Raising ducks: The first week

a duckling in the grass
Free range ducks!

Ducklings are amazing. I could sit and watch them putter and dabble for hours, which is good, because we don’t have cable anymore.

Growth and development

We could clearly see a difference in the ducklings every day the first week, both in size and in behavior. We didn’t weigh them, but we had read that newborn ducklings can grow an ounce a day, and I believe it. The photos below give some sense of their growth, but it is hard to see unless they stand up. Two days after their arrival they were jumping up the sides of the baby pool we used as a brooder; we had to wrap it in cardboard 18" high to keep them inside.

Their legs in particular developed quickly. On their first day they were still very wobbly and their legs spindly; by the next day their legs were noticeably thicker; and by the third day they were standing solidly. By the end of the first week their legs had grown so rapidly that the skin on them was peeling.

After about three days we noticed that one duckling had a dark spot at the base of her tail, the oil gland they use to preen and waterproof their feathers. A couple of days later they were all using oil from their gland to preen themselves.

By the end of the first week they had also grown comfortable with being handled. They would happily eat out of our hands, and if they weren’t entirely happy with being picked up, they settled down quickly once we were holding them. This is good; we want them to be comfortable with us, because even in the backyard we’re all going to be in rather close quarters.

Late in the week we introduced them to the dogs: Feynman was very curious, Toby was scared, and the ducklings didn’t seem to make any distinction between the dogs and the humans. After a few more days they had all for the most part lost interest in each other, although Feynman still seemed to enjoy watching them.

Feeding and water

We gave them as much food as they could eat the first week, so I am not sure just how much they actually went through—probably about a cup a day among them. We fed them Mazuri’s waterfowl starter formula. (Mazuri is a subsidiary of Purina that sells to zoos, and their avian nutritionist—I am not kidding—was very helpful to us on the phone.)

We changed their water morning, noon, dinnertime, and bedtime, and cleaned the waterer thoroughly once a day. The first few days they splashed more water out of the waterer than they drank, but by the end of the first week they were wasting less and going through a quart in several hours.

On the second day we began giving them small amounts of finely shredded vegetables, spinach, carrots, kale, and lettuce, floated in a small dish of water. This was a BIG hit. The Mazuri waterfowl food floats, and they also enjoyed picking their kibble out of the water.

They also had free access to fine granite grit from the third day on. We had read conflicting advice on whether ducklings need grit—they do not seem to strictly need it if they are only eating "duck chow"—but they were clearly happy to have it; they ate a few tablespoons the first day, enough to worry us, then slowed down.

Photos

Click any of the photos below for a larger image.

dinnertime Dinnertime on day 2 (three days old).
napping ducks Naptime follows dinner. Usually when I check in on them they are sleeping, but they are easily roused.
duckling eating out of our hands Initially the ducklings were very skittish, but by their fourth day here they would eat out of our hands.
ducklings outside Their first trip outside, in the newly completed grazing pen. One week old.

Movies

The ducklings are a week old in each of these movies. The movies require Quicktime Player 4.+ for viewing.

In the brooder (1:18)

Good video of the ducklings dabbling (drinking, and you’ll see why it’s called dabbling), eating grit, and interacting in their brooder.

Free range ducklings (1:19)

Their first trip outside. There is some really good video here, including better closeups than I was able to get inside, but unfortunately the file size is quite large. I think it is worth the wait.

First swim (1:18)

The ducklings’ first swim, in a baby pool outside. Most of the advice we read said not to let them swim until they are at least three weeks old, but it was a very warm day (about 90 degrees), the water had been sitting overnight, and they had plenty of time to dry off in the sun afterwards. And you know what? They were fine. They’re ducks.

When we first put them in the water they were terrified, but within five to ten seconds they all had the epiphany that they were, after all, ducks, and could swim. Within half a minute one of them suddenly dove to the bottom of the pool, swam a lap, and resurfaced. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

By the time I started taking video, they were having the time of their young lives.

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