Raising Ducks in a Chicken’s World
We have all been there. Walking through your local feed store and placed strategically in the center are troughs full of chicks and ducks. They are all peeping away and oh so cute. Who hasn’t looked down at them and wanted to bring a few home? One day on the way home from work, I stopped for feed and couldn’t take it anymore. I had to take a few of those fuzzy ducks home, six as a matter of fact, as they had a minimum. So with no plan, I headed home. Everyone loved them and since we had all the equipment from raising chicks, we were able to settle them in quickly. We had a large brooder box, heat lamp, waterer, and feeder. Our brooder is big enough that we could set the heat lamp fairly low and the ducks would be able to adjust their temperature by moving either closer or further away from the bulb. Their cuteness was overwhelming. Ducks need constant access to water in order to eat. After eating they need to clean their nostrils with water, so the water needs to be deep enough for them to put their beak under water.
It didn’t take long for us to realize they were a little different from chicks. They were noisy and seemed to poop twice their weight a day. They would splash all of the water out of the waterer, and ate almost as much as meat birds. However, they were still the cutest things ever. You could not help pick them up, they were very skittish and ran from us like we would murder them.
After a few weeks, we decided to let them go for a swim. Baby ducks can swim well, but they lack the oil gland to keep their feathers dry, so after a short swim, they need to be dried and put back under the heat lamp. In the wild, their mother would preen them.
Once they were a little bigger, we would give them a small dishpan to swim in. We also made them a ramp so they could get in and out easier. They loved to have greens chopped up and put into their swimming pool. Twice a day, they would splash all of the water out of their pool and soak the shavings. Ducks are a lot of work. They are certainly not chickens. We decided to put them outside and built them their own coop out of scrap lumber, because homesteaders have to be resourceful. Which also explains the siding made from scrap flooring!
Ducks do not need a roost and we thought they would like to live in the vineyard. But being ducks, they decided they would not go in at night and we would have to wrangle fast ducks every night. Soon they just lived in the vineyard, because they refused to go inside. Finally, they began to lay eggs and we were able to make wonderful fluffy bread with them. Duck eggs are delicious and soon we were enjoying duck egg omelettes as well.
They were happy to be outside and you could hear them at night quacking away, until disaster struck. Something killed 4 of them in two nights, so we rounded up the rest and put them in a safe pen. Luckily the two surviving ducks were male and female, so we borrowed an incubator, thanks to a fellow homesteader, and set off to raise the first animals conceived on the homestead. We placed an egg a day in the incubator. Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch, and we found that our hatch rates were better when we turned them by hand and not with the automatic turner. After several failed eggs we began to hit our stride and it was baby duck heaven all over again. It was fascinating to watch them use the egg tooth on their beak to get out of the egg.
Then they began to hatch, one after another after another after another. 14 in all we named them all after nuts: Peanut, Cashew, Pecan, Pistachio, Macadamia, Almond, Left, Right (use your imagination here), Filbert, Hazel, Coco, Acorn, Butternut and Brazil. This is a short video of one hatching.
Our duck journey had come full circle, there is nothing like going outside and always having a flock of ducks in your yard. They keep the slug population down and they have now taken over the mowing in the vineyard. Well all except one.
There is nothing like a smoked duck. So the next time you are in the feed store and you see those fuzzy little ducks, grab yourself a six pack to go along with them, you are gonna need it.