Eleven two-and-a-half-week-old Welsh Harlequin ducklings are about seven too many to keep in our house any longer. The poopstink, middle-of-the-night ruckuses, constant cleaning of the brooder, and my perception of duckling restlessness are all pushing me to move the birds outdoors as soon as possible. We built them a very secure house and run, but hadn't planned on putting them out overnight until they were a few weeks old. The ducklings are only just beginning to grow downy feathers, so I'm concerned about them getting cold at night. But for the next two nights the low temp will be close to sixty degrees - which is the same as our human house at night - and of course they'll have the heat lamp on inside the duck house. So…I think it's time we let go of our babies a little, and allow them live outdoors as they're meant to. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I wish they'd stayed small a little longer. Sigh.
There was a bit of training to do before we could consider leaving the ducks outdoors overnight. I had to be sure they understood the concept of going inside the house to get warm, and coming out to the run to to eat and drink. Coming out of the duck house was no problem, but it took a while for them to catch on to going back inside. This is how we taught them: for the past two days we put the ducklings in the house/run only during the day. The door between the house and run was left open at all times. We checked on the birds every hour or so, and if they were all huddled together in a tight ball outside of the house trying to get warm, then we gently herded them inside so they could warm up under the heat lamp. Since the door to the run was open, they could come back out when they were ready. We probably herded them into the duck house about six times over the past day and a half, but by yesterday afternoon, the little Helen Kellers got it and were happily walking themselves into the house to nap under the heat lamp. I'm so proud of them! There's really no reason we can't leave them in their duck house and run overnight now, so long as the temperature doesn't get too low. Once they've grown their adult feathers, even that won't matter.
The interior of the duck house is meant for the three or four adult ducks we'll keep for eggs.
For the ducklings, I insulated it with some bales of hay, and hung a 250 watt heat lamp inside.
The house and attached run are fully secure from the likes of hawks, raccoons and large snakes. When the ducks are fully grown, they'll be allowed in our yard and garden and only put in here at night. A hawk could easily take them at their current size, so the ducklings have to be sheltered even during the day.
Checking the temperature inside the duck house, so I can raise or lower the heat lamp as needed.
When I first introduced them to their house a couple days ago, I left the ducklings closed inside until they settled down.
Then I opened the door to the run.
Bombs away! I think I need to build a ramp so they can get back inside.
Lunch time in the duck run. It'll be so nice to have their food and water separated from where they sleep. No more poopy, wet bed.
They found some greens growing in the run.
The ducklings are now being fed game bird crumbles and oats a few times a day instead of having it at all times. In between meals, they can have all the lettuce, broccoli, and other greens as they want.
Running around the waterer.
It's exhausting being a duckling these days.
To encourage them to go into the duck house on their own, I showed them a favorite treat: chopped greens.
Then I placed some up the ramp and into the house.
Well, this ramp ain't gonna do. Too slippery.
Kinda sad to see them move outside already, but this is a much better place for them. When it stops raining, we'll put them in their moveable foraging run so they can be on grass, hunt for bugs, and get some sunshine.
Smashed banana oat surprise. I'd eat it, but the ducks are suspicious of new foods.
I put a familiar food - oats - on top so they'd be more likely to try it.
They're beginning to grow dark grey down between their yellow feathers.
What happened to my teensy ducklings?!
After a day and a half of training, the ducks learned to go inside when they need to get warmed up.
I'm so proud of them!
With their food and water placed outside of the house, it'll stay warm and dry inside.