In short answer, Yes, but only if they actually need it. Ducklings can die in the shell from helping too soon, or too much. The hatching process and how to assist is pretty much the same for ducklings, chicks, and goslings. So how are you supposed to know if you should help a duckling hatch? Continue reading to find out.
It’s Naturally a Slow Process
The embryo inside the egg is encased by a membrane during incubation. This membrane is filled with blood vessels that provide oxygen that enters through the shell. In the days leading up to hatching, the embryo starts to lack sufficient amounts of oxygen as the vessels begin to break down. The lack of oxygen signals the duckling to pierce the air sac and start taking its first breaths of air.
This step is called Internal Piping. Internal piping is not visible from the outside. You can see it through candling but its best to not candle them unless you suspect something is wrong. You can also start to hear quiet “peeps” coming from within the egg.
Since the duckling only has a small amount of air within the air sac it continues to peck until it externally pips, this can take up to 24 hrs from internal piping. External piping is when the duckling breaks a hole through the shell. Once it has externally piped it will have a greater flow of oxygen and can rest. All that piping is very hard work and it will rest for 12-24 hrs. Some people even say up to 36-48 hours for a duck.
Once it has had a rest, it starts to “unzip” around the egg. This process is the duckling pecking away at the shell all the way around the top and then is able to push the top and wiggle themselves out several hours later.
Should You Help a Duckling Hatch or Not?
This can be a controversial topic. Some people believe that we should not help ducklings or chicks when they are not able to hatch on their own. Survival of the fittest type thing and that helping them out is not natural.
Here is what I think. Taking eggs from a Duck or Hen and putting them into a plastic or Styrofoam incubator is not natural. We are trying to mimic what a mother duck does but we can only do so well. It’s not always going to go perfectly.
There would be a lot less ducklings struggling to hatch if they were always incubated by a duck or chicken. But even in nature there are still problems.
We need to educate ourselves on the hatching process and how long it takes; learning to assist only when it is actually needed is important.
Different Causes For Ducklings Needing Help
There are several different reasons why a duckling is not able to finish hatching on their own.
“Shrink Wrapped” or “Sticky Chick”
This is when the membrane sticks to the duckling. It can be caused by various factors and there are multiple “beliefs” as to what exactly causes each issue.
Most people agree:
Shrink wrapping is caused by the humidity being too low throughout the incubation. You will know this is the case when you see the outer membrane has dried and is yellow or brownish in colour.
Sticky Chick is caused by too low humidity during lockdown. After piping the liquids dry up and turn into a glue-like substance and then it hardens.
Wet sticky or swollen is caused from too high humidity throughout the whole incubation. The duckling gets swollen with water or just very wet and sticky.
Drowning also happens from too high humidity throughout the incubation. The outer membrane dries and the inner membrane is still wet, binding the duckling inside.
These issues can happen while sitting under a broody duck or hen as well.
It is also possible for a duckling to have multiple issues.
Sometimes if the eggs are not turned enough, or not positioned big end up, the duckling can not get into the correct position for hatching.
This article explains then different malpositions and how to help each of those specific ones. Some of these ducklings will need help, some can hatch on their own and some will die. If the duckling is still alive inside watch it carefully. If it looks like it’s in distress then you should help it.
Started Unzipping and Then Stopped
Unzipping (Zipping) is a rather quick process. If the duckling started unzipping, but stopped, and it has been several hours you will need to help it the rest of the way. Normally by the time a duckling has started zipping, all the blood has been absorbed. This should make it quite easy to help. If you see any blood, stop immediately.
36-48 hours after External Pip
If it has been 36 hours and the duckling has still not started zipping you should check on it. Leave it longer if it’s still moving and chirping. If it seems to be struggling then you might need to help. It could be from a number of different reasons, but you won’t know until you start helping.
How Do You Help a Duckling Hatch?
Step 1. Breathe. It is so important that you are calm. Yes you may be panicking majorly on the inside, but on the outside you need to be very calm and take your time. Rushing could kill your duck!
Step 2. Collect the needed supplies.
- Q-Tips – lots. 10 or more. The last thing you want to do is have to get up in the middle of something to go get some more.
- Tweezers – make sure they are flat and not pointy and to sanitize them first.
- Something sharp – I used a push pin and a screw, I’ve heard other people use a knife or drill bit (not in drill). Push pin was the easiest to hold and work with. Just be sure to sanitize it.
- Small amount of coconut oil – less than a ¼ teaspoon or Bacitracin without pain relief
Step 3. GO SLOW!! This is the most important step. If you start going too fast you could do a lot of damage. If you are unsure, put the duckling back in the incubator and try again later.
Step 4. Keep it warm. Make sure your room temperature is warm. If it’s cold you want to keep putting the duckling back into the incubator for a couple hours to keep it warm.
24 Hours after Internal Pip but No External Pip
Once the duck has internally piped it only has about 24hrs worth of air before it could suffocate. You will need to assist them to create a hole. Candle the egg first to see where the duck’s beak is. Some people say to start near their beak and others say to start away from their beak.
If the duckling has cracked the shell but not the membrane and several hours have passed it may need you to help.
Start scratching an X in to the shell if there is no crack. Using the screw to twist in to the groove ensures the hole is not too big. You want to start with just a small hole to let air in but to not let it dry out. After this put it back into the incubator and leave it. They may be able to do the rest by themselves
Be very careful:
- Not to poke
- Not to break too much off
- Only break through the outer shell lining and not to damage the inner lining that is surrounding the duck. If you break any of those veins your duck could bleed to death
What do You do if Duckling has Stopped Moving and Peeping
It’s time to investigate but not necessarily intervene. The duckling could be resting or there could be membrane or position issues. Take note and give it a couple hours. If it still hasn’t moved or peeped then you should candle it. If it looks like it needs help then proceed very slowly.
Ducklings need a lot of rest while they are hatching. Sometimes resting can last up to 24 hrs. Because of this delay, many people start assisting before the duckling is ready. Had they left the duckling a little longer it may have been able to do it all by itself.
How to Start Helping a Duckling Hatch
So you’ve have watched carefully and spent lots of time waiting but still nothing is happening and you need to help.
Start with the piped hole (the one made by duck or you) and using the tweezers start breaking very small pieces of the shell away. I find it best to start with just breaking away the shell and exposing the outer membrane. Use the tweezers to very gently fold that membrane over the shell. Similar to putting a garbage bag over the top of the garbage can. You should be able to stick it to the outside of the shell. Be sure to only break away the shell within the air sac. Below the air sac line, the inner membrane is attached to the shell and you could puncture a vein. When you can see the inner membrane, apply some coconut oil using a Q-tip to prevent the membrane from drying out.
Assess the state of the duckling. Is it moving lots and chirping? Or is it struggling? If you can still see blood in the veins you need to put it back into the incubator and wait for the duck to finish absorbing the blood.
If the blood has been absorbed and it still needs help, you can very gently pull back the inner membrane from the duck’s face.
At any point you see blood, use a dry Q-tip to put a tiny amount of pressure on the bleed and then put the duckling back in the incubator and wait a little longer. When there is no blood, continue pulling back the membrane. Do not poke or cut the membrane, it’s better for it to tear as the large veins will not tear easily.
Once the veins have receded do not just start trying to pull the duckling out. It could still be absorbing the yolk. If you pull you could end up killing the duckling.
Getting the Duckling Out of the Egg
Now that all the veins have dried up and it’s time for it to come out two things can happen. If the duckling is not shrink-wrapped, or trapped, the duckling might still be able to push itself out.
You will know that it is stuck because the duckling will be trying to push itself out and can’t. It will also be making a lot of noise. Peel the inner membrane all the way back past the air sac if necessary. If the head is stuck help it get the head out.
Use a flashlight to shine down inside the egg to see if the yolk has been absorbed. If the yolk has been absorbed, help ease the duck out a little further. Put the duckling, still partially in the egg back into the incubator and let it push itself the rest of the way out.
If the Yolk is still attached, and the ducking came out, you need to gently put it back inside the shell. You want to protect the yolk sac. You can place the egg, with the duckling sitting in it, into a cup. This will prevent the duckling from doing any damage before the yolk sac has been absorbed. Put the cup back into the incubator and leave it for a while. You will notice it is ready when it is actively moving around and trying to get out of the egg.
The reality of hatching and assisting ducks is that not every single one is going to survive. I had three eggs in a homemade incubator and one of them couldn’t get through the outer membrane but once I took off the shell from the air sac and freed its head it was able to do the rest of it all by itself.
The second egg was malpositioned and had piped a hole below the air sac. I had to help it all the way through to hatching. There were several times that I put it back in the incubator and left it for several hours. Although the yolk sac had been absorbed it was still attached to the shell from the umbilical cord. I just left it in the incubator and it was able to keep kicking and pushing until it broke free.
The third egg did not make it. It never piped and wasn’t moving as much as the others. When I finally went to help I noticed it was upside down, with its beak at the small end of the shell. It died as I was trying to help it out. Due to positioning it would not have been able to get out by itself.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell what is going on inside the egg until either the duckling, or you, break through the shell. It is also okay if you do not want to help a duckling. It is also okay for you to step in and help them through. But, either way you need to make sure you are going slow.