Thursday, March 3, 2016

Brooding Ducklings

Three days old and already knows how to preen and clean
I've had ducks on the mind for the last few years.  I've enjoyed chickens so much, I thought, well, what about ducks?  I've heard the downsides from people:
  • they love mud and mucking around in it
  • they require way more water than chickens to drink/splash
  • their poop is more watery and shoots straight out of their butts like a projectile, instead of dropping in a neat bundle like chicken poop
  • they lay their eggs anywhere and everywhere
  • they can be harder to get to go in at night
They sound like free spirits to me.  So, 3 Khaki Campbell Ducks (straight run - could be boys or girls) from Tractor Supply have started off our duck adventure. 

So far, they seem quite intelligent and more responsive to me than chicks.  They dash around like little bundles of energy, their extreme exuberance about being near or in water is fun to see, and I have never raised them before, so I am looking forward to seeing how adult ducks will work out for us.  I know they'll grow faster than chickens, they are prone to foot injury due to their webbed feet but generally hardier than chickens otherwise, and they don't scratch but they can trample plants, uproot perennials, and muss mulch in their hunt for bugs.  I can already see that their bills lead the way - nibbling, dabbling, and dibbling.  

Diving and splashing
I based my brooder set up on ideas from Fresh Eggs Daily in this duck raising post.  The most important things so far seems to be:
  • Bond with them by singing and talking to them.  Then when they are playing in their waterer too long you can call them under the heat lamp and they will come running.  
  • A stuffed animal in the brooder.  They love this and seem comforted by it.  The flatter the animal the better because they all want to pile on top of it and sleep.  Also, it serves the function of towel and dries them off as they roll around on it and snuggle with it.  
  • Some way to minimize water splashing everywhere in the brooder.  There are lots of variations on doing this: the one I chose was to put a rack meant for the grill over a roasting pan, so when they splash and poop, it drains through the holes in the grill rack into the pan, and I change that once a day.  Working pretty well so far until they outgrow it.  You just have to be sure if you go this route that whatever you use is not too slippery or sharp on their feet, and that the mesh or holes are small enough that their legs and feet don't get caught.  An alternative to using shavings at all in the brooder is to use a shelf liner so they don't slip that you just hose off periodically.  
  • Niacin.  Mix 3 c brewer's yeast with 10 lb unmedicated chick starter crumble for the proper niacin amount for ducklings.  
  • Less heat than chicks.  The hottest spot under the lamp is 85 - 90 degrees for the first week, where chick brooders are warmer than that.  I'll probably switch to my EcoGlow as a heat source when they are bigger since it is safer than a heat lamp and uses less energy.  For now they love piling on their stuffed animals to warm up after a swim in their waterer!

Warm sun bath 
Many sources say to wait until the ducklings are a week old for a full-on bath experience and other sources say sooner is OK.  At 3 days old, they spent some time in this baby bath given to us by our friends Yve and Marty.  We kept it brief, kept it warm, and they really loved it.  Since day one, they seemed to know about preening themselves and spreading oil from the oil gland located near their tails if they were wet.  This helps waterproof their feathers and keep their feathers in good condition.  They are just fuzz now with no feathers to speak of, and that is why you have to be careful they don't catch a chill.  I have noticed with all the preening they are doing, water does bead off their downy fuzz when they splash in their waterer.  

Back in the brooder to warm up
Heat lamp and brooder set up 
The feeder is as close as possible to the waterer but far enough away so they can't splash it.  This is because ducks run back and forth between feeder and waterer.  They take a bit of crumble and then run excitedly to the waterer and dunk their bills in which helps them ingest the food.  For this reason, they shouldn't be fed powdery feed as they can choke on it.
Waterer over a splash tray I rigged up with wood block "steps"
This is where they spend most of their time.  The waterer.  As they get bigger, the water trough won't be deep enough for them to dunk their bills into but it works for now.  

They love their "babies" - two stuffed rabbits that they sleep with and on
Warming up and snuggling under the heat lamp.  Pretty sweet.  So if the main complaint about ducks is they are cute as ducklings but then they grow up, well, I'm ready for it.  Bring it on...I can't imagine them losing their joie de vivre as adults.

These pictures are from Monday, so they seem twice as big now on Thursday - I can vouch that they seem to double in size every few days as they grow very quickly.  A duck synopsis one week in? They do a lot of splashing, pooping, and growing, they stick together in a pack always, and they love life, as long as it involves water.

Time to snuggle
"Romaine lettuce?  Don't mind if I do."

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