Apr 25, 2012

Ducklings Week Two: Basic Training

We've been using a pet carrier to transport the ducklings to the bathtub or to their outdoor run.  Initially, we herded them into the carrier with a forearm or a large book.  They were frightened and did not go willingly, and I was concerned about stressing them or perpetuating a fear response to the carrier, or worse, to us.  So the time came to "train" the ducklings to go into the carrier of their own accord.  It wasn't difficult.  The ducks love the finely chopped broccoli floret we've been adding to their water each day, so all I had to do was put the carrier into their brooder and strew some broccoli into it and then leave them alone.  Within half an hour, the pet carrier went from being an object of terror, the THE place to hang out.  The ducklings ate the broccoli and then all of them settled down for a nap inside the carrier.  Ha!  Now all I have to do is put the carrier into the brooder a little before I want to transport the ducklings and eventually they all settle down inside it.  No broccoli needed.  
At about ten days old, the duckings still look like fuzzy babes, but they've nearly doubled in size and their shape is becoming more duck and less duckling.  Their once fragile legs have grown into sturdy limbs and the curve between their bills and foreheads is flattening, making them look less like babies.  They've also become tall enough to crane their necks above the edge of their kiddie pool, so I added cardboard sidewalls to keep them in the brooder.  During their second week of life, they'll be receiving the same food rations as their first week:  game bird crumbles with a little granite grit and about 5% oatmeal added to it.  They'll get as much of this as they want, but that will change next week.  We also give them chopped greens and broccoli floret in their water several times a day, which they go crazy for.  We let them eat some greens off our hands before putting it in their water so they can develop a positive association with The Hands.  

The ducklings do not like to be picked up (few animals do) and squeak with terror when handled, but then settle down in open hands or a lap so long as they aren't restrained.  We didn't want to handle them too much during their first week because they were so fragile, but I think it's time they started getting used to it so we can easily transport them to and from the bathtub or their outdoor run.  And because the few we end up keeping as egg layers will also be our pets.  I still read to the ducks for at least 15 minutes a day, but I don't think they've imprinted on me - that probably needed to occur right after hatching.  We received them when they were about two days old.  They do get excited at the sound of my voice, though, and often start running in circles around the brooder when I talk to them.  I wish they could go outdoors more, but it's not really warm enough outside for them at this age.  Soon.  For now it's a brief daily swim in the bathtub, all the food they want, and dozing in the sunlight coming through our front window.

Look who's getting too big for their kiddie pool brooder!  Not even two weeks old yet.

I taped some cardboard boxes together so no one would escape.  Not that they've tried.

This is the pet carrier we've been using to transport the ducklings to the bathtub or outdoors.  We were herding them into it, but they didn't like it and I hated stressing them out, so I "trained" them to go into it on their own.

Ducklings seem to love broccoli floret.

I feed them a little from my hand...

...and then add it to their waterer.

They used to be terrified of the carrier, so I left it in their brooder for a while, then put some broccoli in it.  

They like broccoli more than they dislike the carrier.

Within half an hour or so, every duckling wanted to hang out inside the carrier.  

Now all I have to do is set the carrier down inside the brooder, and within twenty minutes it looks like this.  Then I just zip it and take them where they need to go.  

Too many ducklings in a tub.  When I put all 11 of them in at the same time, there was so much splashing that they became wet very quickly.  I'm going to go back to letting them swim in two smaller groups.

I chopped some kale and chard for their swim time.

I think they're a bit too wet here.  It's warm enough in our house (and under their heatlamp) that they didn't seem to get chilled, but I'll be more careful next time.  

Clean and dry in the sunshine.

The ducklings will settle down in your hand or lap as long as they aren't restrained, but hold them very close to the whatever surface they may land on if they squirm away.

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