Artificial Incubation vs. Natural Incubation

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. 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.

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.

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  1. My question is how can I get a better rate of hatching? 29% (5 ducklings with 12 unhatched) can’t be good enough. Is it in the bedding/nesting? I used wood shavings, not saw dust. What can be done to help the mother duck to come up with a better rate?

    1. Hi Pius,

      I don’t think wood shavings would be a problem. I can’t say for sure why the hatch rate would be so low, but here are some questions to consider that might give you clues:
      1. What breed of duck is it? Some breeds aren’t likely to be good mothers. Also, some breeds would be too small to sit on and keep 17 eggs warm.
      2. How many drakes and ducks do you have? Maybe there aren’t enough drakes, or the drake isn’t doing his job, which caused you to have a low fertility rate.
      3. Do they have access to swimming water? Some breeds of ducks only mate well in water.
      4. Were the eggs dirty? Did you wash them? Washing eggs removes a protective film and can let bacteria into the egg, which can kill the babies.
      5. Do you know anything about what happened to the 12? Did you candle at any point, or break them open after you realized they weren’t going to hatch? Were they infertile? Did they start developing, but then died? Did they die very early on in the incubation period, or later on?
      6. What’s the weather like where you live? Maybe it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, or too wet for the duck to keep things stable.

      I hope that helps!

      Hannah Miller

    1. Hi Samer,

      I’m sorry for the late reply. Young Muscovies usually start laying when they’re around six months old. Sometimes it takes longer, though, especially if they reach that age during winter.

      If you’ve just gotten some adults and you’re wondering when they’ll start laying, the stress of changing homes will prevent them from laying for a while, usually around 2-6 weeks. Stress can also trigger a molt, and they won’t lay while they’re molting. Molting usually takes 4-8 weeks. Also, many breeds of ducks only start laying in spring.

      I don’t know who would have told you that Muscovies rarely go broody. They are one of the best broodies of all breeds. Many individuals go broody on every single clutch. I do have some Muscovies that only go broody once a year or almost never go broody, but in general, Muscovies go broody a lot.

      Hope that helps!