Our white Chinese goose, Daisy, began laying her first eggs about a month and a half ago. It was especially exciting because they’re the first goose eggs laid here at the farm! Since we have plenty of chicken and duck eggs for eating (and goose eggs are huge), I figured it was time to try my hand at artificially incubating some.
Prior to setting the eggs, I thoroughly researched the specific conditions needed for successful incubation. As with chicken or duck egg incubation, there were many diverse recommendations about how to approach it: some sources advised to keep humidity high, others recommended low; some sources said to incubate at a lower temperature, others said keep it the same as needed for chicken eggs. As a unabashed researcher, I’ll read many of the recommended methods and glean “best practices”, then factor in my own experience with incubating waterfowl to formulate an initial approach. For example, based on what I’ve seen when Muscovy ducks are incubating their eggs, misting and cooling waterfowl eggs is a valuable part of the process; I incorporate misting and cooling, as well as hand-turning, eggs into my method. I also chose to use a slightly lower incubation temperature, knowing that the worst it would likely do is delay hatching. The question of humidity level remained open, even after exhaustive research, because of conflicting information provided by reputable sources, with no single definitive source standing out. The optimal humidity level also appears dependent on the type of goose egg being incubated (what I found indicated that lighter breeds’ eggs seem to lose moisture more readily than heavier breeds), so I chose lower humidity but not dry hatching.
Our first candling results showed that of the 5 eggs we set in the initial batch, 3 were clears (infertile). Not entirely unexpected – they included the very first eggs she laid, which aren’t usually the best for incubating. The other 2 eggs, however, were developing nicely. I continued to closely monitor the temperature and humidity (as in several times a day) and hand turn the eggs 3-4 times a day (some sources recommended an odd number of turns, others recommended even – so I split the difference). The eggs are misted and cooled once a day, with the cooling time increasing each week. I also like to play jazz/swing for the incubating eggs – I don’t have any scientific proof that it helps, but did once run across a study that found that classical music seemed to positively influence hatch rates, while heavy metal had the opposite effect. It’s pleasant for me, anyway, to spend the daily cooling period with the eggs, listening to Frank Sinatra and James Darren.
The second candling, at 14 days, also showed that both eggs were continuing to develop. Air cell development also appears to be on track (Gail Damerow’s book “Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks” has a very helpful set of photos that shows what air cell development should look like for eggs that take 21 days to hatch as well as eggs that take 28 days to hatch (Chinese goose eggs fit in the latter category).
The last candling, at 21 days, showed development was still on track and air cells looked good, so the eggs went into “lockdown” on day 25 in preparation for hatch. I waited to raise the humidity to 70% until the eggs were externally pipped, opting to keep it a little lower in the preceding days to ensure that the eggs continued to lose humidity until hatch.
Day 28 came and went, and I was starting to feel a little nervous – to have come all this way, hand-turning those eggs three times a day and misting and cooling them, you start to feel like you know them a bit already. How awful would it be if they didn’t hatch at all? Fortunately, reason prevailed, and I remembered that 28 days is just an approximate hatch date – it can take up to 3 days longer for goslings to hatch. On day 30, when we were readying to candle the eggs to make sure there was still life inside, we noticed an egg had a very difficult to see external pip – whoops! We put it back in the hatcher immediately and checked the other egg, still unpipped. The second egg finally externally pipped later, but there was no noticeable progress into the evening, which was worrisome.
The following day, there still was no progress, so I decided it was time to begin assisting. With experience, I’ve learned that it’s best to assist as little as possible, and to go very slowly and incrementally. Regardless of your good intentions, do not go in and peel that little chick, duckling, or gosling out of the shell – it may not be ready and it may die as a result of hatching prematurely. My advice: before you do any assisting – at all – read the BackYard Chickens article by SallySunshine on assisting in a hatch in its entirety: Step by Step Guide to Assisted Hatching. Also, realize that sometimes the hatchling may not be able to hatch on its own because it has some kind of congenital problem that isn’t obvious until it’s out of the egg (leg deformities, for example). That said, I wasn’t willing to risk losing two goslings because of the possibility that their shells or membranes were too tough due to incubation conditions I had created.
I began by enlarging the external pips in the morning to ensure that the goslings had unobstructed access to air and to encourage them to continue working to zip themselves out, then placed them back in the incubator and sprayed the inside of the incubator with warm water to counteract humidity lost by opening the lid. After another 4 or so hours, with no progress, I very carefully “pre-zipped” the top of the egg where the air cell sits to prepare it for the goslings’ exit, and pushed the inner membrane down and away from their heads as insurance against shrinkwrapping. Again, they were placed back in the incubator and warm water was sprayed. They were left for the night in the hopes that they would push out on their own.
The next day, day 32 of incubation, a gosling had emerged! It was from the first egg to pip, an egg that was more round than long. The yolk had been properly absorbed and the gosling looked great. The other gosling – in a narrower, longer egg – hadn’t made any additional progress, so I very gently peeled a bit more of the shell and membrane down (to about halfway) and placed it back into the warm water-spritzed incubator. The gosling was tired but peeping and moving, so I left it to push out of the egg to strengthen its legs. Not long afterward, it, too, hatched. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we had two live ones and wouldn’t have to deal with a single lonely gosling.
Rolling Tennis Balls
The second gosling to hatch seemed weaker than the first, walking more unsteadily than the first (though both were pretty unsteady for the first couple of days and frequently ended up rolling around in their brooder like fluffy yellow tennis balls), and we realized that it wasn’t using its left leg properly; observation revealed that the leg tended to splay out slightly to the side, making walking difficult. Having previously dealt with splay leg in chicks, making a tether out of Vetrap was quick and easy, and in no time at all, the gosling was running around like it had always worn a stylish Vetrap accessory. Better yet, a couple of days after application, the tether was removed, and the gosling was walking perfectly normally. With splay (or spraddle) leg, time really is of the essence for a good outcome.
The goslings are growing and their personalities are manifesting. One is a little cuddlier than the other (maybe a goose?), but both are curious and full of energy. They’re eating fermented chick starter with nutritional yeast (for healthy leg growth) and are absolutely crazy about the finely-chopped greens (young grass and dandelion greens) I’ve been sprinkling atop their feed and sometimes float on their water. I also sprinkle chick grit, which is about the size of fine sand, on their feed to help ensure that they properly digest the greens. In a couple of weeks, I’ll lower the protein level in their feed as a safeguard against angel wing, a mainly cosmetic problem that causes the wing feathers of some young waterfowl to twist out to the side. There are various theories about the cause, but I’m of the camp that believes that too much protein during wing development in juvenile waterfowl can lead to it. If it does develop, it can be addressed with our helpful first aid kit staple, Vetrap.
The next group of goose eggs (four this time) should be hatching at the end of the week. Based on the first hatch, I’ll feel more comfortable taking a “wait and see” approach, but will not hesitate to assist if I reasonably conclude that goslings may be in distress.