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PHOTO: Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
Spring is when many farmers bring home new chicks, and a few of us are expanding our homesteads to include ducks. We added ducklings to the farm last year, and raising them is a little bit different from raising chickens. Here are a few tips to make the transition to keeping waterfowl a little bit easier.
1. Provide Plenty Of Water
It’s a well-known adage: Ducks love water. New ducklings need water in order to swallow their food, but they also don’t need too much water. Ducklings should be offered water deep enough to submerge their beaks in order to clean off excess food from the air holes in their bills. Many small ducklings prefer eating their food pre-saturated—almost soupy.
Ducklings, however, are not always ready for a swim right away. Without a mother duck, their downy fluff isn’t warm enough or waterproof, and they can easily catch a chill. If you do allow your ducklings to swim, be ready to gently dry them and make sure their brooder is warm enough, especially if it’s early in the spring. Never allow ducklings to swim unsupervised until they’ve started to grow their adult feathers.
2. Say No To Perches
If you are used to raising chickens you’ll probably be tempted to put little perches or roosts in the brooder to help keep your ducklings amused. Save yourself the trouble. In the wild, ducks sleep in quiet, dark thickets on the ground. A bar or perch in their brooder will go largely ignored.
3. Be Ready For A Mess
Ducklings are remarkably messy animals. They have no shame in dashing through their water, splashing it all around, tipping over their feed bowls and tracking droppings into their water.
You can keep a brooder cleaner by limiting the goslings water, providing just a small trough for drinking and even removing their water for a few hours at night. Even with great care, you will find yourself cleaning the brooder regularly.
4. Have The Right Feed
Before you bring your ducklings home, make sure you’ve got the right food set up in their brooder. Ducklings prefer crumble and should not eat chick starter. Most feed stores offer options specifically formulated for baby waterfowl, and it is important to check the label to make sure that your ducklings’ feed contains the nutrients they need. Most important to look for is niacin, which helps boost their growing bones. Feed without niacin can be supplemented with brewer’s yeast.
Ducklings will also appreciate special treats. They enjoy everything from mealworms and crickets to lettuce and beet greens. Always feed them fresh food—never human junk food.
5. Handle With Care
Ducklings are bonding creatures, and if they are handled regularly, they will imprint on their caregiver. This means that your ducks can be dedicated pets, following you around and eagerly peeping when they see you. This charming behavior often requires little effort: just regular feeding and spending time with your young ducks.
However, it is not a good idea, for your health and the health of the ducklings, to be constantly holding them. Instead, handle them minimally, limiting holding time to when you lift them in and out of the brooder. Bonding can easily be established by spending plenty of time with them, watching them and caring for them with limited physical contact.
6. Consider Fencing
If you are getting ducklings and you keep a garden, you are going to want a fence. Ducks have a voracious appetite, and while it may take a few weeks for them to find your garden plot, it will take only an hour or two for them to destroy a bed of flowers.
It is also important to consider fencing if you are at all worried about predators. A good strong fence will help to keep duck’s worst enemies at bay, and a run with netting over the top will also keep out birds of prey.
7. Get The Right Breeds
There is a wide variety of duck breeds with some remarkably different than others. Before you order ducklings, do your research and find the right breed for your needs. For example, Pekin ducks and other heavy breeds are raised primarily for meat, Runners are excellent weeders and high energy, and medium-weight ducks can be dual-purpose for both eggs and meat.
8. Know Your Goals
If you are raising ducks for meat, understanding this from the moment you bring them home will help you not get too attached to them when they are peeping balls of fluff. In general, understanding your goals with your farm animals will help you to achieve these goals and helps you focus on their specific needs, whether the be the feeding of meat ducks or the nesting requirements of layers.
9. Keep Your Brooder Warm
For any baby bird, the brooder must be kept at the appropriate temperature. A duckling brooder should be between 90 to 95 degrees for the first week of life, and then come down by about 10 degrees per week until they are grown.
Heating a brooder is best done with a regular light bulb or two, though you can use a special heating lamp. A heat lamp can be a fire hazard, but carefully placed it will keep the brooder nice and toasty. Keep a thermometer in the box so you can monitor just how warm it is for your ducklings.