Apr 19, 2012

Raising Ducks: Day One

I was pretty well set on keeping a few chickens for egg production when I started reading about ducks.  I barely scratched the surface before I completely flip-flopped and became totally gung ho about raising ducks over chickens.

In most ways, ducks are a better choice for the Northeast.  They're more accustomed to cold weather than chickens, and will continue to lay throughout winter if properly cared for.  I also appreciate that they're less destructive than chickens, as they don't scratch the ground while foraging.  (I plan to let the ducks free range in my vegetable garden and yard, so that's important to me.)  Another bonus of keeping ducks in our area is that they're voracious fly and mosquito predators.  Biting flies are such a problem where we live, that there are many weeks when I can only work outdoors fully clothed from head to toe, with a mosquito net over my head.  It sucks.  I can't wait to see if that changes when the ducks are in the garden.

But when it comes right down to it, the simple fact is that I like ducks better than I like chickens.  To me, female ducks present themselves as sweet, gentle, beautiful animals while chicken hens appear…not so pretty, a little stupid, and rather violent towards each other.  I know I'm offending some chicken keepers here, but that's just the way I feel.  I liked the pet chicken we kept when I was a kid, but I loved the ducks.  To this day, my heart still swells when I recall how our mallard Charlie sat out in the rain for three days strait, soaked to the bone and quacking in grief, in the very spot where his partner Daphne had died three days earlier.  (Happy ending: we brought Charlie a new parter, Rose, and they eventually had ducklings.)  

In preparation for rearing ducklings, I read Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks, and everything about raising them here: www.newagrarian.com/category/ducks/.  I was concerned about the ducklings being shipped during a time of year when it can still be very cold, so I initially called a hatchery closer to where I live in New York, but I had such a difficult time communicating with the person that answered the phone, I said fuggeddaboutit and decided to order ducks from the farm run by the author of the Storey Guide, Holderread Waterfowl Farm in Oregon.  When I called Holderread Farm to talk about my concerns, Millie happily answered all my questions and explained how the ducklings would be packed in a box that would be modified to make sure they would keep each other warm on their journey from west to east coast.  So I placed my order for 10 Khaki Campbell ducklings.  I really only want to keep 3 or 4 adult ducks, but as Millie explained, a minimum of 10 are needed to generate enough body heat for the shipping journey.  

The ducklings are shipped unsexed, meaning their sex is unknown and should be approximately half males and half females.  Since I want to keep 3 or 4 adult ducks for eggs, my plan is to butcher all - or perhaps all but one - of the drakes, and a couple of the hens.  I'm concerned about that.  I've helped slaughter and butcher hundreds of chickens over the past two years, but then, I don't love chickens and I didn't raise any of them from babies.  We'll see how it goes with the ducks.  I think it's important for me to be able to butcher and eat animals I raise, and if I can't do it, perhaps I have no business being a carnivore.  Worst case scenario, if I grow too attached and can't face killing the ducks myself, I will give them to my farmer friends who will happily butcher and eat them.  I'll cross that bridge in about ten weeks.

For now, it's duckling mania at our Cold Spring cabin.  This is how the ducklings fared their first day in the Hudson Valley.

I received notification that our ducklings had shipped late this past monday.  Their outdoor house and run have already been built, but I scrambled to get the brooder in order.  You need a heat lamp that you can adjust the height of, a waterer, feeder, non-slippery bedding, and something to contain the ducklings.  This kiddie pool won't contain them for long and I'll have to build up the sidewalls eventually.

I borrowed some fo this stuff from a neighbor who raises chickens.  I bought feed, grit, and bedding at Blue Seal and a kiddie pool at Walmart.  I put my kitchen thermometer under the heat lamp so I could get the temperature right.

The heat lamp is strung up a mic stand so we can raise or lower it.  Pretty hipster, huh? 

We asked our local post office to call as soon as the ducklings arrived so we could pick them up ourselves.  It took less than 36 hours for them to ship from Oregon to New York.  During that time, they were living off the yolk sac they absorbed before hatching and did not require food or water.

Ten ducklings (no, eleven!) are in that tiny box.  My husband removes the ducklings one by one, while I work the camera.

Too cute.  I'm freaking out with excitement.

As each ducklilng is placed in the brooder, we dip his/her beak in the water.  They haven't eaten or drank yet, so we want them to drink ASAP.

I picked some tender grass and cut teensy bits into their water to encourage them to drink.  I'll continue to sprinkle greens in their water each day, because greens are a natual part of a ducks' diet.

They didn't need the encouragement.  They all went right for the water.  They're ducks, after all.

The woman at Blue Seal called this "game bird crumbles".  It's an appropriate feed for ducklings, and includes niacin, which chicken feed typically does not.  Don't give your ducklings any kind of medicated feed you might see at the feed store.  It can be harmful to them.

The ducklings will need their diet supplemented with grit to aid digestion until they're big enough to go outside and find their own rocks and gravel.

I sprinkled some grit on top of the game bird crumbles in their feeder.

Since we're raising the ducks primarily for egg production as opposed to meat, I want to moderate their rate of development by reducing the amount of protein in their diet.  Oatmeal is a good way to do this.

I processed the oatmeal to make it easier for the ducklings to eat.

Whole oats next to processed oats.

I sprinkled some oats on their feed.  I'll sprinkle grit and oats on their feed once a day for now.

The ducklings ate and drank continuously for quite a while.

I put a thermometer in the brooder just to see how warm it was under the heat lamp.  About a hundred degrees.  A bit too warm, but I can raise the lamp and there's plenty of room in the kiddie pool for the ducklings  to get away from the warmest area.  Don't put ducklings in a box that's too small for them to get away from the heat lamp!  

I want the ducklings to imprint on me, so I can more easily train them to follow me when they're outdoors.  Talking to them for at least 15 minutes a day should do the trick.  I read them The Velveteen Rabbit.

After eating and drinking and listening to a story, the ducklings crashed out near the heat lamp.

In the end, I changed my order to ten Welsh Harlequin ducklings because I was too impatient to wait another month for Khaki Campbells.  Welsh Harlequins are a similar, mallard-derived, strain and should produce just as many eggs as the Khakis.

This guy's on to me.  A "bonus ducking" - who looks a bit different from the others - was included with our order.  Good lord, as if ten ducks weren't already more than enough!

No tailfeathers yet.

Duckling foot.  

They're teensy and adorable right now, but it's gonna get stinky and noisy in no time.


  1. Ooooooooh! I am dying here. Thanks so much for the duckling diarama, FK!

  2. YEAH!!! Frankie I want to hear the velveteen rabbit and the lamp sounds nice today.

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