Duck Dilemmas

This week I’d like to share my experience with raising ducks. Ducks can be a nice addition to a farm if you have the right set up for them. Our ducks did fairly well for awhile. It was neat to look out at the pond and see them gleefully quacking and swimming around. Unfortunately, we have too many stray cats and dogs and other predators that put an end to that scene.

The ducklings meander around their feeder inside the brooder.

We mail-ordered 16 ducklings a couple years back and started them in the same brooder where we start our chicks. We put a little “swimming pool” in with the ducklings, and they took to it like, uh, ducks to water, of course. 

This is the duck house we made for our flock.

When they were a little older, we moved them into a special pen we’d made for them. We moved this around the yard to keep them on fresh grass. Obviously, ducks don’t mind getting wet, so it didn’t matter that the pen let in the rain. Chickens are much more particular about that.

When they were big enough, we moved the “duck house” down by our pond and let the ducks free range during the day. They spent most of their time in and around the pond, which is what we wanted. At night, we would lock them up in their duck house. How? Around sunset, we would call them, “ducks!” and shake a feed bucket. They would answer back with loud quacking and waddle over to their house where we emptied the feed bucket into their feeder. In the morning, we would let them out, and they would make a beeline for the pond.

Ducklings enjoy a swim in their “pool.”

This all worked fairly well for the most part. However, there were some unforeseen problems that we ran into. 

Ideally, we wanted the ducks to lay their eggs in the duck house. This rarely happened. We might get a couple eggs every now and then, but most of the eggs we didn’t find. This was because the ducks would lay them haphazardly wherever they felt like it. 

Also, ideally, we would have preferred that when a duck felt “broody” and wanted to sit on a nest of her eggs, that she would have done so in the duck house. This never happened. There were a couple of times where a duck was missing, and we would find it later sitting on a nest of eggs in the worst places. We would try to move mother and eggs to a better location, so they might have a chance. But once we moved the nest, she no longer wanted to sit on the eggs. 

Like most animals, ducks have a pecking order. We had ordered a “hatchery choice” group, which means the hatchery chose a variety of breeds and sent them. We ended up with blue swedish, black swedish, cayuga, and some runners. We didn’t mind the variety except that the runners are smaller than the others. That meant that they got picked on. It was interesting, because eventually all the runners formed their own clique. Although chickens will meander about aimlessly when they free range, ducks will stay in a group together. They even form a line when they are headed to a certain destination. So, we had two cliques of ducks. The big fat ones and the skinny runners. 

We also did not expect for our ducks to “find greener pastures.” That means we started having problems with our ducks staying on our property and pond. They roamed over to the neighbors’ places, out to the road, and over to a pond across the road. That was frustrating. We started to feed them every morning, so they would stick around. That did help but didn’t completely solve the problem. 

We lost most of our flock when we went away on vacation for a week. We had no one to lock our ducks up from predators at night, so we had 10 fewer ducks when we returned. That was sad. 

My son holds our lone surviving duck for some visitors. She lived the longest of our 16 original ducks.

We also lost a few during the day over the next several months until there was only one duck left. At that point, we figured she was doomed and didn’t even bother with the duck house anymore. That one duck survived a long time on her own. She stayed on the pond almost all the time. I think that’s why she survived so long. A predator couldn’t get to her when she was out in the water. She lived about another year until one day she was gone, too.

If we get ducks again, we will have to do several things differently to avoid the problems we ran into. Live and learn.

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