Raising ducks: Weeks 4–6


Yes, I am one hot little duck.

The ducks are now six weeks old and have been living outside for two and a half weeks. One morning in their fourth week, when I went in to the brooder to take them out to their grazing pen for the day, I found Patsy running around the outside of the brooder peeping at the top of her little lungs. (All the others were running around the inside of the pen peeping at the top of their little lungs. Where the heck is Patsy?) So I picked Patsy and the other six ducklings up, took them outside, and that was the end of life in the brooder.

They were more than a little nervous their first night in their pen, but with some encouragement (in the form of lettuce) they let us herd them in, and we kept a 25-watt light bulb on all night to keep them calm. After a few days they were used to the situation, and we reduced the light to 15 watts, where it will stay. The light should, we hope, keep them calm at night while warding off predators, and won’t be enough to mimic sunlight and increase egg production.

After a few days of this they settled into their routine: out to the grazing pen in the morning, back under the deck at night. We have found that herding them is easier if you have lettuce as bait, but they want to get out to their pool in the morning, and when the sun starts going down they want to go in—presumably they feel safer under the deck.

Growth and development

All seven ducks have all their feathers now; they have come in steadily over the past three weeks. A few of them have a bit of fuzz at the backs of their necks, but otherwise they are feathered out. Their growth has leveled off as well, as we would expect; by eight weeks they will be all but full-grown.

And they finally sound like adult ducks. When one of us goes out to check on them, when they are running around the yard, when they run out of food or want to go out in the morning or in at night, when they are eating, grazing, bored, excited, whatever—somebody quacks, and then they all start in. Constant chatter. But it isn’t loud enough to be a nuisance; our next-door neighbors confirmed this week that they didn’t know we had ducks. (They seemed mildly amused to learn that we had livestock living in our backyard, but didn’t really care one way or the other.)

Feeding

We ran out of starter feed and switched them to the Mazuri waterfowl breeder feed when they were about four weeks old. They’ll remain on that as long as they are laying eggs, so I hope they like it. We feed them morning and evening, when they change pens, but if we notice in the afternoon that they have run out of food we give them a half-scoop to tide them over. Some days they eat more of their duck chow than others; it seems to depend on how good the foraging is. When we move their grazing pen, the foraging is really good the first day, and they don’t eat as much kibble.

They seem to be very good at foraging, some better than others. Francie has developed a strategy for catching the flies that collect on their food bowl: she hangs back, waits for them to arrive, then lunges in to snare a fly; then she hangs back again, waits for the flies to return, and gets another one. The others haven’t caught on to this yet, but they have their own methods I suppose. Polly will very quickly eat any bug that falls into the pool. Saffy is still the best at identifying new sources of food: when our chokecherry tree littered part of the yard with berries and we let the ducks into that area for the first time, she immediately starting eating berries and spitting out the seeds.

And finally I will note that they are going through an incredible amount of water. In addition to the water they drink from their pool, they go through about five gallons of water a day. True, a fair bit of that ends up splashed on the ground, but most of it seems to end up in the ducks.

Photos

Click any of the photos below for a larger image.

Mugging for the camera.
Milling about in the grazing pen. In the back you can see the cinder block they use as a step to climb in and out of the pool.
Patsy and one of her sisters. The closeup gives a good view of their feathers.
Saffy stretches her wings while her sisters drink out of the swimming pool.
Chow time!
Milling about again.
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