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Incubating Eggs without an Incubator

A raccoon killed my favorite duck hen the other day, leaving her 20+ day old eggs without a mother.  When we discovered it the next morning, the eggs were cold.  There was little hope, but there’s a saying in the farm world, “It’s not dead until it’s warm and dead.”  More than once, we’ve warmed up a lifeless body (think rabbits in particular) to find a miraculous recovery.

The problem with the eggs is that we have a non working incubator, something to do with a puppy and wires.  How could we keep the eggs going without it?  I’ve always been told you can’t, which means I needed to set out to prove someone wrong!

What we did have was a heat pad (aff) with a stay on function and a stubborn refusal to accept defeat.  As I write this, several ducklings are hatched and drying off with several more pipped and on the way.  We incubated them 10 days.  Here’s how we incubated eggs without an incubator.

First, I laid down a heat pad with stay-on capability on an out of the way counter where the eggs wouldn’t be disturbed.  On this, to keep it clean, I laid a single dish towel, then carefully arranged the eggs close to each other.  Another towel on top of the eggs protected them from too much moisture.

Humidity is essential to developing eggs, so on top of the towel over the eggs I draped a rag folded in half but large enough to cover the eggs.  This rag was wetted in hot tap water and wrung out until it was just barely not dripping, then laid over the towel covering the eggs.

On top of this wet rag I placed thick rags to protect the next layer from too much moisture, and finally, I placed a down blanket folded in half.  Using a cooking thermometer, I placed the sensing rod on top of and in the center of the egg pile to gauge temperature. The goal is to keep it at 100 degrees.

On the first day, once we had warmed them back up for a few hours, I took each one out and candled it.  Only one had no development; we tossed it.  Periodically throughout the next 10 days, I picked a random egg and candled it to be sure they were still alive.  I marveled each time I saw movement – this was working!

Twice daily, both in the morning and night, I turned the eggs over.  Close to hatching time you are supposed to stop turning, but since I didn’t know exactly how old they were, I continued turning until I heard peeping in the eggs.

About four times a day, I re-wet the rag to just shy of dripping with hot tap water.  This maintained a state of humidity, though I had no way to gauge the percentage.  Sometimes I think it ends up better when we walk it in faith.  I was a little glad I didn’t have any of the “proper” equipment to do this; it would have been easy to overthink the process with more gauges and information to worry about.  The use of a down blanket on top seemed to help excess water evaporate.  There were no mold/mildew issues despite doing this with a heat pad and in warmer summer temperatures, but that is something I would be watchful of doing this over. If the moisture was an issue, I’d try to have fewer layers over the wet rag, but I wouldn’t reduce the moisture going down to the eggs.

In the next article, I’ll detail how I transitioned them from incubating on the heat pad to hatching successfully in the shell of the incubator with no electricity.


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