Life Begins With Hard Work

I started raising ducks ten years ago. My first ducks were endangered domestic breeds. Then I began to fall in love with the smaller wild breeds. At present I have Mandarins from Asia and Ringed Teal ducklings from the rain forests of South America.

In order to have the best chance of most or all of the ducklings surviving, I let the mothers set them until a day or so before they start pipping at the start of their hatch. Candling is the only real method of keeping up with development throughout their growth. And their bills can be seen in the large air sac at the rounded top of the egg within two days before they start to pip. It is at that time I prepare an incubator to complete their hatch. The humidity levels during the hatch are kept at between 65% and 75% which makes it easier for them to break through the sac and surrounding shell. I keep the temperature at 98.5 F and adjust if necessary to 99.5 F.

The actual hatch after they start to pip seems different with each and every duckling. I can be found every few hours after the first small crack in the egg watching intently to see the progress. It is a long, hard journey for them. A typical individual hatch takes anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. However I have had those that took 4 to 5 days. Over the Labor Day weekend the last duckling started pipping on Friday and finally arrived at 3:45 on Monday morning.

It was difficult for me to have the patience when I first started out to not jump in and help them when it seemed they were in trouble. In fact I did help a few who turned out to have disabilities that definitely decreased their quality of living the time they were here. I came to the acceptance that if they didn’t make it, there was almost always a reason and I should not intervene unless one had progressed to exiting on their own and needed just a little help to get unstuck from trying to make it completely through the hole they had meticulously worked so hard to make, but misjudged the size they needed to make it and were struggling to get their big feet out. It is amazing to watch and I never lose the feeling of joy that comes with seeing new life arrive into the world.

After they have done the work of eating the yolk for nourishment, and began the struggle of making their own particular design with their bills, which protrude from under one wing where the head is neatly folded under, then flexing their entire body to break through the cracks, the wing is lifted and the back is used to push the opening further so they can stretch back their long neck and free their beautiful head. Next, they flip themselves over and crawl dragging the bottom of the shell until their umbilical cord breaks free. At this point they are exhausted and usually must sleep at least for a short time. Their silvery down is wet and they work (sometimes with the help of their siblings) to dry themselves and puff out their soft, fluffy covering.

The process of hatching strengthens the birds and the next day they are running after their mother completely ready to eat and drink own their own. In the wild the jump out of trees anywhere from 40 to 70 feet, hitting branches on their way down and immediately running to their mother who is on the ground coaxing them to jump.

Humans also struggle getting into the world, but they are completely dependent on parental care. As they struggle to crawl and walk and talk, they build the self confidence to explore and learn. Sometimes parents try to do too much for their children and overly protect them from the struggles of the world. Nature has a better plan.

Phyllis Weeks Rogers

September 9, 2021


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