I had read about getting hens to hatch duck eggs, and since I had fertile duck eggs, but no broody duck, I thought I’d give it a try. Spring was turning to summer, and so far, no prolific duck mama had come sauntering out of the bush with a passel of ducklings (also something I had read about).
So I gave a broody Orpington hen a half dozen duck eggs and put her to work. A week later, I went out after dark one evening and candled the eggs to see if they had started developing. Hmmmmm, none had. It seemed our Duckbert might be a dud as a stud. So I disappointedly pulled the duck eggs and gave her some chicken eggs instead. At that point, it was the shortest, straightest road to my Orpington finishing her brood cycle in a timely manner, which would keep her a happy, healthy hen.
Twenty one more days passed uneventfully by, at the end of which mama Orpington produced a most satisfactory passel of chicks. I added a few more chicks out of the incubator and all was well.
When a hen finishes her hatch, she moves the family, lock, stock and barrel, off the old nest and onto a fresh one. Once my hen had made the switch, I moved in to clean out the old, tired nest. And lo and behold what did I discover, tucked away behind the broken egg shells in the furthest corner of the nesting box? A duck egg! I guess I hadn’t got them all, three weeks before, when I had switched out the eggs. Oops. But it couldn’t possibly be alive. Could it?
It was possible actually. Muscovy eggs take 10-15 days longer than chicken eggs to bake. So if my Orpington had been sitting on that egg all this time, and if it WAS fertile, it would be due to hatch within the next week. And it was suspiciously heavy.
I took the egg into the house and candled it. Yep, there was a little duck in there. Damn! What was I going to do with one duck egg? And potentially one duck? Ugh. I was in the middle of tearing out my incubator room, preparing to move to a new one, and didn’t have any other hatches on the go. Singletons were a pain to raise. But I couldn’t just let it die. Sigh. So I unpacked my smallest incubator, plugged it in out of the way in a corner of dear husband’s shop, and placed the egg inside. “The chances of it hatching are slim”, I reasoned with myself. “But I have to let this play out.”
Over the next few days, as we continued with our reno plus the spring farming chore rush, the egg sat there baking in DH’s shop. I forgot to turn it. A bunch of times. It ran out of water (used for humidity) several times too. Daily ten minute cooling as is recommended for hatching ducks? Hahahaha. We were all just so busy. Whenever some member of the family asked, I told them not to get their hopes up and assured them it couldn’t possibly hatch.
Until the day DH came in the house and announced excitedly “there’s a chip out of that egg!” With the egg being in his shop, he’d taken a bit of a proprietary interest in it.
“Oh crap” I thought. “if the damned thing does hatch, what on earth am I going to do with it? I have no incubator room, no brooder. It’s all packed away in boxes!”
By the next day, with my family all eagerly awaiting events, and me warning everyone that this likely wouldn’t end well, the egg had a clear hole in it. It was a hard hatch, as is to be expected when an egg goes through as much as this one had, and it took another whole day before little Duckberta, named for her father, appeared. (We have no idea if she is actually female, she may be renamed to Duckbert the Second at some point.)
Duckberta was quite weak, but rallied enough within 24 hours that I thought she just might make it. We set her up in the laundry room, in a Rubbermaid bin with a grate over it; a heat plate, food and water inside, and stepped around her as we went about our family life. She started in crying pretty quickly. Lonely, as singletons always are.
DH helped, by taking her into his office next to the laundry room, where she snuggled and tunnelled around inside his hoodie as he used his computer. This is the man who generally has nothing whatsoever to do with the farm animals, except driving the hay truck once a year. He has taken a liking to ducks though, and before long Duckberta had him wrapped around her little webbed finger.
After a couple days of ongoing peeping complaints, at times strident, from one lonely little duckling, I realized mama Orpington could spare a child, and I brought Duckberta a little Barred Rock buddy. He quieted her down immediately, and they lived together quite happily for a couple more days. By that point though, we were all getting tired of stepping around a smelly chick brooder every time we went into or out of the laundry room. It was time for a more permanent solution.
I wondered if mama Orpington would take Duckberta under her wing, if she showed up with little Barred Rock? It was worth a try. That night after dark, I took the chick and the duckling out to the hen hotel and slipped them under mama’s skirts where they settled down immediately.
The next day, Duckberta was ambling around the brooder in the middle of a crowd of 17 Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red chicks, just another one of the gang. She didn’t move as quick, and she made more of a mess when she ate, but other than that, she seemed to fit in just fine. Thank goodness. A couple days later when I accidentally spooked mama off the nest one night, I noticed that Duckberta had staked out the prime nest real estate, right under the middle of mama. Evidently she was coping just fine.
There have been a few challenges, like figuring out how to get her the extra vitamin B she needs to grow strong. But we are working things out as she grows, and, a much faster grower, she is now twice as long as the chicks, although not quite as tall. A duck out of water in one sense of the phrase, she has taken to life with her chicken family like a duck to water!
Although the day she comes across her first real puddle or pond, she will likely give her poor dear mama a heart attack by jumping right in for a swim. As ducks do.