Breeders must be selected at age eight weeks and again at age 4 to 5 months before they are placed in breeding pens. Vigorous breeding stock should be selected. To ensure better fertility, hatchability, and livability of offspring, eggs for breeding purposes must come from ducks of at least age seven months. Drakes should have the same age as the ducks, or even a month older. Drake should be raised separately from ducks and should be placed with the ducks only when they are ready for mating.
The duck-drake ratio for mating may be 6 drakes to 10 ducks. Heavier breeds must have a closer ration of males to females when mating, than light breeds. Pateros ducks are ready for laying at age 4 to 6 months. Pekin and Muscovy ducks start laying at age 6 to 7 months.
Information and techniques used for incubating and hatching chicken eggs may also be used for ducks. It is however important to take the differences of the two species into account.
Trays must be designed to accommodate the duck egg’s larger size. Like Pekin eggs, the average duck egg usually takes 28 days to hatch. Muscovy duck eggs hatch in about 35 days after setting. Large commercial incubators or setters may be used for hatching a large number of duck eggs. Pekin duck eggs are kept in a setter for 25 days. After which, they are then transferred on the 25th day to a hatcher where they remain until they hatch on the 28th day. Eggs must be turned hourly while in the setter, but not in the hatcher.
Eggs must be stored at a temperature and humidity level that will minimize deterioration of the egg if they are stored for a while before being set. Eggs must be stored at approximately 13°C and 75% relative humidity.
Duck eggs can be hatched naturally by placing them under a broody duck or a broody chicken hen. The Muscovy breed has natural motherly instincts. The Muscovy duck hatches and breeds her own duckling with minimal or no help from caretakers. Muscovy ducks are capable of hatching twelve to fifteen eggs. The nest box must be located in a clean dry shelter and bedded with suitable litter. Feed and water should be available for the broody duck as well as for the ducklings when they hatch.
However, the Native or Pateros duck is a non-sitter, therefore her eggs are incubated using the native method of incubation known as the balutan.
The balutan or native hatchery is a simple one-room house usually built with bamboo, wood or hollow blocks with nipa or galvanized iron roofing. Other backyard farmers use the first floor of their house as the balutan or hatchery. This is called the kamalig or barn. It only has one door to prevent drafts, and some have windows that are opened only during the high temperature months. Its flooring is of hard earth or concrete and is covered with three inches of rice hull. Egg containers used are wooden boxes of 3 x 4 x 4 ft. measurement.
- 1. For commercial hatcheries however, basic procedures and conditions for hatching are as follows. 1. For new incubators not yet in operation, the incubator should be started one to two days before setting the eggs to stabilize temperature and humidity. Temperature should be set at 37-5°C and relative humidity at 55%. Ventilation should be set as recommended by the incubator manufacturer. Eggs must be turned automatically or by hand at least four times per day. Most automatic turning equipment are set to turn eggs hourly;
- 2. Eggs to be set should be selected carefully by inspecting and candling them at the time they are put in trays. Eggs that are cracked, double-yolked, misshapen, oversized, undersized or dirty must not be set. Eggs must be set within one to three days after they are laid, to obtain best results. There is an average loss of about 3% hatchability for eggs stored 7 days before setting, and about 10% loss for those stored 14 days. Eggs must be set small end down, except when using small incubators that have no trays;
- 3. On the day of the setting, eggs must be placed in the incubator, and left to allow the incubator to reach operating temperature. On the first day, regularly check to see if the incubator is working properly. After which, continue checking at least four times every day;
- 4. Eggs must be checked and candled seven days after setting. Infertile eggs (clear) and eggs that have dead germ (cloudy) should be removed;
- 5. Eggs (Pekin and breeds other than Muscovy) must be transferred to hatching trays twenty-five days after setting. If eggs are hatched in a separate machine, they should be moved to the hatcher. Eggs must be candled, and eggs with dead embryos removed. The temperature of the hatcher at the time of transfer must be 37.2°C and the humidity set at 65%. As the hatch progresses, and eggs begin to pip, increase the humidity to 80%.
Ventilation openings must be increased by 50%. As the hatch nears completion gradually lower the temperature and humidity so that by the end of the hatch the temperature is at 36.1°C, and the humidity is at 70%. Vents must be opened to their maximum setting by the end of the hatch. Ducklings must be removed from the hatcher when 90-95% of them are dry.