The key stages in incubating pekin duck eggs

Partner(s): Grimaud Frères
Industry(ies): Duck

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The Pekin duck is known for how easy it is to breed. At Grimaud Frères, production managers agree that the start-up phase of animals is essential, as the first three days of a duckling’s life determine its subsequent growth and performance.

But what happens before the start-up phase? What practices are used by breeders to incubate eggs and increase the viability of the animals? What precautions are took? The answers can be found in this article.

Placed in incubators

The incubation period varies from one species to another, but for Pekin ducks it lasts 28 days. An incubator is the machine which automatically and mechanically reproduces the conditions required to hatch the egg and replicates the movement of the female: it maintains the temperature at 37.6°C, humidity at 65% and a 45° incline as standard. At Grimaud Frères, we invest in equipment and techniques that reproduce the natural cycles of female ducks. The eggs must be of impeccable quality, both physically and in terms of health, to ensure proper development of the blood system. In addition to the criteria previously mentioned, the hatchery manager must pay particular attention to the stability of the incubator to ensure proper consistency and good viability of the ducklings on the day they hatch. Health aspects, the flow of eggs and people must be fully controlled to guarantee good quality ducklings.

These practices should be adapted according to the equipment and technical resources available and the climatic constraints of the country in which the eggs are incubated.

Endothermic embryonic growth

During the first 14 days of incubation, ventilation management and oxygen requirements are essential indicators to monitor.

After the 12th day, the eggs are taken out of the incubator and placed under a light made up of different variations, in order to check their fertility. Only the fertile eggs are kept. This stage is known as candling. It is not essential but it makes it possible to save time when hatching and to only keep the viable eggs.

Exothermic embryonic growth

During the last days of their incubation period, spraying the eggs with water helps to expel calories and helps to break down the shell of the egg. Using high-quality water is essential to achieve good results during this process. During this phase, oxygen requirements are increasing, therefore it is important to give them more air.

The eggs will lose weight throughout the process, and the closer to the hatching date, the more they will lose. In total, the eggs will lose about 12% of their weight when compared to their weight on their first day of incubation.


Three days before the end of the production process, the eggs are placed in the hatcher. The hatching process consists of the ducklings pipping to get out of their shells and establishing the pulmonary respiration required for them to live outside of their shells. The eggs are no longer sprayed with water and attention now focuses on monitoring the consistency and rate of pipping.

Incubation is an essential stage between the eggs being laid and the start-up phase of the ducklings. Every precaution is taken to ensure optimal health and safety. Hatchery teams are trained how to use the equipment and are aware of the impact their role has on the success of incubation and the viability of the animals.

At each stage in the breeding process right up to delivery of the ducklings, Grimaud Frères teams strive to ensure irreproachable quality in terms of health.

How does Early Feeding work ?

After the chicks are processed and as soon as they are crated in the hatchery, it is possible to give them food and a water and mineral-based gel to hydrate them. At Grimaud Frères, Pekin ducks are fed immediately after hatching and will not leave for their future farm until the next day. The amount of food given may be very small, but it is more expensive. Early Feeding food is far more concentrated than normal start-up food, and it contains more energy, protein, and fat.

“As selection professionals we have much more stringent biosafety and quality standards for the food. With Early Feeding, if we give the animals food in pellet form, it has to maintain its shape and not turn to dust in the crates, or the ducklings will not eat it,” points out Antoine Le Calvé, head of nutrition at Grimaud Frères.  So, an ultra-high-quality food is needed in order make Early Feeding worth it. Whether in the form of pellets or small nuggets, the food’s presentation is critical.

Early Feeding is primarily used for export, but hydration gel can also be administered upon hatching for summer deliveries within France if temperatures are very high. This is similar to Early Feeding except that the ducklings are not fed. Hydrating the ducks in advance means they arrive at the farm in optimal condition.

Grimaud Frères adopted the Early Feeding technique as part of its constant pursuit of better practices that facilitate breeders’ work and improve the performance of their farms, a decision that is undoubtedly well-founded.

This article about “Early Feeding” could also provide you some answer about Pekin ducks breeding.

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