Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ducks - Raising Ducklings

Baby ducks are super cute!
I want to tell you about raising my ducks, Merle and Darryl, and some of the lessons I learned in the process.
We did a little research and set up a clear plastic storage bin which we assumed would be big enough to keep a duckling in until they were old enough to go outside. We were wrong, oh so wrong. Anyhow, we set up a food bin, a shallow water dish, a half log to climb over and under, and a heat lamp. We covered the bottom of the bin with litter made from recycled paper. We got Merle first, and by the time we got home, we realized that ducks need duck friends! I've never heard a duckling peep so loud! So, while Willie stayed to keep Merle company, I went back and picked out Darryl. First lesson learned!
Merle and Darryl were like two peas in a pod! They loved each other very much! We fed them chick starter to start with, but Darryl's legs started to get a little crooked. I looked up online about what might cause this. Turns out that chick starter doesn't have enough niacin, so, off I went to the store to pick up some niacin. With a little niacin in the water, Darryl's legs started to straighten out a bit. Lesson two learned!
After we had the ducks a few days we became really curious as to whether we had females, males, or one of each. I looked up a video on how to vent sex baby ducks. Unfortunately, the older the duckling, the more difficult it is to do, so, we had to wait longer. Lesson Three!

These ducks are too big for their bin!
After just a few short weeks we would hear peeping coming from the dining room (where the ducks were being kept.) When we came into the room, one duck would be in the bin, the other would be out, crying for its friend that it could no longer see. We turned the half log over so that they weren't tall enough to hop over the side, but that solution didn't last long! So, a change was in order, and the decision was made that the duckies would live in the bathtub until they were big enough to live outside. Lesson Four, you ask? Ducks grow huge in no time flat!
Once the ducks were set up in the bathtub they were happy and secure, and it made cleanup a bit easier. All I had to do was to scoop out all the litter, rinse the tub, and fill it so the ducks could swim.

Eventually, their water situation became a problem. No sooner had I filled their dish than they had splashed it out again, making their habitat a soupy mess. I learned about a great way to reduce splashing! We'll call this Lesson Five! Wash out an empty milk jug and cut a few duck-head-level holes in the sides. Make sure the holes are large enough that they can get their heads in and out easily. Fill it part-way up with water, and let them at it! You might have to poke your finger in and show them that there is water in there, but they will catch on. Before the new waterer the ducks got so disgusting that I had to give them a shower. They loved it, of course!

Eventually the ducks got fluffy enough that I decided to take them outside to meet the goats and chickens. The chickens were very aloof, but the goats were simultaneously intrigued and perplexed. 

This was no chicken like they had ever seen! This was a water chicken!

At some point, space became so limited in the bathtub, and the living conditions (both for them and for us!) worsened to a point that we had to make the decision to put the ducks outside.
A duck-on-duck pooping. Disgusting!
Now they live the good life. They eat with the chickens, they sleep with the goats, and they have their own pool! They are still the best of friends, and we've finally figured out that Merle is a girl, and Darryl is a boy.

 So, my advice to anyone who is looking into raising ducks is as follows:
Do research, LOTS of it.
Buy more than one duck so that they don't get lonely and sad.
If you are curious about the gender of your duck, vent sexing should be done within the first day or two.
Look into a starter feed that is specifically designed for ducks, or use a mixture of chick starter and gamebird starter, so that they get enough niacin, but not too much protein. 
Don't underestimate how fast ducks grow! In less than two months my ducks outgrew my bathtub.
Ducks are a mess. Learn this fact early, prepare yourself for it. I'm still finding duck splash marks in my bathroom.
Ducks love water and will hop into and dirty and body of water they find. I call this"ducking it up. " You will have to change out your water troughs frequently. 
If you are keeping your ducks as pets, make sure that you find out what kind you're getting. They all look pretty similar when they are tiny. Some are quieter than others, some fly well, others don't, some are more friendly, some more flighty. Ours turned out to be Pekin, which are known to be quite loud. Merle quacks at just about everything. It's not a big deal during the day, but at 6:00 AM it's kind of ridiculous. Sometimes I feel bad for our neighbors.
Ducks have fragile feet and wings, especially when they are growing. Don't handle them by wings or feet and try to avoid dropping them or letting them fall. Darryl jumped off of our retaining wall and hurt his ankle. I thought it was a sprain, but then it never healed right, so I suppose that it must have been broken. Now I've got a lame duck with a funny foot. He still gets around just fine, despite the bad foot, but I still feel bad for the little fellow.
Make sure you handle your ducks frequently, so they know you aren't an evil monster bent on eating their delicious meat-bits. I didn't spend enough time bonding with my duckies, so they run away from me, even when I'm trying to be nice and give them a pat or a treat.

The End