Raising Healthy Ducklings 101

Raising Healthy Ducklings 101

(TacticalNews.com) – So, you want to raise ducks on your homestead. They’re a great choice, especially if you can raise the birds successfully and efficiently. Read on to learn more about raising ducks and the benefits that come with them.

First Things First

Before you buy ducklings or order some off the Internet, you need to know what’s required for the bird. Are you raising ducks for eggs? Or maybe you’re raising them for meat? Understand that certain breeds are better for certain purposes. Once you’ve decided what you’re looking for, you can choose whichever breed best suits your needs.

Buy heavier breeds such as Pekin or Saxony ducks if looking to produce meat. If you’re in the market for eggs, you’ll likely want skittish breeds such as Golden 300 Hybrid Layers, White Layers or Khaki Campbells.

Pest Control

Ducks can help keep gardens free of pests, and unlike chickens, aren’t very destructive. They can also keep the slug and snail populations low. Runner and Muscovy ducks are excellent choices when looking to fend off pests. These gnawing monsters disrupt or even destroy gardens, which may one day be a vital food source, so having a few ducks to keep them in check is a good idea.

Character Matters

A duck’s demeanor and temperament are more important than people realize. Breeds that are nervous and skittish are more difficult to handle, making them harder to get into enclosures. Another important aspect to consider is whether your choice will make good mothers, which is necessary for a self-sustaining duck population.

Domestic ducks simply don’t make good mothers, and it’s recommended that you look at getting some Muscovy, Mallard or Silver Appleyard ducks. In addition to choosing the right breeds, you can also rely on an incubator to aid with the eggs. In a pinch one could even use a brood-dedicated chicken that’s reliable.

Starting Your Duck Population

Once you’ve decided which variety is best for you, it’s time to get started on acquiring your ducks. You have almost limitless options between the Internet, farms and agricultural stores. Many of the Internet-based duck sellers allow you to choose between hatchlings or eggs you hatch yourself.

Both options have their pros and cons. One pro to hatching the eggs yourself is you get to see the process of birth and raise the birds from day one. One con is you’ll need to invest in an incubator or have another means of properly warming them before they hatch. It’s important to note that hatching your own eggs also forfeits any control over the ratio of males and females; one male for every five females usually works best.

Selection is where buying hatchlings takes the upper hand, as you can easily buy sexed ducklings and control the male to female ratio. Keep in mind that Internet-bought ducklings will be delivered via the postal system, and you’ll need to pick them up at a post office. The stress and climate changes the ducklings endure while in transit are sometimes harsh, and there’s a possibility of losing some birds.

Duckling Care

Ducks may be hardy and resistant to disease, but hatchlings are not. No matter whether you choose to hatch them yourself or buy them as hatchlings, you’re going to need a safe, warm place for them to stay until they mature. It’s ideal to have your brooding pen indoors. The size of the pen depends on how many ducklings you’re going to have.

A good rule of thumb is that the pen should allocate 48 square inches per duckling, or about three ducklings per square foot. Dog cages, plastic totes and even bathtubs can serve as brooding pens. Next, you’ll need to worry about heating and bedding. Baby ducks poop a lot, are quite messy when eating and constantly splash water around.

Use two inches of straw or wood shavings for bedding; never use cedar shavings. Avoid newspaper and cardboard as slippery surfaces can lead to spraddle leg. Baby ducks need to be kept warm, at least for a couple of weeks, in order to survive. Ideal temperature for the hatchlings is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Achieve this by setting the heat lamp 18-20 inches from the bedding.

Observe the ducklings. If it’s too hot, the ducklings will pant and distance themselves from the heat lamp. If it’s too cold, the ducklings will all huddle tightly together. These baby birds should be somewhat spread out and doing random baby duck activities.

Food and water for these ducklings is pretty simple. Even at less than 2 weeks old, your hatchlings can eat regular, unmedicated chick feed. Keep in mind that baby ducks require more niacin than chicks do. To compensate, add brewer’s yeast to the feed; about one cup per 20 pounds of feed should be sufficient, or you add some at each feeding.

If hatchlings arrive via the postal service, it’s important to get the ducklings to drink water ASAP; dip their beaks in the water and be sure they’re tilting their heads back and actually drinking the water.

Water should be in a shallow dish to avoid accidental drowning, and it should go into the dish one day prior to the birds’ arrival to ensure it’s the right temperature. Add 1/3 cup of sugar to the water for the first couple of days to help the ducklings regain vitality and strength.

2- to 5-Week-Old Ducklings

At 2 weeks old, they become more durable and can regulate their body temperature much more effectively. Switch the heat lamp off during the day as long as the climate is suitable. Now that the duckling is old enough to swim it’s recommended they have somewhere to swim, with close supervision, to help their leg muscles develop properly. Ducklings like to splash around, so you’ll need to check their pool often to ensure a proper water level is present.

After your ducklings hit 2 weeks, you can switch to starter/grower feed. Use the niacin supplement until the ducklings are at least 18 weeks old. Baby ducks mature rapidly and will be ready for outdoor activities while under supervision by the time they are 3 weeks old, weather permitting.

6-8 Weeks and Beyond

Around 2 months old, ducks are fully feathered and ready to go outside full time. Your role in caring for them doesn’t end here though. They still need shelter to sleep in; keeping them in an enclosure during the night also makes it easier to grab eggs. Add fencing to help protect the ducks against any predators in the area as well.

A liberal amount of straw should cover the duck house floor so the ducks can make their nests and lay their eggs. Be sure to keep the house clean. Your ducks will greatly appreciate it, and you’ll have nitrogen-rich waste to add to your compost.

It’s recommended that ducks have an area where they can swim, splash and play in water. Kiddie pools, plastic troughs and even small ponds are ideal for this.

At 18 weeks, they’ll appear as normal adult ducks, and can be fed regular layer feed from here on out. At this point the ducks will likely spend their days foraging and eating insects and other pests.

Final Thoughts

Ducks are versatile and hardy, making them a great choice for even novice homesteaders. Thanks to their ability to provide meat, eggs, pest control and even a morale boost when they’re adorable ducklings, these birds are a great asset to have. Chickens are pretty similar to ducks when it comes to raising, feeding and watering them. If you’re in the market for some homestead birds, be sure to check out whether you should raise ducks or chickens.

Do you have a preferred breed of duck? Do you have any tips we missed? We’d love to hear about your experiences raising animals. Reply to your email and let us know.

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