Stay Curious.
Dig Deeper.
Nurture What Matters.
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The BoldHeartMama desires to enjoy living out the choices that she’s made for herself and for her family. She is a relentless learner: curious, inquisitive, and open to the possibilities of her life and of the human condition. She understands that there isn't one right way—she asks questions that dig deeper to make sense of it all and to find her own path.

She pays attention to and nurtures whatever it is she really cares about, letting go of the rest (for now) knowing she can't do and be everything all at once. She embraces her imperfections in favor of "good enough"—her imperfect self, her imperfect home, her imperfect mothering, her imperfect desires—and she never stops evolving as a woman and mother. She is a BoldHeart, authentic and true to herself.

The BoldHeartMama knows there is only this one life and she's all in. She is present and engaged and making things happen. Her intuition is her guide. She seeks to be inspired and relies on her creativity and her resourcefulness to solve the big and little challenges that she and her family face together as they navigate their relationships and their world.

The BoldHeartMama is willing to take calculated risks to make her biggest dreams come true. She is living out her BoldHeart in the moment, making small moves and taking little steps that add up, and she's cultivating a good life for herself and her family in the process. Read More!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hatching Ducks: our experience from start to finish

At the start of Spring we decided to hatch something. Roscoe first wanted to hatch snakes, but what would we do with a bunch of snakelets once they were born? Then we had the idea to start a flock of backyard chickens but with another baby on the horizon, as well as an eventual move, I wasn't keen to make any long term pet investments with this project. 

We talked to our homesteading friends to see if anyone had fertilized eggs we could hatch for them—eggs of any kind—with intentions to return the babies once they were a week or two old. A homeschool family we know was interested in growing their domesticated flock of Welsh Harlequins and offered us eight eggs with hope that four or five might hatch. In return we promised to lend them the incubator we purchased so they could do their own hatching experiment later in the Summer. 

Female Welsh Harlequins, the mama ducks
We ordered our incubator from Amazon and timed our egg pick-up around some weekend trips we had planned to be sure we'd be home to turn and tend to them properly.

Gathering Eggs:

The eggs were laid on Sunday and Monday, and gathered on Tuesday morning.

Eggs gathered from the coop and transported in our lunch cooler.

We carefully placed all the eggs into our modified egg transporter—a cooler with a hot water bottle inside—and cautiously drove the 45 minutes back to our house.

Eight cozy eggs 
The incubator was warm and ready after some tinkering earlier in the day with the heating element. We filled one of the four water reservoirs full and confirmed the temperature at 100 degrees.

With pencil in hand we wrote Os on one side and Xs on the other, placed them all O side up in the center of the incubator and set the temperature gauge resting on top. 

Newly placed eggs in a fresh incubator, the temp needed to rise after we had the top open.

Incubating Eggs:

Day one of incubation started on April 7th around 2pm.

We turned the eggs every morning when we got up, after lunch, and just before bed.  Every day turning Xs to Os and Os to Xs three times. 

Following the incubator's instructions, every few days we replenished the water in the plastic reservoir at the bottom of the incubator to regulate the humidity. Some use a wet-bulb thermometer but we used this illustration of proper air sac size as a reference for how the eggs were responding. Humidity during incubation is a big deal in hatching ducks: too much can make the ducklings grow too large to move around as needed for hatching while too little can make the ducklings too small and too weak to hatch. 

From our perspective the eggs looked just like eggs doing nothing, which drove me a little bit crazy over time. We didn’t know for certain that they were even fertilized.

On the second night we began to candle the eggs with the flashlight of my iphone and at first we could see a little round mass in front of the yoke but we couldn’t know what that meant yet. Then a few days later we saw veins. The cells were beginning to gather in a pattern to take the shape of a living little thing, with veins glowing orange as they spread each day thicker and wider inside their little egg house. At day five or six we saw the flicker of hearts beating.

By day ten the candled eggs were mostly dark as the ducklings grew to take up more space. Sometimes we could make out the shadow of a beak and little webbed feet. Backlit by our makeshift egg candler, I recognized the spastic involuntary movements of a developing embryo, like peering into the womb with an ultrasound. If you like this kind of thing check out this gestational chart of candled duck eggs

As the babies continued to grow, we had to adjust the temperature slightly lower to accommodate for the body heat they were generating. We kept turning and turning and turning, every day. Merritt thought he made a good mama duck and the importance of our daily effort was not lost on him.

Roscoe turning the eggs

Days turned to weeks and as we neared the 25th day of incubation we made a trip to Southern States to gather our supplies for hatching: a plastic bin, a heat lamp, baby duck crumbles, water and feed dispensers, wood chips, and meal worms for treats. 

Stylin' at Souther States

Eggs on Lock Down:

We went home and prepared for lock down, the last three days of incubation that serve to prevent turning of the eggs so the ducklings can get into the optimal position for pipping (see below) and also to allow humidity to build up in the incubator.

Because the hatching process for this breed can take up to three days, proper humidity remains especially important in the last few days of incubation. If it's too low when the duckling makes the external pip, the egg's membrane can dry out and effectively shrink wrap the baby inside. We didn't want that to happen so we filled a second channel of the incubator's plastic liner with water and also added a wet hand towel.

On the 29th just before lock down I quickly candled each egg and all but one looked viable. That one seemed more cloudy inside and I couldn't make out any distinct movements, but I wasn’t sure.

The brooder box all set up and ready for ducklings.
The eggs were laid on as many as three different days, so in consideration of those eggs laid on the 5th and 6th of April, we put them all on lockdown a few days early. I'm not sure this was necessary but it didn't seem to hurt. In hindsight, even though the eggs were fertilized on different days, gestation was suspended until we put them all in the incubator together on the 7th and the eggs were warmed to the correct temperature. This is a trick of mother nature to suspend development for up to a week in order to accommodate a mama duck's pattern of laying an egg or two every day for 7 or 8 days before setting on her nest to brood.

Pipping, Zipping, and Hatching

When a duckling is ready to hatch the first thing she does is use her beak to break through the air cell and to breath air on her own. This is called the internal pip. Sometimes the egg rocks around a bit at this point, and often you can hear the duckling peeping inside. Hours or even a day later the duckling will make a little dent in the egg shell that you can see from the outside—the external pip. Then hours, or even days later (in our case) the duckling will "zip" and make a little row of pips from which it will eventually emerge. The waiting is the hardest part and during this time the duckling is doing all the things that we know and don't know about in order to be born, like absorb what remains of the yolk, which provides a 24-hour supply of nutrition for hatchlings in the domesticated wild as mama duck continues to brood her remaining eggs yet-to-hatch and also makes it possible for hatchery chicks to be transported without food or water through the mail to new homes.

You can read more here about what hatching looks like from pip to zip.

For us it was a long week of waiting because nothing happened until Sunday May 3rd, FIVE days after we put the incubator on lock down. During that time I second guessed everything we had done and even opened the incubator to add more water, which is a big no no! When I could hear some cheeps and some egg wobbles coming from the incubator I guessed the chicks had internally pipped, which made all of us practically burst with excitement.

On Monday one egg had an external pip, and by Tuesday there were four more with external pips, but still no hatchlings. 

On Wednesday morning the first egg zipped and at around 7pm that evening three babies hatched nearly at the same time!

We were supposed to leave the incubator closed to preserve the humidity for the other babies still working on zipping, and to prevent wet hatchlings from getting too chilly but our little ducks had long legs and once they got their bearings they could stand pretty close to the burning hot heating element in the roof of the incubator. Having burned myself a few times I definitely did not want them to even brush against it so I opened the lid and the boys transferred the ducks to their new home in the brooder.

That night I woke at three in the morning and followed the red glow radiating from the light of the heat lamp to peek in at the babies in the brooder and to peer into the incubator in case any others needed to be transferred. The anticipation felt a little like Christmas.

The brooder box with five hatchlings. Roscoe and Merritt too advantage of the lighting for a new star wars scene.

On Thursday another baby was born before we left for preschool, and as dinner time approached frantic peeps from another duckling called us to the incubator yet again. When we tried to move him he was still attached by his umbilical cord so we waited a little longer to transfer him.

Meanwhile, the questionable eighth egg was starting to turn colors, a bad sign. We later decided to see what was going on inside and as it turns out that little one probably died about a week before the hatch.

Thursday night the 6th baby hatched, and we woke up Friday morning to the chirping of a newly hatched seventh.

Altogether incubation lasted thirty-one days and hatching was spread out over three. This breed generally has a 27 day incubation but variables of temperature and humidity can have an impact.


At first the babies slept a lot. Their new little bodies working hard just to be, tired from days of pipping and zipping and hatching. But once their feathers dried they were quite entertaining. One of my favorite memories was walking into the kitchen to find them huddled together, simultaneously hushed for a few moments, their heads nodding off like drowsy old men. Then one downy head popped up with a cheep to startle the rest into a high speed waddle-sprint for their crumble feed—little webbed feet thwapping with each step, and a total disregard for any siblings in their path. The boys came to take a look and as I started working on breakfast I overheard their voices, "Gentle, be kind to your brothers!"

Another fun time with the ducklings was bathtime. Of course they love water and the bathtub was a perfect place for them to play. We filled it up just a half inch of warm water and they spent a long time preening and splashing, and darting the length of the tub leaving long wakes behind them. 

Cutest little ducks you ever did see.
Another thing I appreciated about the ducklings was how vocal they were, like little alarm clocks, or watchdogs. Once, the heat lamp accidentally unplugged and they all started chirping in alarm, which prompted me to get out of bed to check on them, thank goodness! The temperature of their box also had to be adjusted as they got older and better able to regulate their own body temperatures. If their box was too hot they would spread out and chirp, too cool and they would huddle together and chirp. If they were quiet then I knew they are happy. 

The kids couldn't wait to share the ducklings with Merritt's classroom so we took them for a couple hours on one of the last weeks of school. 

Show and tell at Preschool
As they got a little older we let them forage around in the back yard for short intervals under the kids' watchful eyes. 

A photographer and his muse
Two weeks after they were born the brooder was cramped and the ducklings were eating a half bag of feed a day and requiring daily or twice daily litter changes—too much for me to keep up with!

We drove them back out the farm and passed them off to their new home with a real lake, and a whole flock family.

Saying goodbye

The ducklings return home!

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