The flock is now ten weeks old and well into their first moult. Feathers are all over the yard, in the kiddie pool and the duck house. The moult will supposedly go on for a few weeks, after which the birds will have grown in their adult feathers and can learn to fly to the best of their abilities, which won't be much. As domesticated ducks were bred for larger body size, their wings didn't concurrently get bigger - that's why farmyard ducks can't fly away with a passing flock. Poor kids. Anyway, here's the lowdown on where we are with our seven ten week old Welsh Harlequin ducks now.
Food: Blue Seal is the only place near where we live in the Hudson Valley to buy poultry feed, so we've been using their brand. For the first eight weeks of their lives, we fed the ducklings a combination of Chick n' Game Bird Starter/Grower Crumbles cut with oats. Just plain ol' dry oatmeal purchased in bulk at the grocery store. The concept was to cut the high fat/high protein food with oats so that they didn't develop too rapidly. If we had been raising the ducks primarily for meat, we could have fed them nothing but Starter/Grower Crumbles and let them fatten up lickedy split. But we're raising our ducks for egg production, so we want them to develop at a more healthy rate and avoid wing and leg problems that can occur when they grow too fast. From day one, the ducklings were treated to lots of leafy greens, usually dropped in their water.
At around nine weeks of age, we switched to a feed product called Grower Cal, in pellet rather than crumble form. This food is significantly lower in fat and protein and doesn't need to be cut with oats. It also provides the ducks with niacin, which chicken feed does not. Although they eat it, the ducks don't seem to prefer the Grower Cal over foraging, so I decided to give it to them free choice (available to them all the time) inside their run. Unfortunately, squirrels and chipmunks DO prefer Grower Cal to what they can find in the wild and were emptying the duck feeder within a couple hours of opening the run in the morning. So much for feeding the ducks free choice. What I'm doing now is giving the ducks lots of food when I lock them in at night, removing it when I let them out in the morning, and presenting it to them once or twice during day if they give me that "We're starving!" squawk. They don't quack loudly every time they see me, only when they're hungry. I haven't decided yet what I'll do about feeding the ducks if we're going to be gone most of they day. Probably just leave some food out and let the rodents have at it. Or I could force the ducks to forage for themselves until we get home. The ducks are very active foragers, especially when it rains. They spend many hours each day rooting goodies out of the grass, mulch and shrubbery. I've seen them eat various plants from the mixed border around our yard, and they definitely eat plenty of grass. I watched them catch a frog and fight over who got to eat it, though it was too big for any of them to swallow. They love to eat greens on water. I chop up whatever I have from the garden and toss it into their pool each day - kale, chard, broccoli, beet and carrot tops, radish greens, you name it. I no longer need to cut their pellets with oatmeal, but I still throw some oats in the water as a treat now and then. Of all the things I've seen the ducks eat, worms are their favorite above and beyond all else. They go nuts for worms! I first started turning our (well rotted) compost pile for them a few weeks ago and they immediately caught on to the concept. They were climbing all over the pile, snatching up worms as fast as I could turn the soil. If they even see me or my husband walking towards the compost pile now, they all come running over in a frenzy for worms. If your ducks aren't free ranging, you must provide them with grit to aid in digestion. When they were babies, I sprinkled fine granite grit on top their food crumbles so they'd be sure to get some into their gizzards. When the ducks moved outdoors a few weeks ago, I bought a bag of larger granite grit and put a bowl of it in their run, but they don't seem to be consuming it. That's probably because there's plenty of pebbles, sand and gravel in our yard for them to get it naturally.
In summary, the ducks' diet at ten weeks of age consists of: Grower Cal pellets, lots of greens from my garden, whatever they can forage for in our average sized yard, and occasional treats of oats, worms, or a head of iceberg lettuce. They seem to be getting their own grit from our yard.
Water: The ducks gravitate to any and all sources of water. We have two kiddie pools that I move to different locations in the yard each day. They also have access to the waterer in their run. On top of those sources, they will drink from the rabbit waterer and a five gallon bucket my husband leaves under a gutter downspout. They'll drink from anything containing water, and probably try to swim in it as well, so don't leave anything you don't want them drinking from in the yard. The ducks become very active and excited when it rains. They forage like crazy in the rain, play in the stone "aqueduct" my husband built to direct storm water away from the house, and try to swim in puddles. During last weeks' heatwave, I turned on the sprinkler for the ducks and they loved it! (watch a video of ducks playing in sprinkler) My duck book says you can raise them with only drinking water, but I think you'd be missing out on much of the joy of keeping ducks.
Shelter: The ducks are only locked in their house and run at night. They will put themselves to bed just before dark, and then we lock 'em in to keep them safe from predators. We let them out as soon as we wake up - around 6 am these days. We leave the door to the duck house open during the day so they can come and go as they please. Our yard has plenty of cover, including a huge deck and lots of bushes and shrubbery. The ducks clearly prefer to sleep where they have some protection from overhead predators. They'll occasionally nap in the open, but that only seems to be when I'm nearby. Little sweethearts.
Activity: They spend most of the day foraging, swimming, napping and preening. They're running around and flapping their wings a bit, even getting a few inches off the ground, but I don't expect any serious flight training until they've completed the first moult. They're showing some signs of puberty, with Pepper Jake, our only drake, occasionally grabbing a gal by her neck feathers and trying to mount her, but no real humping going on yet.
Predators: I went out to kill garden pests in the middle of the night shortly after the ducks moved into their outdoor house and run. I found a smallish raccoon had wedged itself between the wood fence and the wire mesh wall of the duck run. I climbed on top of the duck run and poked that little sucker with a pitchfork. It ran off. The ducks seemed completely oblivious to the raccoon's presence. Another time, I saw an adult raccoon slinking across the yard in broad daylight - while the ducks were foraging in the yard. I blasted out of the house and smacked the raccoon with my oven mitt. It's probably just a matter of time before a real raccoon attack. That'll be an issue almost anywhere you raise ducks. There are a lot of red tailed hawks where we live, but no encounters so far. Our yard is fully fenced in, so I don't worry much about neighborhood dogs, foxes and coyotes.
For as much as I've written here, the truth is that ducks are very low maintenance animals. At ten weeks of age, our little backyard flock is now about as independent as they'll ever be. All we really have to do each day is let them out in the morning, freshen up their water supplies, and make sure they have food when we lock them in at night. We do other things - like throwing greens and oats in their water or digging up worms - for the sheer pleasure of seeing the ducks happy and excited. Raising them from fuzznuggets has been nothing but a pleasure, and I still enjoy sitting nearby and watching them do ducky things whenever I can find the time to slack. Even the process of butchering the drakes went very well, and cooking with duck? Wonderful. I would order another batch of ducklings tomorrow if I had the land for them. But for now, I can look forward to gathering eggs from our backyard flock.
Feathers everywhere! The ducks are experiencing their first moult.
There's some running around and wing flapping, but not much air time yet.
This is the watering solution I came up with for inside the duck house. See my previous post for an explanation.
Everyone comes a runnin' when I get the hose out.
I have tons of greens from my garden to give the ducks. I don't chop them as fine as this any longer.
In a few seconds, those ducks will be in the pool.
Grower Cal pellets and medium sized granite grit. I tried to give the ducks free access to their food, but the squirrels and chipmunks devoured it.
And so did the rabbits.
Aw, sleeping like real ducks now.
How to spoil backyard ducks.
Ducks in the garden.
They go in and out of their house and run as they please. They put themselves to bed just before dark and I lock the door.
Loving the sprinkler!
They have kiddie pools in the yard, but inside the duck house I use this.
Enjoying a rainstorm.
I know they're just being ducks, but I love it when they take a nap in the bushes.