Daily routine

Our adult ducks live in our backyard, in a secure house at night and in a movable grazing pen during the day. The grazing pen has a baby pool, which they use in lieu of a pond for bathing. When we’re home during the day, we also give them some "free range" time to roam the backyard. The grazing pen gives them enough room to move around comfortably while keeping them from tearing up the yard or the garden. (See my notes on backyard pasture.)

We manage their routine so that the bulk of the work is in the evening; all we have to do in the morning is move them, give them fresh food, and collect the eggs. This is much easier when you have to work off the homestead during the day. In total, managing the ducks takes less than ten minutes in the morning and ten to fifteen minutes in the evening, unless it’s time to clean out their pen.

Morning

The ducks are finished laying by about 7 a.m., when we let them out of their night pen on weekdays before we go to work. We let them out into the yard while we collect their eggs, which they lay in the same places every day (but not, predictably, in their nestboxes).

We put out fresh food (see my notes on feeding) and then herd them into the grazing pen.

Herding ducks

Herding ducks take a little practice, but their instinct is to flock closely together, so it is not too difficult. Because they can see almost 360 degrees, you can simply walk behind them and guide them with small motions. To get them to turn right, for example, I just swing my left arm out to the side. Sharp or sudden movements can spook the ducks and be counterproductive.

The only time we have problems herding them is in the morning when we have moved their pen to a new location. Occasionally, one duck — usually Sybil — will miss the gate to the pen and run around the side, and then the only thing to be done is to let them all back out, round them up, and herd them in again.

Basset hounds, sadly, are of little help in this endeavor.

The eggs

Inside, we weigh the eggs on a kitchen scale and note the number and weight of the eggs, along with the weather and any notes, on a form we keep tacked to the refrigerator. (A sample form is available here in PDF format.)

Each egg carton is labeled with a consecutive number. This doesn’t tell us exactly how old each dozen is, but it does tell us which are the oldest. We don’t have enough space in our refrigerator to store more than about two weeks’ worth of eggs, so we’re not worried about spoilage.

Evening

In the evening, we let them out of their grazing pen to roam the backyard. How long they get to "free range" depends on how much light is left when we get home from work and how much time we feel like spending outside with them: anywhere from ten minutes to two hours. The yard is fenced, but to keep them safe, we only let them out when either a human or a dog (one of ours, that is!) is outside with them.

We use two waterers, one for each pen, and we clean and fill both waterers in the evening. We also dump out, clean, and refill the baby pool, which they insist on using as a toilet as well as a bathtub. In the summer, we carry this water in buckets to our flower gardens, but in the winter we just dump it. (The pool takes about 10 gallons of water a day.)

Then we herd them back into their night pen, give them fresh food, and turn on their nightlight. If we’re giving them kitchen or garden scraps, we usually do it at this time.

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