Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Do's and Don'ts for Ducks

I love ducks!

Honestly, nothing makes my heart pitter patter more than a sweet little white duck with a clutch of adorable babies. Miss Dash is my favorite gal - she's one heck of a setter, a great momma, and is so darn likable. I love her little peeping and funny looks. She knows she can trust me to take care of her and we really seem to work together when she's got a clutch going. This was her with a very late season brood last fall.
 Miss Dash and Iris

You can read more about how I came into ducks here.... now I'm totally sold.

And don't get me going on duck eggs used in baking and... sigh.. making silky, rich, custards. Ducks are also a great way to keep down bugs and such..and since they are omnivores they eat just about anything that "bugs" you. Some folks keep ducks with their sheep... to keep the flies and such down. I can tell you that nothing clears out a hen house full of bugs like a marauding horde of baby ducks... not to mention what they can do to a hapless snake who was ill-fated enough to get tangled in the fence while 23 little quackers are on the loose. (ahem) Lets just say it was ugly. And gross. Ick.


If you are interested in ducks, run right out and get the Storey's Guide to ducks. Those in the duck world fall at the feet of the "great Holderread" -- with good reason. The only thing I don't like about the book is that he tends to WRITE IN ALL CAPS like he's yelling. Otherwise, its your best bet for great info.

Here's a quick overview of some duck "how to's" but as an overarching rule... don't put diapers on your ducks and keep them inside. Its just weird. Just keep them outside. But call before you show up.. just in case Miss Dash isn't sitting beside me watching TV. Just sayin'

Ducklings are a cuteness vortex... you may never look away from them. Hands down, the best job on the farm is "duckling lifeguard" -- that is, watching the ducklings splishin' and splashin' around in a kiddie pool. They are a hoot.
That's one happy peep!

Unlike chickens, ducks lay only in the morning - so you can capture all the eggs by keeping them penned up until about 10am. This will force your gal to make her nest where you can keep an eye on her. Really the only drawback to ducks is they are... well.. sitting ducks for predators.

We make all our ducks come in at night and lock them up. Most of the losses we've had are from when the ducks roost on the frozen pond. In the morning we find the sad feathers and the tell tale fox tracks across the pond. The best way to train the ducks to go in at night is to keep a routine -- and feed them only in their house. Once they are used to it ducks are pretty easy to drive. I use my long shepherd's hook and have the dogs behind me to keep 'em waddlin' in the right direction.

Like most of our barnyard crew, we make the ducks get out there and free range. They do just fine until we get the cold weather, then we feed a mix of corn (in very cold weather it helps keep them warm), and bagged food with a waterfowl appropriate level of protein. Bagged layer mix for hens just isn't enough. During the summer we feed them (lightly) only at night.  They tend to hang around the hen yard and show up for scratch from time to time.

It goes without saying that ducks need lots of fresh water. For drinking they need water deep enough so they can rinse out their nostrils..so we just use buckets of water for the older ducks. As for swimming around, you technically don't need a pond or stream.. but I think its great to watch them glide across the water.

 Our original drake, Mr. Duck, whom we miss very much

Otherwise just get a cheap-y kiddie pool from Target and fill it up for them. Or even a big plastic tub... but they need to bathe regularly so make sure they have something they can get into. Consider, tho, that you'll need to dump that water. Everyday. Sometimes a couple times a day. It can be a lot of water. One great way to use that nitrogen-rich, poop-filled water is to use it to fertilize your garden or lawn. Obviously you don't want to pour it over vegetables (food safety and all)... but its one way to use it. Check out my pal's site, Blue Feather Farm, for ideas about how she "micro farms" with ducks....and just so you know.. and she uses water gardening in great ways.

For ducklings water needs we use shallow pie plates that gradually get deeper as they grow. After several weeks, those $3.99 "hog pans" at TSC are great for this - just put a rock in the pan close to the edge so the little ones can get out...and another rock next to the pan so they can get into it. Ducklings are curious so they will figure it out.

An important note about ducklings and water -- not only can the babies drown...but they won't really be ready for water fun until they start feathering out. They really aren't "float-y" enough and they can't regulate their body temperatures until they are a bit older. Resist temptation to put them in the water. They will eventually take to it like.. like.. well, a duck to water. Make sure they have a momma to warm up under or somewhere dry to snuggle into after a swim while they are getting dry. Mine are at the point where they are seeking out mud puddles and preening. Very soon they will get "The Pool".. but we won't let Miss Duck take them down to the pond until they are feathered in.  Little ones are also easy prey for a crow, the neighbor's bad barn cats, or even adult male ducks.. so be on the lookout.

While our ducklings free range with Miss Duck , we make sure they have non-medicated feed several times a day. Initially we make sure the ducklings constantly have feed but as they are out more and more we cut back on the number of times we provide bagged food. There are good "duck starters" out there but we use TSC's Dumor Chick feed..which is just fine as they supplement their feed with the bug eating and such.

People are always asking about what kinds of snacks we give the ducks and the answer is... none. Sometimes the ducks belly up to the chickens "corn + milk" bowl.. but other than that... the best snacks for them are bugs, grass, and whatever they dig in the dirt for... so no snacks for them. The closest we come to snacks is when we provide fresh hay during winter months.

Mollee didn't mind the snow at all. In fact, she thought the falling snow flakes were bugs and tried to catch them.

Speaking of winter, for our Northern friends, ducks are very winter hardy. Really all they need is protection from predators, to be out of the wind, plenty of food (including, but not exclusively, corn), fresh non-frozen water at least twice a day, and somewhere dry to roost. Dry is the key. Its kind of a challenge to keep them dry, especially when they are inside because they are always splashing around in the water bucket. Then when they bathe they are all wet so everything gets soggy. We just keep piling in the straw and also provide a whole straw bale as a roost. It might seem like a waste but its terrific mulch by the time spring rolls around. Our ducks don't seem to mind the snow and I think we kept them inside only on the coldest (below 0* windchills) days. We have never had to provide heat lamps for the ducks. As long as you have several ducks they will fluff out their down and snuggle together. Keep an eye on their feet for frost bite, but we've never had a problem with this.

We keep the ducks in a separate housing structure -- its an attachment to the hen house, hence its the duck 'garage.' The best feature in the duck garage is that we dug out a 6 inch deep foundation of gravel. Trying to keep a structure with a wood floor from rotting is a loosing proposition. Some people keep their ducks with their hens, but it just does not work out at all for us. At one point we had the ducks in the turkey house - but in a separate coop. Unfortunately this was a disaster for the turkey babies and we lost several. I found out later that ducks bring out cocci in the soil because they are so wet..and since they are immune to it.. it never bothers them. Now the ducks are on the other side of the yard and this is working out better for everyone.

During the day the ducks roam around the yard, the goat yard, and then head down to the pond. Mostly the males hang out with the ladies. We think Foxy Brown got one of my favorite gals, Mollee a couple weeks ago. Mollee loved to be in the woods, which is never a good thing but we couldn't stop her. I'm still holding out hope that she'll show up a clutch of cuteness.. but I don't think so. Miss Dash just had a failed clutch this spring, but Iris and Daisy are laying now. We won't let them set nests tho. The only problem with ducks is that they multiply like rabbits.

So that's my primer on ducks. Easy peasy, useful, interactive, fun, entertaining..so just go and get some ducks and see what the fun is all about. Unless of course...your kids suckered you into buying a couple of ducklings already.. Chai Chai.....

What questions do you have? Anybody have anything to add?

Happy Ducking everyone!


Mama Mess said...

Such a Ducky post! Made me feel just Ducky to read all about your waterfowl friends! ;) We don't have ducks, although The Youngun would like to. Maybe someday if we ever get a pond dug.... :)

Chai Chai said...

Wow, great post. You have me a bit worried about how much work these little duckling will be, but the kids happy faces should make the effort worth it.

I am going to have to figure out how to keep the dogs from drinking the waste water.

Now all I have to do is figure out what to do with the duck nappies and extra popcorn I have stockpiled.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

hey GW! just send 'em over to Chai Chai's for an occasional swim

The older they get the easier they are.. but really they are just so darn cute.. you just won't want to do anything else.

Hold on.. Miss Dash wants me to change the channel.. she wants to watch So You Think You Can Dance...

Chai Chai said...

Ok, I have 9 chickens and 10 Guinea hens in one container and 3 ducks in the other. The chickens/Guineas are messy, so I have to clean off the top layer of paper in their pen every other day.

The ducks, OMG! They trash their container like there is no tomorrow; poo on the walls and in every container, food bits everywhere, and if you watch them you can see them jumping in and out of the water pan, gurgling it in and out of their mouths. I have to change their paper, water, and clean everything out at least ONCE per day.

They are still cute though.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

TEN guineas!?!?! Holy Moly! and yep...ducks = stinky. Just wait till you get your own momma duck and she lets fly a "broody poop".... that'll send ya running.... But they sure are cute - and let 'em loose in the yard as soon as you can so they can get to bug eating. But not in the garden as they'll mow the whole thing down. Stick those guineas in the garden and fence them in if you can - they will be invaluable.

Our guineas right now are just plain nuts. One of the males took the other's female. Nothing but chaos.

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