We are incredibly lucky that some of our lovely friends have previously let us hatch some of their chicks. When the boys were asked whether they wanted to have a go with some fertilised duck eggs, they couldn’t wait to get started!

These eggs, come from a farm with free range chickens and ducks. They are mainly Aylesbury duck eggs. In this breed, the mother ducks often don’t go broody and sit on the eggs, so they have to be hatched artificially. The ducklings will then be returned to the farm and live happily.

Resources

  • Incubator
  • Duck eggs
  • Life Cycle Of A Duck by Kirsty Holmes
  • Pencil

Method

Having read our book about the life cycle of ducks, Ioan and Finny were very excited to get the incubation period under way. Finny loves this book so much that he falls asleep reading it every night!

They explained why it is important to turn the eggs regularly.

Why do you turn eggs by hand?

When you turn the eggs, you gently rotating them 180 degrees side to side, not end to end. The purpose of turning is to keep the yolk, which will tend to float to the top, centred in the egg and to prevent the developing embryo – which rests on top of the yolk – from sticking to the membrane.  

By turning the egg, the embryo is swept back into the egg white, where there are fresh nutrients that help the chick develop. 

What does a mother duck do?

When a mother duck is sitting on the eggs to hatch them, she will not only turn them regularly with her beak, but also rotate those around the edge to the middle and those in the middle toward the edge to ensure even warming of each egg.

Keeping track of the turns

Finny drew a nought on one side of the egg, and a cross on the other. This was so we could keep track of which eggs had been turned, when turning them manually.

He carried on labelling all of the eggs ‘x’ and ‘o’. When you’re manually turning, you want to be sure that no matter how many times a day you turn the eggs, you turn them an odd number of times. 

This ensures that the egg is spending every night on the opposite side. That’s important, since it’s often a 12-hour period that egg will be sitting in the same position, so you want the egg to alternate sides each night.

Next steps

You need to stop turning the eggs three days before they are due to hatch. This is because at that point, which is commonly called ‘lockdown’, the duckling will get into hatch position, which basically means they position themselves with their head under their right wing and their beak positioned against the membrane separating the embryo from the air space at the blunt end of the egg.  

While inside the egg, the embryo is able to gain the oxygen it needs from the outside thanks to the porous nature of its eggshell. As the duckling grows inside the egg the amount of oxygen it’s able to obtain in this way is no longer enough. By the time the duckling is ready to hatch, a special muscle, known as a pipping muscle, on the back of its neck has developed, and a protuberance near the end of its beak, known as an egg-tooth, has grown.

This ‘pipping muscle’ and the ‘egg tooth’ come into their own during the pipping and hatching processes. Using its ‘pipping muscle’, the duckling drives its ‘egg-tooth’ into the air sac at the blunt end of the egg to create a hole. This provides the duckling with enough oxygen to give it the strength, after several hours or even days, to break through the shell of the egg itself, ultimately, to hatch!

DfES Early Learning Goals (2017)

Understanding the world

ELG 14 – The world:

Children know about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things. They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another. They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.

DfES Outcomes for EYFS and National Curriculum (2013)

Science Year 1 programme of study

Animals, including humans

  • identify and name a variety of common animals including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals

Science Year 2 programme of study

Living things and their habitats

  • identify that most living things live in habitats to which they are suited and describe how different habitats provide for the basic needs of different kinds of animals and plants, and how they depend on each other
  • identify and name a variety of plants and animals in their habitats, including micro-habitats