscovies can handle up to 20 eggs. Those who are serious about raising ducks or who want to sell ducklings may like the advantage of added space, as well as the ability to hatch on their own schedule. You can’t control when a duck will go broody, but an incubator will hatch eggs no matter what the time of year. Finally, ducks raised by you tend to be somewhat friendlier and tamer.

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Breed Mothering Ability
Ancona Fair-Good
Appleyard Fair-Good
Australian Spotted Excellent
Aylesbury Poor-Fair
Bali Poor-Fair
Campbell Poor-Fair
Call Excellent
Cayuga Fair-Good
Crested Fair-Good
East Indie Excellent
Harlequin Poor-Good
Magpie Fair-Good
Mallard Excellent
Muscovy Good-Excellent
Orpington Fair-Good
Pekin Poor-Fair
Rouen Poor-Good
Runner Poor-Fair
Saxony Fair-Good
Swedish Fair-Good

Advantages of Natural Incubation

The mother does all the work! She will keep the humidity level right, she will keep them the right temperature, she will rotate them, and finally, once they’re hatched, she will raise them. There is always the occasional bad mom who will abandon her eggs or soil them, but for the most part, duck moms will save you a lot of trouble twiddling with an incubator. They will also save you the money of buying an incubator.

Artificial incubators can only imitate nature. The hatch rate is considerably lower for artificial incubators than for natural incubation. Artificial incubators can often only hatch 60-80% of the eggs, while duck moms can usually hatch 90-100%.

And I think it is a wonderful advantage for the ducks to actually have a MOTHER. Of course you can imprint them on you, and they will think you’re the mother, but you can’t teach them the same way, and the emotional attachment is important. She teaches them how to forage, how to eat and drink, and how to act like a duck. She keeps them warm and happy. When you hatch artificially, you have to transport the babies to a brooder with a head lamp, food, water, and bedding. It’s up to you to keep them safe, warm, and happy. You can’t put them on pasture immediately, so they don’t learn survival lessons as fast as naturally raised ducklings.

Finally, YOU have the joy of watching nature at work. You have the joy of watching the happy mom and her cluster of babies.

I still much prefer natural incubation. I like sticking to nature’s way of doing things. In summary, artificial incubators are useful in emergencies, when you are hatching eggs from a breed that won’t set, when you want to hatch large numbers of eggs, or when you want to hatch at times when no ducks are broody. Duck moms are good because they do all the work themselves, they are generally better at hatching and raising the babies, and she teaches them better than any human can.