Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ducks - The Basics


Muscovy Duckling
Photo Credit Andrea Malstrom
Baby ducks should be fed a good quality duck starter, or a mix of gamebird and chick starter. The reason for the mix is that the feed needs to have extra niacin, from the gamebird feed, but not the high protein content. Not enough niacin causes problems with legs, too much protein causes problems with wings. Calcium supplements should not be given to baby ducks, as too much calcium can be toxic while a duck is growing. After your ducks are six months old, or after they have laid their first egg, these guidelines are no longer applicable. Adult ducks can be fed duck feed, all flock, or layer feed. Free ranging ducks will eat bugs, slugs, frogs, fishes, weeds, leaves, grasses and seeds. Good treats for well behaved little duckies are crickets, meal worms, or feeder goldfish. Just imagine watching your duckies swimming around their pond or pool, chasing and eating little fishes! Too fun!


Rouen/Pekin Cross
Photo Credit Jillian Burge
While ducks don't HAVE to swim to survive, they just love it so much! If possible, provide a pond or pool for your ducks to swim and splash around in. A hard plastic kiddie pool works great, is inexpensive to purchase, and easy to find. Ducks also like to wash their food. They will pick up a bill full of food, wash it in their water, eat the good bits, and leave the bad bits and dirt behind. A larger container will take longer to dirty than a small one. If it's not possible, you need to provide a water container that is deep enough to submerge the ducks' bills. Ducks use water to keep their nostrils clean, and can suffer from respiratory infections of not provided with water to keep their respiratory systems clean and operational. Change water containers frequently, to reduce risk of disease and provide your feathered friends a nice clean place to get cleaned up.


Muscovy Drake
Photo Credit Andrea Malstrom
Just like any other critter, ducks need a clean, dry place to sleep. It is important to keep in mind whether or not your duck is a perching breed or a non-perching breed. Although most breeds of duck kept in the United States are non-perching species, there are a few breeds, such as Muscovy, that will seek out a spot to perch and sleep for the night. Keeping the floor of your duck's home clean and dry is essential. Soiled living quarters can result in an over growth of worms, infestations of mites, or infections. If you can, make sure that the floor of your duck's shelter is a non-porous surface which can be sprayed clean. Duck poop is sticky, icky and stinky, and it won't go away without a fight.


Merle and Daryl with Their Goat and Chicken Buddies
Ducks don't typically do well without companions. They like hanging out with ducks best, but they will hang out with other types of poultry such as geese, chickens, and turkeys as well, When we first got our Pekin hen Merle, she peeped and peeped whenever we put her down. Finally we relented and brought her a friend, our drake named Daryl. Now that Merle has passed away, Daryl is content to hang out with the chickens, and take naps with the goats.

Other Considerations

Daryl's Drake Feather
Some other things to keep in mind when deciding on ducks are: noise level, appropriate containment, and appropriate numbers. Some ducks are quieter than others, and it pays to do your research. Pekin hens, for example, are very loud, and they will quack at anything and everything they see. If you live in a neighborhood or have neighbors nearby, a Pekin, or similarly loud breed, is probably not the best choice. Another topic that it pays to research is how well your birds can fly. Heavier breeds may not be able to fly over a fence, or achieve liftoff for that matter, but there are some breeds that are exceptional flyers. Keep this in mind when evaluating the containment scenario for your little quackers. Lastly, having ducks in the appropriate ratios is important. If you have a male duck, you will want to try to provide a female companion for him. At least one female, but preferably two or three.  Male ducks can be kind of frisky, and if you don't have at least one or two female ducks, they will seek out other female poultry to try to scratch that itch. How can you tell if you have a drake? Just look for the drake feather! Or, if you don't see a drake feather, listen to the quack. Female ducks have a loud, clear quack that sounds like what we all imagine a quack should sound like. Male ducks have a low, raspy quack. This video is the best one I have found so far to differentiate the sounds that male and female ducks make. The first duck is male, second is female, first duckling is male, second is female.