When I get an idea into my head I tend to jump right in without necessarily being completely prepared. That is definitely the case when it comes to ducklings and chicks. In November 2014, my husband, Zach, and I got 8 teenage ducks and 25 chickens. The chickens were for eggs and the ducks were for pest control, particularly flies.
The funny thing about young ducks is that they get older. As they age they also start to lay eggs, then hide eggs, then hatch eggs. The spring after we got our ducks we had over a hundred ducklings hatch completely unintentionally.
We learned a lot about ducklings that season:
- They are very fast!
- They can fit through very small spaces. ie. a 1″x 1/2″ rabbit mesh will not hold them, nor does the small chicken wire. You need to have solid sides or the teeny tiny 1/2″ x 1/2″ mesh. Even then they might put their heads through and get stuck – or at least keep trying.
- Ducklings poop A LOT! It may be close to 90% water, that does not change the grossness factor.
- While they can swim even on they day they are hatched they cannot be trusted alone in a pool or trough that they have to “jump” out of until after their first molt.
- It is smart to have a proper cage for them BEFORE they hatch.
I was unexpectedly called to fill in at my old job today which threw off my plans of spending the day building a pen. So, after work, Zach helped me build one that was way better than what I had in mind and of course he built it in about 20 minutes. It’s amazing how fast you can go when the tools just work on the first try.
I dropped the baby ducklings in an new pallet crate I found in my yard the day they hatched. No idea where it came from but I was very thankful for it. Then I covered the top with pieces of plastic and glass and plywood I found in the yard. It was very hodgepodge and not very attractive or, more importantly, functional.
Like any good homesteader I have a lot of scrap lumber, wire, and fencing in my yard. We ripped apart an old pallet and used the boards to cover up the holes. We used a couple other boards to build a frame that fits over the top. To this frame we (by we I mean Zach) stapled chicken wire. Yes they could fit through the holes at the top but the top is at least 15 inches above them with solid sides that they can’t climb – did I mention that these are muscovy ducklings? That means lots of climbing. They have claws like cats on the end of each toe.
This resulted in a functional and attractive brooder box in which my ducklings are very happy. If I lived in a cooler climate, I would put the box in a building with a heat lamp hanging above it. However, it’s not cold enough here for that to be necessary. There are enough of them that they keep each other warm as long as they are not in the wind or rain.
Older ducks are a different story. They will stand outside in a monsoon, regardless of the perfectly adequate (or inadequate) housing we provide them. They have all survived, so as our homestead motto is, “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.”
The other homestead motto is, “Don’t Be A Dick,” in case you were wondering. That refers to animals, not people. I feel like for humans, that should just be standard.
I apologize for the lack of proper before/in progress pictures. I’m still not used to carrying a camera with me and Zach was not cooperative. He doesn’t want the rest of you to feel deficient in comparison to his awesome-ness, so he tries to opt out of as many photos as possible. Don’t worry, he can’t run forever.