Raising ducks: 4–5 months


The maginificent seven.

The ducks have been laying eggs for five weeks now. We found the first two on September 28, and found at least one egg every day after that. After a week we were averaging three a day; after a month five a day. Now we get five to six each day, and we believe that all of the ducks are laying, so each of them lays an average of five to six eggs each week—pretty impressive, I think.

The eggs are, let me say, fabulous. Like free-range chicken eggs, the yolks are a deep orange, and the flavor is rich and complex. They taste much like fresh, high-quality free-range chicken eggs, but with one difference. Very fresh, high-quality chicken eggs have a faint flavor of chicken; duck eggs have a slightly darker flavor that I think is reminiscient of duck. So far we have found them to make excellent fried eggs, omelets, deviled eggs, cake, and pumpkin pie. I’m eager to see how they are in a custard.

We found the first eggs in the straw in their night pen; I hadn’t expected them to start laying quite yet, so I didn’t have nestboxes built. I didn’t particularly feel like building nestboxes, so I found a cheap alternative: black plastic storage bins, about 36″x24″x24″. I cut the lids so that the ducks can get in and out, duct-taped the lids on, set them on their sides, and added a deep layer of straw. Two boxes seem to be plenty for seven ducks. The ducks use the nestboxes consistently but there seem to be one or two ducks who can’t quite get the routine down and continue to lay their eggs in the straw.

Growth and development

We found that we could tell which ducks were laying first by the visible bulge in their lower abdomen each evening. The first ducks began laying at seventeen weeks; the last began at about twenty weeks. Sybil and Patsy, we think, were first—so Sybil has finally made herself useful!

The eggs weigh just under two ounces each, on average, about the size of large chicken eggs. Some are smaller, the size of medium chicken eggs; about one in three or four runs the size of a jumbo chicken egg. The first eggs frequently had double yolks, but this is rarer now. Still, the variety of shapes and sizes is a real contrast to what you’d find in a grocery store—and a reminder of how diverse nature really is.

More new behavior: when the ducks get into the pool first thing each morning, they hump each other. It seems to be the same ducks every day, but it doesn’t correspond to what we thought was the pecking order. It began just after we found the first eggs, and the ducks we believed to be laying first were the ones being humped, so our best guess is that the ducks who were less sexually mature were a bit confused by the new hormones in the flock. But the morning ritual continues now that everyone is laying, and so we really have no idea what is going on.

They have also nearly stopped flying now. Either the eggs are weighing them down, or laying takes too much out of them—but they are as active as ever otherwise.

Finally, I’ll note that they seem to be more compliant now that they are laying. They are less likely to balk at going into their pen in the morning and to split off from the flock—even Sybil, I am happy to report.

Feeding

They are eating more now, in part because it is getting colder but mostly, of course, because they’re each producing two-thirds of a pound of eggs a week. We give them about five cups of Mazuri waterfowl breeder formula in the morning and four in the evening, and we are starting to think that they might need a bit more. They don’t seem inclined to overeat, so I am not too worried about overfeeding them.

We have also discovered that our local co-op grocery store will give us free access to the compost bin in the back where they toss the produce that isn’t quite good enough for sale: outer leaves of lettuce, cabbage, and chard; spinach that is ever so slightly wilted; even the occasional eggplant. We have been using this to supplement the ducks’ food with a gallon bucket of chopped vegetables three or four times a week. The lettuce is still their favorite, but they like chard and spinach nearly as much, and they’ll also eat finely chopped eggplant and green beans, kale, and peels of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots. They do not, interestingly, like collard greens. Too strong, I guess.

Photos

Click any of the photos below for a larger image.

Lunch is served! Sampling leftover produce from the grocery store.
They do enjoy the spinach.
The first egg, where we found it in the straw.
The first two eggs, with a jumbo chicken egg for comparison. Obviously, they have not been washed yet.
First eggs, again, with beautiful yolks.
And, lastly, the first omelet, which we made the same evening.
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